NBA Deep Dive – 1/4/17

HIGH-PRICED   [$8500+]


There are five players on Wednesday’s slate priced at or above $9,600 on DraftKings and FanDuel. When this is the case, it’s best to approach it by focusing less on matchups and more on who’s less likely to disappoint at their respective price points. I’ll explain what I mean by this below…


DeMarcus Cousins draws a stellar matchup with a Whiteside-less Heat team that’s playing their second of a back-to-back on the road. There’s a good chance he’ll torture this under-talented frontcourt, and for that reason there’s no reason not to like him, but is Cousins really worth the price of admission? That’s a question that varies from night to night, but on an evening where you’d not only be paying a premium for Cousins, but also deploying him over the likes of LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kevin Durant, this becomes a much harder sell.


Elaborating further, Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging only 1.4 fewer FanDuel Points and 1.6 less DraftKings Points than Cousins this season despite being $700 and $1,100 cheaper respectively. Actually, Antetokounmpo has tallied 50-plus fantasy points 20 times in 33 games compared to Cousins’ 21 games of 50-plus fantasy points in the same number of appearances, while the former has eclipsed 60-plus fantasy points only one fewer times (7) than Boogie (8). Antetokounmpo’s floor has been the most impressive, though, as he’s failed to tally 40 fantasy points in a mere four games this season — Cousins has recorded double the amount of sub-40-fantasy point performances with eight.


Coming full circle, Antetokounmpo is the better play at his price point. He’s sporting a 30 percent usage rate over his last 15 games and amazingly leads the Bucks in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals and free throw attempts this season. Antetokounmpo does everything for Milwaukee, and he’ll once again be asked to carry the load against the Knicks. No one can guard him. No one should attempt to guard him. Giannis is too versatile to disappoint in a game that should remain competitive throughout.


Kevin Durant also fits the bill on Wednesday, owning a sub-$10K price tag for a matchup with the league’s worst defense. The Warriors are 15.5-point home favorites against the Lillard-less Trail Blazers, but Durant’s blowout-friendly rotation should shield him from losing too much production. He’s logged 30-plus minutes in all but four games this season, and has clearly unseated Stephen Curry as Golden State’s primary scorer. Sure, the blowout is concerning, but these conditions are simply too ripe to ignore.


While this may seem counterintuitive, Durant is actually better suited for cash games than he is for GPPs, as we aren’t worried about his floor in this particular matchup. There is definite 60-plus-fantasy point upside at a sub-$10K cost, but Durant is unlikely to post fewer than 45 fantasy points in this spot, making him a rather safe play in cash.


LeBron James’ status remains in question as he and Kevin Love are both dealing with illnesses heading into Wednesday’s tilt with Chicago. Actually, half of the league is battling some form of illness as we kick off the new year, and the Cavaliers are no exception. LeBron was told to stay home from shootaround while Love left early, seemingly still expelling traces of sea bass from Monday’s brunch.


I’m personally worried that even if James plays he’ll be at less than a hundred percent, and we can’t gamble on a $10K-plus player who’s clearly unwell. It’s worth monitoring James’ status throughout the day, but for now I’d plan on fading. That being said, if LeBron is active and Love and/or Kyrie Irving sit, we’re going to have a tough time not pulling the trigger. All three are currently questionable, and we aren’t likely to get status updates until closer to lock. James is too talented a player not to lock in if he plays and one or both of the remaining Big 3 are sidelined.


Russell Westbrook’s exorbitant price tag makes him a tough fit in any lineup, but his viability is contingent upon how much value frees up throughout the day. Depth at the point guard position also plays an important role here, as Westbrook’s salary becomes more palatable when the position is shallow. We really don’t have enough information to assess his playability, though, as we’re still waiting on status updates from dozens of players across the league.


Charlotte doesn’t pose the best matchup for Westbrook, who leads the league in transition scoring and is second in isolation scoring this season. The Hornets ranks seventh in defensive efficiency, too, having limited opposing guards to bottom-eight marks in FG% and 3PT%, while allowing the fourth fewest free throws in basketball. Westbrook is far more appealing on FanDuel, where he has seen his salary fall to $11,800, but still doesn’t make for a must play at the current time. We’ll wait on news before analyzing anything further, but more value will presumably have to open up before we can declare Westbrook a top play.


Jimmy Butler erupted for 52 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals, one block and 85 DraftKings Points in Monday’s win over the Hornets. He shot 15-24 from the field while knocking down all but one of his 22 free throw attempts on the night! Butler is one of the most efficient wing scorers in basketball, and he could draw another prime opportunity to produce on Wednesday if all the stars align. Let’s take a look at some possible scenarios and break down what would make Butler worth rostering against the Cavaliers…


Dwyane Wade OUT/One or more of the Big 3 IN: Butler would be an elite option in this scenario, as Wade’s absence and Rondo’s benching would inflate his usage to around 40 percent, while the mere presence of James, Love or Irving would keep this game competitive. Chicago isn’t a good enough basketball team to run away with this game unless all three of Cleveland’s studs are sidelined.


