NBA Deep Dive – 12/23/16



Russell Westbrook is a tough fit on Friday, not because there’s any lack of value on this 14-game slate, but more so because his price point feels unnecessary. Sure, there’s no one else in basketball capable of posting 60-plus fantasy points in 17 of 20 games, but there’s also no one with such an exorbitant salary. This is still Russell Westbrook, though, and for that reason alone we must consider him.


Avery Bradley couldn’t contain Westbrook last time these teams met, as he finished with 37/12/6/2 in 36 minutes of work. He leads the league in scoring, usage, assist rate, free throws, and of course, triple-doubles. Westbrook is actually a more valuable play on DraftKings where bonuses are rewarded for double-doubles, triple-doubles and three-pointers, while only half a point is deducted for turnovers. I likely won’t have much of him due to the strong mid-range plays on such a large slate, but no one would blame you for firing him up in what should be a competitive tilt with Boston.


Including Westbrook, None of the “big 3” have great matchups on Friday; James Harden draws a road tilt with the Grizzlies, who play at the league’s third slowest pace and boast the top ranked defense in basketball, while Anthony Davis faces a Heat team that also plays at a dreadfully slow pace. Matchup certainly isn’t everything when we’re referring to the league’s preeminent fantasy options, but still I don’t see myself having much of either on a night where you have no shortage of viable options at nearly every position.


That being said, if Terrence Jones (questionable: illness) is unable to play, Davis could log upwards of 43 minutes in a competitive affair. I’ll have a very tough time ignoring those minutes with Davis averaging nearly 1.5 FPPM on the season. He’d become a top play across the board with Jones sidelined, as he’s been spelling Davis for upwards of 30 minutes per game of late.


As it currently stands, DeMarcus Cousins is probably the top $10K-plus option on Friday night. He predictably struggled against the Jazz on the second of a back-to-back after dropping 55 points on Portland the previous night, but should bounce back nicely against the Timberwolves’ 25th ranked defense. Cousins’ Goliath nightly volume has him sitting atop the league in a number of key categories, including points (2nd), field goal attempts (2nd), free throw attempts (3rd), rebounds (6th) and usage (2nd). You could actually argue that Cousins is underpriced across the industry.


Minnesota doesn’t have any glaring deficiencies on the defensive end, but they’re weak enough all around for Cousins to exploit. We’re talking about a player who ranks second in three-pointers among all big men, and is the only PF/C to rank top-30 in drives this season. Boogie is capable of scoring from all areas of the court, and all play types, sitting top-10 in isolation points, post up points, pick-and-roll points and spot up points through nearly two months. Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng won’t be able to contain Cousins in what Vegas has projected to be a competitive affair. It’s hard not to love him on DraftKings where he’s priced significantly lower than most of the other elite options. However, the elevated price point and lack of multi-position eligibility on FanDuel makes Cousins a GPP play there, where you’ll have plenty of alternative center options to choose from.


Giannis Antetokounmpo has arguably been one of the highest floor players in basketball this season, and especially in December, where he’s tallied 45-plus fantasy points in all but one of 11 starts. Antetokounmpo draws a strong matchup with a Wizards team that will struggle to contain him around the rim, where he’s attempting a whopping 52 percent of his shots this season. Marcin Gortat’s rim protection numbers are dead last in basketball among all qualified centers, while the Wizards rank 26th in DFG% on shots within six feet of the basket.


Washington has done a solid job of limiting fast break points and transition points, where Antetokounmpo generally thrives, but with this contest owning a 3-point spread and the third highest over-under on Friday’s slate, he should have no trouble producing in a variety of ways. Assuming Giannis continues to knock down threes, create high-percentage shots around the rim, and get to the charity stripe at a serviceable clip, he should thrive in any close-fought game regardless of matchup. I prefer Antetokounmpo over James Harden on Friday night.


