NBA Deep Dive – 3/22/17

HIGH-PRICED   [$8400+]

Russell Westbrook, what have you done? 37 fantasy points at $13,300? You have ruined me, Russell, and there’s no coming back from this one… or is there? Call me a glutton for punishment, but I can’t help myself; a matchup with the Sixers isn’t something I’m willing to ignore, especially considering Westbrook is averaging .9 assists shy of a triple-double over his last ten meetings with Philadelphia (26.8/10/9.1/1.7).

I get it, the blowout concern is real, Westbrook might only play 29 minutes like he did on Monday, and he’s priced higher than we could ever imagine. All of those factors combine to create some trepidation on a night where the Thunder are 11-point favorites at home. However, Westbrook is the Thunder, and without his nightly heroics they aren’t blowing any teams out, regardless of venue. Furthermore, the Sixers have done a solid job of keeping games competitive. Philadelphia has dropped four of their last five games on the road, but it took overtime for the Magic to beat them in Orlando, the Warriors just barely edged them out at the Oracle, the Clippers won by 12 but couldn’t create any separation until late in the fourth, and the Blazers eked out a last minute win at the Moda Center. I’m not saying this game stays competitive, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

Paying a premium for Westbrook never feels good on nights where he could see limited playing time, but I’d like to note a few things worth considering before you follow through with a fade: first, the Thunder are still capable of snagging the fourth seed in the West. It’s improbable, sure, but sitting only 2.5 games behind the Jazz and Clippers with 12 games left to play, crazier things have happened. Second, Westbrook is averaging 68 FP/G and 1.94 FP/M at home this season, with Monday’s loss to Golden State being his first sub-60-fantasy point game since February 5th. Lastly, Westbrook attempts nearly 30 percent of his field goals at the rim, where Philadelphia has been ravaged since Joel Embiid went down and Nerlens Noel was traded. I’m locking him in for 60-plus fantasy points in a blowout with easy 80-plus fantasy point upside if this game remains close.


Kyrie Irving pieced together a masterful performance against the Lakers, scoring 46 points (15-21 FG/6-10 3PT/10-10 FT) and 54.5 fantasy points in one of the most efficient displays of shooting we’ve seen all season. The Lakers are a putrid basketball team, ranking dead last in DRtg with the highest FG% allowed since the All-Star break by a wide margin. Needless to say, Irving’s outburst was elite, but hardly surprising.

The Nuggets are comparable to the Lakers in that they’re also defensively inept; on the season, only the Lakers have allowed a higher FG%, ORtg and more assists to their opponent than Denver, who have also served up the third highest 3PT% in the process. This is a golden opportunity for Irving, who since the break is shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc with 5.5 assists per game.

Kevin Love’s return to action won’t help Irving’s usage, but I’m still willing to deploy him in this matchup. Denver not only ranks bottom-five in points per possession and eFG allowed to ball handlers in the pick-and-roll, but they play at one of the fastest paces in basketball and absolutely suck in transition defense. James Harden did this the other night, grabbing a rebound behind his own basket before going coast-to-coast for a layup without being touched. This won the game for Houston with time running out, and still Denver couldn’t get a hand on him. Fortunately, the Nuggets rank second in ORtg behind only the Rockets since the All-Star break, meaning they should be able to keep this game competitive at home while still hemorrhaging fantasy points in the process. I’ll surely be targeting Irving in a game owning a whopping 228-point total and 3.5-point spread.


John Wall draws a strong matchup with Atlanta, but I’m slightly worried about his health. Over the past week Wall has dealt with a foot injury that nearly sidelined him for a game and was then seen getting treatment on his knee before Monday’s loss to Boston. Most players are banged up in late March, but Wall’s situation is different; the All-Star point guard has seen some of the most playing time in basketball with nearly 37 MPG, and has lowered his shot volume since injuring his foot.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Wall can exploit a sexy home matchup with Atlanta, but I’m viewing him more as a tournament play on a night where the point guard position is chock full of safer options. Fortunately, Wall is one of the few players in this league capable of posting 50-plus fantasy points while scoring single-digit points.


