NBA Deep Dive – 1/11/17

HIGH-PRICED   [$8500+]

If the season ended today, James Harden would be the undisputed, unquestioned, consensus MVP winner, and by my judgement, it isn’t even close. At the near midway point of his 2016-17 campaign, Harden ranks first in assists (11.8 AST/G), first in double-doubles (33), first in free throws (10.4 FTA/G), second in triple-doubles (11)  and second in rebounds (8.4 REB/G) among all guards. On Tuesday night he became the fourth player in NBA history to record back-to-back 40-point triple-doubles, and on New Year’s Eve, Harden made history again with the league’s first 50-point, 15-rebound, 15-assist game (53/16/17). Suffice it to say, there isn’t a player in basketball who is currently playing, or currently capable of playing, at Harden’s level.

Harden is averaging 60.7 DraftKings Points and 36 minutes per game on back-to-backs this season. He hasn’t been even slightly hamstrung by fatigue, and is actually shooting at a higher clip than his season average, but has seen a small decrease in usage on back-to-backs. Nevertheless, Harden shouldn’t be faded simply because he isn’t playing an island game, and he shouldn’t be faded because his price tag is astronomically high. The only justification to fading Harden would be a lack of viable low-end options, and given the wealth of midrange talent available on this six-game slate, that’s certainly an approach that warrants consideration.


Karl-Anthony Towns offers immense upside in a pace-up meeting with the Rockets. For a team that ranks bottom-five in pace, Minnesota players will see a nice value boost against Houston, who ranks fourth in pace this season. Towns has been rather predictable this season, beating up on weak, undersized frontcourts while struggling against defensive-minded bigs with elite rebounding capabilities. Houston’s bigs have struggled to rebound since Clint Capela went down, as Montrezl Harrell, Ryan Anderson and Nene Hilario are all well below average contributors in that category. Towns owns a distinct size advantage Harrell, who should see the majority of minutes at the five with Nene losing playing time on the second of a back-to-back.

Towns erupted for 41 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and 69 fantasy points in his only other meeting with the Rockets this season. 10 of Towns’ 15 made field goals came in the paint, where he victimized a diminutive Houston frontcourt all night long. He took 12 trips to the charity stripe and logged 43 minutes in the overtime defeat. It’s hard to believe Tom Thibodeau wouldn’t want to feed his prized big man, whose advantages in both size and skill should result in yet another monster performance. The potential absence of Zach LaVine would place an even heavier burden on Towns to produce.


John Wall has tallied 50-plus fantasy points in 17 of his last 25 games, evidencing the clear step forward he has taken in his seventh NBA campaign. Wall’s career-high usage rate, assist rate, steal rate and fantasy points per minute have vaulted him into elite territory this season, yet he still sits at an affordable price point across the board. Scott Brooks has handed Wall the keys to the team, and he hasn’t looked in the rearview mirror since getting behind the wheel.

Wednesday’s matchup with Boston is already enticing, but Avery Bradley’s potential absence could create a much more favorable draw for Wall. Isaiah Thomas stands seven inches shorter than Washington’s star point guard, and his 113 DRtg likely won’t do him any favors in what’s projected to be a shootout at TD Garden. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan slaughtered the Celtics’ shorthanded backcourt last night, and judging by the sound of the Bradley’s progress, he likely won’t return until Friday. Marcus Smart is no slouch as a defender, but we can expect him to guard the sharp-shooting Bradley Beal if he earns another start. With a 217.5 total and six-point spread, Wall figures to see his full allotment of minutes in what’s hopefully a competitive affair.


The point guard position is very deep at the top, which is precisely why Wall has been labeled a secondary play and not a core option on Wednesday night. Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are two of the main reasons my exposure to Wall will be modest, as both of these floor generals draw stellar respective matchups in what’s projected to be the highest scoring contest of the night.

Lillard is a painfully slow starter as evidenced by Tuesday’s scoreless first quarter, but he always manages to get the job done in at least some capacity, and finished with 40 fantasy points despite the lopsided performance. Irving’s pick-and-roll defense has been phenomenally poor this season, as he’s allowing more points per possession than any starting guard not named Tony Parker. Cleveland as a team ranks dead last in PPP allowed to opposing ball handlers, while Lillard ranks third in pick-and-roll points and operates out of the PnR in 40 percent of his possessions. He’s a much more appealing option on DraftKings, but remains in play across the board in a game where the Blazers are only 4-point dogs at the Moda Center.

Irving draws an equally appealing matchup against a dismal Portland backcourt. Lillard’s 115 DRtg is one of the worst in basketball, while the Blazers rank 28th in defense as a team. Look for Irving and Dame to tee off on each other in a game owning a 221 total and a surprising 4-point spread. Lillard is more cash viable than Irving, but both make for fantastic GPP plays with the point guard position offering plenty of depth at the top.

