NBA Deep Dive – 3/20/17
Russell Westbrook faces a Durant-less Warriors team at home in a game owning a 1-point spread and 222.5-point total. The spread has moved a point in favor of the Thunder and the total continues to climb, while Westbrook needs only seven more triple-doubles to match Oscar Robertson for most in NBA history. Chasing triple-doubles might not be his priority right now, as Oklahoma City currently sits a half-game out of fifth in the Western Conference, but the Thunder win when Westbrook records them, and he’s likely going to need one on Monday if they plan on knocking off Golden State.
Here’s the thing: this game is going to remain competitive, and Oklahoma City is probably going to win. The Warriors have lost five of their last 10 games and nearly dropped a home game to the Sixers last week. They are not the same team without Durant, and their 13th ranked offensive rating since the All-Star break evidences those struggles. The Thunder, on the other hand, have won five straight games on Westbrook’s shoulders; he’s averaging a 26.6-point, 10.8-rebound, 14.4-assist, 2.2-steal, 70-fantasy point triple-double over that span.
Since the break, Westbrook is sporting a league-leading 41.4 percent usage rate, league-leading 55 percent assist rate and a 16.4 percent rebounding rate that leads all guards by a wide margin. Yes, he’s wildly expensive across the board, but fading Westbrook in a home matchup against the second fastest paced team in basketball could yield disastrous results. Factor in the 1-point spread and second highest point total on the slate, and we have ourselves a recipe for success. There’s legitimate 85-plus-fantasy point upside here on Monday night.
James Harden is arguably as good a play as Westbrook on paper, facing a dismal Nuggets defense in a 236.5-O/U game, but there are a couple areas where Westbrook has the edge: first, the Rockets are 9-point home favorites in a game where they could easily run away with the score. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari could sit this game out, too, which would further tip the scales in Houston’s favor. Second, Harden’s heroics can’t go overlooked, but the Rockets house far more capable scorers than the Thunder, who when they win, they win on the shoulders of Russell Westbrook. Both of these guards are assembling historical seasons by the day, and both guards are liable to drop 80-plus fantasy points on any given night. As a result, we’re forced to make difficult decisions when they’re on the same slate.
Harden should have no trouble amassing elite fantasy totals against Denver’s 29th ranked defense. This game owns a slate-high 236.5-point total as both the Nuggets and Rockets play at a top-10 pace. We cannot ignore the potential ceiling game for Harden, who should carve up a Denver backcourt that’s allowing the second most points, third most assists, fourth most steals, third highest FG% and fourth highest 3PT% to opposing guards this season. That being said, I am still comfortable ranking him behind Westbrook, who continues to single-handedly power his Thunder forward in the Western Conference standings. A triple-double is a mere formality for Westbrook on Monday, while with Harden it’s slightly less probable.
NOTE: It will be difficult to fit two high-priced players into our lineups on Monday, but it shouldn’t be impossible. As we venture further into March more injuries will pop up, and more teams who are either secure in their playoff positioning or too far out of the race will begin to rest players more frequently. This should provide us with more opportunity to deploy the Studs & Scrubs approach, but we often won’t have all of the possible value plays until closer to lock. I’ll likely try to fit Westbrook and another $9K-plus option into my lineups on Monday.
Nikola Jokic played only 22 minutes in Saturday’s loss to the Rockets as he ran into early foul trouble and never managed to right the ship. Assuming he can keep his hands clean on Monday, Jokic will earn an excellent opportunity to bounce back in the same matchup that most centers have been able to exploit this season. Houston has allowed more points in the paint than any other team, but they’ve also served up the fourth most assists to opposing centers. Unsurprisingly, big men are shooting 54.7 percent from the field against the Rockets, good for the third highest mark in basketball. Houston’s frontcourt also lacks size, which has resulted in the seventh highest field goal percentage at the rim.
