NBA DEEP DIVE – March 27, 2017

Russell Westbrook’s discounted price point immediately puts him in play, regardless of matchup. Hell, even at salary north of $13K we’re considering him, so why not at $12,500 on DraftKings? Matchup? Sure, facing the slow-paced Mavericks generally doesn’t create much excitement, but the Thunder are one-point favorites in a contest that will almost certainly remain competitive. What about the back-to-back? Yeah, Westbrook logged 39 minutes yesterday as the Rockets closed out the season series with three straight wins, but this was an afternoon game and Westbrook has had plenty of time to recover. It’s not like he needs the rest, though, as Westbrook is averaging 31.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 8.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game on zero days rest this season, while his turnover rate actually drops in the process.

Let’s take a look at the playoff race in the Western Conference: the Clippers blew an 18-point lead to the Kings at home yesterday and are now tied with the Thunder in the loss column. Oklahoma City is three wins behind L.A. for the fifth seed, but they also have three games in hand and seven of their final 10 contests will come against sub-.500 teams. Utah, currently hanging onto the fourth seed, sits only 2.5 games ahead of the Thunder and one game ahead of the Clippers.

Billy Donovan’s team should be looking to make a serious push over the final two weeks of the season, and that starts tonight in Dallas. Westbrook hasn’t missed a game all season, and with the Thunder having a realistic shot at avoiding the Spurs or Rockets in the first round, he should see no shortage of playing time on Monday. There are some red flags in a matchup such as this, but a 42 percent usage rate should be more than enough to quell those fears if not just for a night.

 

Kawhi Leonard never misses an opportunity to show up in bigs spots. They say ‘if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.’ Well, Leonard creates the heat and burns the kitchen down, all while locking the doors behind him. That’s what I’m expecting from him on Monday in this home matchup with Cleveland. San Antonio sits 2.5 games behind the Warriors with 10 games to go, and Gregg Popovich likely hasn’t given up hope on grabbing the NBA’s best record while Kevin Durant remains idle in Golden State. The Warriors will also have to face the Spurs on Wednesday, a matchup that’s sandwiched between two meetings with the red-hot Rockets.

Leonard should erupt in this matchup if the lackadaisically-coached Cavaliers decide they feel like competing. Cleveland has now fallen behind Boston in the win column and desperately need this win to get back on top. Seven of their remaining 10 games come against teams who are currently positioned to make the playoffs, so they can’t afford to take any more games off. Moreover, Cleveland’s 113.5 defensive rating since the All-Star break ranks 29th behind only the Lakers, who have been a mere fraction of a point worse in that span! As 5-point road dogs in this nationally televised contest, I’m expecting the Cavs to force Leonard into an easy 35-plus minutes of 30-plus percent usage basketball. I’ll have plenty of Leonard on DraftKings, but at $9,100 on FanDuel he’ll be one of the toughest players to ignore on this six-game slate.

 

DeMar DeRozan serves as the lone bright spot at a dreadfully dim shooting guard position. The veteran two-guard struggled through a string of underwhelming performances in tough matchups before bouncing back with consecutive 40-point gems against Chicago and Miami. He then came back down to earth against Dallas, but that was to be expected. Monday’s home tilt with Orlando is far more enticing, but the lack of depth at his position is the real reason we’re keeping him in play.

The Magic don’t have the personnel to contain DeRozan if he’s going to be jacking up another 20-plus shots for a Raptors team that lacks an alternative go-to scoring option. So long as Orlando can keep things competitive, DeRozan should earn every opportunity to produce. Again, this play is a product of positional scarcity and not my overwhelming desire to pay a premium for a non-Harden shooting guard.

