NBA DEEP DIVE- March 29, 2017



Atlanta Hawks: 5th place in east; the Hawks got their first win, albeit an uninspiring one over the Devin Booker-less Suns, but they’ll have no time to relax on Wednesday with Milwaukee in 6th place with an identical 38-36 record, Indiana in 7th place and one game back in the standings, and Miami rounding out the final playoff spot at 36-38. Atlanta has virtually no breathing room right now with Paul Millsap sidelined, and we shouldn’t expect Philadelphia to roll over just because they have nothing to play for. I’ll be looking to heavily target both of these teams in what should be a closely contested affair.


Oklahoma City Thunder: 6th place in west; although it’s unlikely, the Thunder have a legitimate path to snaring the fourth seed if they can leapfrog the Clippers and Jazz, who are 1.5 games and 2.5 games ahead of them, respectively. Oklahoma City faces six sub-.500 teams over their final nine games, and they’ll have an excellent opportunity to threaten the struggling clippers with a win in Orlando. Russell Westbrook should continue to see 35-plus minutes unless the score gets out of control. The rest of this contest is largely unappealing, but we won’t run the risk of having players rested in an important game for Billy Donovan’s squad.


Toronto Raptors: 4th place in east; the Raptors don’t have to worry about falling below fourth place in the standings as they hold a 7-game lead over the fifth place Hawks, but Dwane Casey will surely look to move up the ranks with only three games separating the Raptors and the first place Celtics. While this is a meaningful game for Toronto, it’s not a fantasy goldmine by any stretch. Raptors such as DeMar DeRozan, Cory Joseph and P.J. Tucker will all make for viable tournament options, though, as they’ll be low owned and are guaranteed to see a full allotment of minutes.


Miami Heat: 8th place in east; Erik Spoelstra should ride his starters hard on Wednesday with Miami sitting only one game ahead of the ninth place Bulls. The Heat can also move as high up as fifth in the conference if Indiana, Milwaukee or Atlanta struggle down the stretch. An ugly game for fantasy purposes overall, but Hassan Whiteside is very intriguing against the Knicks’ putrid frontcourt.


Milwaukee Bucks/Boston Celtics: 6th place/1st place in east; this is as safe a game as you can find from a minutes perspective, as both teams have a lot to play for over the final two weeks of the season. We shouldn’t have to worry about any late-breaking news that happens far too frequently in March.


Indiana Pacers/Memphis Grizzlies: 7th place in east/7th place in west; the Pacers lost an important and winnable game to the Timberwolves at home last night, meaning they’ll need to give maximum effort on Wednesday to fend off the Heat and Bulls. Nate McMillan fed his starters huge minutes against Minnesota (Jeff Teague: 41:20, Paul George: 39.29, Myles Turner: 36:36, Monta Ellis: 34:06, Thaddeus Young: 32:07), and he should do the same again tonight. The matchup is sub-optimal on paper, but Marc Gasol could be sidelined and many Pacers are affordable on dynamic pricing sites.

Memphis isn’t at risk of falling below seventh place in the west, but they could pass the Thunder and avoid facing Golden State or San Antonio in the first round. You have to think there’s plenty enough incentive for David Fizdale to ride his starters hard at home. If Gasol is in fact sidelined, Zach Randolph would figure to be a top mid-range option across the board.


Golden State Warriors/San Antonio Spurs: 1st place/2nd place in west; need I elaborate on why this game possesses zero risk from a playing time standpoint? Unless Gregg Popovich decides to inexplicably rest some of his starters just because he feels like it, all of San Antonio should be used in their normal capacity. The Spurs are likely going to finish behind the Warriors, but they’re still only 2.5 games back. A win on Wednesday would put San Antonio only 1.5 games back of first with eight games to play.

Steve Kerr suggested that no one would be rested on the second game of a road back-to-back. Draymond Green tweaked his ankle last night, though, and may not be at a hundred percent with such little time to recover. We shouldn’t have anything to worry about on either side of this contest.


