NBA Deep Dive 1/25/17

HIGH-PRICED   [$8300+]


Russell Westbrook and James Harden will always present us with a difficult decision when on the same slate. Do we play one of them and fade the other entirely? Do we split exposure? Do we fade both and hope neither erupt for 70-plus-fantasy point performances? The truth is there’s really no clear answer here. Both are churning out triple-doubles at a near unprecedented clip, and both are astronomically priced across the industry. Unfortunately, neither is a better play than the other on Wednesday, as both draw exploitable matchups in what should be high-scoring, closely contested affairs.

The first thing we need to consider is value: is there enough value to fit one of them comfortably, and if so, would it still be better to go balanced? I’d say with the information we currently have available to us you’ll probably want to play one of them. I’m leaning Harden in a road matchup with the tired Celtics, who are 3.5-point home dogs in a 230-O/U game. Furthermore, Harden is ridiculously expensive but he’s still cheaper than Westbrook across the board. Avery Bradley’s absence also comes into play here, as he undoubtedly would’ve given Harden a tougher time than the still-learning Marcus Smart. As it stands, Harden is my preferred play between the two, but who am I to place anyone above Russell Westbrook?


Giannis Antetokounmpo was on his way to a monster performance in his last meeting with the Sixers before Joel Embiid single-handedly ruined his night. After an explosive first half Antetokounmpo was plagued by foul trouble over the final two frames, eventually fouling out with a few minutes to go in the fourth. Embiid has already been ruled out on Wednesday, and while Nerlens Noel is a more than serviceable defensive replacement, there’s simply no way Giannis falls into foul trouble against the Sixers.

Antetokounmpo scored at will on cuts to the basket and uncontested drives last time these two teams met and should be able to replicate that performance tonight. He’s an elite scorer around the basket and there’s no way anyone can contest his freakish combination of size, strength and speed. I prefer him more for tournaments, though, as his salary is rising and Wednesday’s slate is chock full of elite options at all positions in every tier.


LeBron James and Kevin Durant don’t make for core plays on Wednesday, but both are priced affordably enough to mix into tournament lineups and are also viable in cash. Durant may not be churning out monster fantasy totals each night, but he’s still been amazingly consistent, and at $9,400 on DraftKings it’s difficult to ignore him. The same can be said for James, who offers safety at a weak small forward position. I’m not sure how much I’ll have here, but you generally can’t go wrong by targeting either of these two studs. I’m still tempted to rank Antetokounmpo above both of them in terms of raw fantasy points, though.


Damian Lillard has lacked upside recently, finishing with fewer than 50 fantasy points in each of his last 11 games, two of which came against the Lakers. That isn’t to say he can’t erupt on Wednesday though, as the Lakers have only gotten worse since the last time he faced them. Los Angeles ranks dead last in defensive efficiency, plays at the sixth fastest pace, and serves up the highest FG% to opposing point guards this season. The only person capable of holding Lillard back in this matchup is Lillard.

For someone who attempts nearly 30 percent of his shots around the rim and drives to the rack 10 times per game, Lillard should excel against a Lakers squad that surrenders a Goliath 58.4 percent shooting at the rim. His last two outings against the Lakers have left much to be desired, but at $8,300 on FanDuel and $8,600 on DraftKings, it’ll be hard to consider Lillard anything other than a core play.


CORE – James Harden; Russell Westbrook [Not must plays, but top plays as always]; Damian Lillard

SECONDARY – LeBron James; Kevin Durant

GPP – Giannis Antetokounmpo


MID-RANGE   [$5900-$8300]


Hassan Whiteside has turned in some troublesome performances of late, but my biggest worry has been his lack of blocked shots; Miami’s prized big man hasn’t registered more than two blocks in 12 straight starts, while finishing with one or fewer swats seven times in that span. He’s also failed to tally 20 points in 11 straight games, so it’s only appropriate to ask ourselves if Whiteside could be playing hurt. Having said that, Whiteside draws a mouthwatering matchup with the Nets on Wednesday and is priced below $8K on DraftKings. I simply don’t see how we can ignore him at this price point. Now, I wouldn’t be against fading him in some GPP lineups, as he has failed to exploit fantastic matchups in recent outings, but there is simply too much upside to ignore against Brooklyn.