LeBron James also makes for a nice tournament play, but for different reasons than Wall. James draws a stellar matchup with a Nuggets team that could be missing their top forward defender in Wilson Chandler, who hasn’t played in nearly two weeks. Denver is allowing 108 PPG since the All-Star break with a 47.3 FG% (27th) and 40 3PT% (29th) surrendered over that span. They rank second in offensive efficiency, though, which suggests this game should remain very close throughout. Considering James leads the league in minutes behind only Kyle Lowry, it’s reasonable to assume he could drop monster fantasy totals on the Nuggets this evening. That being said, LeBron’s price point reflects his performance with Kevin Love sidelined, and I can’t justify using him over Westbrook in most formats now that he sits north of $11K on both FanDuel and DraftKings.

UPDATE: Wilson Chandler is now listed as Probable after missing four games with an ailing groin. This downgrades James’ value slightly as he’ll now have a more difficult positional matchup, but upgrades Irving, who could see more shot volume funneled through him in a phenomenal matchup with this putrid Denver backcourt.


Jimmy Butler caught fire on Tuesday and I was fortunate enough to ride that wave. Targeting players in the midst of a cold streak can be supremely rewarding when their salary drops to reflect recent performance, and that was exactly the case with Butler last night. His ownership should climb on Wednesday now that he bounced back with a strong performance, but at $8,900 on both FanDuel and DraftKings we won’t need to abandon ship. Butler’s salary hasn’t budged since he’s playing the second of a back-to-back, and with Chicago battling for a playoff spot it stands to reason that he could easily play another 38-plus minutes against Detroit. The 44 minutes Butler logged against Toronto is slightly concerning, but Hoiberg is going to run his starters into the ground over the final weeks of the season.

Rajon Rondo will take some assists away from Butler, but he generally isn’t going to take 16 shots like he did on Tuesday. Butler is still sporting a near 30 percent usage rate over the last three games since Wade hit the shelf, and believe it or not, Robin Lopez’s absence should actually free up more usage on Wednesday. This is a must-win game for the Bulls, who sit a half game behind the Pistons in the East, and Butler could easily see another 20-plus field goal attempts in an ultra-competitive affair (CHI +1). I’m more than willing to use Butler at a depressed price point, and would be surprised to see him finish with fewer than 45 fantasy points despite the projected low-scoring conditions. The shooting guard and small forward positions are so weak on Wednesday that Butler becomes a core play by default.


CORE – Russell Westbrook; Kyrie Irving; Jimmy Butler

GPP – John Wall; LeBron James; Gary Harris


MID-RANGE   [$5900-$8300]


Rudy Gobert has been brilliant since Derrick Favors went down with an ailing knee, averaging 15.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 3.5 blocks over that six-game span. I’m still willing to use Gobert if Favors is active on Wednesday, but I don’t expect him to play. Favors has always been a slow healer, and it’s hard to believe Snyder would rush him back on a night where the Jazz are 11.5-point favorites at home.

New York is absolutely dreadful in every facet of the game, and frontcourt defense has been no exception. The Knicks have allowed the most points to opposing centers this season, while also ceding the second most offensive rebounds and fifth most blocks to the position. The combination of Guillermo Hernangomez, Marshall Plumlee and Kyle O’Quinn won’t be able to contain Gobert around the basket, as they all either lack size or the ability to box out their opponents. Another noteworthy stat is New York’s inability to prevent putbacks, as they’ve allowed the second most points per possession this season. Gobert ranks fifth in putback points, but has also been used more in the pick-and-roll lately, which should pad his fantasy totals this evening. With double-digit field goal attempts and 13-plus rebounds in three straight games, it’s hard to ignore the upside at his price point.

UPDATE: Derrick Favors has been ruled OUT for Wednesday.


