Diary of a Start-Up Dynasty League

10 min read

Now that we’ve entered September, you should probably get moving on setting up your dynasty basketball leagues. Starting your own league is a lot of fun and very rewarding. Just know that there are a lot of decisions to make and prep work to be done. I would definitely recommend playing in some dynasty basketball leagues before trying to create one of your own. Assuming you’ve had some experience, I’ll walk you through some of those major decisions and highlight what we did in creating the Fantasy Unicorns Money Dynasty League (FUMDL). This is by no means a comprehensive guide. Hopefully, this will be a good starting point with the framework for a successful league.

Starting up our site’s dynasty league has been a ton of fun. I’ve had a blast getting to know the other GMs. We chat basketball, share memes, and obviously dive deep into fantasy. My goal was to start a super competitive league filled with a mix of fantasy basketball fanatics and writers. I knew I wanted 30 teams and to involve a small amount of money. Beyond that, I considered a bunch of different settings and options to help make the league fun.

Before we go any further I would first like to stress what I consider to be the most important high-level aspects to keep in mind:

  1. Prepare specifics ahead of time
  2. But plan to be reasonably flexible, especially early on.
  3. Gather the best GM’s you can find (for competitiveness, but also general enjoyment)

League Charter

Make sure you have put together a working document that specifies all of the rules, settings, and dates that are important for the league. As new ideas or issues arise, and as you make changes, make sure to update this in the charter. Host it somewhere online (Google Drive works well and is free). You will discover aspects you hadn’t considered. These will be brought to light by other GMs in the league. Consider this a working document and be flexible when needed. Here are a few things to start planning:

Method – Categories, Roto, or Points, Salary?

Dates – Draft, Trade Deadline, Playoffs, Rookie Draft, Roster Cuts, Free Agency

Payouts – how many teams? Best record? Toilet Bowl?

The rest of this article covers some of the considerations you may have in a dynasty startup in more detail.

Level of Competition

We’ve all been in leagues where the expertise is all over the place. Unless you like beating up on lesser opponents, it’s generally a good thing to play in leagues that are around your level or better. This will keep things more interesting and push you to work harder. In reality, it can oftentimes be difficult to find enough competitive GMs to join. If you happen to be one of these quality GMs, know that it’s a buyers market. You should have your choice of leagues that will want you to join.

What We Did: Throughout last season we assembled a list of potential GMs that were interested in playing. The assumption being that if you listen to our podcasts and read our articles, you’re probably a little more hardcore than the average fantasy GM. We targeted quality managers with proven track records from other leagues. I reached out to communities like the Fantasy Basketball SubReddit and Twitter. Contributors from other sites and pods were also invited. Referrals from existing GM’s that had already signed up were also used. Some of these guys had friends they could vouch for. Incorporating these referrals into the league was successful. Overall, it’s been an amazing crew.

League Size

Generally, you’re looking at leagues to be in the 16-30 team range. Smaller (10-14) is fine for beginner leagues, but if you have a solid amount of experience, you’ll appreciate the competition of a larger league. It’s possible to see how successful recruiting goes before finalizing the number of teams. If you can’t recruit enough GM’s, consider making the teams larger to help make it more challenging.

30 team leagues are great for serious GMs and mimick the actual NBA in terms of league size for a tiny bit of realism. Once you play in a league this size, everything else seems lacking. It really forces you to nerd out and get to know the entire NBA, and also provides a large pool of fantasy GMs to get to know, interact and trade with. This was my vision, and after seeing it work beautifully in other leagues, I knew this was what we had to do. Each team carries an NBA team name.

Finances

There are pros and cons to each and you should consider these before announcing your league to others. I went for money for a number of reasons, but here are some considerations to help you make the right choice for you.

You can consider a free league. It can be easier to find people, especially beginners, to sign up, as there’s no real commitment. While good for filling up a league with GMs, it can cause problems for accountability and level of competition. It also leaves pride as the only thing to be playing for…which can be enough for some, but not everyone. When a team is failing, it’s easy for a GM to make it the bottom of their priorities, especially if there’s zero money at stake. Also, with no money involved, it makes it easier for those poorly run teams to just disappear when it comes time to set up for the next season. All of that can lead to searching for someone to take over a busted team, and overall, a very unbalanced league.

