Analyzing Trends in FanDuel's Perfect Daily Fantasy NBA Lineups

What can we learn from perfect lineups on FanDuel from the 2015-16 season?

You should always be willing to strive for perfection, but to be blunt, you'll never reach it.

That doesn't mean we can't learn from mistakes or try to figure out what makes perfect things so, well, perfect.

That can apply to daily fantasy sports, for sure. Learn from successful players, learn why players perform well on the court or field, learn what makes a perfect daily fantasy lineup.

During the 2015-16 NBA season, there were 161 different main slates on FanDuel, leading to 161 different flawless lineups. What can we learn from them?

FanDuel Perfect Lineup Analysis

Just so that we're on the same page -- in case you're new to daily fantasy NBA on FanDuel -- FanDuel requires you to roster a center and two of the other four positions (point guard, shooting guard, small forward, and power forward) while staying at or under a $60,000 salary cap.

Good? Good.

Let's dig in.

Leaving Money on the Table

This is always an interesting topic, as it can feel risky to leave some of that salary cap that FanDuel offers you in your virtual wallet. Does spending less than 100% actually cap your roster's upside? Well, not necessarily.

Just 25 of the 161 perfect lineups used all $60,000 of the salary cap (15.53%). None of those came on slates with two or three games, and only one came on a four-game slate. Only one maxed-out perfect lineup occurred on a slate of 11 games or larger.

Surprisingly, more perfect lineups saved at least $1,000 in salary (31 total, 19.25%) than spent it all.

But, don't waste too much of your cap and expect to hit it big consistently: 55 of the 161 slates (34.16%) featured optimal lineups that spent at least $59,800 of the cap.

Simply put: don't worry about wasting a hundred or two. Make the best lineup you think you can make.

Team Stacking

Stacking is a counterintuitive approach in NBA fantasy because only assists are linked production. Only one player can grab a rebound or block a shot, so you aren't benefiting by rostering too many players from the same team like you can in other sports, such as securing a quarterback-to-receiver touchdown in football or a bases-clearing homer in baseball.

But of the 118 slates with at least six games last season, 108 contained at least one pair of teammates (91.53%), and 68 featured at least two pairs of teammates (57.63%).

A trio of teammates populated the optimal lineup 11 times, and the Memphis Grizzlies' injuries got so bad that they had enough value to feature a full stack -- four players -- in an optimal lineup.

What makes a teammate stack work, though? Is it value? Is it star-power? What gives? Here's a breakdown of the percentage of teammate combinations in optimal lineups -- if we exclude trios and that wacky Grizzlies game and look solely at slates with at least six games.

More than 40% of the combinations featured a teammate with a salary at or below $4,500, but few of them (5.5%) came with a teammate in the star range of $9,000 or more. Then again, just 3.7% of the teammates were both priced at $4,500 or below -- so don't bargain hunt too often on the same team and expect big upside from each player.

This makes sense, anecdotally. Inexpensive players are priced as such for a reason. Injuries and matchups (especially to those star-priced players) can lead to a bigger-than-usual night from a bench player, but to see two low-usage players demolish value in the same game probably isn't what you want to bank on.

Stacking shouldn't be your first instinct -- at least stacking three or four players from the same team shouldn't be -- but it can offer enough upside for teammates to clear value easily and find a spot on the night's perfect lineup.

Short-Slate Construction

For our purposes, we'll call "short slates" ones with six or fewer games. That gives us 61 slates to examine. Here is the breakdown of those slates by position.

For example, "PG1" refers to the higher-priced point guard in the lineup rather than the point guard with the best value (fantasy points per $1,000) or fantasy point total.

Position Average Salary Fantasy Points/Game Value
PG1 $8,748 48.21 5.51
PG2 $5,731 39.55 6.90
SG1 $7,339 44.20 6.02
SG2 $5,021 34.67 6.91
SF1 $7,746 43.84 5.66
SF2 $5,190 35.29 6.80
PF1 $7,605 44.39 5.84
PF2 $5,011 36.76 7.34
C1 $6,889 43.20 6.27

This tells us a few things -- but not everything.

