NBA Deep Dive – 12/19/16



Russell Westbrook needs no introduction; through more than a quarter of the season he’s averaging a 30-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double and should show no signs of slowing down on Monday against the Hawks. Atlanta’s backcourt defense has suffered since Dennis Schroder entered the starting lineup, as they’ve allowed the fourth most points, assists and second highest offensive efficiency to opposing point guards. It would make sense for Mike Budenholzer to stick a more accomplished defender on Westbrook, but there’s no one capable of containing him, anyway. He makes everyone on the Thunder better, and has still managed to produce with Victor Oladipo sidelined (26/11/22 against the Suns on Saturday).


The problem here, however, is Westbrook is difficult to play on Monday’s 5-game slate. Value is scarce, and Westbrook is priced through the roof on both FanDuel and DraftKings. If value frees up in at least one spot, Westbrook should be a much easier fit on FanDuel, where you can live with rostering several mid-$5K players at some of the weaker positions. He’s a virtual must play if that scenario develops. On DraftKings, though, you’ll need to play all $5K players with Westbrook or punt at two or more positions in order to fill out a decent roster. The matchup is outstanding, but how much are you willing to sacrifice in order to make it work?


John Wall has finally seen his price tag jump on DraftKings, as he sits just $300 shy of $10K after hovering below $9K for what felt like eternity. The price hike will keep Wall from being a must play like he was for more than a week straight, but shouldn’t take him out of consideration in this plus matchup with Indiana. Wall is easily enjoying his best statistical season as a pro, averaging career highs in points (23.9 PPG), free throw attempts (6.7 FTA/G), field goal attempts (18.8 FGA/G) and true shooting percentage (.550 TS%) through 24 games.


Not only is Wall scoring at an elite clip, but first-year head coach Scott Brooks has run him for 35-plus minutes in 15 straight games, where he has tallied 50-plus fantasy points 11 times in that span. The Pacers own a middle of the road backcourt defense, but they are playing at a top-10 pace and likely won’t have the firepower to blow the Wizards out on Monday night. Wall is sporting the league’s eighth highest usage rate with the fourth most drives and fifth most touches per game, making him an elite play in what should be a closely contested, high-scoring affair (212 O/U; IND -5.5). That being said, I’ll likely try to work a more balanced lineup in on DraftKings, and will try to squeeze Westbrook in on FanDuel. Ultimately, the idea here is that Wall is still playable at his current price point.


Karl-Anthony Towns’ home/road splits are shocking on a number of levels this season. The second-year big man is averaging three more minutes per game at home, but if you prorate his splits to 36 minutes on the road the numbers are still alarming. For example, Towns is averaging 13 rebounds per 36 at home compared to 9.3 rebounds per 36 on the road. He’s also attempting 6.5 free throws per game at home compared to 3.6 on the road, while shooting five percent better from the field in front of the T-Wolves faithful. Incredibly, Towns is seeing four more rebounding chance per game at home this season, where his REB chance% jumps wildly from 54 percent on the road to 64.7 percent at home.


Towns makes for a phenomenal play this evening against a Suns team that’s surrendering the third most points, most free throws and fourth highest offensive efficiency to opposing centers. Not only is Towns priced reasonably across the board, but Tom Thibodeau is running his starters for such heavy minutes of late that his star big man should see every opportunity to produce. This tilt between Phoenix and Minnesota serves as the best game on Monday’s five-game slate, and Towns should have no trouble exploiting its virtues.


Jimmy Butler has struggled to produce in each of his last two starts, but much of this can be attributed to Chicago’s sheer ineptitude in back-to-back meetings with the Bucks. Butler should be under-owned on Monday as recency bias should affect his perceived value, but I’d recommend considering him for a couple of reasons: first, the small forward position is miserable from top to bottom, offering some middling value in the mid-$4K range but lacking everywhere else. Second, Butler has seen his salary dip considerably following two underwhelming performances, and is now priced at $8,500 on both FanDuel and DraftKings.


Detroit’s defense has been solid this season, but they’ve struggled to defend the pick-and-roll, and also don’t have the offensive talent to run away with this contest. Butler’s versatility, proficiency in the PnR and huge minutes every night should make him a safe play in a closely contested affair (CHI -2.5). The total attached to this game is heinous (195 O/U), but Butler is the centerpiece of Chicago’s offense, and should have no trouble producing even if his efficiency suffers. Butler isn’t a core play on this slate, but he’s definitely a strong cash game at a barren small forward position. Butler already poured in 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and 46 fantasy points against the Pistons earlier this season.


