By David Kovsky, Freelance Writer at www.dimemag.com Competing at a high level in fantasy basketball requires more than a good draft and passive participation. Instead, it requires strict adherence to a set of guidelines or rules. If you can't handle the rules, then get out of the league. Rule number 1. Make the playoffs. Your primary drafting objective is to make the playoffs. You are going to see people in your league drafting injured players that are going to stay injured for the bulk of the season—try not to fall into that trap. Not sure what I mean? Watch how quickly someone takes Amare Stoudemire despite his significant injury. It's a gutsy move, no doubt, but what does that player get you if you are out of playoff contention by the all-star break? Zilch. So, unless the rest of your league is a bunch of honkers, your first and most important goal is to make the playoffs. Rule number 2. Make the playoffs. This is worth repeating because the season means nothing unless you make the playoffs. In Boiler Room, Ben Affleck tells the new recruits at JT Marlin what they need to do to "go home with the kesef." Affleck tells them, "You are required to work your ass off. We want winners, not pikers. A piker is someone who walks at the bell." Don't walk at the end of the season; make the playoffs at all costs. Rule number 3. Roster flexibility Again, I have mentioned this one before. It is essential to have a flexible roster in terms of position eligibility. Nothing is more frustrating than sitting on the playoff bubble while playing the worst team in your league and losing because you can't play all of your players due to "roster redundancy." As you know from the drafting article, you need to own some solid centers and competent point guards, but after that, go for flexibility. Rule number 4. Keep one roster spot soft. Not only do you need position flexibility as Rule number 3 commands, you must also have a soft roster spot for picking up and dropping players. Your team will have its core players and some staple bench players. To augment your team's permanent attributes, it is very important to have a "soft roster spot" for rotating in new talent as different players get hot, injured or go cold. Rule number 5. Always be looking How often have you heard a woman ask: "how can you find a good buy if you aren't shopping all the time?" Guess what, that's precisely how you find the right players to fill your "soft roster spot." Finding that diamond in the rough before everyone else requires you to be constantly combing through the sludge of "talent" that is available for the taking. Continuous shopping reveals player trends, it lets you see who's hot, who's cold and how to avoid getting caught sleeping on a sleeper. Rule number 6. Playing time, playing time, playing time. The philosophy goes like this: A player can't rack up stats if he isn't playing and the longer a player is on the court, the more likely he is to do something productive. When it comes to picking a player, I beg you to consider playing time as a dispositive factor. I don't care if the guy is averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds a game over the first couple weeks of the season. If he is only getting 20 minutes a game, there is a huge chance that those numbers are going to take a nose dive. In other words, please do not dump a core player for a high performing free agent that is only getting a half-game's worth of burn. Likewise, if the player is getting 35 minutes of PT but his numbers aren't there, stay the course a little while and see what pans out. He might just be rusty from the off-season. From my own experience, I like to use 30 minutes of PT a game as the litmus test for whether I should make a long-term investment. Rule number 7. Watch for front loaded and back loaded games. Always be mindful of how often your players have games. The NBA isn't evenly balanced in that some teams will play more games than other teams at different intervals of the season. If you have a stud that isn't playing a lot of games down the stretch and you have already secured a playoff spot, consider trading him for someone that has a full compliment of games. It might even be worth it to take discounted talent if it means more games. By massaging your roster in a way that reflects each team's relative schedule, you can squeeze the most games out of your squad in any given season segment (I don't recommend this on a weekly basis but it is useful for the playoff push and in the playoffs.) Rule number 8. Pick and stick with some categories. Your aren't going to be competitive in every category, it's nearly impossible. Instead, focus your team on winning 5 or 6 of the 9 categories you are competing in. Your focus should be on winning each week, not on winning big. Look for one, two and three category players to fill the gaps left by your starters. Rule number 9. Learn the players on your opponent's team. It's very easy to get familiar with your own team while knowing next to nothing about your opponent. However, to be a successful fantasy player, it is important to learn what categories your opponent competes in. Consider the following hypothetical. Fantasy Stud (you or I) is competing in blocks, rebounds, points, steals, and assists while Fantasy Dud is aiming for the three percentage categories, turnovers and assists. In this situation, you want take a two pronged attack. The primary battlefield is in the assists categories since both teams are competing there. The way you swing dimes in your favor is by using your soft roster spot to pick up a point guard and starting the players on your team that dish out the most assists. The second prong of the attack is a direct assault on Fantasy Dud's weakest category or a bolstering of Fantasy Stud's strongest "off" category. Sometimes their weakest category is your strongest "off" category, other times it's a judgment call as to the best tactic. You need to shape your team each week to meet the challenges of your opponent. It is thus essential to have a soft roster spot, a flexible lineup and an understanding of your opponent. Rule number 10. Draft players that you like. Finally, it is paramount to draft players that can hold your attention. I've alluded to this strategy before so I would like to offer a personal anecdote for illustrative purposes. Last year, I picked up Steve Francis and Richard Jefferson relatively early in the draft. Are you freaking kidding me? To me, watching them was like eye-vomit, it had this palpable burning sensation and a noxious odor that I could actually see. I had to trade the players prematurely and the consideration that I received was certainly not up to their respective fair market value. I fell victim to my own rule number ten. At its core, fantasy basketball is a way of interacting with the NBA as a fan. So, be sure that you are interacting with players that you have an interest in following. If you don't, one of two things will happen. Either you will trade them away at discounted value like I did, or you will just stop following your team which is blasphemous in its own right. Now that you know the rules of the game, get ready to start playing. The season is just around the corner and I'll be bringing you more insight and answering your questions all season long. For additional coverage, see www.dimemag.com/fantasy.