Generally, the highest-priced player in optimal lineups on shorter slates is the PG1, though that role offered the worst value over the 61-slate subset. The PG2 role was easily the most expensive of the secondary positions with an average price of $5,731, while the others barely cleared $5,000.

PF2s offered the greatest value, so perhaps this is a place to look when slates are shorter rather than at the guard positions.

Here's the breakdown of the lineups if we bucket the players into salaries.

A good amount of this is going to depend on which players are available on a particular slate, and not many centers, for example, were priced more than $9,000 consistently, but this works as a snapshot, at least.

Centers in the $4,600 to $7,400 range might not be worthwhile if there is a clear value option, but spending down at point guard on a short slate might not be the right approach, when teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors dominate primetime offerings and have elite point guards.

Large-Slate Construction

We've thrown a lot your way, so let's just get right to the info for larger slates (100 slates with at least 7 games, for our sake). You'll just want to reference these anyway and never try to study this as fact. But if you want to build high-scoring lineups, this can help you strategize.

Position Average Salary Fantasy Points/Game Value
PG1 $8,537 52.14 6.11
PG2 $5,986 45.09 7.53
SG1 $7,466 47.41 6.35
SG2 $4,778 38.64 8.09
SF1 $7,845 48.45 6.18
SF2 $5,318 39.70 7.47
PF1 $7,420 48.12 6.49
PF2 $5,138 40.54 7.89
C1 $6,770 49.12 7.26

So, top-flight point guards still dominate on large slates, as their average salary is north of $8,500 and is the only mark above $7,850.

Things are pretty straightforward in pricing if you look at it closely. The average salary for players trends as such: PG1, SF1, SG1, PF1, C1, PG2, SF2, PF2, SG2.

Basically, that's filling out your PG1 slot, then SF1, PF1, C1, and replicating the process, though the secondary shooting guard was the cheapest option over our 100-slate sample.

Of course, each slate is unique, and you won't make it far sticking to a certain strategy of lineup building order, but over 100 examples, we can probably ascertain that spending up too much at shooting guard is a losing strategy over the long run.

Again, shooting guards tend to be priced moderately on FanDuel as a result, but it's worth noting that SG2 is the "ideal" place to spend down when possible.

Here's the percentage breakdown of players in buckets for large slates.

It's quite similar to what we saw from smaller slates: stud point guards are probably worth it when the matchup dictates it, and if you aren't spending up for elite shooting guards such as James Harden or centers such as DeMarcus Cousins, allotting too much salary at these spots might not be ideal.

There also looks to be a sweet spot for mid-priced power forwards, but again, this will always depend on how FanDuel prices players moving forward.

Lineup Breakdowns

The most common "type" of lineup you'll hear about is stars-and-scrubs, which really means some expensive players paired with very inexpensive players. Otherwise, lineups will be mostly balanced.

We'll just lump the stars into a group of players who cost more than $9,000 and scrubs into the $4,500 or less range to see how often these types of lineups wind up in the optimal.

By far, the most common optimal lineups on shorter slates ended up featuring one or two star players and multiple value players. This shouldn't be much of a surprise, as cheap players can surpass their value threshold easily in the right situations. It's important to note that finding low-priced players who can produce on short slates looks to be critical, which shouldn't be a shock.

How about larger slates?

It's pretty much the same. Multiple stars and multiple value players generate a large majority of the optimal lineups.

But on both large and small slates, balanced lineups absent of high-priced players and low-priced players rarely comprised optimal lineups. This, perhaps, is the most critical takeaway from the lineup breakdowns.

Balanced rosters probably aren't going to help you post a lineup that looks similar to the perfect one and to take down a large tournament.


Optimal lineups are always going to highlight the importance of value.

Without having to navigate through and select the correct basement-priced players prior to the games, the optimal can plug in whichever low-priced players smash value on a given night.

Don't avoid teammates entirely, but don't expect full game stacks to generate high-scoring lineups too often. And don't be afraid to leave some salary on the table.

While you don't need roster the optimal lineup or anything close to it to be successful, learning from it and applying these trends to your lineup construction process -- such as seeking value at certain positions, targeting elite point guards, and not overspending at shooting guard -- could lead to better results in tournaments this season.