NBA Deep Dive – 12/16/16

HIGH-PRICED

James Harden and the Rckets have been firing on all cylinders lately, winning all eight games in December and 13 of their last 15. That’s the only problem on Friday, where they are 11-point favorites at home against the Pelicans. I wrote something similar on Wednesday, and I’ll probably be writing the same sometime in the near future, because Houston is crushing everyone right now.

It’s hard not to win big when Harden is averaging 36 MPG in Houston’s 12 games decided by double-digit points this season. He played only 29 minutes on Wednesday, but mounted a 15/11/14 triple-double against the Kings. With 34 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. His sky-high salary keeps him from being a must play, but Friday’s matchup with New Orleans is anything but troublesome. Once again, if value opens up and you can make him fit, there won’t be a reason to fade.

NOTE: We’re currently waiting on the statuses of Nikola Vucevic, Salah Mejri, Tyler Johnson, Michael Beasley, Markieff Morris and more — all of which will influence Harden’s value on Friday night.

Anthony Davis was predictably stellar in Thursday’s win over the Pacers, but he did play 39 minutes on the front end of a back-to-back. The good news for tonight’s matchup with Houston is Davis has averaged 39 MPG through six back-to-backs this season. The bad news is he won’t play 39 minutes if New Orleans can’t keep things close (+11). The Rockets are torching inferior opponents right now, and this Pelicans teams is undoubtedly inferior.

I’m not worried about Davis’ ability to produce against a pedestrian Houston frontcourt that doesn’t have the size to contain him, but more so worried about whether or not he’ll leave the bench in the fourth quarter. If you like the Pelicans to keep things competitive, Harden would still be the preferred play, but a game stack would also be in order with this contest owning the highest over-under (220) on Friday’s 10-game slate.

Giannis Antetokounmpo abused the Bulls in Thursday’s nationally televised win, posting 30 points (13-27 FG), 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals and 61.5 DraftKings Points across 39 minutes of work. Both teams will run it back again this evening in Chicago, where the Bulls are 4.5-point favorites in what’s projected to be a relatively low-scoring affair (205 O/U). The total here shouldn’t concern you, though, as Antetokounmpo’s affordable price point and heavy involvement in Milwaukee’s offense should mitigate those concerns.

Antetokounmpo is sporting career-high marks in usage (28.7%), assist rate (28.9%), rebound rate (14.4%) and field goal attempts (16.2 FGA/G) through one and a half months of his 2016-17 campaign. He isn’t much of a shooter, but Giannis is lethal around the rim (.721 FG%), where he’s attempting nearly 60 percent of his shots. Antetokounmpo shot 13-27 last night, with 13 of his attempts coming from within five feet of the basket where he shot 62% (8-13). Four of his 27 attempts came from three-point range (2-4) and seven came from 15-19 feet, but he converted on only one of them. He does the bulk of his damage at the hoop, and Chicago’s big weren’t capable of stopping him.

Antetokounmpo leads all guards in blocks, is second in rebounds and fifth in steals, so as long as he continues to produce at such an impressive clip, we’ll need to keep rostering him at such an affordable price point. That includes Friday’s road tilt with Chicago, where despite the back-to-back, he should have no trouble producing elite fantasy totals.

NOTE: While Antetokounmpo makes for a great play across the board, he is also one of my favorite high-end tournament fade on this slate. People will unquestionably flock to him after Thursday’s monster performance, but there’s no guarantee he’ll replicate those numbers, especially if Fred Hoiberg makes some adjustments.

John Wall is inexplicably priced below $9,000 on DraftKings… AGAIN! Until they decide to give him the respect he deserves, we’ll need to continue rostering him in all formats. Wall has tallied 50-plus fantasy points in eight of his last 11 starts, and is averaging 51 fantasy points per game over his last 15. There’s absolutely no reason we should be fading him until his salary begins to match his recent production, and although the Pistons have played quality defense this season, Wall has blown through difficult matchups on the regular.

Wall’s elevated totals should come as no surprise, as he’s sporting a career-high 32 percent usage rate with just shy of 20 field goal attempts per game. Only Westbrook, Harden and Paul own higher assist rates than Wall (45.4%), who has already tallied 13 double-doubles on the season. The Wizards are mere 1.5-point home dogs against Detroit, which means Wall should see another 36-plus minutes of work (36+ minutes played in 13 straight games) in a very competitive affair. You know what to do, fellas.

