NBA Deep Dive – 12/14/16



James Harden and the Rockets have been firing on all cylinders lately, winning all seven games in December and 12 of their last 14. That’s the only problem on Wednesday, where they are 9.5-point favorites at home against the Kings. Still, fading Harden in a plus home matchup feels unwise, especially on a night where the Cleveland Cavaliers are offering up a bounty of minimum salary value. We saw on Monday how the Nets kept things competitive despite being 14.5-point road dogs, so it’s not unrealistic to project a semi-close game even though the Kings will likely be shorthanded. Harden is averaging 36 MPG in 12 games decided by double-digits this season anyway, so don’t hesitate to fire him up in all formats. With 40 percent usage, 28 points per game, and the most assist points created and passes received per game this season, Harden offers a floor higher than most players’ ceilings. Don’t overthink it.


DeMarcus Cousins was T’d up on Monday for the ninth time this season, but not before finishing with 31 points (12-21 FG), 16 rebounds, five assists, three blocks, two steals and 67 fantasy points across 35 minutes of work in a home route over the Lakers. Boogie’s Kings were down by seven at the half, but when Rudy Gay’s injury forced Dave Joerger to use a lineup of Collison, Temple, Casspi, Cousins and Koufos, they outscored L.A. 39-13 in the third quarter. I’m convinced Joerger couldn’t have overlooked how well this lineup combination worked for the Kings, and I’m hoping he’ll go back to it this evening. We’ll return to this point later in the article, but for now, back to Cousins…


Boogie faces a Rockets frontcourt that’s allowing a top-10 FG% at the rim and the fourth most points in the paint. Despite their streaking ways, Houston still surrenders 106 points per game and plays at the league’s ninth fastest pace.. Cousins is the most versatile big man in basketball, scoring the second most post points, eighth most pick-and-roll points, 10th most spot-up points and 15th most isolation points on the season. There’s simply no way to contain him. Houston ranks dead last in points per possession on isolation points allowed, and have been carved up by physical bigs in the post. Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela will have their hands full all night long, and neither have the defensive chops to limit his scoring. Cousins makes for an elite play across the board, especially now that Rudy Gay is doubtful to play.


Suffice it to say, Russell Westbrook was a colossal disappointment last night, finishing with only 36 fantasy points in 27 blowout-shortened minutes against the Blazers. If you paid for Westbrook in as many lineups as I did, there was undoubtedly a sour taste left in your mouth. Things may not get much easier on Wednesday, though, as he’ll square off against a Jazz team that ranks fourth in DRtg and 29th in pace. Most players would be an easy fade in a spot like this, playing their second of a back-to-back on the road after an awful team performance in Portland, but Westbrook is a different breed.


Despite the matchup, despite the low total and despite the exorbitant price tag, Westbrook still makes for an elite tournament options whose ownership could legitimately be lower than we’ve seen all season. He’s averaging 60 DKPT per game on back-to-backs this season, and will face a Utah squad whose backcourt could potentially consist of Shelvin Mack, Raul Neto and Joe Johnson. I would actually recommend using Westbrook over Harden in some DraftKings GPPs, where he has literally dropped $900 overnight. Westbrook is cash viable on DraftKings, but also makes for a stellar tournament play across the industry. The only concern here is Westbrook could really struggle if his jump shot isn’t falling, as Rudy Gobert will look to shut him down at the rim.


John Wall is inexplicably priced at $8,600 on DraftKings despite posting 50-plus fantasy points in seven of his last 10 games. He’s enjoying his best season as a pro, averaging career highs in points (23.9), field goal attempts (19.1 FGA/G), steals (2.1), eFG% (.488) and usage (31.8%) more than a quarter way through the season. Furthermore, Wall hasn’t logged fewer than 36 minutes in a game since November 17th, and is averaging 39 MPG over that 12-game span. He is the epitome of an elite DFS play, yet somehow remains priced like a mediocre one.


Wednesday’s matchup with Charlotte isn’t ideal, but Kemba Walker looks to be playing hobbled and this game is currently a pick ‘em with a 212 total. I’ll happily take my chances with Wall playing at home in a competitive, relatively high-scoring affair. He’s been far too aggressive to overlook at a mid-$8K price point.


