NBA Deep Dive – 12/02/16
James Harden would be a stone cold LOCK on any other night, but playing the second game of a back-to-back at the Pepsi Center after logging 47 minutes in a fast-paced double overtime win against the Warriors last night is concerning. There’s no denying Harden’s ability to produce on B2Bs, as he’s averaging one rebound shy of a triple-double on two of them this season, but will he be affected by Thursday’s three and a half hour barn burner? I’m not quite sure. My guess would actually be no, though, as Harden churned out some massive fantasy totals last season on back-to-backs where he played 40-plus minutes the previous night. You could even argue that Harden’s tournament appeal increases on Friday because people will be afraid to take the risk. He isn’t necessary in cash, and likely won’t be high enough owned to take the plunge, but as a GPP play Harden easily makes for one of the best overall options on the night. My biggest concern is actually whether or not his teammates will play well enough to keep this game competitive. The altitude in Denver shouldn’t affect the Beard, but will his fellow Rockets be able to hang? That is the question.
This is really one of the toughest slates we’ve faced in a while due to the question marks surrounding each of the $10K-plus options. Anthony Davis has been on a torrid run lately, averaging 38 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.7 blocks, 1.7 steals and 68.7 DraftKings Points per game over his last six starts (not including an injury shortened outing against the Hawks). This is easily the best we’ve seen Davis play over his four-plus year career, and I’m not sure any defense is capable of containing him. Not only is he sporting a usage rate (34%) that’s nearly five percent higher than his previous career-high mark, but Davis has logged 39 or more minutes in each of his last four games. Alvin Gentry has thrown caution to the wind, and it is resulting in astronomical fantasy totals for the man we call “Brow.”
My concern surrounding this game is the Clippers’ defense; Doc Rivers chewed his team out after an embarrassing double overtime loss to Brooklyn, and they responded with a convincing blowout road win over Cleveland last night. Davis hasn’t enjoyed great results against the Clippers in the past, either, but this is a different version of him than we’ve seen in the past. My theory on Davis is quite simple: 20-plus field goal attempts, 40-plus minutes and 34 percent usage will almost always result in elite fantasy totals, but when you add a six percent block rate and 11 rebounds per game, it becomes difficult to fail. I’m not banking on 70-plus fantasy points in this matchup, but another 60-fantasy point outing seems very much in reach.
DeMarcus Cousins finds himself in a better spot than both Harden and Davis based on rest — the Kings haven’t played since Monday due to Slipgate in Philadelphia — and matchup, as Boston is allowing the 2nd most offensive rebounds, fourth most total rebounds and third most second chance points to their opposition. Cousins is capable of producing in such a multitude of ways (post, isolation, pick-and-roll, spot up 3’s, transition) that there isn’t one way to defend him. I respect Al Horford’s defense, but he’s a below average rebounder and gives away two inches and 25 pounds to Boogie. Cousins is seeing more volume than he has at any point in his career, owning a Goliath 37 percent usage rate, 20 percent assist rate and is attempting double-digit free throws per game. This game owns a respectable 210 over-under, and while Boston is a touchdown favorite at home, Cousins should see more than enough opportunity to produce. At a significant discount from Harden and Davis, Cousins should be considered a core cash game play with plenty of appeal in tournaments, too.
RECAP: To recap the approach I’ll be taking on the “Big Three” on Friday, DeMarcus Cousins makes for the strongest cash game play in a plus matchup and a guaranteed 35-plus minutes barring foul trouble. He’s also had three days of rest in between games and should be very fresh for this road tilt with Boston. James Harden is my top tournament option of the trio, as I’d expect to see lower ownership as a result of the back-to-back. The matchup with Denver is simply too favorable to overlook, and he’s never struggled on B2Bs in the past, even when logging 40-plus minutes the night before. Anthony Davis has been as dominant as any player in basketball this season, so I’m willing to throw his career splits vs. L.A. out the window. Playing 40-plus minutes in blowouts while owning massive usage and an elite block rate, it’s hard to envision a way Davis could fail on Friday outside of injury — which he is no stranger to. He’s a viable option in all formats but not a must play, as it’s hard to believe his upside isn’t at least slightly limited in this specific matchup.