Nicolas Batum turned in a disappointing performance on Monday as he and the Hornets coasted to a 15-point home win over the Hawks. He clearly shifted into neutral in the second half and was largely uninvolved over the final two quarters against a shorthanded Atlanta team. Unfortunately, we’ll have to consider him again on Wednesday with the shooting guard position being unbearably shallow. Charlotte is favored by only five points in Orlando, which should keep Batum’s minutes stable, and Evan Fournier’s defense is hardly a concern. Positional scarcity coupled with an affordable salary puts Batum in play, as we’re really scraping the bottom to find value at shooting guard despite having eight games on the slate.


Dario Saric isn’t a core play against a tough Thunder squad, but it’s worth pointing out that his ownership has been very low since most sites boosted his salary above $7,500. Saric does an excellent job of scoring without having to create separation, which could help him or hurt him against the Oklahoma City. He’s also produced north of one fantasy point per minute in 17 of his last 19 games, which assuming he logs between 35-37 minutes if this game stays close, should once again result in 40-plus fantasy points. The fact that Saric fouled out after 26 minutes of work in his last game should also depress ownership, further enhancing his tournament value at a weak power forward position. While the Thunder boast a strong frontcourt defense, Taj Gibson could struggle to hand with Saric around the perimeter. This is a tough spot to gauge production for the Croatian forward, but I’m willing to take the risk at a mid-$7K price point.


Khris Middleton has been vital to Milwaukee’s success since returning from a lengthy hiatus, as evidenced by the fact that he’s averaging 18.1 points and 53 percent shooting in wins and 10 points/38% FG in losses this season. The Bucks are 4.5-point favorites against the punchless Kings on Wednesday, and now that Middleton has shed all of his restrictions he should earn every opportunity to produce. Middleton is sporting a very respectable 25 percent usage rate over his last 10 games, while Giannis Antetokounmpo has seen his usage rating drop to 25.9 percent over that span. I’m really not a fan of the mid-range talent on this slate and will look to take a stars-and-scrubs approach if possible, but Middleton makes plenty of sense if you want to go balanced.


Dwight Howard should warrant consideration on Wednesday with Paul Millsap out. The veteran big man’s offensive involvement in his first season with Atlanta has been disappointing, but Howard’s usage climbs from 19 percent to 22.3 percent when Millsap is sidelined, while his rebounding rate and fantasy point per minute production also see a nice bump.

One reason I’m willing to consider Howard is price point; at $6,800 on FanDuel and $7,000 on DraftKings he won’t need a career game to reach his value threshold, and a matchup with Washington should certainly work in his favor. The Wizards have struggled to defend opposing bigs all season long, largely a result of Marcin Gortat’s terrible rim protection numbers (57.8% DFG) and Markieff Morris’ unwillingness to consistently give maximum effort. Assuming this game remains competitive, Howard will offer big double-double upside and a higher point ceiling with Millsap off the court.


CORE – Rudy Gobert

SECONDARY – Nicolas Batum; Khris Middleton; Dwight Howard

GPP – Dario Saric;


VALUE   [$3000-$5800]


Steven Adams fits the mold of an excellent value play on Wednesday for one reason and one reason alone: Philadelphia frontcourt. The 76ers have been an absolute sieve defensively since Joel Embiid was injured and Nerlens Noel was traded, coughing up Goliath fantasy performances to opposing centers almost every night. The archetype of center that produces well against the Sixers is one who operates close to the basket, rebounds well and blocks shot at an above average clip. Adams is attempting 56 percent of his field goals within three feet of the rim, 68 percent within five feet of the rim and 87 percent within eight feet of the rim this season. Yes please, I’ll have some more.

173 of Adam’s 223 assisted field goals (77%) have been through Russell Westbrook, which makes for a fantastic pairing in every format. Westbrook should have no trouble finding Adams for easy buckets around the rim, especially if Jahlil Okafor is active. I’ll have ample exposure to both of these Thunder starters on Wednesday, and will continue to exploit Philadelphia’s interior weaknesses until the season concludes.

