Thursday, Sep 8th
Monday, Sep 12th

Showdown Slant 🏀 Week 6

Weekly Showdown Data Exploration And Training From Top Showdown Mind Xandamere

In this article I’ll be reviewing the prior week’s Showdown contests, trying to spot trends and see what we can learn to take advantage of this still-soft format. Because of how many games are going to be included, the format will be some bullet-point notes on each game, followed by a wrap-up with learnings so far (both in the most recent week as well as season to date). 

First, keep in mind that NBA is chalky. Massively so. Because of how robust projections are, that leads to overconfidence in outcomes – which is where edge comes from, both in cash and in tournaments. While projections are very good at capturing median outcomes, some of those projections have a greater range to them than others (more variance or volatility) – in cash, we can take advantage of this by sacrificing some median in order to limit our range of outcomes, while in tournaments we can take advantage by sacrificing some median in order to increase our range of outcomes. That, at the end of the day, is what DFS is all about (no matter the sport), and in some ways NBA is the easiest for this because we don’t have to worry about random outliers like a 90 yard touchdown or a grand slam from a backup catcher.

Weekly wrap-up

Another week in the books! I had a profitable week in cash (which, as a reminder, you can see all of my records here), but not quite as strong as some prior weeks, leaving my season-long ROI at 12.7%. Double-digit ROI for the season would make me incredibly happy, so I’ll take it.

The tournament piece I want to talk about this week is angles (yes, I’m borrowing that from JM from his NFL content!). One of the great things about Showdowns is that there are so many of them, and you don’t have to be right every time in order to make money. For each Showdown, try to figure out your angle – what outcome are you going to be heavy on? An angle isn’t the same as saying “pick a player to lock in all of your lineups,” it’s more about the way to approach that particular slate. And, because each slate is unique, you need to approach it as such and think through your angles in a new, fresh way. Here are some examples of the kinds of angles I’m thinking of (and yes, some are going to be obvious!):

  • Figure out the low-owned guy(s) who are likely to go overlooked by the field and overweight them. You can do this pretty easily by just using an optimizer – run it 100 times and look who only shows up in a handful of lineups. It’s safe to assume those guys are going to be low owned.
  • Overweight low-owned players with uncertain roles (i.e. there’s a guy out and two guys could benefit, but the field looks likely to focus on one of them – play the other, or a guy in his first game back from injury where we don’t know exactly how many minutes he’s going to play).
  • Look at the most common construction and figure out ways to get away from it. The most common roster construction on Draftkings is stars/scrubs, so on slates where there are multiple top-end guys, the easiest way to differentiate is to be underweight on them and focus on more mid-range rosters (we’ve seen this win time and again if you go through the game notes).

When you take stands like this against the field, you’re going to be wrong more often than you’re right. Expect that going on. What you’re trying to do is set yourself up so that when you are right, you have the best chance of having a lineup that gets all the way to the top. Given the nature of NBA and how it’s more projection-heavy than NFL (as in, it’s a lower variance sport in which projections are more likely to be close to final scores), I feel like the best way to approach tournaments is to find one angle per slate – you don’t need to try to find ways to differentiate top to bottom, just find that one angle that you think makes sense and then build good rosters around that angle. 