Karl-Anthony Towns absolutely dismantled the Knicks on Wednesday, pouring in a career-high 47 points on 15-22 shooting and 17-20 from the charity stripe, while hauling in 18 rebounds with three blocks and 80 fantasy points across 42 minutes of work. He’ll draw the same matchup on Friday in a home-and-home set with New York, and my hunch would be that Towns’ ownership goes through the roof. Towns has seen his salary rise, but he’s still very affordable across the industry. He could see the matchup get slightly less appealing if Joakim Noah is active, but it’ll hardly make a difference considering Noah is logging fewer than 20 minutes per game. Tom Thibodeau is giving Towns all the minutes he can handle in close games, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for from our fantasy options. I will, however, note that Towns makes for a great tournament fade on Friday’s nine-game slate, as his ownership should be highly inflated by Wednesday’s monster performance.
CORE – DeMarcus Cousins; Karl-Anthony Towns [Cash]
SECONDARY – Anthony Davis
GPP – James Harden
POINT GUARD: Mid-level point guard is relatively shallow compared to what we’ve seen in recent weeks, but there are a few options to get excited about. Isaiah Thomas faces his former team at home in what’s projected to be a high-scoring affair. Sacramento ranks 26th in team DRtg, and there is nothing about a Collison/Lawson-led backcourt that should slow IT2 down on Friday. Thomas is a player who I prefer not to overspend on, but his salary has come down enough to love in this matchup. Thomas leads the league in drives with 14.2 per game, but also leads the league on FGA and points on drives, which means he isn’t driving just to kick it out for an easy three, but is still second in passes per drive. Sacramento owns a bottom-five rim protection rank, and are 28th in blocks at the basket. This immensely benefits Thomas, who isn’t tall enough to ride a roller coaster at Six Flags. I’ll have plenty of him on Friday, and would be surprised to see him finish with fewer than 40 fantasy points unless this game blows out.
Dennis Schroder has been ultra-aggressive lately, and it’s resulted in two of his best fantasy performances of the season. He’s driven to the rack 33 times over that two-game span, while sporting a 32.4 percent usage rate that sits nearly six percent higher than his season average. Moreover, Paul Millsap is doubtful to play again on Friday, which will open up more opportunity for Schroder to produce. He’s well underpriced across the board, and could even be considered a value play on a number of sites. Schroder finally appears to be adjusting to the starting lineup, and his 50-plus percent shooting on 20-plus field goal attempts in each of his last two games is highly encouraging going forward. Mike Budenholzer is feeding him more playing time lately, too, which only adds to his appeal against Ish Smith and the Pistons.
Kyle Lowry is a strong secondary option in a home tilt with the Lakers, but there’s definitely some concern over a blowout. That being said, Lowry is averaging 38 MPG and has played fewer than 36 minutes only once in 18 games. That’s not only highly encouraging from a fantasy perspective, but it highlights Lowry’s super high floor. In a matchup with the Lakers he should have no trouble racking up around 40 fantasy points on the night, but if L.A. manages to keep things close, Lowry could explode.
SHOOTING GUARD: This is unsurprisingly one of the worst positions on the night, especially in the middle tiers. DeMar DeRozan easily makes for the best option below James Harden, but he remains far more appealing on DraftKings at only $8,300. While DDR isn’t draining 35 points on a nightly basis anymore, but he’s still been impressive. What I’ve found most appealing, though, has been DeRozan’s ability to find the open man when double teamed by the opposition, and it’s no coincidence that his depressed point totals have been accompanied by an elevated assist rate. Over his last five games, DeRozan is averaging only 22.6 points but north of six assists per game. He’s mitigating the increased defensive attention by adding peripherals, and that’s something I’ll always welcome with open arms. Consider DeRozan a strong option in this plus matchup with the Lakers, where he should have no trouble producing well over one fantasy point per minute.