The Nets are allowing top-five marks to opposing centers in every single fantasy-relevant statistical category, while ceding the most blocks and third most points to the position this season. If Whiteside can’t get off the schnide on Wednesday we may have to stick him on the shelf until he begins to turn things around, but I’m willing to give him one last chance tonight.


Mike Conley should go largely overlooked on Wednesday, which is good news for those of us who target him against the Raptors. Not only is Conley sporting a career-high 26 percent usage rate, but he’s attempting nearly six three-pointers per game in the process. His redefined game is translating well for fantasy purposes, especially considering he and Marc Gasol are carrying the bulk of the load for Memphis. In a home tilt with the tired Raptors, Conley should have no trouble producing, and he’ll likely be only five to seven percent owned across the industry. Kyle Lowry logged 42 minutes last night in a grind-it-out loss to the Spurs, and now he’ll be traveling to Memphis on zero days rest. Advantage: Conley.

Kemba Walker is a strong tournament play, too, but this morning’s news of him playing through an illness is somewhat concerning. We’ve seen countless players struggle to produce when plagued by this crippling sickness that’s somehow still circulating through the league, but we’d be remiss to ignore Walker altogether in a home tilt with the second fastest paced team in basketball.

I’d also add Dennis Schroder into the mix as a strong lower mid-range point guard option on Wednesday. The position is very deep, which could suppress his ownership, but Schroder appears to have reemerged as Atlanta’s top ball-handler after Malcolm Delaney was threatening his playing time just a week or two back. There’s easy 40-plus-fantasy point upside at a low-to-mid-$6K cost.


Kevin Love struggled against the Spurs in his return to action, but as expected, he bounced back rather nicely the following night, dropping a 22-point, 16-rebound, 51.5-fantasy point double-double against the Pelicans. Wednesday’s home tilt with Sacramento places Love in an equally favorable position, as the Cavaliers are 11.5-point home favorites in a 214-O/U game. Love is playing rather heavy minutes even when Cleveland runs away with games, which should mitigate the blowout concerns for the most part. What’s most enticing, however, is his depressed price tag across the industry, sitting at $7,800 on DraftKings and $7,700 on FanDuel.

The positional matchup with Sacramento isn’t perfect assuming he’s guarded by Cousins, but it’s hard to envision a way for Love to fail at a mid-$7K salary. His 27 double-doubles ranks ninth in basketball, while he leads all power forwards with 10.9 rebounds per game. The position is rather deep with value, but Love makes for the most appealing mid-range option on both FanDuel and DraftKings. Paul Millsap remains in play, too, as he has now tallied 35-plus fantasy points in 21 of his last 23 games. You simply don’t find consistency like this with anyone at a comparable price point.


Dion Waiters has now attempted 15-plus field goals in five of his last six starts while averaging 33 MPG in the process. It hasn’t all been pretty, but the shoot-first two-guard has caught fire over his last two games, shooting 25-39 from the field and 11-16 from beyond the arc for a combined 66 points. There’s no telling whether or not he’ll sustain this production on Wednesday, but the matchup with Brooklyn sure works in his favor.

The problem here, however, is Waiters’ $6,600 salary on DraftKings, which is inexplicably high for a player who’s capable of missing 80 percent of his shots en route to a sub-20-fantasy point performance on any given night. Even at $6K on FanDuel Waiters feels expensive, but we can’t ignore this premier matchup with the Nets who have been an absolute sieve at every single position this season. I’ll be deploying him in GPPs, but cannot stomach the thought of paying a premium for one of basketball’s most volatile players in cash.


Goran Dragic’s salary is much less prohibitive, and while he’s bound to dominate less possessions with Waiters soaking up a ton of usage, there’s plenty of upside against the Nets. Without the risk of sounding repetitive, Brooklyn literally makes for the best matchup in basketball, playing at the league’s fastest pace while allowing the most points per game to their opponents. They have no guards capable of playing solid on-ball defense, and to make matters worse, no backcourt is coughing up more turnovers than the Nets. I don’t see Dragic being a core play on this slate, but the uptempo matchup should help his cause, and he remains more than affordable across the board.