Washington Wizards/L.A. Clippers: 3rd place in east/5th place in west: Scott Brooks will look to push his starters to the limit on Wednesday despite them playing their second of a back-to-back on the road. This isn’t the best matchup, but minutes and opportunity shouldn’t be an issue with Washington sitting only two games out of first place in the east.

The Clippers continue to stumble into the postseason, and Doc Rivers’ club can no longer coast through the final few weeks with the Thunder nipping at their heels. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this be the game where an affordable Chris Paul and Blake Griffin explode.


Utah Jazz: 4th place in west: the Jazz haven’t locked up the fourth seed quite yet, and they won’t be able to rest until that’s accomplished. The potential absence of Gordon Hayward would only make this Utah team more valuable from a fantasy perspective, as Quin Snyder will dole out huge minutes to Rudy Gobert, George Hill, Joe Ingles and even Joe Johnson against the punchless Kings.


HIGH-PRICED   [$8400+]


Russell Westbrook draws a strong matchup with the Magic, who are only 6-point home dogs in a 217-O/U game. Both Oklahoma City and Orlando are playing at a top-10 pace since the All-Star break, while the latter has coughed up the third most points, fifth most assists, fourth highest FG% and highest 3PT% to opposing point guards over that span. Orlando doesn’t have the personnel to protect the rim, and although Elfrid Payton’s defense has improved, he’s better off staying home sick on Wednesday.

As noted in the playoff scenario breakdown, Westbrook’s Thunder have a legitimate chance of avoiding Houston in the first round if they can sneak past the Clippers over the final two weeks of the season. One of the reasons Westbrook is so valuable in close games is because he takes over in the final frame, sporting an unimaginable 51.7 percent usage rate in the fourth quarter. Assuming this game remains close — Orlando has actually looked decent lately — Westbrook should offer 80-fantasy point upside. A $13,000 price tag is far from inviting, but if value opens up throughout the day we should undoubtedly be looking to roster him in all formats across the board.


Rudy Gobert has been otherworldly good of late, averaging 20 points, 13.4 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and 48 fantasy points per game in nine starts with Derrick Favors sidelined. Better yet, the Gobstopper is posting 21.6 points, 15.6 rebounds, 4.3 blocks and 54 FPPG over his last six games! No, he likely won’t sustain such a blistering pace, but Gobert actually has been developing a more fantasy-friendly skill set, with a 25 percent usage rate over that six-game stretch. Furthermore, Gobert is such an efficient scorer due to his high-percentage opportunities that double-digit field goal attempts per game will make him virtually unstoppable. Factor in his 36-plus MPG and Gobert becomes one of the safest fantasy options on the board.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos and Skal Labissiere compose Sacramento’s frontcourt, none of whom are capable of hanging with Gobert. The Kings have been tortured by opposing centers since the deadline, and assuming this game remains relatively competitive throughout (SAC +7.5), Gobert should have his way with them, too. If Gordon Hayward (questionable) is unable to play, Gobert becomes that much more enticing despite his elevated price point. I’m listing him as a secondary play, but only because the center position offers some very appealing mid-range talent at a discounted cost.


Hassan Whiteside makes for a stellar pivot away from Gobert, as he comes at a slightly discounted price point and offers similar, if not more upside in a matchup with the Knicks. I’m only willing to deploy Whiteside in tournaments, though, as Erik Spoelstra has seemingly limited his minutes lately — Whiteside has logged 31 or fewer minutes in five straight starts — despite the fact that Miami is barely clinging onto a playoff spot in the east. Nevertheless, Whiteside should demolish a Knicks frontcourt that’s coughed up the most points, second most free throws and fifth most blocks to opposing centers this season. New York has also surrendered the most second chance points, fifth most points in the paint and fifth most putback points thus far, placing Whiteside in a high-upside position heading into Wednesday night.


Kawhi Leonard is overpriced at $9,900 on DraftKings and $9,800 on FanDuel, but he still makes for a solid tournament option in a pace-up meeting with the Dubs. The Spurs are currently 4.5-point home favorites in what should be a back-and-forth affair between two NBA juggernauts, and Leonard could legitimate flirt with 40 minutes of court time in a very meaningful game. Leonard is sporting a career-high 31 percent usage rate and is the clear leader of this very talented Spurs team, so I’m always willing to get some exposure in these spots.