Bradley Beal has been outrageously good of late, but this matchup with San Antonio isn’t a spot to push our luck. Sure, he turned in an impressive 25/6/5/2 line against the Spurs just last week, but he was both cheaper and playing at home. This game takes place at the AT&T Center, where teams rarely walk out with a win, and Beal’s salary has now climbed across the board. He’s still a viable tournament option, but deploying Beal in cash doesn’t seem necessary on Friday night. You could actually make an argument for using Avery Bradley over Beal, as he draws a much better matchup with Sacramento, and has seen his salary fall since Horford and Crowder returned. Bradley has seen his rebound rate climb back up to a respectable level after seeing an immediate decline upon Horford/Crowder’s return, and the pace in this game should allow for inflated peripherals assuming he sees another 36-39 minutes of work.
SMALL FORWARD: Mid-range small forward generally don’t offer us much to get excited about, and Friday is no different. Kawhi Leonard should not go overlooked at his price point, though, weighing in at $8,200 on DraftKings and $8,100 on FanDuel. I’m actually a big fan of Leonard in cash games with his high floor, especially against a Washington team that has evidently forgotten how to play defense. Any Spurs game with a total north of 200 should at least be given a closer look. Leonard’s usage is significantly higher than it’s ever been over his career, and he hasn’t logged fewer than 31 minutes in a game since November 5th when the Clippers blew them out by 24 points. Leonard is a perfect fit for balanced lineups, and will help fill the void at an ugly small forward position.
Carmelo Anthony has struggled with efficiency, but it has at least resulted in a depressed price point across the industry. We won’t need an elite performance from him on Friday, and if Joakim Noah is sidelined he should see some run at the four, which increases rebounding potential and could also open up higher percentage field goal attempts. Kyle O’Quinn and Guillermo Hernangomez combined for only 26 minutes on Wednesday, but Marshall Plumlee logged a surprising 19 minutes off the bench. As of now it looks like Melo will play exclusively at the three, but he’s still sporting 30 percent usage and high shot volume each night. I prefer Leonard at a slightly higher cost for cash, but Anthony is a strong tournament option with enough upside to pay off a mid-$7K price point in a favorable matchup.
POWER FORWARD: I’m going to copy and paste Wednesday’s Deep Dive write up on Kristaps Porzingis, who went off against the T-Wolves in Minnesota. The only difference about Friday’s matchup is it comes at home inside Madison Square Garden, where Porzingis has been five fantasy points per game better than on the road this season…
“One could make the argument that the Knicks are Kristaps Porzingis’ team now, as he is averaging 23.3 points and 18 field goal attempts per game over his last eight starts. Staps’ 26 percent usage rate is still three percent lower than Carmelo Anthony’s in that span, but he’s been more effective in almost every phase of the game, averaging more points, rebounds, blocks and fantasy points (41.25) per contest. The Timberwolves have been disappointing this season, as they currently rank 24th in DRtg and 26th in DRtg vs. opposing bigs. Porzingis is already a solid option in all formats, but he’d become more attractive if Joakim Noah is out, as we would hopefully see Jeff Hornacek feed him some minutes at the five.
There’s a chance Chris Paul could rest on Friday’s second game of a back-to-back, but considering he played only 25 minutes in last night’s blowout win over Cleveland, it’s hard to gauge what Doc Rivers will decide to do. In the event that Paul does sit, however, Blake Griffin would immediately become a core play across the board. We’ve seen countless times in the past how Griffin becomes one of the Clippers’ primary facilitators when Paul is out, as he owns a brilliant 33 percent assist rate across 717 minutes without Paul since 2014. We won’t spend much time discussing Griffin due to the uncertainty surrounding Paul’s status, but just understand that no Paul equals all the Griffin. He’d be a virtual lock for 50 fantasy points in what would become a much more competitive game against the Pelicans, and it is worth noting that the line keeps moving towards New Orleans, possibly indicating rest for one or more of the Clippers’ starters.
CENTER: It’s hard to believe Joel Embiid won’t be the chalk center on Friday, as his minutes restriction has been raised to 28 for this meeting with Orlando. Embiid was already averaging 18.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.4 blocks and 35 fantasy points across only 22.5 minutes per game, which prorated to 28 minutes is right around 44 FPPG. Now I’m not suggesting he’s a lock for 45 fantasy points because his minutes are going to rise, and we all know that increased minutes with Embiid’s monster usage always results in decreased efficiency, but there’s too much upside to ignore him against the Magic. At $6,700 on DraftKings and $6,200 on FanDuel, Embiid is still playable in all formats, and is easily capable of producing six times his salary. With 38 percent usage and 20 FGA/36, we won’t have to worry about the volume. The Sixers are actually favored by 2.5 points at home, so Embiid should see his full allotment of minutes barring injury or terrible early foul trouble. He’s a top option on Friday night.
