NBA Deep Dive – 12/28/16

HIGH-PRICED   [$8500+]


DeMarcus Cousins is the crem dela crem on Wednesday with both Russell Westbrook and James Harden getting the night off. Sacramento’s seventh-year big man is enjoying a monster campaign, bolstered by multiple performances against a Trail Blazers team that ranks dead last in defensive rating and ninth in pace. He teed off on Portland just last week, posting an eye-popping 55-point, 14-rebound, 83.5-DKPT double-double across 41 minutes of work, and there’s no reason to believe Boogie won’t produce elite fantasy totals again this evening. His value takes a slight hit with Rudy Gay back in the mix, but Cousins will still operate with 35-plus percent usage against a far inferior opponent.


Portland is allowing 1.11 PPP to roll men in the pick-and-roll, where Cousins can be found doing much of his work. This isn’t their only flaw, though, as the Blazers have been miserable in all facets of defense, getting lost on switches, caught out of position, and struggling to fight around picks on a nightly basis. Cousins, who has become deadly on pick-and-pops from beyond the arc, is also capable of bludgeoning an undersized Portland frontcourt in the post, or attacking them in isolation. Boogie’s unparalleled versatility makes him unstoppable, especially against a Blazers team that ranks second to last in points, free throws and offensive efficiency allowed to opposing bigs. Lock him up as the top overall option on Wednesday’s 10-game slate.


Anthony Davis’ struggles against the Clippers are well-documented, but please don’t use his history in this matchup as a valid explanation to why he should disappoint on Wednesday. Not only is Blake Griffin sidelined, but Davis has been far more consistent this season than any of his previous three campaigns. Averages of 30 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game are enough to get anyone’s attention, but it’s Davis’ sky-high usage (33.6%), elevated shot volume (21.3 FGA/G) and huge minute totals (37.3 MPG) that should have us salivating. Davis is also getting to the charity stripe at a career-high clip (9.9 FTA/G), where he is shooting a sparkling 81 percent on the year.


The Clippers have managed to snuff out the pick-and-roll quite well this season (.98 PPP allowed), but Griffin’s absence and the potential loss of Chris Paul should curb their defensive production. Davis operates in the PnR quite frequently (23.8%) and leads the league in roll men points this season, so we can expect him to regularly exploit L.A.’s personnel changes on Wednesday. More importantly, however, has been Davis’ ability to produce on nights where he isn’t particularly efficient — especially at home.


There has long been a theory that the Pelicans’ home scorekeeper has a quick trigger finger when it comes to dishing out partially subjective stats such as assists and blocks. Davis’ splits make that theory a hard one to refute, as he’s averaging 63 FPPG at home compared to 47 FPPG on the road. I’m expecting this game to remain competitive throughout, and Davis should see a massive workload against the shorthanded Clippers. Cousins remains the top option in this tier, but Davis shouldn’t be ignored on a night where he’ll likely go under-owned.


Giannis Antetokounmpo has been remarkably consistent of late, posting 50-plus fantasy points in 11 of his last 15 and 14 of his last 20 games. The 6’11” science experiment, commonly referred to as the “Greek Freak”, is using his unprecedented combination of length, athleticism and quickness to torture opponents in transition and around the rim. Unfortunately,  the Pistons have very much contained opponents in both of those categories, allowing the fifth fewest points per possession in transition and the fourth fewest points in the paint this season. Antetokounmpo possesses the physical gifts to victimize any opponent, but Wednesday’s tilt with Detroit could give him more trouble than he asked for. I’ll be limiting my exposure strictly to GPPs, and even in that case won’t have much Antetokounmpo on the night.


Chris Paul, if he plays, will make for a top point guard option on Wednesday’s slate. He’s been nursing a sore hamstring that has kept him sidelined for three consecutive games now, though, and I don’t think we’ll be seeing him tonight, as the Pelicans are 5-point favorites at home. Still, you’ll want to keep a close watch on any developments here, because Paul will be a top option if he’s healthy enough to take the court. His production with Blake Griffin sidelined is elite, and the potential absence of J.J. Redick would also force much heavier usage onto his plate.


John Wall makes for a decent replacement option if Paul is unable to play, but his elevated price point removes some of the shine. That being said, Wall is still one of the safest fantasy options available, having posted 40-plus fantasy points in 17 of his last 20 with 50-plus fantasy points 12 times in that span. The Pacers own a pedestrian backcourt defense and play at a top-10 pace, so we should see no shortage of opportunity for Wall in what’s projected to be a relatively high-scoring affair (213.5 O/U). This should also be a competitive game (WAS -4) where neither team is likely to pull away with the lead. Wall’s $9,500 salary on FanDuel and DraftKings keeps him from being a core option on such a bountiful slate, but he shouldn’t be ignored, either, as he rarely disappoints in these favorable spots. You literally cannot go wrong rostering Wall on Wednesday night.


