NBA Deep Dive – 12/21/16


Russell Westbrook is the best fantasy player we’ve seen in decades, and also over the past month, as evidenced by seventeen 60-plus DKPT performances over his last 20 games with eight 70-plus DKPT outbursts in that span. No player has as high a floor as Westbrook in spots like the one he’s in on Wednesday against New Orleans. As 2.5-point road favorites against a Pelicans team that’s playing their second of a back-to-back, Westbrook should have his way with them. He’s the safest play on every slate and this one is no different.

His 41.7 percent usage rate is four points higher than the next closest player (DeMarcus Cousins, 37.3%), while his 55.4 percent assist rate dwarfs any competitor’s. Mix in a rebound rate that unsurprisingly trumps all guards with a league-leading 10.5 free throw attempts per game, and you have yourself a fantasy juggernaut, capable only of being produced in some laboratory at a clandestine location. You know what to do.

James Harden would be the one and only reason worth fading Westbrook. He’s fallen behind him from a statistical standpoint, but remains atop, or near the top of the league in assists (1st), points (5th), free throw attempts (2nd), double-doubles (2nd) and triple-doubles (2nd) on the year. Harden is also logging the fifth most minutes in basketball and 36.4 MPG on the second leg of back-to-backs, quelling any concerns of a potentially limited workload on Wednesday.

The Phoenix Suns literally pose the best possible matchup for opposing guards. Harden is no run-of-the-mill shooting guard, though, as he dominates the Rockets’ possessions and has arguably the best vision of any player in basketball. He should thrash a punchless Suns backcourt that’s led by Devin Booker’s and Eric Bledsoe’s 114 DRtg and 109 DRtg respectively. We’ve seen a revolving door of two-guards victimize Phoenix this season, yet none of them can hold a candle to Harden.

Despite being 6.5-point road favorites I’d like to think Houston allows the rested Suns to stay competitive. Even if matters do get out of hand, this game boasts a slate-high 226.5 over-under with the Rockets sporting the highest implied total on the night at 116.5 points. This is a blow up spot for Harden, who could easily churn out 60-plus fantasy points in three quarters of work. If Phoenix manages to keep things close, watch out.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was flatlining heading into the second half of Tuesday’s tilt with Cleveland, but in typical Greek Freak fashion managed to finish with 55.75 DKPT before fouling out in over time. He’s truly an anomalous creature, equipped with weapons no earth-dwelling human should ever have access to. Antetokounmpo’s 7-foot, 3-inch wingspan and 12 inch hands already give him a distinct advantage, but it’s his elite lateral motion, antelope-like strides and unbelievable launch power that make him virtually unstoppable.

LeBron James could sit Wednesday’s game out after logging 47 minutes in an overtime victory that he almost single-handedly manufactured in the extra frame. If that’s the case, Antetokounmpo would become an even better play against the shorthanded Cavaliers. Giannis has posted 55-plus fantasy points in both meetings with Cleveland this season, and figures to see heavy run again regardless of score. My early assumption is that LeBron will sit, as the Cavs are only 5.5-point home favorites against the 13-13 Bucks. If he doesn’t, the line suggests that Kevin Love would remain out at the least. Antetokounmpo remains in play at his current price point, and legitimately offers upside that rivals that of Westbrook and Harden this evening.

Anthony Davis doesn’t get me excited against Oklahoma City on the second game of a back-to-back. Sure, he posted monster totals in his last meeting with the Thunder, but Steven Adams sprained his ankle that night and managed to play only eight minutes before departing. Davis logged only 35 minutes himself last night so he shouldn’t see any limitations, but the Pelicans are still traveling on no rest. Westbrook and Harden are worth paying up for at their respective price points, while Davis should be reserved for GPPs. Even in tournaments I won’t have much exposure.

The same goes for DeMarcus Cousins, who is coming off a monstrous 55-point explosion against the Blazers. Last night’s matchup and conditions were optimal, but Wednesday’s road tilt with Utah isn’t nearly as inviting. Cousins logged 41 minutes as the Kings squeaked out a victory over Portland, so it’s hard to believe he’ll have enough gas left in the tank to carve up Rudy Gobert and Co. this evening. He’s tournament viable on DraftKings at a sub-$10K price point, but makes for an easy fade elsewhere.

CORE – Russell Westbrook; James Harden

SECONDARY – Giannis Antetokounmpo

GPP – DeMarcus Cousins [DraftKings]


Kevin Love could be a cash game lock on Wednesday if James is sidelined. After playing 47 minutes on Tuesday, Tyronn Lue could look to rest LeBron with a Christmas Day meeting with Golden State looming this weekend. If this is in fact the case, and Love returns from a one-game hiatus, you’ll want to load him up in all formats across the board. He’s sporting a mouth-watering 38.3 percent usage rate and an elite 23 percent rebound rate across 169 minutes with James off the court this season, so you’ll want heavy exposure to Love if he’s active. For what it’s worth, Love owns a Goliath 40 percent usage rate across 112 minutes with both LeBron and J.R. Smith sidelined.