Al Horford and Mason Plumlee are two very strong center options in equally stellar matchups, but the center position is so deep that they may become rather tough plays. Horford squares off against a Rockets squad that lacks rebounding and size in the frontcourt, yet doesn’t excel in perimeter defense against mobile centers. He doesn’t provide a ton of upside for GPPs, but has been ridiculously consistent for cash game purposes, finishing with 31-plus fantasy points in 11 straight starts and 21 of his last 25. I’m not opposed to deploying him in tournaments, though, as he will likely go under-owned at a very palatable price point. Horford smoked the Rockets for 21/6/9/47 in their only other meeting this season, and could post similar numbers on Wednesday despite the back-to-back.

Plumlee is finally beginning to earn some respect from the fantasy nightmare known as Terry Stotts. Over his last three starts Plumlee is averaging 10.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.6 Stocks and 35 fantasy points across 31 MPG. If he continues to earn quality run on Wednesday there’s no doubt he’ll come through with another solid performance. Ed Davis’ expected absence should also provide some cushion, as Portland lacks viable centers to back up Plumlee for any extended stretch of time. Oh, and although I need not mention this, he’s facing the Lakers, who rank dead last in defensive rating this season.


CORE – Hassan Whiteside [DraftKings]; Mike Conley; Kevin Love

SECONDARY – Paul Millsap; Dion Waiters [FanDuel]; Goran Dragic; Al Horford; James Johnson; Dennis Schroder

GPP – Hassan Whiteside [FanDuel]; Dion Waiters [DraftKings]; Kemba Walker; Mason Plumlee


VALUE   [$3000-$5700]


Joel Embiid makes the Sixers a better team, and he doesn’t need to be on the court for his presence to be felt. Take Tuesday night, for example, where Nerlens Noel stepped into the starting role and dismantled the Clippers for a season-high 19 points (8-10 FG), eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks, two steals and 46 fantasy points across 29 minutes of work. He filled Embiid’s shoes quite well, and didn’t have to worry about the oft-benched Jahlil Okafor stealing his thunder. Wednesday night should be no different, as both Embiid and Okafor have already been ruled out for this road tilt with Milwaukee.

The Bucks have done an impressive job of containing opposing centers this season, but Noel’s defensive contributions should mitigate those concerns. Active hands and a strong shot blocking prowess against a Milwaukee team that coughs up the third most blocks to opposing bigs should serve him well, while his 60 percent eFG should be enough to round out the box score.

Noel is shooting 63 percent from around the rim this season ad 60 percent from 3-10 feet, so there’s plenty of reason to love him in this matchup. Factor in a low-$4K salary on both FanDuel and DraftKings and we have ourselves an elite value play in every format. He should log another 28-30 minutes in the starting lineup, which at around 1.10 FPPM should be more than enough to lock him in across the board.


Wayne Ellington is far from efficient, averaging only .68 FPPM on the season across 26 MPG. That being said, he’s positioned to log another 33-plus minutes on Wednesday with Tyler Johnson sidelined, and couldn’t draw a better matchup than this one with the Nets. Ellington doesn’t produce gaudy peripheral stats and isn’t an elite shooter despite that being his only marketable skill set. He is, however, shooting enough to offer value at a near minimum salary price point, and has now racked up an impressive eight steals over his last four games.

Brooklyn leads the league in pace and ranks 28th in defensive efficiency, all while coughing up more points per game (114.8) than any other team. They’re unsurprisingly allowing the most points to opposing small forwards with the highest FG%, third highest 3PT% and second most rebounds, steals surrendered to the position this season. Ellington isn’t the most talented wing in basketball, but he’ll have a very tough time disappointing in what will arguably the easiest matchup of his career.


Lou Williams places us in an unenviable position, forced to guess his minutes in a stellar matchup with Portland on a night where D’Angelo Russell is sidelined. Williams logged only 20 minutes against the Mavericks with Russell out on Sunday, but the Lakers lost by 49 points and at no point were they competitive. There’s a good chance L.A. will struggle again on Wednesday as 9.5-point road dogs against the Blazers, but there’s merit to targeting Williams in GPPs.

Williams has proven himself very capable of catching fire regardless of matchup, but this draw with Portland is more than favorable. They’ve been decimated in the pick-and-roll, rank 27th in team defense and play at a top-10 pace. Moreover, the 220 point total attached to this game is enough to like Sweet Lou, who’s sporting a 32 percent usage rate with Russell sidelined this season. The unpredictable minutes should be our only concern.