Karl-Anthony Towns’ home/road splits have sparked some conversation this season, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued. Whenever a player’s REB Chance% is down more than 10 percent on the road and they’re averaging more than two fewer uncontested rebounds away from home, I’m going to ask questions. My inquisitive nature would also lead me to inspect his free throw attempts and personal fouls drawn, which are more than double at home what they are on the road. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to come up with any concrete evidence that Towns’ home success is correlated with his struggles on the road.


Wednesday’s road tilt with Denver is too appetizing to overlook, and for now we’ll just have to assume that Towns’ lack of productivity on the road is the result of tougher matchups and situation-based struggles. The Nuggets are allowing the second highest FG% to opposing centers this season, while Nikola Jokic’s 57.3 percent shooting surrendered at the rim is a worse mark than every big man in basketball not named Marcin Gortat. Denver has done a solid job at limiting rebounds, though, which could curb Towns’ production. Where I’d look for him to exploit this matchup is in the pick-and-roll, where the Nuggets are serving up 1.10 points per possession. Center is a deep enough position where Towns shouldn’t be considered a necessity, but his affordable price point and elite upside should create high ownership across the board.


CORE – DeMarcus Cousins; Chris Paul [check status]

SECONDARY – Anthony Davis; John Wall; Karl-Anthony Towns

GPP – Giannis Antetokounmpo


MID-RANGE   [$6000-$8400]


Stephen Curry likely isn’t the first person you expected to see here, but I simply couldn’t resist the temptation. He’s been dreadful lately, failing to score 20 points in seven of his last 12 games, but that isn’t going to last. The two-time reigning MVP is too prideful and too talented to continue playing second fiddle to everyone in a Golden State uniform, and if his remarks following an embarrassing Christmas Day loss to Cleveland are any indication, the eruption spot is near. Curry admitted to being too passive and also acknowledged that he hasn’t been demanding the ball. Steve Kerr added that Kevin Durant’s arrival has affected Curry’s usage, and Durant himself tried to downplay how much his presence has curtailed Curry’s production.


Statistics won’t back this claim, and Curry’s recent efforts certainly won’t do much to quell our concerns,  but sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, and who better to take it with than the league’s deadliest shooter? Wednesday’s matchup with Toronto isn’t optimal on paper, but it should actually benefit Curry in a number of ways. The Warriors are single-digit home favorites (-9.5) against a quality Raptors squad, while this game owns the highest over-under on the night (225). Curry should play four quarters in a competitive affair, and you have to believe Kerr and Durant will make an effort to get him back involved. Sure, it’s risky, but this is one risk I’m willing to take.


C.J. McCollum will quite possibly be the highest owned player on Wednesday’s slate, and rightfully so. Damian Lillard is doubtful to play with an ailing ankle, and McCollum draws a stellar matchup with the Kings. What more do we need? Ok fine — McCollum openly admitted that being snubbed by Sacramento in the 2013 draft fuels his efforts each time these teams meet. He sported a 37 percent usage rate with Lillard sidelined on Monday, while his assist rate spiked to 46.7 percent. He also jacked up 23 shots in the process against a tougher opponent. There’s no need to overthink this one; McCollum will be the first, second and third option for this struggling Portland team on Wednesday, yet his price point remains low enough to confidently deploy him across the board.


While we’re on the topic of discussing mid-range guards for Wednesday, let’s take a look at some non-McCollum options. Derrick Rose draws a tasty matchup with a Hawks team that’s ceding top-five marks in points, rebounds, assists, steals and field goal attempts to opposing point guards this season, while serving up the highest offensive efficiency to the position. Rose is enjoying his best statistical season since his first knee injury, and should be able to exploit this plus draw with Atlanta in a pace up spot.


Elfrid Payton is also positioned to post solid totals with Evan Fournier doubtful to play. Payton’s usage is up three percent (24%) with Fournier sidelined over Orlando’s last two games, though his minutes have remained erratic. This matchup isn’t ultra-appealing either, as Charlotte owns a top-seven defensive rating and is holding opposing point guards to the eighth fewest points on the season. Consider Payton a strong tournament play, but don’t feel obligated to pull the trigger in cash on a night where the point guard position has plenty to offer.


Jrue Holiday might make for the best mid-range point guard on DraftKings now that Chris Paul has been downgraded to doubtful. Holiday should have no trouble producing against a shorthanded Clippers squad that’s sporting a backcourt rotation of Austin Rivers, Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford. Holiday’s production has been erratic, but much like Davis he’s been far more reliable at home. We can expect him to see his full helping of minutes in what’s projected to be a competitive game (NOP -5.5), and makes for an elite pairing with Davis on DraftKings.