CORE – Giannis Antetokounmpo; John Wall [DraftKings]

SECONDARY – James Harden; Anthony Davis

GPP – John Wall [FanDuel]

MID-RANGE

Kyle Lowry’s last two outings have been underwhelming, but if 38 and 34 fantasy points is his floor, we have to return to the well. Blowouts have curbed his fantasy production in recent games, but I’m expecting Atlanta (+7.5) to keep this contest close enough for Lowry to see his full allotment of minutes. Toronto will need to be up by 20-plus points heading into the fourth quarter for Lowry to stay on the bench, and that simply doesn’t seem like a realistic outcome.

The 213.5 total attached to this game also creates some appeal, as Lowry has out-produced his expected fantasy points by 3.2 points in games where Toronto is favored with a 210-plus O/U. Slower paced games will hurt Lowry more than others due to the blowout potential, but the added possessions he’ll see on Friday should pad his fantasy totals. Don’t back away from Lowry after two subpar outings. There’s too much to like against this Hawks team that’s been abused by opposing point guards, allowing the second highest OEFF, fourth most points and assists, and second most field goal attempts to the position.

DeMar DeRozan could see less room to navigate against Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore, assuming he sees some of him off the bench, but his $7,800 price point on DraftKings should keep him in play. DeRozan’s floor has actually been much higher than expected this season, resulting from his willingness to pass out of double teams but also chuck up 25 shots per game. In a contest owning the third highest total on Friday’s 10-game slate, DeRozan will see ample opportunity to produce if Atlanta keeps it close. With the league’s fourth highest usage rate (34%) and fourth most field goal attempts per game (20.6), DeRozan offers both upside and a high enough floor to deploy in all formats against the Hawks.

Isaiah Thomas returns to action on Friday after missing four games with an ailing groin, and he’ll draw a strong matchup against a Hornets team that will be without starting point guard Kemba Walker. Ramon Sessions is a defensive downgrade for Charlotte, and Nicolas Batum will likely be tasked with guarding Avery Bradley. While I hate to be so site-specific, Thomas’ $7,000 price point on DraftKings is more enticing than $8,200 on FanDuel, where Kyle Lowry is only $400 more expensive.

Shooting guard doesn’t have much to get excited about in the midrange, which ultimately leads us to Evan Fournier at $5,900 on FanDuel and DraftKings. Fournier has benefited from Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic being removed from the starting lineup. He’s tallied 23-plus points and six-plus assists in each of his last three starts, and draws a golden opportunity to keep that streak moving on Friday against the Nets. Not only does this game own the second highest total on the night (217.5), but the Magic (-6) simply aren’t good enough to run away with games. Fournier has proven time and time again that his floor is unbearably low, but I’m willing to bet on his upside against Brooklyn, who ranks first in pace and 29th in defensive efficiency this season. This is a recipe for success.

Nicolas Batum feels slightly like a trap on Friday with Kemba Walker out. Sure, Walker owns the highest usage of any Charlotte starter, but he also opens up a lot of room for Batum to operate. Batum’s usage increases by less than two percent with Walker off the court, and his assist rate actually drops from 24.6 percent to 23.9 percent in the process. He’ll likely see a lot of Avery Bradley’s defense and probably sees high ownership as well. Batum is one player I won’t have much exposure to this evening.

Julius Randle was deplorable on Wednesday, finishing with six points on 2-8 shooting, 10 rebounds and 20 fantasy points against the Nets. It’s been a rather underwhelming season for Randle thus far, but he could bounce back against the Sixers if Joel Embiid is unable to play. If Embiid is active Randle would be a easy fade, but if he sits, the Lakers’ third-year big man would figure to see a lot of Jahlil Okafor’s defense. That’s something I can get on board with. Okafor doesn’t defend in the post, and isn’t willing to take contact when a burly forward like Randle drives to the rack. Assuming he’s willing to actually shoot tonight, Randle would make for a strong low-owed power forward option with a favorable price point.

Serge Ibaka also has to be considered if Nikola Vucevic sits. Ibaka wouldn’t start alongside Vucevic to begin with, but his absence would eliminate overlapping minutes. We’d much rather have Ibaka playing the bulk of his minutes next to Bismack Biyombo, who doesn’t care to shoot. Taking matchup into consideration, Ibaka couldn’t draw a better spot, as the Nets are allowing the league’s highest offensive efficiency to opposing frontcourts, with the most points and blocks surrendered in the process. This truly is a dream matchup for Ibaka, who has pieced together some fantastic performances of late.

