NBA Deep Dive – 12/09/16

HIGH-PRICED

Okay, let’s get it started — The Oklahoma City Thunder will host the Houston Rockets on Friday in what’s anticipated to be one of the more watchable games on the season. This nationally televised tilt should be chock full of fantasy value, headlined by two of the league’s finest players squaring off against each other in Chesapeake Energy Arena, so that’s where we’ll begin: Russell Westbrook is riding a streak of six straight triple-doubles, a feat that, throughout the history of the game, has been accomplished by only Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. He’s in elite company here, but Westbrook will look to continue that streak on Friday against a Houston team that ranks 23rd in defensive efficiency this season.

Patrick Beverley is a strong on-ball defender whose pesky tendencies get under the skin of most scoring guards, but Westbrook has proven time and time again that matchups are nothing short of irrelevant. He currently ranks second in points, second in assists, first in field goal attempts and free throws, and first among all guards in rebounds through one and a half months. When your floor hovers around 55 fantasy points and you’ve had three days to rest in between games, it’s hard to fathom a way in which Westbrook fails to produce on Friday. As usual, the recommendation here would be to fade at your own risk.

That being said, James Harden is significantly discounted across the board, and much like Westbrook, his matchup-proof tendencies make him a stellar option across the board. While it’s never easy to admit that Harden is probably the advisable play over Westbrook, we should probably consider the choice on Friday. The Beard isn’t riding a historic triple-double streak, but he is the second best fantasy producer in the game, ranking fourth in scoring, first in assists and first in free throw attempts per game. Harden continues to sport a top-five usage rating with a ridiculous 51 percent assist rate and an 11.6 percent total rebounding rate, which serves as an elite mark for a guard.

Harden struggled in his first meeting with the Thunder, but that’s no reason to avoid him in this rematch. With a slate-high 225.5 over-under and a mere 1-point spread, Harden should play close to 40 minutes for only the second time in his last seven games. The Rockets have won five of their last six games by an average of 16 points, so Harden’s minutes and subsequent minutes have been limit but he’s still posting an eye-popping 1.64 FPPM in that span. Consider him a top overall option in what’s virtually guaranteed to be a high-scoring, competitive affair.

Foregoing the above two guards could be a viable strategy on Friday, especially with their astronomical price tags limiting upside to an extent. A strong pivot would be DeMarcus Cousins, who might go overlooked in a very appealing matchup with the Knicks. Not only does New York rank 27th in overall defense, but they’re also allowing the most second chance points with the most points per possession allowed on putbacks. Cousins’ versatility is nothing short of astounding, as he ranks towards the top of the league in post up points, isolation points, pick-and-roll points and even sits top-seven in spot up points on the season. Cousins also owns the league’s third highest usage rate (37%) with a ridiculous 38 percent point share for the Kings. Kristaps Porzingis won’t know where to start when it comes to guarding Boogie, but he’ll likely be fortunate enough to avoid that assignment. Still, Joakim Noah isn’t playing enough minutes to be a threat, and Kyle O’Quinn is a walking foul out. Cousins is a better play on DraftKings where his price tag remains south of $11K, but he’s in play across the board with absurd averages of 33 points, 13 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.4 blocks, 1.1 steals and 62 fantasy points per game over his last seven starts.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has earned himself the reputation of being matchup proof, which is amazing when you consider his inability to score from outside of five feet from the rim. Antetokounmpo is attempting 60 percent of his shots from within five feet of the basket, where he’s shooting a stellar 68 percent on the year. The Atlanta Hawks, who Giannis will face on Friday, however, are allowing the fewest amount of field goals on shots defended at the rim this season. Dwight Howard’s 45.9 percent shooting allowed at the basket is an elite mark, while Paul Millsap is also holding opponents to under 50 percent. Atlanta is also holding teams to a bottom-four mark in transition points per possession, where Antetokounmpo unsurprisingly scores a massive 22 percent of his points. This is by no means an easy matchup for the Greek Freak, but since he’s capable of racking up elite fantasy totals in an assortment of ways, there’s plenty of GPP appeal on the table. It’s still worth noting, though, that while the Hawks have looked sub-par of late, they still own the league’s third best defensive rating on the season, and are strong defensively in every area Giannis thrives on offense.