Dwyane Wade OUT/All of the Big 3 OUT: This makes for a far less appealing scenario based on blowout concerns, but it doesn’t take Butler out of play. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, Fred Hoiberg is on the hottest seat of any NBA coach, which leads me to believe Butler will see plenty of minutes regardless of the score. I’d still prefer one of James, Love or Irving is active, but won’t be full fading Butler if all three of them and Wade are out.


Dwyane Wade IN: If Wade is active I likely won’t be targeting Butler, especially if none of Cleveland’s Big 3 are able to take the court. He’ll siphon a good amount of usage from Butler, whose salary has jumped to or above $9K, and blowout concerns would be much more realistic.


CORE – Giannis Antetokounmpo; LeBron James [If he plays and Love and/or Irving are out]; Jimmy Butler [See Scenarios Above]

SECONDARY – Kevin Durant; Russell Westbrook [FanDuel]

GPP – DeMarcus Cousins; Russell Westbrook [DraftKings]


MID-RANGE   [$5700-$8400]


Carmelo Anthony is far from an exciting fantasy option, but we’d be foolish to ignore him at a low-$7K price point. It’s easy to hold personal biases against Melo, who has disappointed countless times in quality matchups. It’s also easy to abandon those biases on a night where Kristaps Porzingis is unlikely to play. Anthony is sporting a near 35 percent usage rate with Porzingis sidelined this season, averaging 22.4 field goal attempts per 36 while his fantasy point per minute production jumps from 1.02 to 1.24 in the process. There is nothing about this Bucks team that poses much of a threat to Melo’s success, especially considering he’s at the cheapest price point of the season. Even if Anthony sees some Antetokounmpo defense on Wednesday, his minutes and usage should mitigate the possible lack of efficiency.


Paul Millsap has seen his name tossed around in trade rumors of late, as the Hawks have allegedly tried to shop him and Kyle Korver to some playoff hopefuls. I’ve had a sneaky suspicion that the veteran big man has been playing angry of late, and an article on happens to reinforce my theory. Millsap explained to reporters that he wants to remain in Atlanta and “You don’t want to hear things like that” when referring to the trade rumors. He’s attempted 20-plus field goals in three straight games after not reaching that mark since November 5th, and is operating with a 29 percent usage rate over that three-game stretch (24.7% USG on the season).


Angry or not, Millsap’s matchup with the Magic is strong enough to consider him at $7,600 on DraftKings and $8,200 on FanDuel. Serge Ibaka has suffered a steady decline in defensive production over the past three years, while his expanded offensive game has likely hindered defensive efforts in Orlando. Millsap is one of the more versatile forwards in the game, and his recent aggressive play should only make him more valuable from a fantasy perspective.


Dwight Howard has also seen his salary decline, which makes him a solid mid-range option against the undersized Bismack Biyombo and defensively challenged Nikola Vucevic. He isn’t shooting enough to make him a core play on Wednesday, but he’s racking up rebounds at an elite clip and still scores enough to make him viable in a favorable matchup.


Draymond Green is a nightly cash game play, but you already knew that. You’d be hard-pressed to find another player in his price range who consistently racks up 35-plus fantasy points with triple-double upside, but also plays for the highest scoring, fastest paced team in the league. Wednesday’s home tilt with Portland should create ample opportunity for Green to produce, as this contest easily owns the highest total on the night and Portland ranks 30th in DRtg this season. Terry Stotts has made some adjustments to the Blazers’ defense, but it’s hard to believe those tweaks will translate successfully against the Warriors. Simply put, Green’s sub-$8K salary makes him one of the safest cash plays on the board, even if a blowout is imminent.


Goran Dragic exploded out of the gate last night but lost steam in the second half as Miami fell behind. He still finished with a very respectable 43 fantasy points across 38 minutes of work, and has actually seen his salary drop overnight. Dragic is a virtual lock to see 30-plus percent usage against the Kings, especially if Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson remain sidelined. The best news, however, is that Dragic didn’t appear to be hindered by back spasms that had been ailing him in recent weeks, so we can assume his minutes won’t be limited in Wednesday’s second leg of a back-to-back.