If you feel uncomfortable using either of the aforementioned power forwards, Paul Millsap makes for a solid play at an elevated price point. Toronto’s one defensive weakness has been against power forwards this season, and unless DeMarre Carroll is tasked with guarding Millsap, he should have himself a productive night. Millsap is showing flashes of the “Thrillsap” we’d become accustomed to seeing over the years, posting 41-plus DKPTs in each of his last four games with 50-plus percent shooting in each. One noticeable difference in Millsap’s game is he’s finding higher percentage shots, and also getting back to his old defensive ways where he racked up blocks and steals at an impressive clip. If Atlanta keeps this game close, Millsap will likely be leading the charge.

Joel Embiid’s playability is contingent upon two key factors this evening: first, he has to play; Embiid is dealing with a bruised knee and is question heading into this home tilt with the Lakers. Second, he needs to start at center with Okafor coming off the bench. It wouldn’t make much sense for Okafor to start alongside Embiid against a Lakers team that uses the 6-foot, 9-inch Julius Randle as their starting four, but Brett Brown has done crazier things before.

This is really quite simple: if Embiid is active and back at the five with Okafor coming off the bench, he could post his best fantasy totals of the season. L.A. doesn’t have one player on their roster capable of slowing him down. Marc Gasol is the much better cash game play on DraftKings, though, where he somehow remains below $8,000. Mike Conley’s return doesn’t concern me much at all, as Gasol will still be the leading force behind Memphis’ recent surge in the standings.

We’d be remiss to ignore Hassan Whiteside on Friday, who despite a tough-on-paper matchup with the Clippers, should be able to produce at home. Whiteside still figures to work heavily out of the pick-and-roll with Goran Dragic, who will defer more in a game where he’s guarded by Chris Paul. He’ll also draw another start with Dion Waiters sidelined, opening up more shot volume in what’s projected to be a relatively high-scoring affair (207 O/U). Whiteside isn’t a core play like he was on Wednesday, but his high floor in this matchup makes him safe for cash, and expected low ownership (also due to matchup) should boost his value in GPPs.

Jrue Holiday was a spectacular play last night in a plus matchup with the Pacers, but Friday’s matchup isn’t nearly as inviting. Patrick Beverley has literally been the best on-ball guard defender this season, and Holiday is playing his second of a back-to-back after logging 36 minutes the previous night. There’s GPP value here with Holiday’s ability to rack up quality peripheral stats, but he’s a cash game fade in what could easily develop into a blowout. Furthermore, Holiday’s salary continues to rise across the industry.

CORE – Kyle Lowry; Evan Fournier

SECONDARY – DeMar DeRozan [DraftKings]; Isaiah Thomas; Serge Ibaka [If Nikola Vucevic is out]; Paul Millsap; Joel Embiid [FanDuel — if Jahlil Okafor doesn’t start]; Marc Gasol [DraftKings]; Hassan Whiteside

GPP – DeMar DeRozan [FanDuel]; Julius Randle [If Joel Embiid is out]; Joel Embiid [DraftKings]; Jrue Holiday

VALUE

Ramon Sessions will be the highest owned value play on Friday, and I can’t say I blame anyone for being intrigued. Sessions is a career .89-fantasy point per minute producer, and doesn’t figure to lose much usage moving into the starting lineup. Consider this: every Charlotte starter not named Kemba Walker owns a usage rate south of 20 percent this season (Batum 19.4%, MKG 15.4%, Zeller 18.2%, Williams 17.4%), so Sessions won’t be competing for ball handling duties like he would if he was starting in place of Kyrie Irving in Cleveland.

Don’t expect Sessions to inherit Walker’s role entirely, but he’ll bring the ball up the court on almost every possession, and should receive enough run to pay off his price tag with relative ease. That being said, Walker is less appealing on FanDuel where Sergio Rodriguez is a mere $700 increase. At $3,700 on DraftKings, however, Sessions is as close to a must play as it gets for cash game purposes. Rodriguez should have plenty of room to operate against the Lakers’ anemic backcourt defense, and we can lock him up for around 30 minutes in what’s expected to be a closely contested affair. Ultimately, he and Sessions have reversed roles on DraftKings and FanDuel.