 

CORE – Russell Westbrook; Kawhi Leonard

SECONDARY – DeMar DeRozan

GPP – Anthony Davis

 

MID-RANGE   [$5900-$8300]

 

Rudy Gobert has been brilliant in eight starts since Derrick Favors hit the shelf, averaging 19.5 points, 12.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 3.4 blocks and 45.3 fantasy points per game. Favors’ balky knee will keep him sidelined again on Monday in a game that Utah needs to hold onto fourth place in the West, and Quin Snyder will undoubtedly need Gobert’s size against this Pelicans’ frontcourt. Gobert should be in line to see upwards of 38 minutes regardless of whether or not DeMarcus Cousins (questionable) is active, as he’s now logged 35-plus in each of his last 10 games with an average of 37 MPG in that span.

Here’s the kicker: Gobert is sporting a near 25 percent usage rate over his last five starts, attempting 12.6 field goals per game in the process. That’s up from 21.8 percent since Favors went down and 17.3 percent on the season. Furthermore, the potential absence of Gordon Hayward could funnel more shot volume through Gobert, who is shooting an incredible 75 percent over his last eight games. Huge minutes, more shots, high-percentage attempts and a must-win matchup of sorts makes Gobert a top overall play on Monday night.

UPDATE: Gordon Hayward sat out of Monday morning shootaround, which would suggest he’s closer to doubtful to suit up against New Orleans.

 

Kyrie Irving is the key to Cleveland beating San Antonio. While that outcome isn’t likely, Irving would be the reason it happens if it does, and at $7,900 on DraftKings I’m more than willing to roll the dice. Irving is averaging 22 field goal attempts per game over his last four starts, while sporting a stellar 33.7 percent usage rate in March. The 25 percent assist rate over that span leaves much to be desired, but 20-plus shots and upwards of 40 minutes in a semi-must-win affair place him firmly in play at a sub-$8K price point.

LeBron James will be contending with Kawhi Leonard’s defense all night long — James is averaging only 46 DraftKings Points per game over his last 10 meetings with San Antonio — and Kevin Love could struggle against a Spurs frontcourt that’s allowing the lowest FG% and second lowest efficiency to opposing frontcourts this season. The point guard position is one area where San Antonio can be exploited, and Irving is one player who can exploit them. I won’t be ignoring this opportunity with his discounted cost.

George Hill is one of my least favorite fantasy options as someone who plays on the slowest paced team in basketball and disappears at times despite his 32-plus minutes played per game. Monday is different, though, as Gordon Hayward did not participate in morning shootaround and appears unlikely to play against New Orleans. On the season, Hill is sporting a 23.9 percent usage rate with a 23.2 percent assist rate and .95 FPPM when playing alongside Hayward. With Hayward off the court, Hill’s usage and FPPM production actually decreases, but remove Derrick Favors from the equation and Hill’s usage jumps to 26 percent.

On the surface it appears as though Hill won’t benefit much from Hayward being sidelined, but I’m simply not buying it; Rudy Gobert has seen an uptick in usage but he cannot create his own shot. Rodney Hood has dealt with a litany of injuries this season and has looked lost in the games he’s been healthy enough to play this month, while Joe Ingles, who would likely replace Hayward in the starting lineup, is a spot-up three-point shooter with little to no ball handling abilities. As a result, I find it hard to believe Hill won’t benefit from a sidelined Hayward, and at $5,900 on DraftKings and $6,100 on FanDuel, he’ll need to be considered.

Mike Conley also makes for a strong mid-range play if Marc Gasol is ruled out, but I’d prefer him more on FanDuel where he’s $1,200 cheaper than Kyrie Irving. Conley owns a 28 percent usage rate with a 34 percent assist rate and 1.09 FPPM in 909 minutes with Gasol off the court this season, which is more than enough to like him against Sacramento’s porous backcourt.

 

LaMarcus Aldridge has seen a nice uptick in minutes lately with San Antonio pushing for the top spot in the West, yet he remains affordable across the industry. Since the start of March Aldridge is operating with a hefty 28 percent usage rate, trailing behind only Leonard (31.4%) in that span. The power forward position is dreadfully thin on Monday, Aldridge owns a low-$7K price point across the industry, and Cleveland ranks 29th in defensive efficiency since the break. It’s really that simple.