Chris Paul also draws some serious appealing in a plus road matchup with the Magic. I’d generally be concerned about a blowout here, but the Clippers have struggled to blow teams out away from the Staples Center, and Orlando has been putrid against opposing point guards since D.J. Augustin entered the starting lineup. Wall is easily the preferred play on DraftKings, but FanDuel is a different story where the two guards are separated by only $100. Blake Griffin also presents some appeal against the Magic, but power forward offers some solid lower mid-range options that should allow us to forego paying his price tag.


CORE – James Harden; DeMarcus Cousins; John Wall [DraftKings]

SECONDARY – Russell Westbrook [DraftKings]; Chris Paul

GPP – Russell Westbrook [FanDuel]; John Wall [FanDuel]; Blake Griffin




Kyle Lowry let a lot of people down the other night when he posted only 34 fantasy points in a blowout win over Milwaukee. It’s sure nice to know that Lowry is a massive “let down” when he finishes with only 34 fantasy points, isn’t it? He’s playing more minutes per game than any player not named Anthony Davis, and has tallied 40-plus DraftKings Points in 17 of his last 20 starts!


Lowry’s floor is without question one of the safest on Wednesday night, as the Sixers should keep things just close enough for him to play four quarters of basketball at the Wells Fargo Center. I still prefer Wall at +$400 on DraftKings, but Lowry offers a steep discount on FanDuel and is a very enticing play there where his lack of double-doubles and low turnover rate increase value.


Hassan Whiteside has struggled in some difficult matchups of late, but he’s still managed to produce quality fantasy totals in favorable spots. Wednesday’s home tilt with Indiana is certainly a favorable spot, as the Pacers have fallen back down to 19th in DRtg while allowing the second most rebounds to opposing centers. Indiana has allowed the third highest OREB% to enemy big men, but let’s not stop there; centers are scoring the fifth most second chance points, sixth most points in the paint and most points in the pick-and roll with 1.06 points per possession. Chalk Whiteside up for a monster double-double at a somewhat depressed price point, and take advantage of those who are afraid to play him after a few lousy performances. It also doesn’t hurt to note that Whiteside is averaging nine more FPPG at home than he is on the road.


Andre Drummond is one of my preferred GPP pivots away from Whiteside, as he’s likely to see ultra-low ownership on this slate. Dallas is missing their defensive anchor in Andrew Bogut and they don’t have any big men capable of boxing Drummond out on the glass. This game owns an unsightly 188.5 over-under, but Drummond has been playing so well that it’ll be hard to ignore him against a beat up Mavericks frontcourt. The same goes for Joel Embiid on FanDuel, who at $7,000 is still capable of churning out north of six times his salary in 28 minutes of work.


Point guard is the deepest of the five positions on Wednesday, and Goran Dragic won’t make the decision making process any easier. Despite losing five of their last six games, Dragic is the only reason the Heat have stayed competitive. The veteran guard is averaging 23.5 points, 6.4 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 40 fantasy points in December, while shooting 51 percent from the field and 48 percent from deep on 18 total shots per game.


It’s hard not to love Dragic at a low-$7K price point in a plus matchup with the Pacers. Dragic leads the league in drives with 14.3 per game and Indiana is coughing up a robust 53 percent shooting at the rim. They’ve also been torched in the pick-and-roll, where Dragic and Whiteside should thrive. If you’re looking to go balanced on Wednesday, Dragic makes plenty of sense. He isn’t a core play per se, but that’s only because this 10-game slate offers so many options at the point guard position.


Brook Lopez would be a nightly cash game consideration if his minutes weren’t so erratic. Kenny Atkinson won’t play him for more than 28 minutes in blowouts, and even in closely contested affairs Lopez is topping out at around 33 minutes. That being said, Wednesday’s matchup with the Lakers is arguably the best matchup he’s drawn all season. Not only does Los Angeles rank dead last in DRtg with the highest FG% allowed at the rim (59.8%), but this game owns a mere 1-point spread and a Goliath 228.5 over-under.