LeBron James draws an ultra-appealing matchup on paper, but there’s a realistic chance that he only see 28-30 minutes of court time this evening. Brooklyn is coming off a loss to the Warriors in a game they led for nearly three quarters of play, and now they’ll have to face Cleveland on the road in the second of a back-to-back. James always offers immense upside, and would garner more appeal if Kevin Love remains sidelined, but his ceiling is capped on Friday with the Cavaliers being 16-point favorites at home. Consider him a high-variance option this evening, but don’t be surprised if Tyronn Lue decides to rest him in preparation for Christmas Day’s tilt with Golden State. If Love does in fact sit, however, James would become a much more enticing option in all formats across the board.


NOTE: Center is chock full of quality plays on Friday, so don’t feel obligated to pay top dollar at the position. That being said, we have a couple very strong tournament options to choose from, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Hassan Whiteside. I don’t see myself having much exposure to either based on how roster construction shakes out, but can understand the GPP appeal with both likely being low-owned. Nothing about either matchup stands out, and Whiteside is playing his second of a back-to-back, but when you have competitive games and relatively high-scoring totals, the upside will be abundant. The middle tier center options are still too appealing for me to overlook, though.


CORE – Anthony Davis [If Terrence Jones is out]; DeMarcus Cousins [DraftKings]

SECONDARY – Russell Westbrook; Giannis Antetokounmpo

GPP – DeMarcus Cousins [FanDuel]; LeBron James; Karl-Anthony Towns; Hassan Whiteside




Andre Drummond is ridiculously underpriced on DraftKings at only $6,900. That much is clear. Unfortunately, Draymond Green boarded a flight to Detroit this morning and is expected back in the Warriors’ starting lineup after missing Thursday’s game to witness the birth of his son. Drummond would’ve been an elite play if Green remained away from the team, but still makes for a fantastic option at a sub-$7K price point.


Golden State will push the pace in this game, creating countless rebounding opportunities for Drummond throughout the night, but they’ll also give up plenty of second chance points and points in the paint. wrote a fascinating piece on the Warriors last year, describing how they are willing to surrender some easy looks around the basket because their three-pointers equal more than their opposition’s layups.


Despite the Pistons obvious struggles, I’m expecting them to get up for Friday’s home tilt with Golden State. We’ve seen teams dig deep to compete against the Warriors — Brooklyn looked like the better team for nearly three quarters last night before reverting back to being the Nets — and Detroit should look to get back on track after four straight ugly losses. Drummond should be considered a core play on DraftKings and a strong secondary play on FanDuel where he is more appropriately priced.


Nikola Vucevic is one of the more appealing mid-range centers to pivot to on Friday, as he’ll come off the bench to face a depleted Lakers frontcourt. L.A. is likely still feeling the effects of last night’s loss to Miami in a game where they blew a double-digit lead, and Vucevic should have no trouble dissecting the likes of Timofey Mozgov and Thomas Robinson at home. Frank Vogel has shown a willingness to play Vucevic for more minutes when he’s running hot, and there’s no doubting his ability to heat up against a Lakers squad that ranks bottom-five in points and OEFF allowed to opposing bigs. You might be overpaying at $6,800 on DraftKings and $7,200 on FanDuel, but Vooch should remain low owned enough to pay huge dividends in the event of a top notch performance.


Paul Millsap produced back-to-back double-doubles with Dwight Howard sidelined, and he’ll draw another opportunity to produce with Dwight set to miss his third straight game on Friday. Denver isn’t allowing many points to the center position this season, but much of that could be the result of the opponents they’ve faced; the Nuggets are serving up the highest field goal percentage to opposing big men, while Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic and Darrell Arthur are all allowing 58-plus percent shooting at the rim.


If you’re worried about Millsap playing in altitude at the Pepsi Center, don’t be — over his last six games played in Denver, Millsap is averaging a very respectable 39.3 fantasy points on 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Millsap played all of these games alongside either Al Horford or Al Jefferson, who at the time was an imposing, high-usage center with the Jazz. We won’t have to worry about any of that on Friday, though, as Millsap will be playing with low-usage bigs who should look to defer as often as possible. Another 40-plus fantasy point performance should be on tap this evening in what’s projected to be a close, very high-scoring affair in Denver.