CORE – James Harden; DeMarcus Cousins

SECONDARY – Russell Westbrook

GPP – Giannis Antetokounmpo

MID-RANGE

While the Pistons have done a solid job of containing opposing frontcourts this season, Andre Drummond is still allowing the fourth highest field goal percentage at the rim, and struggles mightily to defend the pick-and-roll. As a result, Karl-Anthony Towns should be considered a phenomenal play in this home tilt with Detroit. Towns is third in PnR scoring with 1.13 PPP, while the Pistons have allowed the third most points to roll men on the year. He’s also been dominant at home, averaging a 24-point, 13-rebound, 49-DKPT double-double across 36 minutes per game. It’s nearly impossible to overlook Towns at an inexplicable $8,300 on DraftKings, where he wouldn’t kill you with a 40-fantasy point game. This could be one of those nights where Towns erupts for 60 fantasy points in front of the T-Wolves faithful, and I won’t want to miss out on it when he’s priced so low.

Sweet Lou Williams is sporting an otherworldly 40 percent usage rate over his last three games, averaging 34 points and 46 fantasy points with 1.53 FPPM in that span. While we shouldn’t be expecting another 50-plus-fantasy point outburst from the veteran two-guard, Williams should see ample opportunity to produce against Phoenix’s putrid backcourt defense. As we’ve discussed at length this season, the Suns are notorious for coughing up massive games to opposing shooting guards, as evidenced by Bradley Beal enjoying a career performance against them last month and Evan Fournier posting his second best fantasy totals on the year. Williams is no exception, especially considering the Lakers’ backcourt is depleted. D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young and Jose Calderon have already been ruled out on Friday, which should leave Williams with 30-plus minutes of work of the bench in what’s almost certain to be a closely contested affair (LAL -1.5). Phoenix has surrendered the most points to opposing backcourts while allowing the highest FG%, 3PT% and OEff a quarter way through the season. Williams makes for a stellar mid-range play across the industry.

Carmelo Anthony will continue to be one of the most tilting fantasy options around, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore him in optimal spots. At $7,300 on both FanDuel and DraftKings, Melo is more than just a tempting proposition. He’s coming off of a forgettable performance against the Cavs, but that should’ve been expected — even with Derrick Rose sidelined. LeBron James contained him for the time they spent together on the court, and Anthony ended up playing only 24 minutes in a 32-point blowout loss at home. Look for a bounce back performance against a Kings team that ranks 25th in DRtg against opposing wings. Anthony owns a mouthwatering 40 percent usage rate with Rose off the court, and would become a near must play if the oft-injured point guard is unable to play. Nevertheless, Melo should see heavy minutes in a game that owns a respectable 210 over-under and a 4-point spread in favor of Sacramento. He’s simply too cheap to overlook.

UPDATE: Derrick Rose has been ruled OUT on Friday, making Anthony a core play against the Kings.

Kemba Walker has once again been disrespected by the DraftKings pricing algorithm, which has him listed at $7,200 in a home tilt with the Magic on Friday. Orlando is allowing the third most points to opposing point guards since DJ Augustin assumed the starting role, as they’ve recently surrendered a career-high 52 points to John Wall, a combined 29 points to Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier and 29 total points to Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith over the last week. Walker is one of the most reliable point guards in the game, posting 37-plus DKPTs in all but two of 13 home games this season. He should tear through this Magic backcourt with ease, and is cheap enough to consider a core play at only $7,200.

As a GPP pivot, Eric Bledsoe makes plenty of sense. He’s a super volatile fantasy option with an unsightly floor, but Bledsoe has also posted 50-plus fantasy points in four of his last eight games. In a stellar home matchup with the Lakers we have to at least give him a look. Bledsoe’s minutes should be stable with this game projected to be competitive, and his usage has hovered around 30 percent since the end of November. I wouldn’t go near Bledsoe in cash, but as a low-owned GPP play with solid upside, there’s no reason to cross him off the list. Devin Booker also makes for an intriguing pivot away from Lou Williams, who should be chalk on this nine-game slate. Booker’s fantasy totals have been predictably limited this season with Bledsoe and Knight healthy, but he shouldn’t struggle with efficiency against a weak Lakers backcourt.