EDIT: Cleveland-Portland could be postponed Wednesday as heavy snow closed the Portland airport. The Cavaliers did manage to land safely around 3:30 AM, though, so there is still a good chance this game happens. Stay tuned for more updates, but as of now it appears as though we could still see this game being rescheduled for a later date. John Wall would become closer to a core play, but not a must play, if this game doesn’t happen.


If the Cavs-Blazers game is in fact postponed, Chris Paul would become a better option due to a thinning of depth at the point guard position. I’d rather deploy either of the aforementioned guards over Paul, but he remains a quality option in a home tilt with the Magic. The Clippers are 10.5-point favorites at the Staples Center, but they’ll struggle to blow teams out while Blake Griffin remains sidelined. Wall is the safer option at the position, but Paul’s GPP viability is legitimate against an exploitable Orlando backcourt.


CORE – James Harden [Value Dependent]; Karl-Anthony Towns

SECONDARY – John Wall; Damian Lillard [Check Game Status]

GPP – Isaiah Thomas; Kyrie Irving [Check Game Status]; Chris Paul [If CLE-POR is PPD]


MID-RANGE   [$5800-$8400]


Marcin Gortat will remain firmly in play until his salary begins to match his minutes and production. Sure, the Polish Hammer will have his fair share of disappointing outings, as he isn’t a score-first center and struggles when the offensive rebounds don’t come in bunches. Gortat ranks top-10 in offensive rebounds (3.2 OREB/G) and also in double-doubles (22), so his floor remains relatively high given that he’s playing 40 minutes nearly every night.

Against a Celtics team that ranks dead last in defensive rebounding rate and 29th in total rebounds this season, Gortat should have no trouble producing serviceable fantasy totals at a criminally low price point. My only concern here, and the reason he isn’t listed as a core option on Wednesday, is the fact that Washington is playing their second of a back-to-back and Gortat logged 40 minutes of court time just last night.


Andrew Wiggins is far from a “lock” on Wednesday even if Zach LaVine (doubtful) is ruled out. He is, however, a phenomenal mid-range option against the Rockets in what’s currently projected to be the second highest scoring contest on the night (219 O/U). Wiggins’ usage jumps from 28.8 percent to 36.1 percent with LaVine off the court, while his fantasy point per minute production skyrockets from .87 to 1.13 in the process.

Wiggins has been painfully inconsistent this season, but one encouraging data point is that he’s eclipsed the 30-fantasy point mark in all 13 games where he’s attempted 20-plus field goals. It may seem unrealistic to use 20 field goals as a realistic indicator of future performance, but with LaVine expected to sit, I’d be very surprised to see Wiggins finish with fewer than 20 shots.

Wiggins (28% USG), Towns (27% USG) and LaVine (23% USG) compose the bulk of Minnesota’s scoring production in the starting lineup, while Gorgui Dieng (14% USG) and Ricky Rubio (13% USG) are glorified bystanders. Removing LaVine from the lineup frees up around 16 shots and leaves a void in three-point shooting, which Wiggins will likely inherit. I have some concerns about Patrick Beverley’s defense, but the volume alone should be enough to target him at a low-$6K price point across the industry.


Kevin Love, assuming the game isn’t snowed out, should be considered a strong power forward option against the lowly Blazers. He exploded for a 40-point, 62-DKPT performance against Portland earlier this season, and figures to produce strong numbers again in a contest owning the highest total on the night (221 O/U). It’s very possible that we see LeBron James defer more on the second of a back-to-back, and Love should face little adversity in his attempts to score down low against Mason Plumlee’s nonexistent defense. Portland is allowing the fourth most post up points and the third most points per possession on spot up scoring, where Love combines to do the bulk of his damage. At a low-$8K price point you’ll want to keep Love on the radar and pray to the basketball gods that snow stays off the radar in Portland.


Joel Embiid has seen his salary climb to $8K on DraftKings, which severely limits his upside against the Knicks. At $7,500 on FanDuel, however, Embiid still offers value; the shoo-in to receive the Rookie of the Year award is averaging 23.8 points, seven rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.2 blocks and one steal per game over his last six starts, while recording 20-plus points and two-plus blocks in each. Embiid’s hard cap at 28 minutes is certainly unfortunate, but his 1.47 fantasy points per minute overshadows the restricted playing time.

New York is coughing up the most points, most free throw attempts, most field goal attempts and highest offensive efficiency allowed to opposing centers this season. They’ve also ceded the fifth most rebounds and fourth most blocks to the position, two departments where Embiid has flourished in his rookie campaign. He’s very capable of surpassing value on FanDuel, but will have a tougher time doing so on DraftKings. Having said that, Embiid has flashed 50-plus-fantasy point upside this season, which should keep him in strong consideration as a GPP pivot away from Kevin Love.

Wednesday’s battle with Kristaps Porzingis should be highly entertaining, as both of these unicorns have defended the rim well and scored with incredible versatility. Porzingis owns tournament appeal himself, as he is more than capable of scoring away from the basket and will see significant playing time with JoJo off the court. I prefer him over Carmelo Anthony, who as silly as this may sound, could struggle to produce against Robert Covington’s recent lockdown defense.


