I love running data analysis and looking back to see what factors can cause changes in DFS scoring. For example, the number of minutes played correlates with DFS scoring. So do basic things like shot attempts, usage rates, etc. The problem with those stats is that they are reactive. We can guess, but we won’t know for sure how many minutes someone plays until the game is actually over. There is at least one factor that is predictive and it’s the Las Vegas line and total.
No one can predict the future, but the guys who set the lines in Vegas are the best at trying. Over the history of sports betting, we see time after time that Las Vegas lines tend to be very accurate. The other bit of good news is that the Vegas lines and totals correlate very nicely with DraftKings scoring. It makes sense, of course. The more real points scored in the game, the more fantasy scoring. I hope this article can demonstrate the importance of the Vegas numbers and how they might impact individual players.
The Truth Behind Totals
Let’s start with the game’s total, or over/under. Las Vegas assigns a number to each game that they predict both teams will combine to score. This season, those totals have ranged from 179.5 to 232.5 with the average being 207.3. That’s basically a 50 point range. A range of that size would obviously indicate that there’s a big enough difference to target specific games over others. For reference in the NHL, basically every total is between 5 and 6, which makes using the total essentially worthless.
Common sense dictates you should target players in games with high totals, but how much of a difference does it really make? Let’s take a look:
According to the season averages, rostering players in games with a total less than 190 is a wasteland. That tier is significantly the lowest scoring and it only goes up from there. As you can see, with each increase in Vegas total, the DraftKings scoring also rises. Remember, the average total is 207.3, which means there are plenty of games to choose from in the 210+ range on a nightly basis. I know you’re probably thinking, “Rick, it’s only a 0.60 DK point difference from the middle to the top range”. Well, yes, good observation. Don’t forget that this is the average! This is every player who steps on the court. If we look at only players with 20+ (the ones you should be rostering) you’ll see a larger difference:
Now we’re talkin’! A full six point difference from the lowest tier of total to the highest. That turns a $6,000 player into a $7,000 player just based on the Vegas total. The players you want to target are the ones who are seeing a BOOST in a Vegas total for the night. In my daily projections, I keep track of the average Vegas total for each team. In the projections, I show the average line versus tonight’s line. The larger the difference on the positive side, the better. For example, The Pelicans average total this season is 209.15. When they played the Rockets last night, the total jumped to 224.5. That’s a massive increase meaning you should be attempting to target Pelicans players who could see a big boost in scoring.
Breaking this down on a individual level is also interesting. I took the top five highest scoring players this season and applied the same Vegas ranges to them. Here’s what we get:
Even the best players in the world are not immune to this correlation. Their Vegas total ranges are usually smaller (LeBron only fits in two tiers) but the results are still there. This works because the Vegas numbers take everything into account. The matchup, the pace, injuries, back to backs, etc. It’s a nightly representation and predictor of what each team will score, so this isn’t shocking, but extremely interesting to see it on paper.
Spreads Are More Complicated
Let’s turn our attention to the Vegas line (or spread). This is the predicted difference between the two team’s scores. If the Warriors are -6, that means they are predicted to win by six points. There are a lot of layers trying to figure this out, so let’s just look at the chart first:
On this chart, the bigger favorites are on the left. That red column are players who are on teams that are favored by 15 or more points (aka massive favorites). On the other end of the spectrum, the gray bar is for players on teams who are massive underdogs. Favorites tends to score more points that underdogs in the real game, which translates nicely into fantasy scoring. There is a problem with looking at this as an entire average, however. The common sentiment is to avoid star players on teams that are heavily favored. The concern is that their team will be winning by so much, it won’t be required for them to play the entire game, drastically cutting into their upside. Let’s go back to the same five top players for this one:
This is really interesting. With these guys, being on the ends of the chart is not ideal. You don’t want them being either huge favorites or huge underdogs. The sweet spot is right in the 0 to -10 range. You want your studs (or these studs) to be slight favorites. Those types of games are more likely to stay close the entire time, meaning you get a full workload for for studs. Ideally you’d combine that with a massive total and laugh all the way to the bank.
There are a million more ways to slice these logs and I am going to attempt to break it down more individually in the future. For example, how do backup players fare in different Vegas situation? There’s a lot of data to pour through and I hope to continue to provide updates in the following weeks. If you have any questions or ideas for a new article, please send me a tweet!