NBA Deep Dive – 1/9/17

HIGH-PRICED   [$8500+]


Monday’s uncharacteristically small 3-game slate is tough to make sense of for a number of reasons… First, all six teams scheduled to take the court are healthy, so value plays will be at a premium. Second, the middle tier of plays is virtually nonexistent; and third, Russell Westbrook’s astronomical salary forces our hand with the studs and scrub approach, primarily on DraftKings. In Monday’s Deep Dive we’ll focus primarily on roster construction strategies and less on individual plays.


Russell Westbrook is a lock on Monday, even with value plays being at a premium. You simply cannot fade the world’s best fantasy player on a 3-game slate, especially in a contest that owns a 1-point spread. Westbrook played through a short string of “subpar” performances by his standards, but has quickly gotten back on track, rattling off three consecutive 70-plus DKPT games heading into this road tilt with Chicago. He’s an unstoppable force who’s sporting a league-leading 42.4 percent usage rate, 54.4 percent assist rate and a 16.6 percent rebounding rate that leads all guards by a rather healthy margin. Oh, and he’s averaging a triple-double with 31.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game.


A larger slate would provide us with viable pivots at discounted price points, but fading Westbrook on Monday is fantasy suicide. The Bulls have seen their defensive rating plummet over the past several weeks, slipping from 9th in November to 17th in December, and now ranking 26th in this department over the past three weeks. Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez have done a solid job of protecting the rim, but Chicago’s inability to slow teams in transition (1.16 PPP) should greatly benefit Westbrook, who leads the league in transition scoring per game. Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant will be in way over their heads as Westbrook feasts on their inadequacies.


Jimmy Butler has been outstanding of late, regardless of whether or not Dwyane Wade is healthy. The South Bend Tribune profiled Monday’s exciting home tilt with the Thunder, quoting Butler when asked about the matchup with Westbrook: “He’s a hell of a player and going to be a force for somebody in this locker room.” When asked about who would be tasked with guarding Westbrook, Butler responded, “I don’t know if it’s going to be me; hopefully so. I want to battle him like I battle against everyone else.”


Fred Hoiberg’s remarks on Butler were equally telling: “A lot of guys are putting up huge numbers. They do it on one end and someone else guards the other team’s best player. Jimmy is doing both for us. To expend that amount of energy on the defensive end and continue to do what he does on offense says a lot about him.” Hoiberg understands how much energy Butler would be exhausting in the event that he guarded Westbrook throughout the night, so my initial assumption would be that he’ll see some time on Oklahoma City’s superstar, but definitely not the entire game.


Hoiberg admitted that Butler has become Chicago’s de facto point guard since Rajon Rondo was banished from the rotation. Butler is sporting a 32.2 percent usage rate and 30.3 percent assist rate in four games since Rondo was benched, up five percent and 19 percent respectively from his averages on the season. Butler no longer owns a mid-range price point, but his spike in usage, ridiculous efficiency and 9.8 free throw attempts per game — only Westbrook and James Harden are taking more trips to the charity stripe this season — should place him firmly in play on a night where his services will be called upon to combat the Oklahoma City Westbrooks. Because he is significantly cheaper than Anthony Davis across the industry, I’m willing to consider Butler the second best option on Monday’s 3-game slate.

EDIT: Butler is now a game-time decision after coming down with an illness prior to Monday’s home tilt. Pay close attention to any developments here, as it could dramatically alter the entire fantasy landscape on the night.


Anthony Davis draws a strong matchup with the Knicks, and he’s been extremely consistent over the last month of basketball, but we must ask ourselves if his upside justifies the price point. Davis has tallied 50-plus fantasy points in 10 of his last 15 games but hasn’t topped 65 fantasy points more than once in that span. Jimmy Butler, on the other hand, has eclipsed 65 fantasy points in three of his last six games, and Wade was absent for only one of them.


Now I’m not diminishing what Davis has done, having racked up 20-plus points and 14-plus rebounds in eight of his last nine starts, but his usage rate, field goal attempts, free throw attempts and minutes are almost identical to what Butler has been seeing with Rondo out of commission. Considering Westbrook is the top overall option on Monday’s abbreviated slate, it only seems appropriate to prioritize Davis behind Butler. He hasn’t been markedly better than Chicago’s point-forward of late, and Butler’s twenty one additional touches per game with Rondo excluded will only make him that much more valuable.


