NBA Deep Dive – 3/17/17

HIGH-PRICED   [$8400+]

James Harden would’ve had no trouble reaching 70-plus fantasy points on Wednesday had the game not been over before it started. It was, though, and he was egregiously expensive across the board. Well, he’s cheaper Friday in a matchup that should stay competitive (HOU – 4.5), and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harden play upwards of 40 minutes if New Orleans hangs around. On a night where Russell Westbrook’s Thunder are idle and there isn’t another player in Harden’s price range worth paying for, value will dictate how we want to play this. As of now, we should have enough low-end talent available to make him a top option in a game owning a Goliath 229.5-point total. Matchup is far less important for a player of Harden’s stature, but I don’t see any player in the Pelicans’ backcourt capable of hamstringing his production, anyway. We’re searching for ceiling games from Harden, and with New Orleans being mere 4.5-point dogs at home, this is where we could find one.

Giannis Antetokounmpo will see depressed ownership due to another string of underwhelming outings, but people will fail to acknowledge the root cause of his struggles. Over his last four games Giannis has faced the Clippers, Grizzlies, Timberwolves and Pacers. Minnesota and Indiana both rank top-five in defensive efficiency since the All-Star break, while Memphis and L.A. are both very capable of shutting down opposing forwards. The Lakers, however, could arguably be considered the worst team in basketball, losing 11 of their last 12 games with 118 PPG allowed in that span. No team has a worst defensive rating since the break or on the season as a whole, yet only four teams are playing at a faster pace than Los Angeles. This is a phenomenal bounce back spot for Antetokounmpo, who should demolish them in every phase of the game.

The Lakers are allowing the highest eFG% (65.5%) and second most points in transition this season, where Antetokounmpo ranks top-five in scoring. They’ve also coughed up the most fastbreak points and third most points off of turnovers, categories that Giannis unsurprisingly ranks fifth and first in, respectively. You simply could not dream up a better matchup for the fourth-year freak of nature, whose salary has declined across the board. Consider him a top option in all formats on a night where he possesses legitimate 70-plus-fantasy point upside against the NBA’s most underachieving scrubs.

DeMarcus Cousins will eventually rebound from a series of underwhelming performances, and no one would be surprised to see him do so on Friday. Houston lacks size in the frontcourt, doesn’t have a strong rebounding presence on either side of the glass, and allows more points in the paint than any other team. Another area where the Rockets should struggle is in isolation defense, where they’ve allowed 59 more points than the next worst team. Cousins, assuming he gets the opportunity, should out-physical every Houston big with ease. What makes him most appealing in this matchup, though, is his ability to play in transition, run the court, and jack up three-pointers like a guard. New Orleans will likely need to match the Rockets’ pace in order to stay competitive, and Cousins’ range should be put on display.

Unfortunately, playing alongside Anthony Davis has curbed Cousins’ production, and it’s hard to consider him a cash game option even at a depressed cost. In tournaments, however, Cousins makes plenty of sense, as he offers obvious upside in a game that currently owns a slate-high 229.5-O/U. Centers generally don’t benefit from elevated pace, but Cousins’ unique skill set sets him apart. So long as he remains out of foul trouble and Alvin Gentry doesn’t decide to bench him for “game flow” purposes in the fourth quarter, Boogie could post monster fantasy totals against an inferior Houston frontcourt.

 

Jimmy Butler has been profoundly disappointing since the All-Star break, averaging 39 fantasy points per game despite drawing some great matchups and a couple games with Dwyane Wade sidelined. Whether his heel is still bothering him or he’s no longer interested in playing for Fred Hoiberg is still unclear, but Butler will see another opportunity to produce without Wade on Friday, who is out for the season with a fractured elbow. The catch here, however, is Rajon Rondo has been inserted back into Chicago’s starting lineup, which will undoubtedly siphon some usage away from Butler.

