NBA DEEP DIVE- March 31, 2017


HIGH-PRICED   [$8400+]


DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t seem like the type of player who lets go of grudges before having the final word. He reminds me of Cartman in the episode of South Park where he slow plays Scott Tenorman into eating his own parents after the fifth grader steals his money. Click here to refresh your memory — it was a good one. Ultimately, Cartman had the last laugh, humiliating (and permanently scarring) Tenorman for life. Cousins will look to have the last laugh on Friday against a Kings organization that unloaded him for what felt like nothing in return. He was never exactly treated fairly in Sacramento, either; Vlade Divac and Vivek Ranadive routinely, and covertly, used Cousins as a scapegoat whenever another round of turmoil struck this dysfunctional organization. Sure, he’s been a headcase at times and probably still is, but Cousins brought far more positive to the team than he did negative, yet it was never appreciated. Narrative street is a road I generally look to avoid, but I just can’t help myself tonight.


Cousins appears to have finally acclimated to life alongside Anthony Davis, as he’s averaging 33 points, 12.6 rebounds, four assists, 3.3 Stocks and 63.3 fantasy points over his last three starts. His usage rate with New Orleans took an expected hit, dropping from 37 percent to 33 percent since the trade, but Cousins’ salary has also plummeted across the industry. At $9,600 on both FanDuel and DraftKings, Boogie will no longer require 60-plus fantasy points just to return value.


In the end, though, we’re rolling the dice on Cousins coming out of the gate with an unmistakable tenacity. Teammate Jordan Crawford told reporters to get the popcorn ready, while Alvin Gentry used a rather weak analogy about a Microsoft employee leaving to work at Apple to describe Cousins’ mindset heading into this tilt with Sacramento. Cousins will either erupt for a massive told-you-so type performance or get ejected in the first quarter. I’m willing to bet on the former. Let’s not forget, this is still the Kings we’re talking about, so grudge match or not, they still own one of the worst frontcourts in all of basketball.


LeBron James comes with plenty of baggage on Friday, but man, if this matchup with the Sixers isn’t one of the best spots available I don’t know what is. Cleveland has been playing miserable basketball of late, losing 10 of 16 games in March while ranking 29th in defensive efficiency over that span (only the D-League Lakers have been worse). Amazingly, the Cavs are single-digit home favorites against a Philadelphia squad that’s running a starting lineup of T.J. McConnell, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson, Dario Saric and Richaun Holmes. They should be favored by several touchdowns in this game, yet their painfully porous play would suggest that maybe the Cavaliers aren’t as good as we had previously believed.


James played 39 minutes last night in a road loss to the 36-39 Bulls, and had Cleveland been playing respectable basketball heading into the postseason this would’ve made for an ideal spot for him to rest. That’s not the case, though, as the Cavs now sit a half game behind Boston for first place and only one and a half games ahead of Washington for second place in the east.


Here’s how I see this going down: if the scrappy Sixers manage to keep this game competitive, LeBron will decimate them — especially in the fourth quarter where he takes over games. If Cleveland blows their doors off early, however, James should still have a hand in doing so, and his $10,000 price tag on DraftKings provides us with some cushion in the event that the latter occurs. While there’s certainly some risk associated with rostering James on Friday, I’m willing to target him against a Philly team that will be without their only viable wing defender in Robert Covington. I’m labeling him a core play on DraftKings and a tournament play on FanDuel, where we’ll likely need more than he can provide us in a blowout.


Russell Westbrook would be my preferred play over James Harden on Friday, but I’m not sure I’ll be heavily targeting either of them on this 11-game slate. Westbrook draws a tough matchup with the Spurs, who have managed to clamp down on opposing point guards after a sloppy start to the season. No team has allowed fewer points to opposing point guards than San Antonio this year, and although Westbrook is not your prototypical point guard, I do worry about him being able to pay off such an astronomical price tag. He’s always in play for GPPs, especially considering the Thunder are battling to capture the fifth seed in the west, but it’s hard to believe Westbrook can churn out a ceiling game against the Spurs.


Harden, on the other hand, isn’t as pricey as Westbrook, and the matchup with Golden State is far more enticing from a pace-up perspective, but he definitely doesn’t appear to be playing at a hundred percent. Harden is also playing his second of a back-to-back on the road, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the streaking Warriors (-9) run away with this game early on. Nevertheless, we’re dealing with a 230-point total here, and these two teams have played each other incredibly close all season long. I wouldn’t blame anyone for using Westbrook or Harden, but neither of them feels essential to the lineup building process on Friday.