Robert Covington has finally woken up. After a dismal start to his 2016-17 campaign, the fourth-year undrafted small forward has come alive of late, averaging 16.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, two assists, 2.8 Stocks and 32.2 fantasy points per game over his last five starts, three of which came with Joel Embiid active. Covington is sporting an unsightly 16 percent usage rate with .74 FPPM when Embiid on the floor this season compared to 20 percent and .91 respectively when The Process is sidelined. It’s not a huge difference, but enough to put him in play at a mid-$5K salary across the industry.

RoCo is now averaging north of 33 MPG over his last five starts and should continue to see heavy run on Wednesday despite the Sixers being 11-point dogs in Milwaukee. Philadelphia has routinely exceeded expectations this season and are 9-1 over their last ten games where Jahlil Okafor was sidelined. Okafor has already been ruled out against the Bucks, which means the Sixers can once again compete. Look for a closer game than Vegas currently has projected (PHI +11).


Norman Powell logged a season-high 39 minutes against the Spurs last night, tallying 16 points (8-16 FG/0-4 3PT), four rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block and 30 fantasy points on the night. This wasn’t a particularly easy matchup for Powell, but neither is the one he’ll draw with Memphis on Wednesday. What’s encouraging, though, is the fact that Dwane Casey let him play nearly the entire game, and he wasn’t holding back as a shooter, jacking up 16 shots on the night.

Powell isn’t an enticing play when filling in for DeMarre Carroll, who owns a paltry 16 percent usage rate and shoots only eight times per game. When he’s spot starting for DeMar DeRozan is when things begin to get interesting, though; DeRozan owns the fourth highest usage rate (34.3%) and the third highest field goal attempt share (33.9%) in the league. What the latter means is DeRozan is attempting nearly 34 percent of the Raptors’ shots when on the court. His absence creates a huge void in Toronto’s starting lineup, so Powell should be asked to shoulder a similar load on Wednesday with Lowry and the rest of these Raptors starters being drained playing their fourth game in five nights.


Evan Turner will likely be viewed as a strong play on Wednesday, but there’s reason to be concerned. He’s likely to see virtually no usage starting alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who own 30 percent and 28 percent usage rates, respectively. Being inserted into the starting lineup isn’t always a positive, and this could certainly be the case with Turner, who is producing just .65 FPPM since Terry Stotts made the switch.

On the other hand, Turner’s minutes should be bolstered on Wednesday, which will afford him time to rack up decent totals against the Lakers’ 30th ranked defense. Los Angeles simply cannot contain anyone, and the small forward position is no exception. On the season, they’ve coughed up top-five marks in points, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage and offensive efficiency to opposing wings. So while Turner won’t see the usage to produce elite fantasy totals, his minutes and optimal matchup with the worst defense in basketball should allow him to post a serviceable line by night’s end.


Enes Kanter and Greg Monroe are two centers worth strongly considering in GPPs, as both have seen their salaries come down and neither should be popular options on Wednesday. Kanter will be a forgotten man now that Steven Adams is back in the fold, but we shouldn’t ignore the 30-plus MPG he was receiving even before Adams went down. In a matchup with The Pelicans, who have virtually zero rim protection outside of Anthony Davis, Kanter should be afforded ample opportunity to produce. Expect ultra-low ownership for someone who was the flavor of the week just several days back, but will now be overlooked for the shiniest new toy. He’s a phenomenal tournament option and I’d recommend getting some exposure, as he is already averaging 37 fantasy points and 32 MPG through two meetings with New Orleans this season.

Monroe has also been forgotten after Jason Kidd unsurprisingly yanked the rug out from underneath him for the umpteenth time this season. It’s a perfect time to jump back on the Monroe Express, though, as he has fallen back below $5K on DraftKings and logged 27 minutes his last time out. Monroe faces a Sixers team that will be without their best rim protector in Joel Embiid, and while Nerlens Noel is a very stout defender he really struggles against big back-to-the-basket centers like Monroe. Despite both of these centers standing at 6-foot, 11-inches tall, Monroe has a whopping 40 pounds on the toothpick-shaped Noel. I’ll have plenty of exposure to both Monroe and Kanter in tournaments, as their ownership should be depressed due to recency bias alone.


CORE – Nerlens Noel; Wayne Ellington; Norman Powell

SECONDARY – Robert Covington; Evan Turner

GPP – Enes Kanter; Greg Monroe; Lou Williams; Terrence Ross