I’m still uncertain of whether or not Harrison Barnes is good, or if he’s just benefitting from massive shot volume on a depleted Mavericks team. Fortunately for those of us who care only about fantasy production, the answer to that question is unimportant. Not only has Barnes played the league’s third most minutes (37.3 MPG), but he ranks top-10 in field goal attempts with 18.1 shots per game! M.U.M.S — Minutes, Usage, Matchup, Skill in exactly that order. That’s what matters here, and Barnes checks the box in at least three of those categories. The fourth (skill) is still undetermined. With 37.3 MPG, and 27 percent usage rate and a strong matchup with the Pacers. Barnes has scored the most isolations points this season, and while Indiana hasn’t allowed much scoring in that department, they are allowing the fifth most points per possession with the second highest free throw frequency on the year. The Pacers have also been trashed in the post, where they’ve allowed the most PPP and the highest FG% of any team (55.8%). 15 percent of Barnes’ scoring has come on post up attempts, so he should find several ways to score in this matchup. It’s difficult not to like Barnes at just $6,100 on both FanDuel and DraftKings, where heavy usage and shot volume should propel him to another strong performance.

Julius Randle hasn’t been a pillar of consistency this season, but Friday’s matchup with Phoenix should allow for solid fantasy totals in a close-fought affair. Marquese Chriss is not only a porous defender, but he’s unwilling to body ball-handlers in the post, and refuses to box out opposing bigs on the defensive glass. Randle produces a lot of his scoring by outphysicalling defenders down low, which should be an easy task on Friday. Even when Chriss is on the bench, Jared Dudley shouldn’t fare any better, and with the Lakers being down two of their top scoring options, Randle should see enough shot volume to produce. Randle owns a respectable 25 percent usage rate when both Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell are off the court, and seeing that Phoenix is allowing the fifth highest OEff to opposing fours, I don’t see why he shouldn’t be able to exploit this matchup on Friday night.

Dwight Howard is coming off his best game as a Hawk, posting 23 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, two blocks, one steal and 57.25 DKPTs in 35 minutes against the Heat. It’s disappointing to see Howard’s shot volume hasn’t risen much from last season’s disappointing campaign in Houston, but his salary has fallen far enough to mitigate the lack of usage. Howard is still among the league leaders in rebounds and blocked shots, and is shooting 61 percent from the field on the season, so Friday’s matchup with Milwaukee should serve him well. As a mid-range center with solid upside against the Bucks’ pedestrian frontcourt, Howard can be deployed in all formats on a night where the center position isn’t especially deep.

CORE – Karl-Anthony Towns [DraftKings]; Lou Williams; Carmelo Anthony; Kemba Walker [DraftKings]

SECONDARY – Karl-Anthony Towns [FanDuel]; Kemba Walker [FanDuel]; Harrison Barnes; Julius Randle; DeMar DeRozan; Dwight Howard

GPP – Eric Bledsoe; Devin Booker; Kristaps Porzingis; Victor Oladipo

VALUE

Jordan Clarkson was highly underwhelming in Wednesday’s start, but he played 35 minutes in a 39-point blowout loss to Houston, which enough to consider him at a low-$5K cost. Facing the Suns is about as good a matchup as any guard can draw, especially if he’s going to log heavy minutes in the starting lineup for the second straight game. Phoenix has allowed more points to opposing shooting guards than any other team, while only Brooklyn has allowed more raw points per game than the Suns. Clarkson is never a fun fantasy option, as he is one of the more volatile players around, but the Lakers are so thin in their backcourt that the volume here should be more than enough to justify a roster spot. This is literally the best matchup in basketball for Clarkson, and it’ll be time to give up all hope if he’s unable to exploit it.

Marcelo Huertas started at the point and logged 31 productive minutes in the loss. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Huertas, here’s a quick scouting report: Huertas is actually a very skilled passer with nice vision in all areas of the court. He can’t shoot worth a lick, but has a high motor and never stops hustling, which often results in solid steal totals and some easy fast-break layups to pad his fantasy totals. If Luke Walton decides to start him again, and hopefully provide him with 30-plus minutes against the Suns, Huertas would legitimately make for a core value play at a near minimum salary cost.

Tyler Johnson could easily go overlooked on Friday in a projected blowout in Cleveland, but he’s pretty much guaranteed to see 30-plus minutes regardless of the score. With Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, James Johnson and Luke Babbitt still sidelined, Miami will be left with Goran Dragic, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder, Tyler Johnson and Maybe Derrick Williams to fill all of the minutes at PG, SG and SF. Since Johnson comes off the bench, he should see reliable playing time in a close game or a blowout. He’ll also draw some solid matchups unless Iman Shumpert is assigned to guard him for long stretches, but even so, Johnson’s usage should be high enough to mitigate that concern. He’s averaging 13 FGA/G over his last eight starts, and hasn’t played fewer than 30 minutes in any of his last four. There’s plenty of upside here, and Johnson should be low enough owned to exploit in GPPs.