1/26 Clippers @ Hawks
  • In cash I went with Young, Capela, Ibaka, Kennard, Huerter, and Morris. The decision point here for me was Ibaka/Morris vs. Collins/Mann – I liked Mann a lot as a starter at $4,400 (but wasn’t going to play him straight up over Morris, who projected like 4 points higher), but wasn’t sure getting to Collins was really worth it – for me when it’s a close decision, I generally lean towards playing 3-3 lineups in cash instead of 4-2 constructions. Capela was a great play but overpriced for the captain spot, so I’m just hoping he doesn’t have one of his 10 block games again. The Collins/Mann pivot smashed, soo….boo. 
  • The tourney was won in an 18-way tie with Young captain at 40% ownership, Capela, Collins, Jackson, Zubac, and Mann. All the Cavs came at low ownership and playing Jackson was particularly contrarian, but still resulted in a pretty big tie because of Trae captain at high ownership and then the roster spending every last dollar of salary. 
1/26 Knicks @ Jazz
  • Didn’t play cash
  • The tourney was won in a 3-way tie by a roster with Gobert captain at 18.6% ownership, Randle, Conley, Clarkson, Robinson, and Austin Rivers at just 4.1% ownership. Rivers ran ridiculously hot and made 10 shots in a row in the first half without missing – again, underowned bench plays that can run hot if they shoot well make great tourney plays. 
1/27 Pacers @ Hornets
  • Cody Zeller starting made cash construction pretty straightforward. I went with Sabonis captain, Brogdon, Hayward, Graham, Holiday, and Zeller. Easy smash, hurray.
  • Tourney was won in an 11-way tie by a roster with Sabonis captain at 24.8%, Brogdon, Rozier, Washington, MCDermott, and Zeller. Sabonis coming off of a small injury came in at much lower ownership than I would have expected, both in the captain spot and otherwise, while all of Rozier/Washington/McDermott are the kind of mid-tier plays that go overlooked in Showdown tournaments so frequently.
1/27 Celtics @ Spurs
  • Didn’t play cash
  • The tourney was won in an 8-way tie by a roster with Brown captain, Tatum, DeRozan, Johnson, Aldridge, and the Timelord Robert Williams. Another common theme played out in this one – Johnson and Aldridge were in that mid-range of prices that gets ignored so frequently and both came in below 30% ownership. 
1/27 Timberwolves @ Warriors
  • Didn’t play cash
  • Tourney was won in an 18-way tie by a roster with Reid captain at 4% ownership, Curry, Beasley, Oubre, Wiseman, and Edwards. Naz Reid was not the guy I expected to be the highest scoring player in the game, but here we are – dude went bonkers while Curry really struggled (and, past Curry, there really wasn’t a huge favorite for overall highest score). Wiseman from the bench came in low owned even though he was likely to play a similar number of minutes to when he was starting, so sharp play there. Despite having a 4% owned captain and some other very low owned plays, this roster still split 1st a fair number of ways because it spend every last dollar of salary – i.e. if you locked Naz Reid captain and ran an optimizer, you were likely to find this roster. 
1/28 Blazers @ Rockets
  • The cash construction here was pretty straightforward – Lillard captain, Wood, Oladipo, and Kanter were the mainstays (Wall wasn’t as strong of a consideration as his minutes have been pretty carefully managed coming back from his recent injury). Then it was just fleshing it out – I thought Giles was the best bench punt because the Blazers were the thinner team overall and he should see minutes against Cousins, who is a terrible defender, and that left me enough for Derrick Jones Jr., a strong value starter at $4,600. This was an easy smash.
  • The tourney was won in a 6-way tie by a roster with Oladipo captain at 7.6% ownership, Lillard, Wall, Kanter, Trent, and Jones Jr. Trent was a sharp play at $5,600 as news of him being in the starting lineup came out pretty shortly before lock, which resulted in lower ownership. 
1/28 Clippers @ Heat
  • In cash the obvious plays were Adebayo captain, Jackson, Nunn, and Robinson, and then the real choice was a 2v2 between Ibaka/Batum and Herro/Mann. I opted for Herro/Mann, as Ibaka rarely ever plays 30 minutes and Batum has been running ice cold lately – Batum shot 6 of 9 from 3 and smashed, and my lineup died a horrible death.