Bradley Beal continues to produce strong fantasy totals on a nightly basis, as he’s shooting a respectable 46 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from beyond the arc this season. Beal’s shot volume will fluctuate on a nightly basis depending on how aggressive John Wall decides to be with the ball in his hands, but he’s still operating with a near 27 percent usage rate while logging 35 minutes per game on the year. The shooting guard position lacks depth from top to bottom outside of James Harden, so Beal’s value is enhanced by default. Consider him a strong secondary play who fits nicely in balanced lineups at $6,400 on DraftKings and $6,900 on FanDuel.


CORE – Andrew Wiggins

SECONDARY – Marcin Gortat; Kevin Love; Joel Embiid [FanDuel]; Bradley Beal

GPP – Joel Embiid [DraftKings]; Kristaps Porzingis


VALUE   [$3000-$5700]


Nemanja Bjelica could draw the start with Zach LaVine expected to sit against the Rockets. My uninformed guess would be that Bjelica starts at the three with Wiggins moving to the two. It doesn’t make much sense to insert Shabazz Muhammad into the starting lineup, as a move like this would subsequently drain the Timberwolves bench of capable scorers who can drive to the rack. Muhammad still possesses tournament appeal off the bench, and it’s worth noting that he subbed in for LaVine when the latter player sprained his ankle late in the fourth quarter against the Mavericks, but Bjelica seems to be the logical spot starter in this matchup.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bjelica’s skill set, he’s a solid three-point shooter with a great feel for the game and strong ball-handling skills for a 6’10” forward. Bjelica has nice vision and can play in transition, but he’s also capable of producing off the ball. Wiggins and Towns will be the only high-usage options in the T-Wolves’ starting lineup, so Bjelica should see enough opportunity to produce assuming he’s provided around 30 minutes of work. If he starts, Bjelica easily becomes the top overall value option on Wednesday’s six-game slate.


Nerlens Noel is going to see plenty of run at the five on Wednesday, which considerably bolsters his value against New York’s weak center defense. Kristaps Porzingis has done a phenomenal job at defending the rim, but Noel won’t be posting up or cutting to the basket enough for this to limit his production. Noel manufactures fantasy points through his ability to charge the basket on missed offensive buckets and play high-energy defense with active hands and an uncanny ability to pickpocket his opponents. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play his heaviest minutes of the season (~27) against a jumbo Knicks frontcourt, which at a low-$4K price point is more than enough to warrant consideration on a night where value is at a premium.


Gorgui Dieng has been disappointing this season, but his depressed salary at least matches the recent production. Dieng’s minutes could’ve been limited against a smaller Houston frontcourt, but Zach LaVine’s likely absence could force Thibodeau to move Bjelica down a position, thinning out the pool of forwards who could handle minutes at the four. He’s a desperation play on a night devoid of low-end talent, and his potential 40 minutes of court time should at least afford him the opportunity to pay off a mid-$5K price point across the industry. This isn’t a matchup play, nor is it a talent play, but merely a “he’s there, he’s cheap enough, and this game should see plenty of fantasy production” play on Wednesday.


Jamal Crawford is one of my preferred tournament options on Wednesday for a couple of reasons: first, he’s playing 30-plus minutes off the bench nightly and faces a weak Orlando bench. Second, the Clippers are 10.5-point favorites, and although I don’t see them running away with this game early, it’s certainly possible. Crawford would see more minutes with Paul sidelined if this is the case. Lastly, Crawford is going to go virtually unowned now that the Clippers’ backcourt is getting healthy and he’s been shooting at a dreadful clip. I’m willing to roll the dice here with Crawford likely to see around 15 field goal attempts across around 32 minutes of work.


This slate isn’t offering much low-end value right now, so I’m going to list a few players who I’d be willing to mix into tournament lineups if nothing opens up throughout the day. I would assume we get some favorable news closer to lock, but for now Wednesday’s slate paints a rather ugly picture…

Courtney Lee will play 30 minutes against the Sixers, and with owning a negligible 1.5-point spread in Philadelphia, he shouldn’t lose floor time due to a blowout.

Ricky Rubio is suffering through a dismal 2016-17 campaign, but fortunately for the Italian Stalion, Kris Dunn has been even worse, so Rubio’s minutes have remained stable. He’s a viable mid-$5K point guard in a high-scoring affair.

Trevor Ariza has logged 40 minutes in back-to-back games and should see at least 36 minutes on Wednesday. There is nothing about Minnesota’s wing defense that should concern us here.

Montrezl Harrell is an intriguing tournament play with Nene likely seeing very limited minutes on the second of a back-to-back. He’s made a ridiculous 17 of his last 18 shots and should continue to fire at a high clip with James Harden distributing like a wizard.


CORE – Nemanja Bjelica [If Starting];

SECONDARY – Nerlens Noel; Gorgui Dieng; Ricky Rubio; Trevor Ariza

GPP – Jamal Crawford; Courtney Lee; Montrezl Harrell