Dwight Powell will likely come off the bench again, but as I noted in Wednesday’s Deep Dive, Rick Carlisle isn’t going to give Salah Mejri relevant minutes even if he gets the nod. Powell played 25 minutes last game in a blowout loss to Sacramento, but would’ve seen more run had this game stayed competitive. The Pacers have played poorly all season long, and are only 4.5-point road favorites on Friday night, so Powell could make for a stellar value play, especially on FanDuel. He’s averaging 27 MPG over his last four outings, and shouldn’t be at risk of seeing less minutes now that Andrew Bogut is sidelined. With Powell producing just shy of one FPPM on the season, he should have no trouble paying off his price tag against a very weak Indiana frontcourt defense.

P.J. Tucker is a low-upside value play in virtually every matchup, but he’s seeing enough minutes to be relevant at a barren small forward position. On FanDuel specifically, Tucker makes a lot of sense as a small forward pairing with Carmelo Anthony, and should be able to rack up around 25 fantasy points against the Lakers, who have now passed Portland for the worst defensive rating in basketball. After producing two highly underwhelming games from a fantasy perspective, we can look for Tucker to get back on track in a gift matchup with Los Angeles. You could also look towards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as a GPP pivot at a very depressed price point on DraftKings. MKG is far from a polished scorer, but 30-plus minutes against Orlando should be enough to warrant consideration at only $4,300.

Brandon Jennings was rather serviceable in his spot start for Rose, as this was a night where nearly the entire Knicks roster failed to produce. Jennings should draw another start on Friday with Rose sidelined, but his salary has unfortunately risen north of $5K on DraftKings. While I’m not opposed to using Jennings in this plus matchup with Sacramento, he’ll have some competition at the position with Clarkson and Tyler Johnson being similarly priced. He’s most valuable at $4,800 on FanDuel, though, and has always been capable of producing strong totals when give sufficient run. Despite the price hike, Jennings should still be considered a secondary cash option across the board, who has easy 30-plus-fantasy point upside in this optimal matchup.

Jae Crowder figures to draw a nice matchup with DeMarre Carroll sidelined for Toronto. The Raptors aren’t a team I generally like to pick on, but if Crowder sees 35-plus minutes (which he should), there’s plenty of room to pay off a mid-$5K price tag across the board. Crowder hasn’t provided much upside this season, but Isaiah Thomas’ upside should afford him more shot volume in what’s projected to be a very competitive affair (BOS -1.5). I’d stay away from Marcus Smart, whose salary has risen too high to trust in a tough matchup, as well as Terry Rozier, whose added minutes and subsequent fantasy production were more the result of a blowout than the loss of Thomas.

Center isn’t the best position to target value on Friday, but in the event that you don’t want to pay a mid-range price tag, John Henson remains in play. He struggled against Portland the other night, but the fact that Jason Kidd stuck with him was an encouraging sign. He’ll need Henson’s defense against this potent Atlanta defense, whereas Greg Monroe won’t be able to hang with Howard and Millsap down low. You could do a lot worse than Henson in cash games, where he’ll likely give you another 25-28 fantasy points, which is right around 6x his current price point. I’d look towards Cody Zeller as a tournament pivot, as he should be low owned, but draws an exploitable matchup with the Magic. The same goes for Tristan Thompson, who assuming his minutes aren’t limited due to blowout, should be able to churn out solid fantasy totals at a sub-$5K cost.

NOTE: Tristan Thompson would become a core value play if Kevin Love is out, considering Channing Frye is also sidelined for Cleveland’s next two games.

CORE – Jordan Clarkson; Marcelo Huertas; Dwight Powell [FanDuel]; Tristan Thompson [If Kevin Love is out]

SECONDARY – Tyler Johnson; Dwight Powell [DraftKings]; P.J. Tucker; Brandon Jennings; Jae Crowder; John Henson

GPP – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist [DraftKings]; Wesley Johnson; Cody Zeller; Tristan Thompson [If Love is active]