While Rodriguez is a decent play at a low-$5K price point, Reggie Jackson is even more appealing. Jackson has seen his minutes climb up to around 30 per night, and he could realistically see north of 30 on Friday if this game remains close. Jackson has been a quality fantasy point per minute producer in Detroit, and won’t need to churn out much more than 30 in order to return value. He’ll likely be ignored on a large 10-game slate, but Jackson makes for an ultra-intriguing play against Washington’s pedestrian defense. He’s sporting a near 30 percent usage rate since returning from injury, and finally appears to be fully healthy after missing more a quarter of the season. He’s a fantastic value guard with upside if Stan Van Gundy doesn’t hold him back.

Dwight Powell is someone I want to highlight before you get tired of reading (assuming that hasn’t already happened). He’s dropped to a very palatable price point across the industry, and could see a heap of minutes if Salah Mejri is unable to play. Utah owns one of the biggest frontcourts in basketball, so with Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut already ruled out, Mejri’s absence would mean Powell and A.J. Hammons (who has played a total of 42 minutes on the season) would be Dallas’ only healthy players standing north of 6’8”. I understand the trepidation here, but Powell could be forced into 30-plus minutes if Mejri isn’t able to play. Despite the poor matchup, minutes and opportunity trump everything, and Powell could easily see his most playing time on the season.

Kelly Oubre was a lifesaver on Wednesday when Markieff Morris was ruled out twenty minutes before lock. No one could’ve anticipated the 40 minutes he saw in the starting lineup, but now that we know how Scott Brooks is willing to use him, Oubre would make for a stellar value play once again if Morris remains sidelined. A matchup with Detroit isn’t optimal, but at only $4,000 on FanDuel and DraftKings, we won’t require a monster game from Oubre in order to pay off his price tag. Brooks runs his starters into the ground, and Oubre was no exception against the Hornets. You have to take that into consideration when deciding on value plays.

Aaron Gordon is coming off a career performance, posting 33 points on 13-21 shooting against the Clippers on Wednesday night. He logged 40 minutes in the starting lineup, and if Vucevic remains sidelined he should see more extended run against the Nets. Gordon has struggled with foul trouble of late, and Frank Vogel doesn’t hesitate to yank him if he racks up a few quick personals, but there’s still plenty of upside here at a sub-$5K cost.

I wouldn’t worry about ownership with Gordon, as he’s already as volatile as they come. You’re essentially using him to fill an ugly small forward position, hoping that he can build on Wednesday’s performance in what is a much better matchup with Brooklyn. Elfrid Payton, Bismack Biyombo are also secondary value plays if Vooch sits, while Jeff Green would have some GPP appeal as well. This Magic team draws the best possible matchup in basketball, so it isn’t unreasonable to think more than a couple of them could have impressive outings.

Much like everyone else on Friday’s slate, Jahlil Okafor’s value is contingent upon Joel Embiid sitting. If Embiid is out, Okafor should start at center against one of the league’s worst frontcourt defenses. He could still start if Embiid is active, but this doesn’t seem like a spot where Brett Brown would need to deploy the “Twin Towers” approach. Still, Okafor has posted 30-plus DKPTs in three of his last four, and would likely play around 31-33 minutes in a closely contested affair. The 211 total and 1.5-point spread attached to this game should make Okafor one of the better center values available on Friday night. I’m not worried about Nerlens Noel being active.

NOTE: Philadelphia just went from -1.5 to +1.5 and the total climbed from 209 to 211, indicating that Joel Embiid is likely going to sit.

Mirza Teletovic does offer 30-fantasy point upside, but he could also finish with five fantasy points in 10 minutes of ineffective work. Jason Kidd is a DFS player’s worst nightmare, and on a 10-game slate you’re playing with fire if Teletovic makes his way into your lineups. He’s a GPP dart with Michael Beasley sidelined, but still not one I’m willing to invest much into. I’d rather use Gerald Henderson on sites where you’re looking for a low-end utility punt — especially if Embiid sits.

CORE – Ramon Session [DraftKings]; Reggie Jackson; Jahlil Okafor [If Joel Embiid is out]

SECONDARY – Ramon Sessions [FanDuel]; Sergio Rodriguez; Dwight Powell [If Salah Mejri is out]; Kelly Oubre [If Markieff Morris is out]; Elfrid Payton; Bismack Biyombo

GPP – Aaron Gordon [If Nikola Vucevic is out]; Jeff Green; Mirza Teletovic; Gerald Henderson