Let’s take a look at the numbers: on the season Butler is sporting a 25 percent usage rating with a 23 percent assist rate and 1.17 fantasy points per minute. With Wade off the court, Butler’s usage spikes to 32.6 percent with a 26 percent assist rate and 1.30 fantasy points per minute. However, those numbers dip to 29 percent, 21 percent and 1.16, respectively when Rondo is on the court.

Rondo certainly takes some shine away from Butler on Friday, as he’ll be used as the primary facilitator and isn’t exactly a ball movement advocate. That being said, Butler is cheap enough to consider a secondary option at a rather weak small forward position — especially on FanDuel where we’re forced to use two players at the position. This matchup with Washington is also favorable enough to deploy him at a sub-$9K price point.

 

CORE – James Harden; Giannis Antetokounmpo

SECONDARY – Jimmy Butler

GPP – DeMarcus Cousins

 

MID-RANGE   [$5900-$8300]

 

Devin Booker let all of us down on Wednesday, but we weren’t at all wrong about using him in all formats, on all sites, in all contests against the Kings. Booker was terribly inaccurate in a stellar matchup with Buddy Hield and a gutted Sacramento backcourt, shooting 23 percent from the field despite seeing plenty of open looks. It was a dismal performance overall, but that’s not what we should be focusing on; Booker played 40 minutes for the second straight game and attempted 26 field goals on the night! I’ll take 40 minutes and 26 shots every single time regardless of results, especially with Booker being affordably priced across the industry.

Let’s not forget about the effect Eric Bledsoe’s shutdown has on Booker. Bledsoe is a high-usage point guard with modest facilitating skills and a proneness to shoot more than he passes. Tyler Ulis, who will inherit Bledsoe’s role in the Suns’ offense, is a pass-first guard who will still look to shoot but generally not until after he seeks out the dime. Earl Watson is going to develop his younger players over the final stretch of the season, and Booker should benefit greatly. His Suns are 2.5-point favorites in a contest owning a 220.5-point total, and assuming this game stays even remotely competitive, Booker should see another 38-40 minutes with 20-plus field goal attempts at a very affordable cost. I won’t hesitate to go back to this well on Friday night — not for a second.

 

Nikola Vucevic played only 25 minutes in Thursday’s 30-point ass kicking at the hands of Golden State, which should keep him fresh for Friday’s tilt with Phoenix. The Suns have been miserable since Earl Watson made wholesale changes to the lineup, but they were terrible prior to those “adjustments” so it’s really a moot point. Alex Len is playing no more than 17 MPG and Alan Williams, despite his phenomenal fantasy production, is too small to play impactful defense against a 7-foot center like Vooch.

As earlier noted, the Magic are mere 2.5-point road dogs in what’s projected to be one of the highest scoring games on the night. Vucevic should be afforded every opportunity to produce against a Suns team that’s served up the third most points, second most free throws and fourth highest efficiency to opposing centers this season. They’ve also been torched by roll men in the pick-and-roll and in the post, two areas where Vucevic is proficient. Look for him to bounce back nicely on a slate where the center position is uncharacteristically weak. Pairing Elfrid Payton with Vucevic in GPPs makes plenty of sense, as Payton’s ownership should be minimal now that his salary has spiked.

 

Rajon Rondo’s  2016-17 campaign has come full circle over the last week, as he was inserted back into the Bulls’ starting lineup after falling out of the rotation and playing scarcely off the bench for the better part of 2017. Fred Hoiberg is on the hottest of hot seats with his team fighting for a playoff spot as we draw closer to the postseason, and he has clearly come to terms with the fact that Rondo in the starting lineup gives them the best chances of winning. That’s really all there is to it; opportunity equals production in the fantasy world, and Rondo is experiencing both. In his two most recent starts, the oft-troubled point guard has totaled 37 points on 15-31 shooting and 6-10 from beyond the arc, 14 assists, 13 rebounds, three steals and 82 fantasy points. Yes please.