Dwight Howard also warrants some attention with Paul Millsap doubtful to play. Howard should have virtually no competition for rebounds and has seen his usage jump from 23.6 percent with Millsap on the court to 28.5 percent in 229 minutes with Millsap sidelined. I like Howard as a pivot off of Towns in GPPs, and also as a safe-floor cash game play at a very respectable price point. Al Horford is a strong tournament option, too, and Brad Stevens will likely want him on the court defending Cousins for as much time as possible. Horford rarely finds himself in foul trouble, and is capable of contributing in an assortment of fantasy-relevant categories, so I could see pivoting off of Embiid with Horford in some GPP lineups this evening.
CORE – Isaiah Thomas; Dennis Schroder; Blake Griffin [If Chris Paul is out]; Joel Embiid
SECONDARY – Kyle Lowry; DeMar DeRozan; Avery Bradley; Kawhi Leonard; Dwight Howard
GPP – Bradley Beal; Carmelo Anthony; Al Horford
POINT GUARD: Rajon Rondo is still too cheap to overlook on FanDuel at $5,900. Since Fred Hoiberg began to give him 35-plus minutes per game, the veteran point guard has been churning out some very solid fantasy totals. He’s averaging a fantasy point per minute over his last eight starts, while ranking eighth in the league in total touches over that span. Also encouraging is Rondo’s league-leading 73.4 passes made and 17.7 assist points created per game. He’s heavily involved in Chicago’s offense despite playing alongside Wade and Butler, and brings a fair amount of upside to the table with his above average rebounding and steal potential. Continue to roll him out on FanDuel until they decide to match his price point with his recent production.
We have some solid point guard value towards the bottom on Friday, including Sergio Rodriguez, Brandon Jennings and Cory Joseph. Rodriguez is probably the safest of the bunch, as he’ll play starters minutes against the Magic, and shouldn’t risk losing minutes with Jerryd Bayless sidelined. Rodriguez isn’t a high-upside value play, but he’s more than capable of producing six times his salary at a low $4K cost. Jennings is a viable secondary option behind Rodriguez, but also offers more upside, making him the more appealing play for GPPs. Jennings has been given free reign of the Knicks second unit, which has resulted in higher usage and a 32 percent assist rate over his last eight games. Joseph is the most volatile play of the bunch, but in the event of a blowout he could also be the most valuable. Joseph has recorded 24-plus DraftKings Points in three of his last five games with 24-plus minutes logged in each of his last four. He fits nicely in studs and scrubs lineups where you’re looking to fit in more than one elite-priced option.
You could also make a case for Tony Parker in GPPs and Elfrid Payton in cash, but only if Payton draws the start. DJ Augustin played only 19 minutes last night with Payton seeing 29 minutes off the bench. Since he’s now priced as a bench player, Payton would definitely possess more value if Vogel reinserts him back into the starting lineup.
SHOOTING GUARD: This won’t be a great position to look for cash game value unless Chris Paul sits. If he does in fact rest tonight, Jamal Crawford would become a core play at a highly discounted cost. Crawford has always played well when Paul is absent, but he’ll need to start over Austin Rivers for us to label him a near must play. Eric Gordon makes for a strong GPP play with apparent 40-fantasy point upside, but there’s no reason we should be considering him in cash on the second of a back-to-back with his already high volatility. Finally, Gerald Henderson has been much more effective at home this season, due in large part to the fact that Philadelphia has played quite well at the Wells Fargo Center. Assuming this game remains close, Henderson should see around 30 minutes of court time, and he won’t need any more than 20 fantasy points to pay off a near minimum salary price tag.