CORE – Russell Westbrook [FanDuel]; Karl-Anthony Towns

SECONDARY – John Wall; Jimmy Butler

GPP – Russell Westbrook [DraftKings]




Eric Bledsoe is easily one of the most enigmatic players in all of basketball, seemingly incapable of posting fantasy totals below 50 or above 30 on any given night. Over his last 11 starts, Bledsoe has tallied 50-plus fantasy points six times and 30 or fewer fantasy points five times, leaving absolutely no room for a serviceable game. He’s either exploding for a monster performance or falling asleep at the wheel, which inevitably makes for a volatile proposition each and every night. That being said, Bledsoe should be considered a strong play against Minnesota, whose 108.5 defensive rating ranks 27th in basketball.


The T-Wolves play at a sluggish pace, but Phoenix’s uptempo style of play should breed favorable fantasy conditions (215 O/U). Bledsoe has exploited quality matchups lately, including a 50.5-fantasy point outburst against Minnesota late last month. He’s more than affordably priced on DraftKings ($7,400) and remains playable on FanDuel ($8,100). This contest makes for one of the best game stacks on the night, as neither team is capable of slamming the door on defense. Moreover, Minnesota is allowing the fourth highest FG% at the rim, while Bledsoe is attempting nearly 30 percent of his shots within three feet of the basket, sporting a sexy 65 percent shooting in the process.


Zach LaVine let us down in his last meeting with Phoenix, but that shouldn’t disqualify him from contention on Monday. Actually, LaVine is a better play than he was last time these teams met, as he’s averaging north of 41 MPG over his last 10 starts, and 43.3 MPG over his last three. Not only is Thibodeau force-feeding LaVine minutes in close games, but he’s leaving him on the court in blowouts, too. The words “safe” and “LaVine” generally aren’t synonymous, but in this case they are; Phoenix literally serves as the best possible matchup for opposing shooting guards, allowing the most points, highest FG% and highest 3PT% this season.


LaVine should produce in the points department this evening, but I’d also expect him to contribute some peripherals as well. LaVine’s assist rate is up nearly seven percent over his last five starts (22%), averaging 5.4 assists per game in that span, while his massive helping of minutes should allow for elevated rebound and steal totals along the way. Opportunity is everything, and that’s something LaVine should see no shortage of on Monday.


Nikola Jokic has failed to meet expectations since entering the starting lineup, but his underwhelming fantasy totals can be almost solely attributed to foul trouble. Jokic racked up five personals in each start, limiting him to 19 and 20 minutes respectively, but his fantasy point per minute production was impressive nonetheless (1.34 FPPM). Michael Malone has commented on the need to play Jokic more, and he somewhat followed through on his word by plugging the Serbian big man into the starting lineup. Unfortunately, Jokic has limited himself.


Assuming he remains out of foul trouble against a Mavericks team that will once again be without their defensive anchor in Andrew Bogut, Jokic should have no trouble producing. The Mavericks lack rim protection and have allowed the highest field goal percentage to opposing centers with Bogut on the sidelines. If Jokic remains in the starting lineup you’ll want to plug him in — especially on FanDuel where he’s power forward eligible.


Myles Turner makes for a strong pivot away from Jokic on DraftKings, where the Nuggets’ big man doesn’t have power forward eligibility. Turner offers much safer playing time, and draws an equally appealing matchup against the Wizards. Marcin Gortat has long been known for his defense, but the career-high 35.5 MPG he’s logging this season has undoubtedly taken a toll on his effectiveness. Gortat has hemorrhaged points to opposing bigs, and is astonishing allowing the highest field goal percentage at the rim (58.9%) of any center averaging 25-plus minutes per game this season.


Not only is Turner a talented scorer, but his 2.3 blocks per game ranks fourth among all players this season. There’s enough upside here to feel confident about deploying him in both cash games and GPPs. I’ll have plenty of exposure to Turner in what’s projected to be a competitive, high-scoring affair.


Paul Millsap continues to produce erratic fantasy totals from night to night, but he should still be viewed as one of the safest power forward options on Monday’s five-game slate. Millsap leads the Hawks in minutes and could see upwards of 39 minutes against the Thunder with this game projected to stay close (OKC -3). He’s also one of the most versatile bigs in the game, and is one of only three players to average at least one steal, one block and one three-pointer per game this season.


Millsap has certainly let us down in recent weeks, but he shouldn’t struggle to produce against the inexperienced defense of Domantas Sabonis and whoever Billy Donovan uses off the bench. While Steven Adams will have his hands full defending Dwight Howard down low, Millsap should freely operate in the midrange, where he’s attempting fifty percent of his shots. I’d be surprised to see him finish with fewer than 40 fantasy points against the Thunder, who simply don’t have the personnel to contain Millsap across the span of 48 minutes.


