Fantasy Basketball auction how-to guide

Knowing when to spend or save a few dollars more during a fantasy auction is crucial. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo)
Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Congratulations, you are participating in an auction draft!

Auctions are the preferred drafting format for many fantasy experts, and they’ve increased in popularity in recent years. The knowledge required to be a strong fantasy basketball drafter is similar to a traditional snake draft, but the skills and strategies differ in a few key ways.

Whether this is your first time auctioning or you’re simply looking for a refresher, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get started.

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What are the basics of an auction draft?

Every manager starts with a set budget, usually $200. Managers take turns nominating players for the auction block, and the nominated player is “sold” to the highest bidder. The draft continues until every roster is full. Take note: most host sites will force you to keep at least $1 per remaining roster spot, so keep that in mind as you get into late-draft bidding wars.

PRE-DRAFT

Game Plan
While all auction drafts will require some improvisation, this is not the time to “do it live”. You should enter with an outline for how you want your draft to go. Specifically, I recommend entering with two complementary plans: 1. Have an idea of which tiers you want to invest heavily in; 2. Make a list of the key players you’re targeting.

Your plan for No. 1 should look something like: I want to spend on multiple top-15 players, and I understand that I’ll be priced out of the market for most guys between 16 and 50; or, I want to pass on top-20 prices and load up on guys between 20 and 40. We’ll talk about how to decide which of these is right for you below.

For No. 2, I recommend two lists. The first should be a relatively thorough list of players you want, so long as the price stays reasonable. The second list should be short. These are the players you don’t want, the guys you’re crossing off no matter the price. When you look back on your draft, these are the guys who make you say I really wish I had that roster spot available – that’s not the same as feeling like you overpaid for someone!

Pick an Investment Strategy
This is one of the most fun components of an Auction draft – there are infinite investment strategies. In broad strokes, here are the three most common:

1. Studs and Duds: Spend big to acquire several elite talents, and fill the rest of the roster with very cheap players. The biggest risk with most top-20 players is that they get hurt, and there are always a few top-80 players who emerge off the waiver wire throughout the season. If you’re active on waivers early and a few of your discount picks work out, you might have something special.

2. Snake-like Distribution: Even though it’s an auction, you can still use the snake draft model for team-building. This strategy typically yields a price breakdown of roughly: one $55+ player, one $40, one $30, one $23, one $16, one $11, one $7, and one $5, with the residual $13 split among the five remaining roster spots.

3. Mind the Gap: “The gap” refers to the mid-draft lull – after the top players are off the board, when the pre-draft excitement has waned, and managers are getting tired (or inebriated, or both). This team building strategy calls for basically sitting out on the top dozen or so players. Once other managers have spent most of their draft capital, gap minders can take advantage of the depleted funds – and their depleted energy, auction drafts can be a grind – to bully their way to a strong stable of mid-tier players.

Part of the strategy is having enough money to comfortably price-enforce throughout picks 30 to 100. This approach can produce some enticing discounts, but it requires more flexibility and ability to change directions on the fly.

[Positional tiers: PGs | SGs | SFs | PFs | Cs]

Make Your Lists
Identify players you want at every tier. Write them down. If you’re not writing them out by hand, print them out. Have the hard copy with you when you draft.

You want this list to be comprehensive. You don’t want to get too attached to specific players – that’s an easy way to end up overspending in an otherwise-avoidable bidding war. Keeping a long list also enables you to better adapt to the changing marketplace, and it helps you pivot as your budget changes.

I also like to make a list of players I don’t want under any circumstances. This list should be smaller, and should have almost no one in the top-70, according to average draft position – sure, Joel Embiid is a massive injury risk, but you should take him for $5 if you get the opportunity.

One bonus list idea: Players with glaring categorical weaknesses. This is the list that calls out DeAndre Jordan for his free throw shooting, Marcus Smart for his field goal percentage, and James Harden for his turnovers.