  • The tourney was won in a 2-way tie by a roster with Adebayo captain, Herro, Jackson, Ibaka, Batum, and then Gabe Vincent at a rather shocking 0.4% ownership. Vincent has been running ice cold lately but he’s still been part of the rotation and we’ve seen him show upside before, so even with Herro back, the Heat were still desperately short on guards and Vincent was clearly going to see the court – 0.4% ownership was kind of insane for him. Good chance to hop on board a reasonable play when the field was just tired of him after several bad games in a row. This roster actually had one of the higher cumulative ownerships I’ve seen at 348.6%, but because Vincent was almost completely unowned it led to just a 2-way tie at the top. 
1/28 Warriors @ Suns
  • Didn’t play cash
  • The tournament saw a solo won by…get ready for this…a roster with Frank Kaminsky captain at 1.1% ownership, Curry, Ayton, Wiggins, Bridges, and Crowder. I’m baffled that Kaminsky was that highly owned in the captain spot, but he was definitely a strong punt play as a good PPM producer with 16, 20, and 13 minutes in his last few games. Obviously he went absolutely berserk here and he also got more run as the game blew out. 
1/29 Hawks @ Wizards
  • Pricing on this forced a pretty mediocre construction – the midrange was priced super poorly, so it leaned towards a stars/scrubs build that I didn’t love. Played Beal, Young, Westbrook, Capela, Wagner, and Hill. The only real choice here for me was Young vs. Beal in the captain spot – they projected very similarly (within a point), so I went Beal as he was clearly going to be the chalkier choice. Ended up BARELY squeaking by but making it (playing Trae captain as the projections suggested would have been a smash, sadly). 
  • The tourney was won in a 2-way tie by a roster with Young captain at 25.6%, Beal, Westbrook, Capela, Len, and Okongwu. So, pretty similar to the cash line – the 4 studs and 2 punts, except the punts were both of the backup centers, who both came in at sub-10% ownership (Len because projections were expecting Wagner to play more than he did – and it turns out he barely played at all). 
1/29 Bucks @ Pelicans
  • Pricing on this one was similar to the previous one today – there was this massive pricing gap between Portis at $4,800 and then Augustin at $2,600. The pricing very much forced a construction of 4 studs and 2 punts, so I went with Giannis captain, Middleton, Ingram, Williamson, Hayes, and Redick. I expect this is going to be enormously chalky. Neither Hayes nor Redick played – and the two cheap punts in the last game failed as well – I need to think more carefully about pricing if DK is going to keep bringing us slates like this, because these kind of pricing choices lead to some really shaky cash lineups – it’s all well and good to project the studs for a lot and so an optimizer wants to jam them all in, but when you have to use multiple total punt plays who could legitimately put up 0s, that makes those plays much thinner than an optimizer is going to realize. 
  • The tourney had a solo winner with Giannis captain at 48.3% ownership, Holiday, Bledsoe, Ball, Hart, and Connaughton. This was a super sharp lineup – as I mentioned above, everyone was trying to jam in the studs (Middleton, Ingram, Williamson) – Jrue was 37.9% owned and everyone else was less, including starting point guard Lonzo Ball at a miniscule 8.3% ownership. Wow. This was a great roster that clearly looked at what the chalk construction was going to be and tried to find a way to be different without just being silly – Giannis as the captain but then Jrue at a discount from Middleton and bringing it back with the lower-owned mid-tier Pelicans instead of Williamson/Ingram. Well-deserved solo win!
1/29 Mavericks @ Jazz
  • Cash was weird here. Gobert was the strongest play on the slate on a point per dollar basis with Favors out, while Luka was the overall highest projected player but extremely expensive. I ran Gobert captain, Luka, Clarkson, Conley, O’Neale, and Ingles – a 5-1 onslaught is not normally what I would want for cash, but with all of their tertiary players back, the Mavericks were, on the whole, overpriced. They also stood a high chance of being blown out here, so I wanted more Jazz, so the combination of that thought process and the projections led me to this roster. 
  • The tournament was won in a 2-way split by a roster with Doncic captain at 36.9% ownership, Gobert, Clarkson, Conley, Bogdanovic, and Morgan. Morgan ran hot early and the blowout resulted in him getting a lot more run, making him the key pivot at just 1.6% ownership. The complete failure of everyone on Dallas besides Luka made this one of the very rare 5-1 onslaughts to win a tourney.
1/30 Rockets @ Pelicans