Miami has been decimated by injuries lately, most recently adding Hassan Whiteside (eye) and Justise Winslow (shoulder) to the laundry list of casualties. Whiteside has already been ruled out for Wednesday’s tilt in Sacramento, while Winslow is unlikely to play. Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson and James Johnson could return to action, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one or more of them sit. Dragic remains viable regardless of their statuses, as he is cheap enough to pay off his price tag with relative ease.


There is nothing about a matchup with Darren Collison and possibly Ty Lawson that should prevent him from posting quality fantasy totals this evening. The only concern here is a blowout (SAC -8.5), but Miami is so shorthanded that Dragic should see ample playing time regardless of score. Josh Richardson’s $6K-plus salary is hard to stomach, but he’ll be in line to see huge minutes in the starting lineup if Waiters and Johnson remain sidelined.


James Johnson, if he’s active, would make for a phenomenal lower mid-range option against the Kings. He’s incredibly posting one FPPM this season, and figures to earn ample run with Winslow and Josh McRoberts away from the team. Furthermore, Sacramento struggles mightily to defend opposing wings, and the potential absence of Rudy Gay would only enhance Johnson’s appeal.


Kyrie Irving could make for a must play across the board if he’s active and LeBron James and/or Kevin Love are sidelined. Unfortunately, Irving wasn’t present at shootaround, which doesn’t exactly bode well for his chances of playing this evening. If Irving is available and has no limitations, you’ll want to lock him in. Dating back to the start of last season, Irving owns a 41 percent usage rate with both James and Love off the court, a 38.7 percent usage rate with just James off the court and a 34 percent usage rate when only Love is sidelined. There is immense upside here in the event that either of Cleveland’s forwards are unable to get healthy in time for Wednesday’s tilt.

Mike Conley makes for the ultimate tournament play on Wednesday after failing to produce in a stellar matchup with the Lakers. Playing his second of a back-to-back certainly warrants some concern, but the Clippers’ backcourt defense is also far less imposing without the services of Chris Paul. Memphis is a 1.5-point road favorite at the Staples Center, so assuming this game remains competitive, Conley would figure to see enough minutes to pay off a mid-$6K price point.


Oddly enough, Conley always tends to produce in non-chalk matchups, and while this is certainly anecdotal reasoning, you can rest assured that he’ll be one of the lower owned point guards on Wednesday night. Dennis Schroder makes for a safer cash game point guard at a comparable price point, and should have little trouble producing against the floundering defense of D.J. Augustin and Elfrid Payton.


Based on your risk tolerance, Stephen Curry also serves as a solid tournament option in a stellar matchup with Portland. If the Blazers look to pressure Durant early and often, Curry could finally see the opportunity to take over against one of the league’s most porous backcourts. That being said, Portland is actually playing much better defense with Damian Lillard sidelined, which should come as no surprise assuming you’ve watched him play this season.


Nikola Vucevic is blistering hot right now, and he appears to have accepted life as a bench player following a rather ugly initial transition. Vooch has tallied 40-plus fantasy points in each of his last three games, and is clearly going to see extended minutes whenever he’s running hot. Frank Vogel will need Vucevic’s scoring prowess in what’s projected to be a competitive affair against the Hawks, and he should draw solid matchups as a reserve since a good number of his minutes will come with Dwight Howard on the bench.


Half of Vucevic’s minutes over his last ten games have come with Serge Ibaka sidelined (26% USG), and the potential absence of Evan Fournier will also add to his offensive workload. Elfrid Payton, who makes for an elite GPP play against Atlanta’s porous point guard defenders, is also playing excellent basketball right now, and that should only help Vucevic in the pick-and-roll. These two make for an excellent tournament pairing and should be relatively low-owned across the board. I’ll be sure to have shares of both on a night where they could go largely overlooked.


CORE – Carmelo Anthony; Paul Millsap; Goran Dragic; James Johnson [Questionable]; Kyrie Irving [See Scenarios Above];

SECONDARY – Dwight Howard; Draymond Green; Dennis Schroder

GPP – Mike Conley; Stephen Curry; Nikola Vucevic; Elfrid Payton; Josh Richardson


VALUE   [$3000-$5600]


NOTE: Wednesday’s value plays will be almost entirely dependent on injuries, so we’ll tweak the segment in an attempt to prepare ourselves to handle this slate’s many moving parts.


Willie Reed (James Johnson) – If James Johnson remains sidelined, Reed should see another opportunity to impress in the starting lineup. He exploded for a career-high 22-point, 18-rebound double-double across 32 minutes against the Suns last night, and while we can’t expect to see similar production on Wednesday, Reed is technically producing one fantasy point per minute over his short career. He’s well worth a gamble in GPPs if we don’t receive news on Johnson prior to lock, but becomes a virtual must play in cash if Johnson is ruled out with time to spare.