Stephen Curry offers a much cheaper price point than each of the aforementioned guards, and he’ll draw a juicy, fast-paced matchup with the Rockets at the Oracle. Curry came three assists shy of a triple-double against Houston earlier this week, and is averaging a stellar 57.3 fantasy points per game over his last four starts. The results won’t always bear this out, but Curry is sporting a 33 percent usage rate since Kevin Durant hit the shelf, while posting 1.39 FPPM in the process.

Patrick Beverley’s defense hardly concerns me on Friday, as premiere point guards have been torching this Houston backcourt of late. Over the past week, Damian Lillard (31/4/11/2), Curry (32/10/7), Russell Westbrook (39/11/13) and Jrue Holiday (18/1/9/2/3) all shredded Beverley’s so-called shutdown defense, but more importantly, all of them shot above 50 percent in the process (combined 41-76 from the field)! Beverley hasn’t looked healthy since returning from his most recent ailment, and I have no reservations about running Curry back out there on Friday night.


John Wall is one of my favorite tournament options on Friday, as everyone will likely avoid him in this road matchup with Utah. First off, George Hill’s absence is a big defensive hit for the Jazz, who have struggled mightily to contain point guards when he is off the court. Utah’s defensive rating inflates by three full points per 100 possessions when George is off the court, as Shelvin Mack and Dante Exum are far from polished defenders. The Jazz are only 2.5-point home favorites with both Hill and Derrick Favors sidelined, and Washington has been playing some of the best basketball in the game over the last few months.


Wall should be seriously considered on dynamic pricing sites like DraftKings where his salary has plummeted to $9,200 in a tough on-paper matchup with Utah. The All-Star point guard has tallied 65-plus DraftKings Points in three consecutive games, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him flirt with similar fantasy totals on Friday. There’s plenty of room for a ceiling game at this price point, while Wall’s floor of around 45-48 fantasy points in this spot isn’t going to ruin you, either. I actually think you could get away with using Wall in cash, as there is no way he should be priced this low.


CORE – DeMarcus Cousins; LeBron James [DraftKings]

SECONDARY – Stephen Curry

GPP – LeBron James [FanDuel]; Russell Westbrook; James Harden; John Wall


MID-RANGE   [$5900-$8300]


Rudy Gobert posted a rather underwhelming line by his standards on Wednesday, finishing with a 16-point, 15-rebound double-double but failed to accumulate any blocks against the Kings. He still shot an efficient 63 percent and gobbled up every rebound within 30 feet of his 80-foot wingspan, but the lack of swats is what kept him from reaching value. Friday’s matchup with Washington should place him back in play once again, though, as the Wizards have struggled to contain opposing bigs all season long. Marcin Gortat looks like he’s coming fresh off the set of The Walking Dead, while Ian Mahinmi simply isn’t talented enough to contend with Gobert around the basket. Washington is allowing the fifth most putback points, fourth most second chance points, and the second highest eFG% to opposing roll men in the pick-and-roll this season.


Gobert’s salary has inexplicably dropped to $8,200 on DraftKings, a price I’m more than willing to pay in this matchup. We should see a close-fought game throughout (UTA -2.5), and the total isn’t all that abhorrent for a Jazz game (206.5 O/U). Gobert’s usage rate continues to climb along with his production, and the absence of George Hill should only keep those numbers trending upwards. Don’t forget about him just because he had one less-than-stellar performance in a blowout. That being said, Gobert is far less appealing on FanDuel where he’s a mere $600 cheaper than Cousins and both are only eligible at the center position.


Dario Saric logged a team-high 39 minutes against the Hawks on Wednesday, and he’ll likely earn similar run this evening with Robert Covington and Jahlil Okafor sidelined. The Sixers will be operating with nine healthy bodies on Friday, one of them being Tiago Splitter who likely won’t see more than 7-9 minutes of court time in his second appearance of the season. This leaves ample run for Saric regardless of whether this game stays competitive or not, and I’m expecting him to produce with how miserable the Cavaliers have looked defensively. Kevin Love’s defense is far from imposing, both down low and on the perimeter, so considering how Saric thrives without needing space, this matchup should suit him well.


Take a look at Saric’s highlights against the Nets from earlier this week. Only one of his eight made field goals came without a defender right up in his grill. He was double-teamed on a number of occasions and still managed to contort his body in a way that threw the defender(s) off balance. Saric makes circus shots because he has to; he isn’t super athletic, isn’t ultra-quick off the dribble and doesn’t have the most illustrious first step. Still, Saric always manages to get it done. At $7,200 on FanDuel and $7,500 on DraftKings, the rookie Croatian makes for a very strong mid-range play with a 35-fantasy point floor and a 50-plus-fantasy point ceiling on Friday.