  • For cash I ran a lineup with Adams captain, Williamson, Ingram, Wall, Oladipo, and Ball. This let me get 4 of the 5 studs in the game along with a captain I felt offered a very safe floor and not have to use any punt plays. I thought this roster was really strong, but Adams was terrible early and then got hurt. Woof. If Adams had gotten like 20-22 points it would have smashed.
  • The tourney was won in a 21-way tie by a roster with Oladipo captain at 11.9% ownership, Wood, Williamson, Wall, Ball, and Alexander-Walker, who had a massive game off the bench at 13.8% ownership. Fun fact that this was not the optimal – playing Wood captain instead of Dipo and then dropping down from Ball to Tate (who beat out Ball by 0.25 points and was my favorite tourney play in this one) would have resulted in a solo win. 
1/30 Lakers @ Celtics
  • In cash I ran Robert Williams captain, Lames, Davis, Tatum, Brown, and Gasol. This felt different than the “4 stud, 2 total punt” lineups of yesterday, because Williams is a huge per-minute producer who would likely be needed to play more minutes due to how big the Lakers are, while Gasol was super cheap but a starter who should at least not put up a complete dud (however, since he’s still Marc Gasol, he managed to, with 4.25 Draftkings points in 18 minutes – thanks buddy). Even with Gasol this lineup did just peachy. Wesley Matthews waas about 35% owned in cash and ended up not even seeing the court, showing the fragility of those min-price punts I was talking about in yesterday’s games.
  • The tourney was won in a 2-way tie by a roster with Tatum captain at 17.1% ownership, James, Davis, Schroder, Robert Williams, and Horton-Tucker (at 7.9% ownership!). This was a sharp roster – Schroder was just 25.6% owned as most of the field tried to find ways to play all of the four main studs, leaving the mid-tier guys largely overlooked, as we have seen so often happens. 
1/30 Pistons @ Warriors
  • I always hate Warriors Showdowns because of how spread out they are behind Steph. So I played Steph captain, Grant, Griffin, Plumlee, Stewart, and Paschall. My reasoning here was getting the 3 main Pistons, who I felt had safer floors than guys like Oubre, Wiggins, or Green, and then Stewart as a cheap backup center who would see solid minutes and Paschall as what I felt was the best of the cheap Warriors punts, since he’s aggressive when he’s on the floor and highly involved. Unfortunately, what I neglected to consider strongly enough is that the Pistons are horrible and the odds of a blowout here were not insignificant – going heavier on the favored team was probably smarter than running a roster with 4 underdogs. Whoops. 
  • The tourney had a solo winner by a roster with Curry captain at 36.9% ownership, Wiggins, Oubre, Wiseman, Jackson, and Looney. That’s right, the rare 5-1 onslaught roster (though this wasn’t actually the optimal roster), as the Warriors absolutely curb-stomped the Pistons. 
1/31 Clippers @ Knicks
  • With Noel out, in cash I played Randle captain, Leonard, George, Robinson, Jackson, and Toppin. Jackson was too cheap given that he was still the starting point guard with Beverly out, while I was expecting Toppin to get a lot more run without Noel. Unfortunately, Toppin lost playing time to Taj Gibson, which I did not anticipate, and he also sucked in the playing time that he did get (the alternative to Toppin was Patterson, who was at least starting but whose rates have just been atrocious – he generally does absolutely nothing when on the court, but today he decided to make every single shot he took and smash).
  • The tourney had a solo win with Randle captain at 28% ownership, Leonard, George, Quickley, JAckson, and Patterson. Since nobody likes Patterson he came in at just 13.5% (yikes, I would have played more if I knew he would be that low!), while Quickley, who we’ve seen flash significant upside multiple times before, was just 21.6%. Sharp roster here. 
1/31 Jazz @ Nuggets
  • In cash I ran a lineup with Jokic captain (duh), Mitchell, Conley, Murray, Barton, and Favors. Barton as a starter was a strong value, while Favors as a backup center is my favorite kind of bench play. The 2v2 decision I was pondering was Gobert/Clarkson vs. Conley/Murray – I decided on the latter because it would make my roster a 3-3 vs. a 4-2, and also because of some modest concerns about Joker’s playstyle being the type that pulls Gobert away from the basket and limits his rebound/block opportunities (Gobert struggled badly in this matchup in last year’s playoffs for this reason). This one smashed, hurray.