Jordan McRae (Kyrie Irving) – While Mcrae would have marginal value if just Irving sits, we’d really like to see either LeBron or Love sidelined as well. McRae won’t see enough usage or minutes if only Irving is absent, but the loss of more than one of Cleveland’s Big 3 would likely prompt Tyronn Lue to feed him with minutes. Furthermore, McRae wouldn’t be obligated to hang out around the perimeter and watch the grownups do their job; he would presumably be tasked with handling a much larger workload in a game Cleveland stands no chance of winning. Pay close attention to developments here, as McRae could earn the opportunity to run the Cavaliers’ offense in the event that Love, James and Irving are unable to take the court.


Michael Carter-Williams (Dwyane Wade) – Sure, Carter-Williams still possesses some value if Wade is active since Rajon Rondo is likely to receive his third straight DNP-CD, but I’d be much more inclined to target him if Wade remains out. MCW is not the high-upside player he was with Philadelphia, as his usage and ball-handling responsibilities have been all but depleted. However, the absence of Wade and benching of Rondo would provide him with enough opportunity to produce in 30-32 minutes of work. He’ll also figure to draw a cupcake matchup with Cleveland’s B-team, and shouldn’t need much more than 25 fantasy points to pay off his salary.


Darren Collison (Ty Lawson) – Collison was locked into 100 percent of my lineups around 4pm yesterday until the news of Lawson being probable broke. Well, Lawson ended up sitting with a broken face and Collison went on to post 41 fantasy points in 36 minutes of work. If Lawson remains sidelined on Wednesday there should be no reason for us to ignore Collison at his mid-$4K price point. The Heat have been ravaged by injuries and many of them should be playing on tired legs after logging massive minutes the night before. Collison, despite also being on the second of a back-to-back, should see upwards of 40 minutes if this game stays even relatively competitive.


The veteran point guard has stumbled through a dismal season thus far, but he’ll remain a more than viable punt if Lawson is unable to play. Rudy Gay’s potential absence would also bolster Collison’s value, as he’ll earn elevated usage on a night where the Kings own one of the highest implied totals of any team on the slate. He’s a near plug-and-play if Lawson’s sinus fracture keeps him on the shelf. Matt Barnes is a fine GPP option if Gay misses yet another contest.


Greg Monroe has totaled 61 minutes of court time over his last two games, while producing 1.15 fantasy points per minute in the process. Jason Kidd appears to have loosened the reins a bit when Milwaukee is facing bigger frontcourts, and we could see much of the same on Wednesday with Noah, O’Quinn and Hernangomez all logging solid minutes in the frontcourt. Hernangomez and O’Quinn are playing the bulk of their minutes alongside each other, while Noah is also seeing some run next to either of the two. Monroe, on the other hand, is subbing in for Henson midway through the first and third quarters, but last game actually saw some run alongside Henson when Enes Kanter and Steven Adams were on the court.


Kidd will have a tough time keeping Monroe off the hardwood if he continues to produce at such a clip. More importantly, however, is the fact that Monroe remains affordable despite his recent surge in fantasy production. He’s sporting a serviceable 25 percent usage rate over his last six games and is capable of churning out well over one FPPM in quality matchups. Wednesday’s matchup with New York is more than favorable, as the Knicks are coughing up top-five marks in points (29th), rebounds (26th), blocks (27th), made field goals/field goal attempts (30th) and efficiency (28th) this season.


Joakim Noah is the cash game alternative to Monroe for those who don’t feel comfortable gambling on Jason Kidd’s bipolar coaching tendencies. Noah’s has now logged 28-plus minutes in five of his last seven starts, averaging a very serviceable 30 FPPG over that stretch. The Bucks have done a solid job of containing opposing centers of late, but Noah remains cheap enough to roster based on minutes alone. With this game owning a 2.5-point spread in favor of Milwaukee, Noah shouldn’t run the risk of losing playing time assuming things stay competitive.


Victor Oladipo logged 35 minutes his last time out, which is exactly what we were hoping to see since returning from a rather lengthy hiatus. We probably wouldn’t be discussing him as a viable fantasy option against the Hornets if he was priced appropriately, but at $5,500 on DraftKings and $5,400 on FanDuel, there’s plenty of upside to be had at this salary. Oladipo is more of an opportunity cost play than anything else, as I’m not exactly thrilled with his matchup. Nevertheless, you’re paying for the minutes here, and he should see no shortage of playing time in a competitive road tilt with Charlotte.


CORE – Willie Reed*; Darren Collison*; Jordan McRae*

SECONDARY – Michael Carter-Williams*; Joakim Noah; Victor Oladipo

GPP – Greg Monroe; Matt Barnes*; Al-Farouq Aminu