McCollum is the obvious top shooting guard play across the industry, but the position is surprisingly deep on Wednesday night. Zach LaVine is beginning to develop into a reliable fantasy option now that Tom Thibodeau is force-feeding him minutes in competitive games, but his three-point shooting has been most impressive; over his last eight games, LaVine is shooting 53 percent from beyond the arc (33-62 3PT) on 7.8 attempts per game.


LaVine will continue to see heavy shot volume in a plus draw with the Nuggets, who are coughing up the most points, field goal attempts, second most assists and third highest OEff to opposing shooting guards this season. LaVine is a strong second option on FanDuel, but should also be viewed as a viable cash game option across the board. Bradley Beal also makes sense at a similar price point, while DeMar DeRozan draws ample appeal in GPPs against the fast-paced Warriors.


Jimmy Butler and the Bulls are single-digit home favorites (-9.5) despite Jeremy Lin already being ruled out. His production has taken a slight hit lately, but he’s still Chicago’s top option in an elite matchup with the Nets. Brooklyn not only plays at the league’s fastest pace, but they rank 28th in team defense and allow the most points, rebounds and highest offensive efficiency to opposing wings. If this game does happen to stay close, Butler is going to smash value at a very reasonable price point. He’s sporting career highs in usage (27%), rebounds (6.5 REB/G), free throws (9 FTA/G) and fantasy points per minute (1.16 FP/M), all of which should serve him well on Wednesday night.


Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay (DraftKings) are both solid tournament options at the small forward position. Leonard draws a phenomenal matchup, but the Spurs are 14.5-point home favorites against a putrid Suns team, subsequently adding to the blowout risk. The appealing part of Leonard’s matchup is the much elevated pace, though, as this game owns a whopping 216 total which is comparable to a 250 over-under for the Warriors. If the Spurs come out flat and allow Phoenix to hang around for a while, four quarters of play for Leonard would almost certainly result in a monster output at a low-$8K price point. He’s a stellar GPP play, but I’m almost tempted to recommend him in cash, as he could easily eclipse the 50-fantasy point mark in 30 minutes of work.


Rudy Gay seemed to aggravate his hip injury at the end of Monday night’s win over the Sixers, but there hasn’t been news to indicate he might still be ailing. At $6,300 on DraftKings Gay warrants serious consideration against the league’s worst defense, as he won’t need to produce monster totals in order to justify a roster spot. He erupted for 57 DKPT in his only other meeting with the Blazers this season, and although Al-Farouq Aminu wasn’t active that night, the matchup remains equally appealing on Wednesday. Simply put, Gay is too cheap to ignore against a dreadful, fast-paced Portland club.


Draymond Green seldom disappoints in ultra-fast-paced matchups like the one he’ll draw on Wednesday. This game boasts the highest total on the night (225.5 O/U) and the Warriors are rare single-digit home favorites against the Raptors. Furthermore, Toronto has been a sieve against opposing fours, allowing top-five marks in points, rebounds, assists and field goal attempts to the position. Jonas Valanciunas won’t play enough minutes to defend the rim, and Green should feast against the likes of Lucas Nogueira and Patrick Patterson. There’s nothing about this matchup we shouldn’t like, including Green’s price point, as he sits at $7,700 on DraftKings and $7,800 on FanDuel. Consider him an elite mid-range option across the industry.


Dwight Howard is quietly posting stellar fantasy totals of late, recording monster double-doubles in four straight starts and five of his last six. Over that span Howard is averaging 18.3 points, 15 rebounds, 1.8 Stocks and 43.6 DKPT per game, while playing upwards of 35 minutes in closely contested affairs. New York’s center rotation of the decrepit Joakim Noah, foul-prone Kyle O’Quinn and the defensively challenged Willy Hernangomez is allowing the second most points, blocks, third highest efficiency and most field goal attempts to opposing bigs this season.


Howard should victimize this Knicks frontcourt all night long, backing them down to the basket and eating up rebounds on both sides of the glass. He’s affordably priced across the board and should see his full allotment of minutes in a competitive game (ATL -3.5). The only reason we aren’t considering Howard a core play on Wednesday is the depth at center, which offers ample value at several different tiers.


CORE – Stephen Curry; C.J. McCollum; Jrue Holiday [DraftKings]; Draymond Green

SECONDARY – Derrick Rose; Jrue Holiday [FanDuel]; Zach LaVine; Bradley Beal; Jimmy Butler; Dwight Howard

GPP – Elfrid Payton; DeMar DeRozan; Kawhi Leonard; Rudy Gay [DraftKings]; Paul Millsap; Nikola Vucevic


VALUE   [$3000-$5900]


Mason Plumlee is one of the reasons Dwight Howard isn’t a core play at center. Portland’s ever-evolving  big man will need to play big minutes against a Kings team that runs two bigs in the starting lineup, as he is already averaging 35 MPG through two meetings this season. True, the first game went to overtime and Plumlee saw some run in the extra frame, but he still played north of 30 minutes in regulation in both of their meetings. Actually, Plumlee smashed the Kings for a season-high 57 fantasy points last week, racking up 27 points (10-13 FG), 13 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and one steal across 36 minutes of work.