Kemba Walker would be a far more appealing play if the top of the point guard position wasn’t chock full of studs. Denver is coughing up the third most points, third most assists and second most steals to opposing point guards this season, while allowing the second highest FG% and highest efficiency to the position in the process. Not to be ignored, the Nuggets also play at a top-eight pace and rank 29th in defensive efficiency overall. The 220-point total attached to this game is unusually high for the Hornets, and so is their 111-point team total, tied for third highest of any team on this 11-game slate. Kemba possesses incredible upside here, but I’m simply not sure how we fit him on a night where he clearly isn’t a priority.


Gordon Hayward offers some value at a dreadfully thin small forward position, as he’ll be asked to carry the load for Utah with both George Hill and Derrick Favors sidelined. Sure, Rudy Gobert has been fantastic of late and has seen his shot volume increase rather substantially, but he cannot create his own shot and relies upon ball handlers to feed him down low when he isn’t slamming back offensive misses. Joe Ingles is a spot-up shooter with zero handle and Boris Diaw or whoever starts at the four is simply taking up space until Favors returns. Rodney Hood is the only remaining competent player in this Jazz starting lineup, and he certainly won’t be commanding the ball enough to siphon usage away from Hayward.


Washington, despite their strong overall play, still ranks 27th in defensive efficiency since the All-Star break, while allowing the second highest FG% to opposing small forwards over that span. In what should be a very competitive affair between two playoff-bound basketball teams, Hayward should earn every opportunity to produce. His inviting mid-range price point across the board will help us make the tough decisions at the worst position on the night.


Zach Randolph makes for a fine mid-range play if he starts, but there’s a good chance we won’t receive that news before lock. If that happens to be the case, I’d still be willing to deploy Z-Bo in GPPs where most will be afraid to roster him after Wednesday’s underwhelming performance. The thing is, though, Randolph’s minutes were limited in a blowout as the Pacers were never competitive.


Dallas plays a slow-paced brand of basketball, but they have plenty of holes in their frontcourt that should mitigate much of that concern for Randolph. First, The Mavericks rank dead last in REB% and OREB% this season, opening the doors to Z-Bo pulling down everything that comes his way off the glass. Nerlens Noel is a below average rebounder and Dirk Nowitzki is allergic to the boards, so Randolph should have no trouble reaching double-digits in that category on Friday. Second, Noel’s biggest defensive weakness is his lack of strength, and contending with the 260-pound Randolph is not going to do him any favors. Back-to-the-basket bigs have carved Nerlens up over his short career, as his finesse defensive game doesn’t translate well in these matchups. The low total on this game is definitely off-putting, but Randolph’s elevated usage and minutes should propel him to yet another healthy double-double regardless of the score.


Al Horford makes for a very strong tournament pivot at a lower mid-range price point. If you’ve watched Orlando lately you’d know that their frontcourt defense has been putrid. Nikola Vucevic is wholly uninterested in playing two-way basketball, while Bismack Biyombo simply doesn’t have the tools to contain skilled multi-faceted centers. They continue to hemorrhage fantasy points to opposing bigs, and Horford is exactly the type of center who’s capable of taking advantage of their weaknesses.


After a string of miserable performances to start 2017, Horford has now posted 30-plus fantasy points in nine straight starts. He’s been heavily involved as a facilitator lately, sporting a stellar 33 percent assist rate over the aforementioned nine-game span, which has made up for his lack of usage in the box score. We won’t need a career game for Horford to meet value, but there’s certain 45-plus-fantasy point upside in such a brilliant matchup.


INJURY UPDATE: Will Barton is now DOUBTFUL for Denver, making Wilson Chandler a fine mid-range forward play at a low-$6K cost. Mike Malone has shown the willingness to run Chandler for 38-40 minutes when Denver is shorthanded, so with both Barton and Arthur expected to sit, he should certainly see an uptick in playing time.


CORE – Rudy Gobert [DraftKings]; Zach Randolph [FanDuel]

SECONDARY – Dario Saric; Gordon Hayward; Zach Randolph; Draymond Green; Wilson Chandler

GPP – Rudy Gobert [FanDuel]; Kemba Walker; Klay Thompson; Al Horford


VALUE   [$3000-$5800]


T.J. McConnell is poised to log big minutes for the third straight night with Sergio Rodriguez sidelined, and a strong matchup with Cleveland should place him firmly in play across the board. McConnell isn’t a high-usage fantasy option, but he is literally the only healthy ball-handling point guard on Philadelphia’s roster. Nik Stauskas is being used as the Sixers backup point guard with Rodriguez out, which should be enough to tell you how depleted they are at the position. Stauskas is the furthest thing from a point guard, but Brett Brown is fresh out of viable options.


