If this is your first (or maybe even second or third) year playing head-to-head fantasy basketball, then you may not have heard about what is known as the Big Ball/Small Ball strategy. It's not easy to adopt as it goes against fantasy owners' natural inclination, which is to try to build a team that excels at everything. But the Big Ball/Small Ball strategy uses a couple of simple ideas that take advantage of rules specific to head-to-head leagues. Here is how the strategy works.
Winning a rotisserie style fantasy basketball league requires a team to be at the top of many categories and at least be competitive in the others. Head-to-head fantasy basketball does not have the same requirements. To win a head-to-head championship, your team only needs to make the playoffs and then win a simple majority of the categories in each of the playoff weeks. If your team wins a majority of the categories every week in the regular season, odds are you'll make the playoffs. So, for the commonly used nine-category league format, you only need to win five categories a week.
This means in head-to-head leagues, it is possible to ignore certain statistical categories while focusing on others. This is often referred to as "punting" categories. The Big Ball/Small Ball strategy is an extreme example of punting.
Most NBA players are good at five or less of the nine most common statistical categories. When you look at which five categories at which most players excel, two groups of categories emerge. While there are exceptions to the rule, most guards are good at making free throws (FT%), making threes (3PTM), passing the ball (AST), stealing the ball (STL), and scoring (PTS). Stephen Curry or Raymond Felton are good examples.
Now think about Al Horford, Joakim Noah or Amar'e Stoudemire. Power forwards and centers tend to be the exact opposite of guards: they don't shoot free throws well; they don't make a lot of threes; they don't get a lot of assists and they don't steal the ball a lot. But they shoot the ball with a high percentage (FG%) since they're usually close to the basket, rebound (REB), block shots (BLK), turn the ball over (TO) less since they are not handling the ball (although there are exceptions to this) and can score points (PTS) off their high percentage shots.
Both guards -- the Small Ball guys -- and power forwards and centers -- the Big Ballers -- can be used to win the points category in fantasy leagues. Since scoring is the main goal of the sport and determines the winner of real games, it makes sense that nearly all players are focused on scoring as much as they can, with the exception of single category specialists like Reggie Evans or Chris Andersen.
To implement a Big Ball/Small Ball strategy in a head-to-head league, take a look at your team (or teams) to see which of the two general category groupings most closely resembles your current lineup. Then focus trades and waiver wire pick-ups on players who match the Big Ball or Small Ball profile with the goal of creating a team that dominates in specific categories.
In addition, here are some waiver wire pick-ups that will help you win those target categories.
Kyle Lowry, PG, Houston Rockets: Teammate Aaron Brooks is still out for at least another week with an ankle injury, so pickup Lowry and ride him while you can. He's averaged 7.6 assists per game since assuming the role of starting PG for the Rockets, and has been averaging more than two steals per game in that same span.
Ersan Ilyasova, F, Milwaukee Bucks: Another guy taking advantage of injuries to teammates is Ilyasova. Carlos Delfino is out for another two weeks, and Drew Gooden needs to rest his plantar fasciitis. Add in Andrew Bogut's back spasms and you've got Ilyasova getting 37 minutes a game over the Bucks' last two games. His field goal percentage is terrible for a forward, but with a Small Ball team that doesn't matter. What matters is he's knocking down threes, making a high percentage of free throws, getting a good number of steals for a forward and passing the ball well the past couple games. In other words, he's practically a perfect Small Ball Forward, and in many leagues he is eligible at the power forward position.
Mehmet Okur, C, Utah Jazz: Okur, who has yet to play this year because of a right Achilles injury, has started practicing with the team and is reportedly itching to return to the court. The Jazz have yet to announce a timetable for this return and his role will likely be limited when he gets back since Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson have been playing well. But if you have room on your team to stash Okur, he is a center who will hit more than a three a game with a great free throw percentage.
Shaquille O'Neal, C, Boston Celtics: In case you hadn't noticed, Shaq is starting for the Celtics. The Celtics' other two big men -- Kendrick Perkins and Jermaine O'Neal -- are both out for a while, and while Shaq's minutes have been limited, the Big Shamrock is still putting up nice Big Ball numbers with a high field goal percentage, good rebounds, nice points and some blocks.
Amir Johnson, PF, Toronto Raptors: Reggie Evans is out for at least a month with a broken ankle. While Joey Dorsey started in Evans' place on Sunday, Johnson should eventually see an increase in minutes and numbers. Evans' absence also means there are about 12 more rebounds a game available for the Raptors' big men. As an added bonus, Johnson is shooting better than 88 percent from the line (though his career average is a much more big man-like 69 percent).
Kris Humphries, PF, New Jersey Nets: Humphries won the starting job for the Nets while Troy Murphy was injured, but he's been playing so well that coach Avery Johnson is in no hurry to rush Murphy back. Humphries will contribute most in the rebounding category, but he's also a decent contributor in blocks and points.
Arron Afflalo, SG, Denver Nuggets: Even with a Big Ball team, you still have to play some guards, right? Well, Afflalo has a nice field goal percentage for a shooting guard as well as fairly high rebounding numbers. His low 1.5 turnovers per game also fits in well with a Big Ball team.