Karl-Anthony Towns becomes one of Monday’s playable options by default, especially on FanDuel where the center position is devoid of options. The matchup with a Mavericks team that plays at the league’s second slowest pace is far from exciting, and Andrew Bogut’s rim protection is also a deterrent, but Towns is cheap enough to mitigate those concerns. Furthermore, Towns is playing many of his minutes at the four lately, and should see plenty of Dirk Nowitzki’s deteriorating defense throughout the night.


Unfortunately, this game owns a significantly lower total than the other two games on Monday’s slate, and will naturally see far fewer possessions with both teams operating at a bottom-five pace. I’m not against using Towns on FanDuel due to positional scarcity and on DraftKings due to a sub-$9K price point and multi-position eligibility, but I certainly wish this game was friendlier from a fantasy perspective.


CORE – Russell Westbrook; Jimmy Butler

SECONDARY – Anthony Davis; Karl-Anthony Towns


MID-RANGE   [$5800-$8400]


Carmelo Anthony easily makes for the best mid-range option on Monday for a number of reasons. First, he’s cheap enough to use across the board, and fits into Westbrook lineups quite easily. At $7,200 on DraftKings and $7,900 on FanDuel you won’t be overspending just to fill a roster spot, as that should be the first thing we look to avoid on this dismal slate. Second, the small forward position offer little depth, which is to be expected on such a night. Lastly, this tilt between the Knicks and Pelicans owns the highest projected total on the night (215 O/U), with New York being 4-point favorites at home.


Anthony will likely see high ownership based on those factors alone, but he’s shown flashes of vintage Melo of late, and we can hang our hats on that to some extent, too. Although Porzingis is back in the mix, the elevated pace of what should be a closely contested affair should place Melo in a position where he sees ample opportunity to produce across 35-plus minutes of work.


Kristaps Porzingis is also squarely in play, facing the same matchup as Melo with a nearly identical price point across the board. Porzingis has developed into one of the more consistent fantasy options in the game, having posted 35-plus DKPT in 20 of his last 25 starts. What makes the Latvian Unicorn so special is his unique ability to knock down threes with a lightning-fast release, handle the ball like a guard at times, and drive to the rim with surprising finesse. Porzingis’ post game is only getting better, while his ability to pull up on a dime from mid-range leaves most defenders wondering what hit them.


Porzingis and Joel Embiid are similar high-floor fantasy options because they both possess incredible versatility. Not only do these young bigs offer far-reaching offensive skill sets, but they rank first and second respectively in rim protection rate this season. The same reason we love Embiid every night is the same reason we should love Porzingis on Monday; an increasingly lethal scorer with potentially elite defensive statistics is hard to ignore on such a brutal slate.


Dwyane Wade will play Monday and likely sit Tuesday on the second game of a back-to-back. His services will be needed against the Thunder who rank eighth in points per game, but Wade will become a must play across the board if Jimmy Butler (illness) is unable to take the court. With a low-to-mid-$6K price point across the industry, Wade won’t need to produce gaudy totals in order to pay off his salary.


Wade’s advanced numbers have been quite interesting since Rajon Rondo was removed from the rotation. He’s seen a near two percent drop in usage, but a dramatic 10 percent spike in assist rate (30.2%). Here’s the thing; Wade played only 27 minutes against the Cavaliers last week after being questionable to play with an ailing knee. He clearly wasn’t at full health and attempted an uncharacteristic nine field goals on the night. This, and the fact that Butler has been on a torrid run of late, played a role in Wade’s slight drop in usage, but I’d expect it to climb back up close to 30 percent on Monday night. Wade will see increased ball handling duties with Rondo sidelined, and should continue to hoist up close to 20 shots per 36. Consider him a strong mid-range play if Butler is active, and a must play across the board if Butler is out.


Jrue Holiday and Derrick Rose are the only point guards worth pairing with Westbrook on FanDuel. Langston Galloway is shooting guard eligible, while Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant don’t appear to be impressing Fred Hoiberg of late (we’ll get into this situation momentarily), so that leaves us with these two mid-range point guards, both whom are in exploitable spots. Holiday hasn’t been stellar, but his salary has dipped below $7K on FanDuel and he has logged 34-plus minutes in five of his last six starts.


Holiday offers a higher ceiling than Rose, who is a better option on DraftKings at $5,800, but both guards will square off in what should be the highest scoring game on the night (215 O/U). Moreover, this contest owns a 4-point spread, so neither Holiday or Rose should see limited minutes with both the Pelicans and Knicks being comparable in talent.