SMALL FORWARD: Jae Crowder and Danilo Gallinari are both on the verge of being mid-range plays, but still remain cheap enough to like on Friday night. Crowder has tallied 31-plus fantasy points in three straight starts, and will see big minutes defending Rudy Gay. This is a stellar matchup for everyone in Boston, and Crowder is one of the cheapest ways to get exposure to this offense. He’s a very safe cash play at $5,300 on FanDuel and $5,800 on DraftKings, while Gallinari makes for the stronger GPP play against the Rockets. Expect Gallo’s ownership to be down on Friday, as he’s been one of the more volatile fantasy options around, but playing a fatigued Rockets team at home presents us with plenty of potential upside. Gallinari played 36 minutes in his first game back from injury, and my assumption would be that if people target Denver wings they’ll likely pay up for Wilson Chandler.
If you’re feeling frisky, Jeff Green is basically free across the board, and we’ve seen worse players post respectable fantasy totals against the Sixers when given 25-plus minutes of work. You’re clearly only considering Green in lineups where a combination of Harden, Cousins or Davis are the centerpieces, as 20 fantasy points should make him a worthwhile punt in the event that our studs go for 60-plus.
POWER FORWARD: Nikola Jokic is questionable to play with a banged up wrist, but in the event that he’s active we’ll want to give him serious consideration. Jokic possesses an abundance of talent, but he simply hasn’t been able to convert that skill into consistent fantasy production this season. That being said, the young big man has tallied impressive double-doubles in each of his last two games, and is capable of seeing 30 minutes off the bench in a plus matchup with Houston. If Jokic plays I’ll undoubtedly be considering him, and since his injury is on his non-shooting hand it’s hard to believe he’ll be affected much unless the injury is worse than the team initially expressed.
As always, Taj Gibson remains a strong cash game value with a very respectable floor against the Cavs. He should easily play north of 30 minutes and likely won’t have much trouble notching a low-end double-double with a couple blocks along the way. This game owns a 211 over-under with Cleveland being only two-point favorites on the road, so there’s no reason to believe Gibson won’t see his normal allotment of minutes on Friday.
CENTER: I was very disappointed with Clint Capela’s performance last night, but with Montrezl Harrell catching fire off the bench, Capela was only able to grab 24 minutes in a double overtime win. His matchup with Denver is phenomenal, though, and I’m willing to throw last night’s stinker out the window. Jusuf Nurkic owns the second worst rim protection rating out of all big men averaging 22-plus minutes per game, while Nikola Jokic isn’t far behind at fourth worst on the year. Capela and Harden should work the alley oop to perfection, while he should also see some easy bucket in the pick-and-roll on cuts to the basket, where he leads the entire league in scoring. Mike D’Antoni has made it difficult to trust Capela with his minutes being so erratic, but this is an optimal matchup for the Swiss big man, and I’d expect him to take full advantage. The only issue here is Capela isn’t much cheaper than Joel Embiid, and he relies on other players (Harden) to create nearly all of his scoring.
Jonas Valanciunas is a strong tournament option against the Lakers pitiful frontcourt defense. He’s been vastly overlooked as a fantasy play this season, but offers more than enough upside to warrant consideration at a sub-$6K price point. I wouldn’t be surprised to see JoVal go under five percent owned, which is crazy when you consider the ease of this home matchup.
Bismack Biyombo should definitely remain in the starting lineup on Friday, as Frank Vogel is going to want him defending Joel Embiid for as much time as possible. Biyombo is an awful scorer and quite possibly has a worse touch around the rim than any player in basketball, but he’s a skilled rebounder with above average shot-blocking ability, which should be enough to surpass value at a low-$4K cost. Biyombo has logged 33 or more minutes in three straight games, and none of that should change this evening in a matchup where his services will be required. Mike Muscala is a comparatively priced center option, but he doesn’t possess nearly as much fantasy value when starting at the four. I prefer Biyombo over Muscala from a raw fantasy point projection, but also due to matchup and more reliable minutes.
CORE – Rajon Rondo [FanDuel]; Sergio Rodriguez; Jamal Crawford [If Chris Paul is out]; Nikola Jokic [Questionable]; Bismack Biyombo
SECONDARY – Elfrid Payton; Gerald Henderson; Jae Crowder; Taj Gibson; Clint Capela
GPP – Brandon Jennings; Cory Joseph; Tony Parker; Eric Gordon; Danilo Gallinari; Jeff Green; Jonas Valanciunas; Mike Muscala