Enes Kanter makes for a stellar tournament option for a couple of reasons, some of which were already listed above. Unlike Adams, however, Kanter is an offensive juggernaut who should pick apart this Philadelphia defense down low. Kanter would also figure to earn some blowout run if Oklahoma City runs away with the score, and I’d expect his ownership to remain very low with Billy Donovan refusing to feed him serviceable minutes. Ultimately, neither Jahlil Okafor or Richaun Holmes are defensively adept enough to handle Kanter in the post, where is 1.04 PPP is higher than any big man not named Nikola Jokic.


Rajon Rondo bounced back in a big way after failing to produce against the Jazz. If you stuck with him on Tuesday you were handsomely rewarded, as there was no reason to believe Rondo wouldn’t go back to seeing his full complement of minutes in the starting lineup. He’ll undoubtedly be higher owned tonight than he was against the Raptors, but there’s still merit to using him at a mid-$5K price point across the industry. Rondo owns a very solid 35 percent assist rate and 1.03 FPPM since re-entering the starting lineup, while his 35-plus MPG make him one of the safer options on Wednesday night. As earlier noted, Chicago faces a must-win scenario against the Pistons who are also battling for the final playoff spot in the East, so Hoiberg should run with his starters until the final buzzer sounds. I’ll take the certainty of knowing the Bulls need to win, and Rondo starting at the point gives them their best chance of doing so.


Bobby Portis will likely start Wednesday’s home tilt with Detroit as Robin Lopez is expected to receive a one-game suspension after his uneventful “fist fight” with Serge Ibaka. If Portis does in fact get the start, he should be considered a top value option across the board. Since moving back to the bench Portis has seen has salary dip back closer to minimum salary, and while a matchup with Detroit isn’t perfect, Andre Drummond is playing his second of a back-to-back on the road with a balky knee.

Cristiano Felicio injured his back in Tuesday’s loss to the Raptors and did not return. If he is also unable to play, Portis would become that much more valuable, as the Bulls would be operating with a thinned out frontcourt consisting of Portis, Nikola Mirotic and Joffrey Lauvergne. As of now I much prefer Portis over Lauvergne, but would be willing to make the switch if Lauvergne draws the spot start for Lopez. Fred Hoiberg is going to need size at center to combat Drummond, though, which suggests that both of these bigs should see solid run if both Lopez and Felicio are out.

Nikola Mirotic is also very much in play, as he’ll likely serve as one of only a few forwards capable of playing significant minutes at the four. I’ve heard some discussion surrounding Paul Zipser but don’t have any intentions of rostering him myself. Zipser logged 41 minutes last night in an overtime loss to Toronto and essentially maxed out his fantasy potential with 29 DKPTs. He’s averaging .59 FPPM this season and offers virtually zero upside with his non-existent shot volume and paltry peripheral contributions. The only reason anyone would be considering him is due to the terrible lack of depth at the shooting guard and small forward positions.


Ersan Ilyasova’s blowout shortened outing against the Hornets could work in our favor this evening, as most people will ignore him now that the novelty has worn off. The truth is, however, that Wednesday’s matchup with Washington poses a phenomenal spot for Ilyasova to bounce back, as the Wizards rank bottom-four in points (27th), rebounds (28th), FG% (29th), 3PT% (27th) and efficiency (27th) allowed to opposing power forwards this season.

Ilyasova is sporting a 25 percent usage rate with 1.08 FPPM in two games since Millsap went down, both of which are good for second best on the Hawks behind Dennis Schroder. Atlanta lacks shooters right now outside of Schroder and Tim Hardaway, which could legitimately open the door to 15-plus field goal attempts for Ilyasova in a competitive affair. The Turkish big man makes for an elite option on FanDuel at only $4,500, but should also be considered at $5,500 on DraftKings, as this matchup falls right into his wheelhouse. I simply don’t see Markieff Morris making much of an effort to tail Ilyasova around the perimeter, and even if he does, the pace of this game and high potential shot volume should push him towards the 30-fantasy point mark.


CORE – Steven Adams; Rajon Rondo; Bobby Portis [If Robin Lopez is OUT]; Ersan Ilyasova [FanDuel]

SECONDARY – Nikola Mirotic; Ersan Ilyasova [DraftKings]; Cody Zeller

GPP – Enes Kanter; Terrence Ross