Know Your League
This is fantasy 101, but it’s ignored all too frequently. Make sure, in any auction, that you’re well-versed in your league’s scoring and roster settings, and that you’re at least somewhat familiar with your opponents.

You absolutely must know your settings. If you play in an 11-category league that counts double-doubles and triple-doubles, Nikola Jokic jumps all the way from 11th to third on my big board. Giannis Antetokounmpo has more value in leagues with strict positional requirements, while all shooting guards lose value in leagues that allow more positional flexibility. Joel Embiid is more valuable in leagues with an IR spot. Fantasy basketball, like every game ever, has rules. You have to know the rules to be able to win.

Keeper Leagues: Figure Out the Inflation Rate
A standard, 12-team auction draft has $2,400 ($200 x 12 = $2,400) to spend on 156 players (12 teams x 13 roster spots).

The auction prices listed in pre-draft guides assume everyone is starting from scratch. If experts decide that Myles Turner should go for $45, but you are keeping him for only $20, that messes up the experts’ baseline assumption. In effect, you are starting the draft with $25 dollars more than everyone else, which should change how you bid. You have more money, so you can afford to bid more to get your guys, which leads to the players on your team costing more than the experts predicted.

This is much different than overpaying – this is understanding the market, understanding your buying power, and using both to acquire the assets you desire. Managers who don’t know the keeper inflation rate will get spooked that they are overpaying and end up with a less-talented team. Managers who know the inflation rate have a much better understanding of how much money is available, and what is reasonable to spend through each stage of the draft.

DURING THE DRAFT

Adapt
Every auction room is different, and being too rigid is a good way to kill your team. Auction drafts are all about value. It’s good to have a game-script, but if a top-5 talent is going for top-15 money, call an audible and go get him.

Be a Price-Enforcer, Within Reason
Bid up other people’s players. Later, when you are bidding against those same managers, you’ll be glad they spent the extra money. A few dollars at a time really adds up over the course of the auction. Just be sure to set limits for yourself, to avoid getting stuck paying for a player you don’t want. Some rules for price enforcing:

1. It’s only price enforcing when you’re confident you’ll be outbid.

2. Do not price enforce for a player on your Do Not Draft list.

3. Set limits early for players you don’t actually want. The cap should be the highest price at which –even though you didn’t want him — you recognize you got a good value. If you don’t want a player whose expected price is in the low $50s, then when he is nominated, bid him up to around $45 and step away.

4. Remember that any bid could be final. Don’t make a bid if you are not satisfied with the consequences of winning it.

5. Keep track of available roster spots. If there are four players left who you want on your team, and you have enough money that you’re confident you will get all four, then make sure you have four roster spots available.

Be Disciplined, Stay Disciplined
If you said you weren’t going to spend more than $45 on Chris Paul’s knees, stick to it. If you only entered the Kevin Durant sweepstakes because the bidding slowed at $50, remember to bow out when it hits $70. If you were well-behaved early, don’t relax and forget your principles just because the dollar figure went down later in the draft.

It’s OK to Have Money Left Over
This flies in the face of what many people recommend, but hear me out. First, it’s acceptable to leave some money available, but be careful not to leave too much. You should not leave more than about six percent ($12 on a $200 budget) unused. That much left over means you should have upgraded a pick or two. But if you are left with roughly five percent or less of your budget remaining, that’s not worth fretting about.

You know what feels better than spending all your money? Liking your team. I’d rather leave $10 unused than miss out by a dollar on my mid-to-late darlings. The following is an incomplete list of players who were available in most leagues for between $2 and $5 last season, yet finished inside fantasy’s top 60 overall (9-cat): Otto Porter, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, Trevor Ariza, Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder, Gorgui Dieng, Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley.

It’s hard to predict which late picks will break out, but I like being able to flex and grab my guys. While virtually no one predicted Porter’s rise, I remember seeing Covington, Embiid, Dieng, and Beverley on several “sleepers” lists. I saved my bully money for T.J. Warren, who ended up just outside that top-60. If you were busy worrying about spending all your cash, you probably missed out on these high-end fantasy starters.