Stephen Curry is an extremely enticing tournament play on Friday’s 14-game slate for a number of reasons. First, his ownership should be down considerably after a dismal performance against the lowly Nets. Curry was clearly still working the alcohol out of his system after a long night in New York City, as evidenced by his 31 percent shooting… against the lowly Nets. Second, Curry has scored fewer than 20 points in three of his last four games and six of his last 10. It’s hard to get excited about the reigning two-time MVP winner when he can’t get anything to fall and isn’t seeing the same shot volume with Kevin Durant alongside him.


Consider this, though: Curry still boasts massive upside at his current price point, and I’d be surprised to see him not respond after an embarrassing performance at the Barclays Center. He’s obviously a risky play, and hasn’t been the same player in 2016, but Detroit’s defensive rating continues to fall by the day. Curry shouldn’t be tired on the second of a back-to-back after putting forth zero effort the previous night. I’ll definitely be rolling the dice on him with the hopes that he can rebound with a fine performance at an appetizing cost.


Kevin Love could start tonight, and if he does I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cleveland rest one of Kyrie Irving or LeBron James. The Cavaliers are 16-point home favorites against a Brooklyn team that’s playing their second of a back-to-back on the road, and they’ll also face a much stiffer matchup on Sunday with the Warriors.


Brooklyn is serving up the highest offensive efficiency, second highest FG% and third most three-pointers to opposing power forwards this season. They’ve been dismantled by bigs almost nightly, and there’s no way the duo of Trevor Booker and Brook Lopez (if he plays) will be able to curtail his production. Keep a close watch on the developments out of Cleveland, as Love could easily become a core play at a low-$8K price point against the league’s worst frontcourt defense.


Kyrie Irving erupted against the Bucks for 31 points (11-17 FG; 8-9 FT), 13 assists, six rebounds and 60 fantasy points on Wednesday night. He’s a quality mid-range point guard play with Love and LeBron active, but becomes a virtual must play if one of them is sidelined. Irving offers too much upside to ignore in an optimal matchup with Brooklyn. The Nets are serving up the most raw points per game (114.5 PPGA), own the league’s 29th ranked DRtg, and play at the fastest pace in basketball.


Jeremy Lin’s defense is a very slight upgrade from Isaiah Whitehead, but he’s still a well below average defender who won’t stand a chance at containing Irving. We’ll wait for more developments here, but for now let’s consider Irving a strong secondary play in all formats. If everyone is active for Cleveland, Eric Bledsoe makes for a fantastic mid-range pivot at the point guard position. He’ll face a wildly unimposing Sixers backcourt defense in what should be a relatively high-scoring affair, and while I do have some concerns about Phoenix running away with this one at home, Bledsoe has managed to produce excellent fantasy totals in pristine matchups.


NOTE: Brandon Knight and Leandro Barbosa are both questionable to play on Friday. If Knight or both Knight and Barbosa are unable to play, Bledsoe would become much more appealing. The same can be said for Devin Booker, who figures to see an extended workload if Phoenix is missing two of their bench guards.


Jrue Holiday’s minute have been erratic, but his fantasy point per minute production proves he is more than capable of producing elite numbers when provided sufficient run. His price point is much more palatable on DraftKings, whereas Dennis Schroder is the more appealing play on FanDuel. Schroder also draws a better matchup with the Nuggets, who, led by Emmanuel Mudiay, facilitate plenty of steals and points for opposing guards. Schroder’s game conditions are also more appealing, as this game owns the second highest total on the slate (219.5 O/U) between two teams that play at a top-7 pace. Holiday is simply a site-specific play in a rather unappealing matchup, but his upside warrants consideration at a mid-$6K cost.


I’m also very intrigued by Damian Lillard in GPPs, but this matchup would actually have been more appealing if Tony Parker and Pau Gasol were active. Still, in a home tilt with the Spurs, who are playing their second of a back-to-back after an ugly loss at the Staples Center, Lillard should offer a massive ceiling if this game stays close. Kawhi Leonard didn’t stick with a specific player on defense last night, which was possibly the result of Gregg Popovich tweaking the defense to counteract teams’ efforts to freeze Leonard out of possessions. I’d expect C.J. McCollum to see more of Leonard on Friday, though, which should open up plenty of room for Lillard to operate. He should be viewed as a low-exposure tournament play with heavy shot volume and a potential 40 minutes of work if this game stays close.