  • The tourney had a solo win by a roster with Jokic captain at 46.5% ownership, Murray, Clarkson, Bogdanovic, O’Neale, and Barton. Despite playing Joker at near-100% ownership and as the highest owned captain, and spending all of the salary cap, this roster got a solo win by not rostering anyone else over 50% owned (the second highest was Murray at 43%). This player avoided the super popular Gobert and Mitchell, which meant he didn’t have to dip below $5k for a punt play – yet again, another example of avoiding the stars/scrubs approach and going with a more balanced build. 
1/31 Nets @ Wizards
  • In cash I played Durant captain, Irving, Beal, Westbrook, Bruce Brown, and Troy Brown. I know I wrote about feeling dubious about punts who could put up 0s, but I felt like Troy Brown was going to see the court – he was back and available, he’d been playing regularly prior to being out…but he put up a 0. Lineup still smashed, though. 
  • The tourney had a 2-way split at the top by a roster with Westbrook captain at 12% ownership, Beal, Durant, Harris, Green, and Wagner. Westbrook at roughly ⅓ the captain ownership of Durant was a sharp pivot, while once again we saw the midrange guys like Harris and Green go way underowned. The real jewel of this lineup, though, is Wagner, who was 3.5% owned – he came back from injury last game and only played 10 minutes (which was expected), but then came back to a more normal role in this one and was completely ignored by the field. 
1/31 Cavaliers @ Timberwolves
  • In cash I played Sexton captain, Drummond, Russell, Beasley, Garland, and Vanderbilt. This was…probably not a good roster. I didn’t really save that much by playing Drummond captain instead of Sexton, but I got really fixated on Garland and then Vanderbilt seemed attractive with Reid out. In hindsight, not playing Drummond captain in cash was silly. 
  • The tournament was won in a massive 75-way split by a roster with Drummond captain at 48.5% ownership, Russell, Beasley, Nance, Garland, and Edwards. This roster is everything I try NOT to build in Showdown – highest owned captain and then all highly-owned plays paired with him (Nance was the lowest at 39.7%!) for a cumulative ownership of a whopping 391.6% – the highest I’ve tracked yet. The roster also spent all but $200 of its salary. When building this roster it should have been obvious it would be heavily duplicated. Now, if you entered the tournament once and had this roster and won $1,083.07 (the 1st place split), you’d probably be pretty happy – and fair enough – but over the long run, playing rosters this heavily duplicated is a -EV way to play Showdown tournaments. Worked this time but there were players who maxed this tournament (at $15/entry, for $2,250) who lost money despite winning 1st, which is not the kind of play that I personally strive for. 
2/1 Lakers @ Hawks
  • In cash I played James captain, Davis, Young, Reddish, Gasol, and Hill. Reddish and Hill felt safe for significant minutes with Hunter out, while Gasol doesn’t play big minutes but is a starting center at near-minimum salary. I ended up on JUST the wrong side of the bubble here as this lineup was reasonably chalky, as was another one that used Davis captain and had Caruso instead of Hill. Ended up being under 2 points apart and I was on the wrong side of it. Alas.
  • The tourney had a 12-way tie up top by a roster with Young captain at 17.8% ownership, James, Capela, Harrell, Caruso, and Gasol. This was just a couple of pivots away from a popular cash construction – Young captain, Capela instead of Davis, and then Harrell instead of Reddish. That’s why it was relatively highly owned, but still a smart roster with intelligent pivots. 
2/1 Blazers @ Bucks
  • In cash I ran Giannis captain, Lillard, Middleton, Simons, Hood, and Giles. I thought about adjusting to Little when he was starting, but he’s just such a low-output player that I kept Hood over him – I figured Hood would play fewer minutes but would likely do more with them. Turns out Little actually did really well and got a ton of blowout run and nobody really used him in cash. 
  • The tourney had a solo win (by a rather large margin) by a roster with Middleton captain, Lillard, Holiday, Covington, Portis, and Little. Kudos for fading a 90% owned Giannis by using the two other primary scorers on the Bucks – if Giannis was going to fail to be in the optimal it was almost certainly because both Middleton and Holiday had big games. Portis was a great play off the bench/for a blowout, while Little was, as mentioned above, a good play as a very cheap starter at very low ownership who also had some blowout upside.