L.A. is surrendering the second highest OEff, fourth most points and third most blocks to opposing centers this season, while allowing the third highest FG% and second most FGA per game. They are hemorrhaging fantasy points to big men and BroLo would have to drop dead in order to squander this opportunity. The only way Lopez fails to produce in this matchup is if he flat out decides not to play. Marc Gasol is well-rested for Wednesday home tilt with a skeleton crew Cavs squad, and the Grizzlies are somehow favored by only 6.5 points. No one would blame you for targeting Gasol with how well he’s been playing, but you’re no longer getting the same discount from a week or two back.


Julius Randle and Trevor Booker should both be popular plays in this game, and neither are overpriced. Randle notched his first career triple-double in his only other meeting with Brooklyn this season, while Booker posted a respectable 11-point, 10-rebound, 35-fantasy point performance himself. Both of these power forwards play a similar brand of basketball and matchup well with each other on Wednesday.


Randle is coming off what was arguably his worst game of the year, but I’m expecting him to bounce back in the juiciest possible matchup. Brooklyn is coughing up the most points, third most rebounds, fourth most assists, second most steals, second most blocks and most field goal attempts to opposing frontcourts. They’re also allowing the highest OEff and third highest FG% to big men, while playing at the fastest pace in basketball with a 29th ranked defensive efficiency rating. Yes, this is literally the best possible matchup Randle could draw, and you can have him at a sub-$6K price point on DraftKings.


Booker is a strong play himself against the league’s worst defensive unit who haven’t fared any better than Brooklyn against opposing bigs. Actually, the Lakers have been worse in some spots, surrendering the highest FG% and second highest OEff to enemy frontcourts. This game is stackable on so many levels, but it all begins in the frontcourt and Booker is no exception.


DeMar DeRozan would be a much more appealing play if shooting guard didn’t house most of Wednesday’s min-sal value. He’s still on the radar, though, as the Sixers won’t be capable of containing him unless they smother him with double teams, which would result in wide open scoring opportunities for Lowry and Valanciunas. DeRozan should be attempting more field goals around the rim, but he still ranks seventh in drives on the season. Consider him a tournament play on a night where most will look to punt the shooting guard position to pair with James Harden.


Small forward is predictably the ugliest position to choose from on Wednesday, and the absence LeBron James and Rudy Gay leaves us with very little to choose from at the top. There is a smidgen of value at small forward that we’ll discuss momentarily, but for now let’s take a quick look at our remaining mid-range options: Kawhi Leonard is presumably the safest of the group, as he’s now tallied 42-plus DKPT in three straight games while shooting a spectacular 60 percent from the field (31-52 FG) and 58 percent from beyond the arc in that span (7-12 3PT).


Boston will be without their leading scorer in Isaiah Thomas, but they still have enough offensive weapons to stay competitive. Avery Bradley is having a career year and Al Horford (fantastic GPP pivot away from Brook Lopez) is a savvy veteran capable of exploiting Pau Gasol’s porous defense throughout the night. Another 40-plus-fantasy point game should be in the cards for Leonard so long as the Celtics keep things relatively close. The Spurs are only 6-4 at home this season, though, so it wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect a close-fought affair.


Paul George’s matchup with Miami is a lot easier now that we know Justise Winslow is expected to miss his 17th straight game. The Heat’s lack of defensive depth at the wing has crippled them this season, and it should hurt them again on Wednesday. You could justify using George in cash, but he’s a better GPP play due to depressed usage and erratic fantasy production. Miami’s slow pace is a slight deterrent, but this game owns a mere 1-point spread and a semi-palatable 204 over-under. You could do worse than George at the position, but on FanDuel there really isn’t enough value to get cute.


CORE – Hassan Whiteside; Brook Lopez; Julius Randle; Trevor Booker

SECONDARY – Kyle Lowry; Goran Dragic; Marc Gasol; Kawhi Leonard; Paul George [FanDuel]

GPP – Andre Drummond; Joel Embiid [FanDuel]; DeMar DeRozan; Paul George [DraftKings]




LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love eat up more than 90 percent of Cleveland’s possessions when all three are on the court. Well, all three will be inactive on Wednesday, which means the Cavs will be the first place we look for value on this 10-game slate. J.R. Smith is a good place to start, as he’s a virtual lock to see around 30 percent usage with a bounty of field goal attempts against the Grizzlies. I’m no less a fan of this matchup than you are, but matchup should hardly be a concern when we’re dealing with a near minimum salary price point and a heap of opportunity.