LaMarcus Aldridge has been wholly underwhelming this season, but he’s sporting a 30 percent usage rate with Pau Gasol and Tony Parker off the court. Friday’s matchup in Portland, against his former Blazers, with San Antonio resting players on the second of a B2B, should open the doors to a huge performance from Aldridge.


Now, Aldridge has failed to produce in quality spots before, but Portland ranks dead last in defensive efficiency while playing at the league’s eighth fastest pace. They’ve also surrendered the fourth most post points, where Aldridge is using almost 37 percent of his possessions! This is an optimal matchup for Aldridge, and we’ll just have to hope he exploits it. He’s certainly cheap enough to roll the dice.


Zach LaVine makes for a nice stopgap at a rather weak shooting guard position. He’ll face the Kings’ 24th ranked defense and figures to see upwards of 40 minutes in a closely contested affair. LaVine has managed to tally 31-plus DKPTs in all but one of his last 10 starts, so there’s a safe floor here at a respectable mid-range cost. There is nothing about Ben McLemore or Garrett Temple that should concern us from a positional matchup standpoint.


If you plan on taking the balanced approach on Friday, look no further than Kawhi Leonard at a shallow small forward position. Leonard dropped 50 fantasy points against the Clippers last night and was the only Spur to appear even remotely interested in playing basketball. He’ll draw a much tastier matchup with the Blazers, who not only rank dead last in total defense, but also can’t protect the rim. He’s one of the safest options from night to night, and is going to see elevated usage with Pop resting two of the Spurs’ starters. Kawhi is a perfect fit for balanced lineups where you’re looking to forego paying up at any position.


CORE – Andre Drummond [DraftKings]; Kevin Love [Questionable]; LaMarcus Aldridge

SECONDARY – Andre Drummond [FanDuel]; Paul Millsap; Kyrie Irving; Dennis Schroder [FanDuel]; Jrue Holiday [DraftKings]; Eric Bledsoe; Zach LaVine; Kawhi Leonard

GPP – Stephen Curry; Dennis Schroder [DraftKings]; Damian Lillard; Nikola Vucevic; Nikola Jokic




Emmanuel Mudiay is unfortunately one of my favorite value plays on Friday’s slate. Yes, you read that correctly. No, I am not drunk. I’m just as scared as you are, and I’ll undoubtedly be knocking a few years off my life by rostering the second-year guard this evening, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Atlanta — specifically Dennis Schroder —  has been decimated by point guards this season, serving up the highest offensive efficiency, second most points, third most rebounds, fifth most assists and sixth highest field goal percentage to the position. Mudiay is finally beginning to see consistent run in the starting lineup again, and save for a putrid showing in a blowout loss to the Clippers, he has actually looked rather solid of late.


There’s no denying the risk here, so I’d caution you to look elsewhere if you aren’t willing to take big chances, but there is legitimate 45-plus fantasy point upside at a dirt cheap cost. Furthermore, the Nuggets are surprising 4.5-point favorites in the second highest projected total game of the night (219.5). There’s a million ways this could go wrong, but I’m more inclined to focus on the few ways it could go right. D’Angelo Russell figures to be a slightly safer, yet less exciting play at a comparable price point, but he also runs the risk of playing 25 minutes on the second leg of a back-to-back.


Mason Plumlee should have himself a night against the Spurs’ frontcourt. I would’ve loved to have seen Pau Gasol in the starting lineup, but we’ll happily take Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee instead. Dedmon is actually a serviceable defender, but Plumlee’s sneaky quickness and fast decision making for a player of his size should triumph in this matchup. He remains underpriced across the industry, and should see 30-plus minutes against a Spurs team that plays bigger than most. Terry Stotts won’t be able to use Ed Davis at the five for an extended period of time, and he’ll likely want to utilize Plumlee’s passing abilities in a matchup where Portland can’t afford to make stupid ball-handling mistakes. Plumlee is averaging north of one fantasy point per minute on the season, and I’d expect to see another 35-plus fantasy point performance on Friday.