The Cavaliers opened as 8-point home favorites, but that line has since moved 2.5 points against them in a matchup with a far inferior Bucks squad. There’s reason to believe someone other than J.R. Smith (already ruled out) will sit on Wednesday, and Kyrie Irving would also become an elite mid-range play as a result. Irving, in 168 minutes with James sidelined, is sporting an equally appealing 39.4 percent usage rate with an assist rate (38.8%) that jumps nearly 13 points from his season average (26%). I don’t want to spend too much time on this scenario, as we have yet to get clarification on anything, but this is a huge part of Wednesday’s slate in the event that Cleveland is shorthanded. Normally I’d expect LeBron to play Wednesday and sit Friday against the Nets, but he’s traveling for a back-to-back after logging 47 minutes the prior night. Lue may play it safe.

Gordon Hayward and the Jazz were embarrassed on Tuesday, losing by 30 points to Golden State at the Oracle. He shot 2-10 from the field and finished with only six points in a disastrous individual and team performance. Look for Hayward to bounce back this evening in a plus matchup with the Kings, who currently sit as 7-point road dogs on the second night of a back-to-back. Utah is also playing their second game in as many nights, but all of the starters saw limited minutes in a blowout.

Hayward’s 29 percent usage rate marks a career-high, and that number should only rise on Wednesday if Rodney Hood’s volcanic diarrhea keeps him sidelined. Derrick Favors remains limited and George Hill won’t return for a few more games, so Hayward should shoulder the load against the Kings’ 25th ranked defense. His sub-$8K price tag is appealing on a night where you’ll need some mid-range talent to round out a lineup.

One of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard is going to be a strong mid-range option on Wednesday depending on the latter’s status. Howard remains a game-time decision after sitting out Monday with back tightness, but he’ll make for a fantastic center play if healthy enough to take the court. Minnesota is allowing the fifth highest FG% at the rim, while Karl-Anthony Towns has been pedestrian on the defensive end himself. Howard’s recent success has been a product of efficiency, which he’ll need to maintain on Wednesday, but Budenholzer is beginning to feed him enough minutes to where his floor rises considerably. This game owns a 4.5-point spread and a rather appealing 212.5 over-under, so Howard should see no shortage of opportunity assuming he’s active.

Millsap should reemerge as a top mid-range play again if Howard is sidelined, especially now that Budenholzer seems willing to start him at the five. Millsap managed to exploit a difficult matchup with the Thunder on Monday, so he should meet little resistance in his attempts to produce against the Timberwolves at home. Only the Nuggets have allowed a higher FG% to opposing centers than Minnesota this season, who are coughing up the fifth most points to the position despite seeing the 13th most field goal attempts against. Big men are scoring with efficiency against the T-Wolves, whose team defensive rating has fallen to 26th in basketball. We’ll have to wait on word from Atlanta regarding Howard’s status, but there’s a lot to like here regardless of how it shakes out.

Jrue Holiday is at risk of getting “gentrified” any time the Pelicans are on the schedule, but it’s hard to ignore him on Wednesday against the Thunder. The same goes for Dennis Schroder, who despite his elevated price point makes for a strong play against Minnesota. Schroder is sporting a near 29 percent usage rate through 10 games since the start of December, managing 35-plus fantasy points eight times and 40-plus fantasy points five times in that span. Holiday hasn’t been as consistent, but he certainly offers equal upside to Schroder and is $300 less expensive on DraftKings.

I prefer Schroder to Holiday on FanDuel, or if you’re planning on playing Dwight Howard or Paul Millsap. He would make for a nice correlation play in what’s projected to be a competitive affair, and despite Minnesota’s slow pace, they’re still allowing the sixth most raw points per game. Holiday is the preferred play on DraftKings, and he shouldn’t struggle much on a back-to-back after logging only 30 minutes in Tuesday’s blowout win over Philly.

Devin Booker’s sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but Wednesday’s matchup with Houston should serve him well. Assuming Patrick Beverley is locking down Bledsoe all night long, Booker will have the path of least resistance against Harden and his uninspired defense. He’s too cheap on both FanDuel and DraftKings, and offers phenomenal upside in a game owning the highest over-under on the night (226.5). Booker is still seeing mid-30’s in minutes with massive shot volume each night, making him an elite lower-midrange shooting guard option at a predictably weak position. Eric Gordon is a nice pivot in GPPs, as he draws a fantastic matchup with this putrid Phoenix backcourt.

