Head-to-head strategy for Yahoo Fantasy Basketball leagues

Joel Bartilotta, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Head-to-head fantasy on Yahoo has become a favorite of mine in recent years. The level of strategy involved in head-to-head categories leagues is much more advanced than points leagues, and it results in a challenging and enjoyable owner experience.

Below are a handful of strategy tips to help keep you afloat in Yahoo head-to-head leagues this season:

Know the Rules

Head-to-head leagues vary from other formats in that you’re battling your opponent for categories, rather than simply accruing points per each statistical category. Mostly commonly, these categories include: points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, free-throw percentage, three-pointers made and turnovers.

The number of categories can vary, but the goal is always to win more categories in a given week than your opponent. Your win/loss record for each week then counts toward a season-long total.

For instance, if you win six categories, lose two, and tie one, you’d finish the week with a 6-2-1 (W-L-T) record. So if you win your Week 1 matchup 6-2-1 and lose 4-5 in Week 2, you’d sit at 10-7-1 headed into Week 3. Every week is a fresh start, and in most leagues you’ll face each opponent at least twice.

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Know Your Roster

Understanding your team’s strengths is vital when it comes to evaluating waiver wire options each week. One of the advantages to this format is it enables owners to more easily improve in a given category. The weekly scoring nature of head-to-head leagues means that, for instance, a team loaded with three-point shooters can’t run away with a category just weeks into the season. Over the course of a shorter scoring period, more variation is likely to exist, and making calculated roster tweaks can be the difference between winning or losing a category.

Be Familiar With Your Opponent

Studying your opponent and knowing their strengths and weaknesses is a huge key in the head-to-head format. Not only can you sit and start players in contrast to your opponent’s roster, you can try to steal categories based on your their strengths and weaknesses. Always follow the score in your weekly matchup and try to do some simple math to see if you can save percentages, while accruing points in the counting categories.

Don’t be afraid to bench certain players who might erase your lead in a given category. If you have the counting categories locked up, perhaps insert players who can improve your percentages and avoid those who might offer only redundant stats.

Additionally, be sure to examine each roster in your league from time to time in search of potential trade targets. Knowing an opponent’s’ needs and roster tendencies can help you decide which type of players they may seek in exchange.

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Do Your Research

It’s imperative to always be cognizant of how many games each of your players are playing on a weekly basis, and the same goes for your opponent’s players. If your roster happens to be playing significantly fewer games than your opponent’s, be sure to stream and try to match their game totals. On the whole, roughly three games per week for a player is average, while a four-game, or even the rare five-game, week can be a nice bonus.

In addition, be sure to study each of your player’s matchups for the week. If you’re facing a difficult start/sit decision, taking note of a particularly weak or strong group of opponents can break the tie.

Don’t Fall Victim to Trends

Throughout any fantasy season, owners often make adds and drops abruptly, but it’s critical to be patient over the course of an 82-game season. In many weeks, the most-added player will be the random bench guy who blew up the night before. Sometimes that’s the right move, but it’s important to consider that player’s potential for sustained value, not just his ability to be a one-hit wonder every few weeks.

It’s a long season, and making reactionary moves can be what ultimately costs you a fantasy championship. With that said, stay vigilant on the waiver wire and try to monitor it every day, as players who shouldn’t be dropped will inevitably be sent to the free agency pool throughout the year.

Punting Categories

A popular drafting strategy is “punting” — or essentially forfeiting — certain categories. One of the most popular trends is to target dominant big men — like Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan — and all but wave the white flag in the free throw percentage category. If executed correctly, punting free throw percentage can lead to a major advantage in field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks. Starting each week in an 0-1 hole can be a tough pill to swallow, but it can pay dividends in the long run.

Adds, Streamers and Waivers

Each week, you’ll be allotted four adds. Don’t be afraid to use them to help close out any categories that come down to the wire. Getting those extra numbers into your lineup is an undervalued asset in head-to-head leagues, and if you ignore them, you’ll often be leaving production on the table.

Understanding waiver wire rules is also crucial. Every time a player is dropped, he spends three days on waivers. At 3:00a.m. ET every night, waivers go through and all unclaimed players become free agents after their drop period. Checking up on waivers early and often can help you catch your opponent off-guard.

Never Assume Victory

Head-to-head is one of the most volatile formats. A seemingly dominant lead can turn into a nightmare week in a matter of a night or two. The key is to never let up or assume that you’ll win a given category when games are still to be played. Stick to your strategic points, and ensure that you finish each week strongly. If that means substituting players to preserve a category lead or attempt to make up a deficit, then do so with care.

The Injury Slot

Much like Yahoo Football and Baseball formats, there are two designated roster slots for injured players, typically categorized as players who have missed at least three consecutive contests. Being aware of when and how to strategically utilize these slots is an easy way to maintain roster flexibility and avoid being forced to potentially cut bait on a productive, but injury-prone, player.