Speaking of David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon, one of these San Antonio’s bigs is likely going to have himself a game. I’d put my money on Dedmon, as he should see more minutes than Lee at the five. Dedmon started at center the last time Gasol was inactive, and managed to log 26 minutes of work against the Mavericks. Lee saw a respectable 22 minutes off the bench. Sure, Popovich could decide to go small here, and that would benefit Lee, so this is really more of a guessing game than anything. One thing is for sure, though: this matchup with Portland is elite, and one of these two big men is going to have himself a game. It simply depends on how Popovich approaches this matchup. If Dedmon starts I’d roll with him in cash, but prefer Lee in tournaments, as he offers equal if not greater upside, and will certainly be the lower owned option of the two.


Julius Randle, Tarik Black and Larry Nance are all slated to sit in Friday’s road tilt with Orlando. As a result Timofey Mozgov should see another ~30 minutes of work, while Thomas Robinson plays between 18-20 minutes off the bench. Robinson is clearly a better per minute producer, but his minutes are volatile and Luke Walton has made it evident that he isn’t one of his biggest fans. There’s still GPP appeal here in the event that the Lakers get thrashed on the road in the second of a back-to-back, but Robinson’s 18 minutes on Thursday don’t inspire much confidence. Mozgov is the cash play with a decent floor now that the Lakers lack depth. His ceiling is underwhelming, though, which greatly limits his appeal in GPPs.


T.J. Warren makes for a stellar value play this evening, drawing a home matchup with the Sixers after playing 28 minutes off the bench on Wednesday night. Warren likely would’ve played into the 30’s had foul trouble not limited his minutes, but he still managed to rack up north of one fantasy point per minute as a reserve. There’s a possibility that he’ll start over P.J. Tucker, and that would bolster his appeal in cash games, but his ownership should be considerably lower if he sees around 30 minutes off the bench.


Warren is a fantastic scorer when he’s healthy and getting the run, so there’s no reason to believe he’ll struggle against a ragtag Sixers squad playing on the west coast. I’ll have plenty of exposure to Warren at $5,000 on DraftKings and $5,400 on FanDuel, where he legitimately offers 7-8x his salary in production.


Gorgui Dieng’s fantasy point per minute production has been underwhelming of late, but he’s a near lock to play another 40-plus minutes against the Kings’ jumbo frontcourt. I’ll take these heavy minutes any day of the week at a sub-$6K price point, especially against a bottom-seven defense in Sacramento. With this contest also expected to remain close, we’ll be paying an affordable cost for monster minute and a potential 40 fantasy points if all the stars align. Some other big men worth considering are Greg Monroe (GPP) and Bismack Biyombo (cash).


Shooting guard doesn’t offer much low-end value, which naturally makes Gary Harris far more appealing at a mid-$4K cost. Harris should see plenty of minutes in an uptempo affair, which should mitigate the stingy defense of Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha throughout the night. He isn’t the highest upside play on the board, but Harris remains cheap enough to like in cash games where you don’t feel comfortable spending at shooting guard.


Raymond Felton is another cheap guard worth considering in GPPs if Chris Paul is unable to take the court. Felton logged 23 minutes last night, and figures to see north of 30 minutes on Friday if Paul’s hamstring continues to ail him. The matchup with the slow-paced Mavericks isn’t overly appealing, but Felton’s minimum salary price point should quell any concerns. We won’t need more than 20-23 fantasy points to feel okay about using him as a punt, but I wouldn’t deploy Felton unless you’re looking to take the studs & scrubs approach on Friday night.


CORE – Emmanuel Mudiay; T.J. Warren; Gorgui Dieng

SECONDARY – D’Angelo Russell; Mason Plumlee; Dewayne Dedmon; Timofey Mozgov; Kent Bazemore [FanDuel]; Bismack Biyombo; Gary Harris; Justise Winslow

GPP – David Lee; Thomas Robinson; Greg Monroe; Raymond Felton