Smith could legitimately attempt north of 25 field goals on a night where Cleveland will have virtually zero scoring presence in their starting lineup, and is sporting a 30 percent usage rate in 208 minutes with James, Love and Irving off the court since 2014. He’s averaging 21 field goal attempts per 36 with the big three sidelined, and figures to shoot ‘til his arms fall off on Wednesday. At $3,500 on both FanDuel and DraftKings, Smith makes for the top overall value play on the slate.


DeAndre Liggins has been the main beneficiary from Kyrie Irving’s absence lately, but his fantasy totals suffered as a result of seeing non-existent usage playing alongside James and Love. That will change on Wednesday, as Liggins should be Cleveland’s primary facilitator and won’t have to contend with two usage monsters in LeBron and Love for field goal attempts.


Liggins averaged 10 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.6 steals per 36 through six preseason games, and while this isn’t the best predictive measure of success for this evening, it at least gives us some idea of what he’ll be able to do with extended run when the big three are sidelined. Liggins won’t need more than 20 fantasy points to pay off his minimum salary price point, but if he plays 35 minutes there’s certainly going to be upside for more. Iman Shumpert is also in play, but his ceiling is limited in any situation. The problem with both of these guards on a site like DraftKings is the point guard position is so deep that you’ll be passing up some excellent options in order to roster them.


Cleveland will lack any scoring presence inside the paint, which could hurt Channing Frye’s ability to produce. His best games come with James driving to the rack and kicking it out to a wide open Frye behind the arc, but that could be a tough ask on Wednesday. Tristan Thompson is far from a polished scorer and likely won’t see many additional scoring opportunities against Marc Gasol, so spacing and ball movement could be a big issue. This is why Liggins and Smith possess more value; they will dominate enough possessions and have enough ball-handling duties to create their own value.


Jeremy Lin will be a stone cold LOCK on DraftKings if he’s reinserted into the starting lineup.


Omri Casspi was solid in Monday’s comeback blowout against the Lakers, and actually played an integral role in Sacramento mounting a huge third quarter lead. Casspi has now posted 25-plus fantasy points in back-to-back games, and figures to see ample opportunity to produce again with Rudy Gay doubtful to play. If Casspi logs in the neighborhood of 30 minutes against the fast-paced Rockets he should have no trouble churning out another respectable performance in what’s projected to be the second highest scoring contest on the night. Casspi won’t eclipse 20 percent usage, but he’s a fine rebounder who can knock down spot up threes and rack up some steals when given sufficient run. He’s a much more enticing play on DraftKings, however, where small forward eligibility boosts his value.


Jeremy Lin would be a virtual lock if we know he was starting and playing 30 minutes, but he logged only 20 minutes off the bench in his first game back from a 17-game hiatus. Lin still managed to post 1.41 fantasy points per minutes against Houston, though, and was one of the more consistent mid-range point guards before injuring his hamstring. In a game that owns a slate-high 228.5 over-under and a 1-point spread, Lin needs to be on our radar as we patiently wait for news on his status. If he starts and isn’t limited, Lin will become a top play on DraftKings at only $5,600.


Small forward is a barren wasteland on Wednesday, so it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to roll the dice on Jeff Green if Nikola Vucevic remains sidelined. Green logged 31 minutes last time out and would figure to see around 25 minutes this evening assuming Aaron Gordon doesn’t get in foul trouble. Green is more appealing on FanDuel where Casspi is power forward eligible.


CORE – J.R. Smith; Jeremy Lin [DraftKings — If starting and off minutes restriction]

SECONDARY – DeAndre Liggins; Omri Casspi [DraftKings]; Jeff Green [FanDuel — If Vucevic is out]

GPP – Channing Frye; Omri Casspi [FanDuel]; Iman Shumpert; Sean Kilpatrick [If Lin comes off bench and remains limited]; Lou Williams; Jeff Green [DraftKings]