Now that Wade is out for the season Rondo will earn more ball-handling duties which should directly translate to more fantasy production against the Wizards. Moreover, John Wall tweaked his ankle on Wednesday, and although he’s active for tonight’s home tilt, I have a tough time believe he’ll be at a hundred percent. Rondo has seen a significant price hike on DraftKings but he’s still a fine option at $6,500. At $5,800 on FanDuel he’s an even better play. Value depth at the point guard position would be the only reason I’d fade him on Friday night.

Dario Saric will go overlooked on Friday, as he’s facing a dreadfully slow Mavericks team that plays solid defense and limits possessions. I understand why people would have some trepidation about rostering the Croatian forward, but I also see the value in pulling the trigger. Saric is averaging 40 FPPG over his last 15 outings, and the only three games where he has finished with fewer than 38 fantasy points over that span were blowout losses in which his minutes were limited. Saric has been supremely consistent since Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova were traded, and I’d expect him to remain effective on Friday with the Sixers being 4.5-point dogs at home. 30 percent usage with 35-plus minutes per game should keep his floor high in a slow-paced game, while the only way Saric fails to produce is if Philadelphia gets blown out early.

Alan Williams logged a career-high 31 minutes in Wednesday’s home loss to Sacramento, finishing with yet another double-double and 38 fantasy points off the bench. His per minute production has been otherworldly this season, and Earl Watson is becoming progressively more inclined to feed him minutes in another lost season for the Suns. Continue to view Big Sauce as a top tournament option whose upside goes as far as his minutes will take him. The matchup with Orlando shouldn’t deter anyone from targeting him on this eight-game slate, as his incredibly high energy level and ability to crash the offensive boards should serve him well against the Magic’s slow-footed frontcourt.

HONORABLE MENTION: Hassan Whiteside – Erik Spoelstra will need his size against Minnesota. We’re targeting the minutes over matchup here, and Whiteside’s price point is affordable enough to consider across the board; Jrue Holiday – He’s been unimpressive since the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, but Friday’s tilt with Houston poses an excellent spot for Holiday to bounce back in an ultra-fast-paced affair; Khris Middleton – Facing the Lakers will always put a shoot-first wing in play. Middleton is seeing 35-plus minutes in competitive affairs, and although the Lakers are a putrid basketball team, they could keep the score close for three or more quarters at home; Greg Monroe – Elite tournament option with huge upside against a pathetic L.A. frontcourt. Monroe has logged 27 or more minutes in five straight games, and shouldn’t need much more than that in order to trounce the likes of Ivica Zubac and Tarik Black.

CORE – Devin Booker; Nikola Vucevic; Rajon Rondo [FanDuel]

SECONDARY – Rajon Rondo [DraftKings]; Dario Saric; T.J. Warren; Hassan Whiteside; Khris Middleton

GPP – Elfrid Payton; Alan Williams; Jrue Holiday; Greg Monroe

 

VALUE   [$3000-$5800]

 

Tyler Ulis will be chalk value on Friday, but that’s no reason for us to dismiss him as a top option across the board. The rookie Kentucky product is primed to see huge minutes in the starting lineup over the final month of the season, and his diverse skill set would suggest that we can expect quality fantasy totals at a reasonable price point. Ulis won’t only inherit Eric Bledsoe’s role in the starting lineup, but he should actually log more minutes than his predecessor, who was limited to around 32 MPG over the past several weeks.

Ulis has strong facilitating skills and is an above average ball-swiper at his position. He’s also running the point for one of the fastest paced teams in basketball, providing him with unlimited possessions in his 38-40 minutes of work. He’s an elite option against the Magic, as both teams are bad enough for this game to remain competitive throughout. Remember, opportunity is everything in daily fantasy basketball, and Earl Watson is going to feed the young guard all the minutes he can handle over Phoenix’s remaining games. He makes for a great pairing with Devin Booker, as there should be a positive correlation here with Ulis serving as the Suns’ primary distributor.