This matchup is phenomenally strong for Jokic, especially considering he is one of the fewer centers in basketball who can benefit from an elevated pace of play. Since the All-Star break, Jokic leads the Nuggets in potential assists (10.7 PoAST/G), assist points created (14.3/G) and passes made (56/G). He’s functioning as Denver’s primary facilitator when on the court, ahead of point guard Jameer Nelson, which makes him capable of exploiting fast-paced games due to the inflated number of possessions. With Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari on Monday, Jokic will be afforded even more opportunity to churn out monster fantasy totals against Houston, making him one of the top overall plays on this 7-game slate.
Stephen Curry has been rather pedestrian since Durant hit the shelf, but we’d be remiss to not mention him in Monday’s road tilt with the Thunder. This game will remain very close throughout (OKC +1) with plenty of scoring to go around (222.5 O/U), so Curry should be forced into taking another 20-plus shots across ~35 minutes of work. His three-point shooting has been erratic at times and the assist totals are lower than we’d prefer, but Curry’s $9,400 salary on DraftKings is now low enough to place him back in play. If he gets hot from the field in a competitive affair, Curry will offer easy 50-plus-fantasy point upside against a Thunder team that has struggled to defend the point guard position.
CORE – Russell Westbrook; Nikola Jokic
SECONDARY – James Harden; Stephen Curry [DraftKings]
GPP – Stephen Curry [FanDuel]; Chris Paul
Kemba Walker should have no trouble torching the Hawks on Monday assuming this game remains competitive. Atlanta’s struggles at the point guard position have been well-documented, as Dennis Schroder is sporting a 110 defensive rating and the Hawks will be without their top defensive guard Kent Bazemore for this meeting. Walker hasn’t shot particularly well against Atlanta this season, but his peripherals and minutes have been strong in two games that were decided by single digits. I’d expect his shooting to balance itself out this evening, though, as the Hawks are serving up the third most points per possession and third highest eFG to ball handlers in the pick-and-roll. Walker ranks second in PnR scoring behind only James Harden this season, while his 10.1 field goal attempts per game in the PnR leads the league. Look for him to exploit this weakness throughout the night in a game that Vegas currently projects to be competitive. At $7,900 on DraftKings and $8,100 on FanDuel, Walker makes for a fantastic mid-range point guard play.
Nikola Vucevic would be the top overall play on Monday’s slate if this was November or the Magic were competing for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, this isn’t November — or December, or January, or February — and the Magic aren’t competing for a playoff spot. The problem here isn’t Vucevic’s ability to produce in a stellar matchup with the Sixers, but more so his ability to play at all; the sixth-year big man is dealing with an ankle injury and is questionable for Monday’s home tilt with Philadelphia. Considering Orlando has nothing to play for, Frank Vogel would be wise to sit his best offensive player in a meaningless contest. If Vucevic is active, however, I’ll be willing to take the risk, as even 28-30 minutes would be enough to demolish this putrid Sixers frontcourt.
NOTE: Will discuss Bismack Biyombo in the value section, as he immediately becomes the top value option and arguably the top overall play on Monday’s slate if Vucevic is unable to take the court. Elfrid Payton also becomes a top option across the board if Vucevic is inactive.
Dario Saric has been wildly impressive since Brett Brown decided to loosen the reins, as he’s managed to post 36-plus fantasy points in 14 of his last 17 outings while posting 40-plus fantasy points 10 times in that span. Saric is sporting a 28 percent usage rate, 23.5 percent assist rate and 1.17 FPPM since the All-Star break, all of which qualify as excellent indicators for a power forward in Saric’s position.
One thing about the Croatian forward that’s made him so productive in his rookie campaign has been his ability to score without creating separation. Saric’s first step isn’t anything special, but he’s been incredibly impressive with defenders breathing down his neck. In Sunday’s win over Boston, Saric appeared to have a defender within two feet of him on every made basket, yet he routinely converted difficult field goal attempts without separation. Combine his aptness to produce in traffic with excellent vision and above average rebounding skills and Saric becomes an ultra-safe fantasy option almost every night.