Ultimately, McConnell will be thrust into another 35-minute role in the starting lineup, and he’s priced at a very affordable $5,600 on FanDuel. I could see using him in cash at $6,200 on DraftKings, but McConnell doesn’t possess the upside to be deployed in GPPs. The Cavaliers are somehow single-digit home favorites, a testament to how poorly they’ve been playing, but even if this game blows out McConnell should be safe to see at least 32 minutes of work. Justin Anderson is a GPP play on FanDuel where he remains priced at $3,600.


Brandan Wright started at center on Wednesday and finished with a respectable 23.5 fantasy points across 28 minutes of work. It’s unclear how many minutes he would’ve seen in a close game since he only play 10 minutes in the first half, but Fizdale may have just been riding the hot hand with Memphis’ bench players running up the score in the second quarter. Assuming Wright draws another start — I don’t see why he wouldn’t against a bigger Dallas frontcourt with Gasol and Green sidelined — he should be considered a top value play at a near minimum salary price point across the industry. Dallas cannot rebound and doesn’t have a strong defensive presence around the rim.


Jordan Crawford is a very enticing tournament option on Friday, as he could certainly see some solid blowout run on a night where his Pelicans are 11-point home favorites over the depleted Kings. Crawford has already been seeing quality run off the bench of late, jacking up 10-plus shots in seven of his last 10 appearances. Alvin Gentry hasn’t been shy about feeding him minutes, which could greatly benefit him against arguably the worst team in basketball. He’ll always be a risky play as someone who relies solely on scoring to produce his fantasy totals, but Crawford remains cheap enough across the board to consider in GPPs (especially at $3,700 on FanDuel).


Andre Iguodala’s mid-$4K price tag puts him in play on DraftKings, as he should see 30-plus minutes in an ultra-faced-paced matchup with the Rockets. Iggy has now posted 28-plus DraftKings Points in five of his last seven games, and he’ll continue to earn ample run as the Warriors’ sixth man, especially while Durant remains sidelined. I’m not willing to pay $5,300 for Iguodala on FanDuel, as there is plenty of near min-sal value to be had there at the wing positions, but low-end depth is much harder to come by on DraftKings. Any time a player is seeing 30-plus minutes in a contest owning a slate-high 230-point total, you’ll want to consider him at $4,600.


Mario Hezonja is never someone we look forward to playing, but if Aaron Gordon joins Jeff Green on the sidelines, Frank Vogel won’t have much choice but to run him for 30-plus minutes against the Celtics. Hezonja has already seen his playing time increase lately, and Vogel even suggested that he’d begin giving him run at the four, so there certainly would be a feasible path to big minutes, possibly in the starting lineup. A player like Hezonja would be best suited on a site like FantasyDraft, where $6K punts won’t need to get you much more than 15 fantasy points in order to do their job.


Sacramento Inactives: Ty Lawson, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Arron Afflalo


Sacramento Actives: Darren Collison, Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Garrett Temple, Langston Galloway, Ben McLemore, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis


As you can see, the Kings will be operating with only three bigs on Friday night, which becomes a problem when you consider they’re facing a Pelicans team that almost always has two legitimate big men in their frontcourt. Betting on which of these Sacramento bigs is going to come through for you is generally a fruitless effort, but one thing we can count on is Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere both earning 30-plus minutes of work.


Unless Dave Joerger decides to throw Tyreke Evans to the wolves and play him some minutes at the four, Georgios Papagiannis should also see around 28-30 minutes in the frontcourt. With 96 total minutes to be consumed at the PF/C positions, each of these three bigs could realistically both see 30 or more minutes. Unless, of course, two of the three play close to 40 minutes on the night. It’s a tough call for sure, and the matchup isn’t great, either, so I’d prefer to stick with Cauley-Stein and Labissiere if looking to roll the dice on this Kings frontcourt. That being said, Papagiannis should see close to 30 minutes, too, and is the closest to minimum salary of the bunch. He’d also figure to soak up plenty of minutes in an inevitable blowout.


Minutes predictions for Sacramento frontcourt: Cauley-Stein: 35, Labissiere: 33, Papagiannis: 28


CORE – T.J. McConnell [FanDuel]; Brandan Wright

SECONDARY – T.J. McConnell [DraftKings]; Andre Iguodala [DraftKings]

GPP – Jordan Crawford; Willie Cauley-Stein; Skal Labissiere; Mario Hezonja [If Aaron Gordon is OUT]; Justin Anderson [FanDuel]; Tristan Thompson