In my opinion, if you can afford it, have the experience, and have no issues with gambling, it’s really the best way to play with serious and savvy people. It increases the level of commitment and competition. I kept the league dues reasonable at $25 per team, which seemed like a good amount to play for, but also not so high that most people would have issues affording it. Finding replacement owners in the future should also not be too difficult to find. The way I look at it, the $25 is well worth the hours and hours of fun. Any money won is just a bonus. We all know the best money is won money.

Platform

While there are a few smaller sites, there are 3 major online services that will run your leagues, again with their pros and cons. ESPN and Yahoo are the more commercial platforms with less of a learning curve, a much slicker interface for better UI/UX on computers and mobile, and they are also both free. On the downside, they do have limitations for settings and total teams. They work fine in smaller leagues and may be a better fit for a more standard dynasty league with lesser experienced GMs.

Fantrax on the other hand sports some ugly UI and just lacks the polish that ESPN and Yahoo provide. They are getting better, but it’s still just not as slick. What it lacks in polish, Fantrax more than makes up for in functionality, customization, and the ability to manage a large league. Note that this does come with a cost, so it would be wise to ensure that any league dues factor this cost in.

Using Fantrax, we made the league 30 teams but also incorporated settings like developmental player spots and future draft pick trading. There’s a surprising amount you can dive into in the league settings to fully customize your league experience. 

Specific Draft Process

Will it be a snake draft? Auction? Something else? I just finished a 30 team dynasty startup that is doing an auction and it’s been wild. For our league, I went with a fixed order draft that had a few components that may be new to you.

  1. We ran a random order generator, which determined #1-30. A specific GM would select the spot they would draft in Round 1.
  2. Then, starting with whoever got #1, we would each pick which slot we wanted to draft from in the first round…here’s the kicker, rounds 2-12 would be a fixed order. Once a player is picked in Round 1, the GM would assume the name of that actual NBA team and no other player from that team could be selected in the 1st round (i.e. If a GM selected Anthony Davis, their team would be the Lakers, and no other Laker could be selected until Round 2.)
  3. Rounds 2-12 were then run in a fixed order, reverse from round 1. Meaning that if you picked 1st in round 1 to get your stud, you would be picking last in all remaining rounds (2-12). 

This setup worked out very well. It made for an effective way to create fairness in a league this deep, and offered a ton of strategy in the initial selections. I highly recommend following this method in a league this deep.

Other Considerations

There’s a ton more to consider, and the above will be a good starting point for setting up your league. 2 other things you may want to consider are the replacement draft. This allows replacement GMs to build their own teams in a fun extra draft. The other idea involves using the NBA Draft Lottery to determine the order of your league’s rookie draft. I discuss both of these aspects in-depth here. Here are some more random considerations:

GroupMe Chat

A league that chats is a healthy league. Don’t expect everyone to be into chatting ball all the time. You want to foster a sense of community and have this be a go-to spot for when GMs want to talk fantasy, NBA, memes, or whatever. It really makes the league even more fun. GroupMe seems to be the standard for Fantasy basketball, but others like Slack also work well. Email tends not to be very conducive for this type of fun fantasy talk. The chats also open up more of a conversation for discussing potential trades, letting GMs know that a player is on the block (OTB), or for talking trash.

League Board

You probably don’t want to run a dictatorship while acting as commish. You should have the final say, but should also create a board of knowledgeable GMs to help make decisions for the league. This helps to offer multiple perspectives and generally will create the best outcomes. I would recommend creating a chat group in GroupMe with just the board so that you privately discuss any issues.

Waivers

Generally, you are deciding between the use of FAAB, which is a fake currency used to bid on players (highest bid wins) or go with a priority system, based on the draft, and then the most recent waiver. Even with these 2 main options, there are more things to consider like will FAAB bids be blind? Think about what would make the most fun for the league and make it happen.

Bonus Plan for the Busy GM

One noteworthy new league format that many of us have recently joined was started by a fellow aficionado. It is perfect for anyone who wants to join more leagues but probably shouldn’t. The basic concept is a league that offers most of the fun aspects of a league with minimal in-season maintenance. Draft, enjoy trading and roster moves before the season starts. Set your lineup before the 1st game and it is locked in for the year. Consider it a set it and forget it league.

Start It Up

There are plenty of more considerations you will want to make, but this should serve as a good starting point. If more major items come to light after publishing this, I’ll post updates. Have fun, be creative, and definitely let me know if you have any questions or want suggestions.