Harrison Barnes draws an uptempo matchup with the Nuggets, who are currently playing at the sixth fastest pace in basketball. Barnes has produced well above expectations in higher total games such as Monday’s, while his high shot volume and minute totals should create a relatively comfortable floor. Small forward is a weak enough position where you could justify Barnes in cash, as he has tallied 30-plus fantasy points in seven of his last ten starts. Barnes isn’t a high upside play, and I would prefer Andrew Wiggins to him in GPPs, but he’s one of the more reliable players at his position on a night where reliability is somewhat of a foreign concept.


CORE – Eric Bledsoe; Zach LaVine; Nikola Jokic [FanDuel]

SECONDARY – Nikola Jokic [DraftKings]; Myles Turner; Paul Millsap; Harrison Barnes

GPP – Jeff Teague; Andrew Wiggins




Ricky Rubio has been a colossal disappointment this season, but there’s reason to feel good about him on Monday. As earlier noted, Tom Thibodeau is running his starters for huge minutes of late, and that includes Rubio, who is logging 36 MPG over his last three starts. Rubio is legitimately one of the worst shooters the NBA has ever seen, but he’s capable of racking up elite peripherals in fast-paced matchups such as this home tilt with the Suns. He also appears to have reemerged as the T-Wolves’ primary facilitator, tallying six-plus assists in eight of his last nine games.


Simply put, Rubio is too cheap to ignore in a plus matchup with the Suns, who have been torched by opposing backcourts all season long. While it sounds outrageous, Rubio offers triple-double upside on Monday, but a more realistic high-end line would look like 10 points, six rebounds, 11 assists and two steals across 35-plus minutes of work. Rubio’s affordable price point puts him in play across the board in the most fantasy-friendly game of the night.


Rajon Rondo is also an appealing low-end point guard option at $5,600 on DraftKings and $5,700 on FanDuel. He’ll likely be lower owned following back-to-back sub-25-fantasy point outputs against the Bucks, but should get back on track this evening in what’s almost certain to be a competitive affair. Rondo’s ability to rack up above average rebound and assist totals at his position should mitigate also the loss of possessions in a slower paced meeting with Detroit (196 O/U). He’s too cheap to ignore on such a small slate.


Markieff Morris is one of the most volatile, frustrating and maddening fantasy options on planet earth. What makes the pain of rostering Kieff so debilitating is the fact that he possesses the talent to produce elite fantasy totals with the minutes Scott Brooks has been providing him. Unfortunately, an abundance of offensive foul trouble and an unwillingness to tough out physical matchups leaves him failing to meet expectations more times than not. Still, Monday’s five-game slate leaves us searching for value, and all roads inevitably lead to Morris.


I’m not suggesting you need to play Morris this evening, but I would certainly recommend considering him against the Pacers. Thaddeus Young is one of the most undersized power forwards in basketball, giving up two-plus inches and 25 pounds to Morris on Monday night. He’s also lugging around one of the worst defensive ratings of his career, and the Pacers have been victimized by opposing frontcourts as a team. If Morris can stay out of foul trouble and on the court, he’ll earn a legitimate chance to replicate his excellent line from Sunday’s win over the Clippers.


Kent Bazemore will move back into the starting lineup for Monday’s road tilt with the Thunder, and his defense will be needed against Russell Westbrook. Dennis Schroder won’t be able to hang with Westbrook, so it makes sense for Budenholzer to plug Bazemore back into the starting five. He’s been a disappointment this season, but a depressed price point should place him firmly in play on a night where value is at a premium. This isn’t a matchup-based play, or even a high-upside play, but Bazemore is cheap enough to use in all formats due solely to his dirt cheap price tag and projected 28-31 minutes as a starter.


The aforementioned Thaddeus Young has been awful in a Pacers uniform, but he’s still cheap enough to use in GPPs if you’re looking for salary relief. Washington’s frontcourt defense has been a sieve this season, and Young is still seeing mid-30’s in minutes in each night, so there’s reason to hope for a productive performance in a closely contested affair. We’re really digging for any form of value here, so there won’t be much consistency when it comes to these mid-$4K options. That being said, Young has flashed 35-plus-fantasy point upside in quality matchups before, and he’ll draw an opportunity to do so again on Monday night.


If you’re dead set on rostering Westbrook, you’ll likely have to turn to Jerami Grant, Seth Curry or Salah Mejri as one of your punts. It’s ugly out there, fellas, and I personally wouldn’t suggest taking this route, but this is who you’ll have to consider if Westbrook is a must. All three of these options have massive bust potential, and none offer the type of upside you’d like to see at their price points. I’ll be using a more balanced approach unless value opens up throughout the day.


CORE – Ricky Rubio

SECONDARY – Rajon Rondo; Markieff Morris; Kent Bazemore; Gorgui Dieng; Robin Lopez

GPP – Thaddeus Young; Salah Mejri; Seth Curry; Jerami Grant