 

CORE – Rudy Gobert; Kyrie Irving [DraftKings]

SECONDARY – George Hill; LaMarcus Aldridge; Mike Conley [FanDuel];

GPP – Kyrie Irving [FanDuel]; Serge Ibaka

 

VALUE   [$3000-$5800]

 

Zach Randolph and JaMychal Green both make for top value options against Sacramento if Marc Gasol is unable to play. Gasol, like many centers, has dealt with foot injuries in the past, and as a 7’1”, 255-pound big man, this isn’t something Memphis will want to mess around with as the postseason approaches. Memphis holds a five-game lead over Portland for seventh place in the West, so I’d expect them to play if safe with their All-Star big man in a game they should win with or without him. Both Z-Bo and Green were serviceable in Sunday’s loss to Golden State, but neither lit the world on fire. Fortunately, the Kings pose a much less threatening matchup, with Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere starting in the frontcourt. Let’s hope we get this news prior to lock, but if we don’t I’d still be willing to roll the dice on either of these two discounted bigs.

 

Jonas Valanciunas is one of the most volatile players in the game, but Dwane Casey has been willing to feed him extra playing time when he gets off to a hot start. A hot start is something JoVal could enjoy against the Magic, whose frontcourt defense has mirrored the Philadelphia 76ers over the past couple of weeks. Over their last 10 games, Orlando has coughed up the third most points, sixth most rebounds and fourth highest FG% to opposing centers, ceding a career game to Richaun Holmes, and 30-plus fantasy point performances to Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Zaza Pachulia, Willie Cauley-Stein and Tristan Thompson. At a severely discounted price point, I’m more than willing to take a flier on Valanciunas at an uncharacteristically weak center position.

 

Nerlens Noel is another value center worth targeting on Monday, as he’ll likely go entirely overlooked after a disappointing performance against Toronto. Rick Carlisle will likely keep Noel in the starting lineup against Steven Adams, which should cushion his playing time, but he’ll also earn some run against the non-existent defense of Enes Kanter. Noel certainly doesn’t come without risk, but he’s safer than Valanciunas as a comparable cost. Both are tournament-viable plays, but I’d be more inclined to roll Noel in cash if looking to save at the position.

 

Joe Ingles is priced at $4,100 on both FanDuel and DraftKings, making him a fine punt at a garbage small forward position in the event that Gordon Hayward is out. Ingles won’t create his own shot, and doesn’t produce much in way of peripherals, but he’ll likely see 30-plus minutes in a competitive affair, and is one of only a few healthy Jazz players capable of drilling shots from beyond the arc. Ingles and Joe Johnson would both figure to see similar minutes with Hayward out, and both are priced similarly across the industry.

 

Tony Parker appears to be nearing the end of his NBA career, but Monday’s matchup with Cleveland may revive him if not just for a night. The Cavaliers have not only struggled to play anything more than D-League-caliber defense since the All-Star break, but they’ve also been deplorable against opposing point guards. On the season, Cleveland ranks dead last in points per possession allowed to ball handlers in the pick-and-roll, while Tony Parker, despite his underwhelming numbers, operates out of the PnR at a 45 percent clip.

At $4,000 on DraftKings and $4,100 on FanDuel, you could certainly do worse than Parker on such a miserable slate. If Popovich decides to give him 28-30 minutes in a competitive affair, Parker wouldn’t need to produce more than .85 FPPM to post six times his salary across the industry.

 

CORE – Zach Randolph/JaMychal Green [If Marc Gasol is out];

SECONDARY – Nerlens Noel; Joe Ingles/Joe Johnson [If Gordon Hayward is out]

GPP – Zach Randolph/JaMychal Green [If Marc Gasol isn’t ruled out prior to lock]; Jonas Valanciunas; Tony Parker; Rodney Hood