The Blazers are only 1.5-point home dogs with Lillard sidelined, and Plumlee’s assist opportunities should climb now that he could legitimately be considered Portland’s best healthy facilitator behind McCollum. At $5,500 on DraftKings, Plumlee remains way too cheap in a stellar matchup. He’s a secondary option at $6,600 on FanDuel, but not nearly as enticing.


Marcin Gortat is the more appealing option of the two on FanDuel, where he sits at a very appetizing $6,000. Scott Brooks continues to feed him massive minutes at the five, where he has logged 39-plus minutes in three of his last five starts, and Gortat should once again see upwards of 42 minutes in this competitive meeting with Indiana. The Pacers’ frontcourt defense lacks presence around the rim, and is serving up the second most rebounds to opposing bigs this season. Myles Turner is a talented athlete, but he is still an inferior defender who struggles with positioning and boxing out opponents. Gortat will remain a great cash game center play for as long as these sites continue to disrespect him with a low-end price point.


Jamal Crawford has seen his salary soar since Chris Paul injured his hamstring, but he’s hoisting up enough shots to warrant consideration until he surpasses the $6K threshold. Crawford has attempted 16-plus field goals in each of his last three games while logging 30-plus minutes in each. He is the Clippers’ primary scoring option with Paul, Griffin and Redick sidelined, and is sporting a team-high 33 percent usage rate over his last three outings. Crawford won’t rack up a ton of peripherals, but he owns a 35.7 percent assist rate since Paul has been out, and is going to run the offense for long stretches of Wednesday’s road tilt with New Orleans. Consider him a stellar value option at the shooting guard position. Austin Rivers also remains in play assuming he starts ahead of Raymond Felton, who unless he’s seeing 35-plus minutes of work isn’t worth our time.


Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made us proud on Monday as he filled the stat sheet with 12 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and 33 DKPT across 33 minutes of work. He’ll draw an exploitable matchup with Orlando this evening, and should continue to see heavy minutes with Marco Belinelli sidelined. Belinelli was siphoning minutes away from MKG, and actually began to play the entire fourth quarter with Kidd-Gilchrist watching from the pine. That won’t be the case on Wednesday, and Kidd-Gilchrist still owns a sub-$5K price point on both FanDuel and DraftKings. Jeremy Lamb would be the GPP play here, offering decent upside in 20-24 minutes off the bench against a weak orlando second unit.


Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu are both slated to see solid run in a home tilt with Sacramento. Turner should run the offense off the bench and is a higher upside play than his counterpart, but Aminu will see more minutes in the starting lineup. Neither are core plays at their price points, but both make for solid cash game plays with relatively high floors in this matchup. Assuming this game remains close (POR +1.5), neither Turner or Aminu will run the risk of losing playing time to the back end of the bench.


Ty Lawson has been splitting the point guard minutes down the middle with Darren Collison lately, and has actually logged more playing time than his backcourt mate in four of Sacramento’s last five games. He may go overlooked on Wednesday, but Lawson should undoubtedly be considered in all formats against the league’s worst backcourt defense. Portland is incapable of defending ball handlers in the pick-and-roll, plays at a top-10 pace, and owns the NBA’s bottom-ranked defense. If Lawson manages another 26-29 minutes against the Blazers, there is absolutely no reason he shouldn’t be able to pay off his low-to-mid-$4K price point with relative ease.


Markieff Morris is your daily GPP play, capable of erupting for 50 fantasy points in 35 minutes of work, but equally liable to post an 18-fantasy point dud in 20 foul-ridden minutes regardless of matchup. I won’t tell you what to do here, but I would suggest limiting exposure to Kief if you intend on taking the plunge. Wednesday’s 10-game slate is deep enough to avoid him in most spots, unless you’re max entering GPPs and are looking to get contrarian. Actually, I would prefer Nikola Mirotic at a lesser price point if Doug McDermott is unable to play. Mirotic has seen 30-plus minutes in back-to-back games, and would figure to see another sizable workload off the bench if Dougy McBuckets is sidelined.


CORE – Mason Plumlee [DraftKings]; Marcin Gortat [FanDuel]; Jamal Crawford

SECONDARY – Mason Plumlee [FanDuel]; Marcin Gortat [DraftKings]; Austin Rivers; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist; Evan Turner; Al-Farouq Aminu;

GPP – Ty Lawson; Jeremy Lamb; Nikola Mirotic [If Doug McDermott is out]; Markieff Morris