Marcus Smart will draw the spot start for Isaiah Thomas, who will miss Boston’s next two games with an ailing knee. Smart is operating with a 24 percent usage rating when Thomas is sidelined this season, but it’s his 31 percent assist rate that garners much of the appeal. Unlike Avery Bradley, Smart can contribute fantasy production without having to score, averaging two steals and seven assists per 36 without Thomas. At $4,900 on DraftKings Smart makes for an elite option in all formats, but I’d also favor him over Bradley on FanDuel where the two are only $100 separated. Furthermore, he draws a matchup with the Nets, who are especially inferior against opposing point guards. Smart should have no trouble paying off his salary across the industry, and especially on DraftKings. He should be a staple of our lineups this evening.

Terry Rozier makes for a viable tournament option and will run the point with Smart off the court. He could also see extended run in a blowout if Boston goes ahead early — a distinct possibility with Brooklyn playing their second of a back-to-back. Boston ranks dead last in offensive efficiency with Thomas off the court, but ranks first overall in team defense without Thomas’ services. Brooklyn ranks bottom-four in both offensive and defensive efficiency, suggesting that this game could get out of hand early. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Brook Lopez and/or Jeremy Lin to sit this game out, which would only reinforce the notion that this game could be over by halftime.

Shabazz Muhammad should see extended run on Friday with Nemanja Bjelica out for the season. He saw 31 minutes off the bench on Wednesday after Bjelica went down following only 11 minutes of work, and considering the Heat run a smaller frontcourt outside of Hassan Whiteside at center, Muhammad could see significant run at the four. This isn’t about quality of matchup, as Miami owns a stout defensive presence at nearly every position, but more so about opportunity, which at a near min-sal price Muhammad won’t need much of to produce.

Nikola Mirotic should log another ~28 minutes on Friday, and Dwyane Wade’s injury could create a trickle down effect for the Bulls’ bench, potentially vaulting him towards 30-plus minutes of work. Mirotic has been solid since receiving several DNP-CDs, and his voluminous three-point shooting creates considerable upside in the event that his shot is falling. At $4,300 on both FanDuel and DraftKings, Mirotic won’t need to produce more than 25-27 fantasy points to salvage a respectable performance against a Washington team that has struggled mightily to contain opposing forwards.

Marquese Chriss is a high-volatility fantasy option, but if he stays out of foul trouble the payoff could be huge. Foul trouble has been a massive issue for the rookie big man, whose sloppy defensive play and unwillingness to box players out for rebounds results in lazy fouls far too frequently. That being said, when Chriss sees the minutes he generally produces, and Earl Watson is clearly looking to feed him playing time over the final month of the season. I’ll have some shares in tournaments as he’ll be low-owned in a fast-paced, high-scoring affair, but this play certainly doesn’t come without risk.

Nerlens Noel returns to Philadelphia for the first time since being traded to Dallas, and the matchup is ripe for the picking. Dirk Nowitzki isn’t the type of center to fully exploit this miserable Sixers frontcourt, as he attempts the majority of his field goals from outside of ten feet and doesn’t rebound well for a center. Noel, on the other hand, only scores around the basket, and is active enough to gobble up uncontested rebounds against the led-footed Jahlil Okafor. It’s hard to predict how much playing time he’ll see off the bench, but if Rick Carlisle decides to give him the run against his former team, I’d expect to see monster production at a mid-$5K price tag on DraftKings.

Ivica Zubac is another tournament option that should generate plenty of intrigue on Friday, as most people will fade him after a dismal performance against the Rockets. He should, however, earn another opportunity to produce against Milwaukee, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play 30 minutes if foul trouble isn’t an issue. Milwaukee’s struggles at the center position have been well-documented lately, and Zubac’s per-36 minute numbers should allow him to easily pay off his $4,100 salary on FanDuel if all goes according to plan.

CORE – Tyler Ulis; Marcus Smart [DraftKings]

SECONDARY – Marcus Smart [FanDuel]; Shabazz Muhammad; Nikola Mirotic

GPP – Terry Rozier; Marquese Chriss; Nerlens Noel [DraftKings]; Ivica Zubac [FanDuel]