Monday’s matchup with Orlando places Saric in another position to excel, as Aaron Gordon won’t be able to contain him on his own and the Magic lack the rim protection to contain him down low. Saric becomes an even more appealing play if Jahlil Okafor (knee soreness) is unable to play, as he’ll see some minutes at the five and won’t have to compete with anyone for rebounds. I’ll continue to deploy Saric with confidence for as long as he continues to be priced below $8K across the industry.
Draymond Green has been nothing short of superb for the Warriors since Durant went down, and although his contributions may not always show in the box score, his impact has been instrumental. Close-fought games are Green’s bread and butter, as he can take over on the defensive end and stymie opponents in the paint. His superlative skill set and ability to stuff the stat sheet should place him squarely on the radar this evening against a Thunder team that is certain to fight for a win. Green should log upwards of 38 minutes on Monday, and Golden State will need his rim protection against the driving Russell Westbrook.
Green will never operate with a hefty usage rate, but his usage does rise three percent with Durant off the court, while his assist rate and fantasy point per minute production also climb in the process. At an affordable price point across the industry, Green makes plenty of sense in cash games but can also be deployed in GPPs. As evidenced by last week’s 20/9/8/6/3 outburst against the Sixers, Green is always capable of posting elite fantasy totals in accommodating spots.
Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and Mason Plumlee all make for quality options on Monday, but we can’t list them as core plays when Orlando is facing Philadelphia. The 76ers have been so dismal at defending at opposing bigs that I will look to target them every single time they’re on the schedule. This leaves other centers as secondary options by default. While we’re on the subject, though, Howard gains value with Millsap sidelined, Jordan is reasonably priced in a plus matchup with New York, and Plumlee will continue to start and log 30-plus minutes with Chandler and Gallinari sidelined. All three of them would make for excellent options on a night where Philadelphia was idle, but they are more suited for tournaments on this specific slate.
Nicolas Batum is a strong price play against a Hawks team that will be without one of their top wing defenders in Kent Bazemore. Bazemore’s long wingspan and fundamentally strong defense will be replaced by the shoot-first play style of Tim Hardaway Jr., and this should directly benefit Batum. At $6,700 on DraftKings and $7,100 on FanDuel, Batum makes for a strong mid-range play in a game where the Hornets are only 5.5-point favorites at home. Assuming Steve Clifford provides him with his normal 35 minutes of court time, Batum should have no trouble paying off a depressed price point across the board.
CORE – Kemba Walker; Nikola Vucevic [If Active]; Elfrid Payton [If Nikola Vucevic is OUT];
SECONDARY – Dario Saric; Draymond Green; Mason Plumlee; Nicolas Batum
GPP – Dwight Howard; DeAndre Jordan; Gary Harris; Will Barton [DraftKings]
Bismack Biyombo should be in every one of your lineups if Nikola Vucevic is unable to play on Monday. The undersized center plays much bigger than his listed height, and he should have no trouble torching a Sixers team that’s been annihilated by every semi-competent center in basketball since Joel Embiid hit the shelf and Nerlens Noel was traded.
Here’s a list of centers who have demolished the Sixers since the All-Star break: Al Horford (27/8/6/2/1), Draymond Green (20/9/8/6/3), Ivica Zubac (10/6/0/4/0 in 19 minutes), DeAndre Jordan (19/20/4/3/1), Jusuf Nurkic (28/20/8/6/2), Andre Drummond (14/14/2/3/4, Hassan Whiteside (15/11/3/4/1 in 22 minutes), Zaza Pachulia (16/5/2/1/1 in 15 minutes) and Kyle O’Quinn (9/5/5/2/5 in 25 minutes).
Jusuf Nurkic tallied career highs in points, rebounds, assists and blocks, while Al Horford scored a season-high 27 points and Draymond Green recorded his first six-block performance of his 2016-17 campaign — all of which came against the Sixers. Whether Jahlil Okafor is active or not shouldn’t matter, as the Sixers lack rim protection, rebounding, and everything else in the frontcourt that’s essential to playing respectable defense. If Vucevic sits, Biyombo should be your top priority without exception.