CORE – Kevin Love/Kyrie Irving [If LeBron James is out]; Devin Booker

SECONDARY – Gordon Hayward; Dwight Howard; Paul Millsap [If Dwight Howard is out]; Dennis Schroder; Jrue Holiday

GPP – Eric Gordon; Dwyane Wade; Bradley Beal


Referring to a quote from Monday’s Deep Dive, “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.” Well Rubio saw another 36 minutes on Monday, and despite being one of the worst shooters the NBA has ever seen, he’s capable of racking up elite peripherals in fast-paced matchups.

Wednesday’s tilt with Atlanta owns a surprisingly appealing 212.5 total, and Rubio should once against be able to exploit the elevated pace. He also appears to have reemerged as the T-Wolves’ primary facilitator, tallying six-plus assists in five straight starts and nine of his last ten games. Keep deploying Rubio until his salary jumps above $6K or until Thibodeau grows tired of him. There’s a solid floor and serviceable upside against the Hawks, who have been an absolute sieve when it comes to fantasy production allowed to opposing point guards this season.

Mason Plumlee will likely go overlooked on Wednesday, but there’s absolutely no reason he should. Dallas has been trashed by opposing centers with Andrew Bogut sidelined, serving up the highest FG% and the fifth highest OEff over that span. Plumlee’s versatility shields him from slow-paced matchups, but Portland’s uptempo brand of basketball has this game total sitting at a surprising 209 points, so we need not worry. Plumlee has tallied 18-plus points and 7-plus rebounds in four of his last five starts, while averaging 4.4 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals per game over that span. At an inexplicably low price point on DraftKings, Plumlee makes for one of the top overall values on Wednesday’s slate.

Robin Lopez is another candidate to have a strong showing against the Wizards. He was limited by blowouts in each of his last three starts, but this home tilt with Washington should remain close enough for him to earn his full allotment of minutes. Plumlee is the preferred play at the center position, but Lopez is also discounted significantly across the board. Marcin Gortat’s huge spike in minutes this season figures to have worn on his defense, as no center averaging 20-plus minutes per game is surrendering a higher field goal percentage at the rim. In a relatively high-scoring, closely contested affair, RoLo makes for a strong cash game play at a sub-$5K cost.

PISTONS NOTE: Stan Van Gundy noted after Monday’s embarrassing loss to Chicago that he definitely wouldn’t be running the same five starters back out on Wednesday. It’s still unclear what adjustments will be made to the starting lineup, but considering Van Gundy and Reggie Jackson have a clear rift between them, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ish Smith replace him on Wednesday.

Van Gundy has been frustrated with the lack of ball movement since Jackson returned from injury, and his concerns are certainly justified. Detroit’s offense has stalled out recently, and Jackson’s style of play could certainly be the culprit. Smith is $3,400 on DraftKings, and would make for a strong punt if he starts. Tobias Harris and/or Marcus Morris could also be removed from the starting lineup, likely resulting in Jon Leuer and/or Stanley Johnson getting the nod. Leur would make for a secondary option in this case, while Johnson would be nothing more than a GPP flier in a very difficult matchup. At least with Ish Smith we know he’s capable of racking up peripherals in the event that Mike Conley shuts him down as a scorer.

Kent Bazemore moved back into the starting lineup on Monday and did not disappoint. Mike Budenholzer claimed he would see limited minutes on the night, but finished with a team-high 40 minutes against the Thunder. Bazemore remains underpriced on FanDuel at $4,400, and should serve as a strong punt if you’re not looking to pay up for Harden. Pairing Devin Booker with Bazemore makes sense if high-priced options at other positions appeal to you more. The matchup with Minnesota is strong enough for Bazemore to exploit.

Montrezl Harrell saw only 22  minutes off the bench in Houston’s first game without Clint Capela, but he could see some additional run on Wednesday with Nene likely being very limited on the second leg of a back-to-back. Harrell is churning out one fantasy point per minute this season, and tonight’s matchup with Phoenix is far more appealing than the one he drew with San Antonio last night. You likely won’t find a better minimum salary option on FanDuel, where Harrell remains $3,500. DraftKings is slightly different, though, where Trezl has seen his salary jump to $4,000 overnight. He’s a cash play on FanDuel and a GPP play on DraftKings, but certainly warrants consideration in what’s virtually guaranteed to be the highest scoring contest on the evening.

CORE – Mason Plumlee [DraftKings]; Ricky Rubio; Ish Smith [DraftKings; if he starts]

SECONDARY – Mason Plumlee [FanDuel]; Robin Lopez; Jon Leuer; Kent Bazemore [FanDuel]; Montrezl Harrell [FanDuel]

GPP – Kent Bazemore [DraftKings]; Montrezl Harrell [DraftKings]; P.J. Tucker; Greg Monroe