Steven Adams’ price point doesn’t get you excited to play him, but the center position is weak enough to consider him with how well he’s performed of late. Over his last nine starts, Adams is averaging 13.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.1 steals and 32.6 DKPT across nearly 30 minutes per game. He should see another 30-plus minutes against Chicago’s oversized frontcourt (assuming Hoiberg goes back to playing Taj Gibson for his normal 27 MPG), and his rim protection will be required against the likes of Butler and Wade. I generally don’t like spending on Adams, but don’t have a problem with it on Monday where the only remaining option on non-MPE sites is Karl-Anthony Towns.


CORE – Carmelo Anthony; Jrue Holiday [FanDuel]

SECONDARY – Kristaps Porzingis; Dwyane Wade [Core play if Jimmy Butler is OUT]; Derrick Rose [DraftKings]; Steven Adams

GPP – Derrick Rose [FanDuel]


VALUE   [$3000-$5700]


In Saturday’s overtime win against the Raptors, Fred Hoiberg used the lineup of Butler, Wade, McDermott, Mirotic and Felicio for the final 13 minutes, while Wade, McDermott, Mirotic and Felicio played the entire fourth quarter and overtime period together. Michael Carter-Williams didn’t see the court after being subbed out five minutes into the third quarter, and Jerian Grant saw a total of 22 minutes himself. This is a very volatile spot for both MCW and Grant, as Hoiberg is clearly on the hot seat and desperately searching for the best lineup combinations.


I could understand wanting to take a gamble on Carter-Williams, hoping that he’ll go back to seeing around 28 MPG, but Butler is the true point guard on this team and Wade is going to soak up the remaining ball handling duties when Butler is off the court or in the rare instances where he’s playing off the ball. This is undoubtedly the ugliest slate we’ve seen in quite some time, but both of Chicago’s value point guards present more risk than potential reward.


Doug McDermott would be the Chicago value play to consider on Monday. He’s logged 29-plus minutes in six straight games and has hoisted up double-digit shots in three of his last four. McDermott will never be a high usage player, and his floor is uncomfortably low due to a frequent lack of peripheral stats, but there are some necessary risks we have to take on abbreviated slates such as this, and McDermott is one of them.


Nikola Mirotic is another one of those risks, but he’s far less likely to kill you if Hoiberg continues to run him for 28-plus MPG. Chicago has been utilizing smaller lineups lately since Rondo fell out of the rotation, and Taj Gibson’s declining play has also afforded Niko more opportunity. Mirotic is sporting the highest block rate of his career, and has now averaging just shy of two blocks per game over his last six outings, the likely result of playing closer to the basket. I prefer him over McDermott at a comparable price on DraftKings, as both have small forward eligibility.

NOTE: If Jimmy Butler’s illness holds him out of this game, Chicago will easily become the top spot to look for value. Mirotic will become a must play, while McDermott also sees a large bump in shot volume. Jerian Grant would also come back into play.


Donatas Motiejunas logged 20 minutes off the bench in his Pelicans debut, tallying 11 points (4-5 FG), five rebounds, four assists, one steal and 25.75 DKPT against the Celtics. On any other night we wouldn’t be considering such a volatile fantasy option, but Donuts opens everything up and allows us to fit Westbrook into every lineup. Maybe I’m being aggressive, but there’s a good I’ll be playing more Motiejunas than any sane human being should ever consider doing on Monday. He’s a career .83 FPPM producer with decent upside if he’s knocking down a couple threes. There’s a dreadfully low floor here, but for those of you willing to embrace risk, Motiejunas should be in play. He’s my favorite tournament option of the night.


The remaining low-end plays on Monday’s slate are all equally volatile, so here’s a list of players I’ll be rotating throughout GPPs barring any breaking news that frees up better value: Langston Galloway, Buddy Hield, Courtney Lee, Tyreke Evans, Andrew Bogut.


Gorgui Dieng and Dirk Nowitzki are two $5K range power forwards worth considering if your final roster spot leaves you looking in this direction. The few preliminary lineups I’ve constructed have had around $5,200-$5,800 remaining for the final spot, so this is where I would consider them. Dieng is a low-upside option, but he could see upwards of 40 minutes against the Wolves. Nowitzki has yet to post big numbers since returning from injury, but his 30 minutes played last time out is encouraging nonetheless.