Will Barton is inexplicably priced at $5,800 on FanDuel, which immediately makes him a top value option at the shooting guard position. Sure, Barton struggled to produce against the Rockets on Saturday, shooting only 2-13 from the field, but he logged 33 minutes in the loss and wasn’t shy about jacking up shots. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler have already been ruled out, which means Barton should earn another 30-plus minutes off the bench in what’s almost certain to be the highest scoring contest on the night. There is some blowout concern here, but Barton’s 28 percent usage, 24 percent assist rate and 1.03 FPPM with Chandler/Gallo out over the past month should be enough to pay off a dirt cheap price point regardless of score.
Taurean Prince has logged 30-plus minutes off the bench in back-to-back games, and although Atlanta lost by double-digit points in both, the additional run was encouraging. Thabo Sefolosha saw limited minutes as a result of Prince’s elevated playing time, but even if he sees around 25 minutes on Monday, Prince should continue to earn heavy minutes off the bench with Kent Bazemore sidelined.
Tim Hardaway will draw the spot start at shooting guard while Sefolosha will continue to start at the three, which leaves Prince as one of only a couple reserves capable of playing at the wing. Mike Dunleavy will also remain sidelined on Monday, so Mike Budenholzer’s options will be severely limited. Ryan Kelly, who’s played a total of eight minutes in March, and DeAndre’ Bembry, who was just recalled from the D-League, won’t threaten Prince for much playing time against Charlotte. I can’t guarantee he’ll produce with his extended minutes, but Prince should certainly earn enough run to warrant serious consideration at a near minimum salary price point.
Ersan Ilyasova is worth a look at the power forward position with Paul Millsap sidelined, but I’d urge you to approach him with caution. Marvin Williams is exactly the type of defender who is capable of containing Ilyasova, who does the majority of his damage from the perimeter. Williams is a stretch four with the ability to guard Ilyasova well, and I have some concerns about Ilyasova’s ability to produce in this matchup. That being said, he should earn enough opportunity to churn out serviceable fantasy totals if given around 30 minutes in the starting lineup.
Richaun Holmes could see big run in the starting lineup if Jahlil Okafor is unable to play. Holmes started the second half of Sunday’s game with Okafor injured and managed to finish with a very impressive 8-point, 7-rebound, 5-assist, 4-block, 2-steal, 36-fantasy point line in 29 minutes against the Celtics. It’s stands to reason that Holmes would play around 30 minutes if he starts, as Shawn Long won’t get much run and Dario Saric would literally be the only other healthy body capable of playing the five. Stayed tuned for more information here, as Holmes’ power forward eligibility on FanDuel would make him very enticing in the event that he gets the start. Not that it matters much, but this matchup with Orlando is also very favorable.
Lou Williams and Eric Gordon are two of my favorite tournament options on Monday, as they give us exposure to an ultra-high-scoring game without having to pay for Harden. The Rockets are 9-point home favorites against an injury-laden Nuggets squad, and they unsurprisingly own the highest implied point total (122.5 TT) of any team on this seven-game slate.
It’s impossible to predict which one of Gordon or Williams will be the one to produce, but here is how I would approach this: if you believe this game will stay competitive, play Gordon. If you think Houston goes up early and never relinquishes the lead, play Williams. Williams has clearly been the higher upside play since coming to Houston, and he has benefited greatly from blowouts of late. I’d be more inclined to roll Sweet Lou out in this game, as we’ve seen what he can do in high-scoring affairs where Houston takes an early lead. Unfortunately, Williams’ minutes have been very erratic in closely contested affairs, so we can’t guarantee he’ll get the run if Dever keeps things competitive.
CORE – Bismack Biyombo [If Nikola Vucevic is OUT]; Will Barton; Taurean Prince; Richaun Holmes [FanDuel – If Jahlil Okafor is OUT]
SECONDARY – Evan Fournier [If Nikola Vucevic is OUT]; Richaun Holmes [DraftKings – If Jahlil Okafor is OUT]
GPP – Tim Hardaway Jr.; Ersan Ilyasova; Lou Williams; Eric Gordon