Kevin Durant’s absence will surely benefit Leonard on Wednesday, as Draymond Green will have to guard LaMarcus Aldridge when both forwards are on the court. Leonard will see some Andre Iguodala defense at times, but he’ll also see plenty of the 37-year-old Matt Barnes whose defense isn’t what it once was. The two-time reigning defensive player of the year has posted 50-plus fantasy points 19 times this season, and I’m expecting him to round it out with an even 20 tonight. With his ability to stuff the score sheet with all types of peripherals, Leonard still boasts enough upside to pay off his near $10K price point against the fastest paced team in basketball.


Anthony Davis proved on Monday that he doesn’t need an optimal matchup to produce optimal results, as evidenced by the 36-point, 17-rebound, 3-block, 3-steal, 75-fantasy point beauty he posted against the Jazz. Davis is sporting a near 37 percent usage rate in 326 minutes with DeMarcus Cousins off the court since the deadline. He’s churning out 1.76 fantasy points per minute over that span, while Jrue Holiday is the only other Pelicans starter with a usage rate north of 13 percent. If Cousins is unable to play, Davis would once again warrant consideration. That being said, he’s best suited for GPPs now that his salary has risen considerably.


CORE – Russell Westbrook

SECONDARY – Rudy Gobert

GPP – Hassan Whiteside; Kawhi Leonard; Anthony Davis [If DeMarcus Cousins is OUT]


MID-RANGE   [$5900-$8300]


Dwight Howard wins the bi-daily lottery on Wednesday, drawing a matchup with the 76ers frontcourt in a must-win game for Atlanta. I say this is a must-win game because the Hawks could realistically miss the postseason with the way they’ve been playing, and a matchup with Philadelphia isn’t one they can lose. Atlanta lost seven straight games — Millsap was sidelined in five of them — before barely beating Phoenix on Tuesday night, and they are now only two games ahead of the eighth place Heat with eight games to play. This Hawks team has been so bad without Millsap that they are only 1.5-point favorites over the 28-46 76ers.

Despite the team results, Dwight Howard has been a more than serviceable fantasy producer in Millsap’s six-game absence, averaging 15.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.8 Stocks and 40.2 fantasy points across more than 33 MPG. Howard has logged 36 minutes in each of the two games where Atlanta has stayed competitive, an encouraging sign when you consider Mike Budenholzer seemed intent on limiting his playing time earlier this season. He’s also sporting a 22 percent usage rate with 1.19 fantasy points per minute produced over his last six starts, and I’d expect both of those figures to skyrocket on Wednesday.

Philadelphia has ceded monster performances to Brook Lopez (51 FP/31 MIN), Myles Turner (45.5 FP/34 MIN), Enes Kanter (43.2 FP/20 MIN), Nikola Vucevic (48.8 FP/37 MIN), Al Horford (52 FP/33 MIN), Draymond Green (61.2 FP/38 MIN), DeAndre Jordan (59.5 FP/36 MIN) and Jusuf Nurkic (81 FP/38 MIN) over the last three weeks, and Howard is exactly the type of center who’s capable of adding to that list. He’s an elite option across the industry, and especially on FanDuel where he sits at a very accommodating $7,200.


DeAndre Jordan makes for a stellar mid-range center play on DraftKings at $6,800. You can work both Jordan and Howard into lineups on DK, which is why Jordan is less valuable on FanDuel where he’s $700 more expensive than Howard and you can’t pair two centers together. Washington is not only playing their second of a back-to-back on the road, but they’ve been struggling to contain opposing big men since Marcin Gortat’s legs fell off. Whether it’s Gortat or Ian Mahinmi who receives the bulk of the minutes at center on Wednesday, Jordan should have no trouble dominating the glass and converting on easy buckets around the rim. The Clippers are in no position to ease off the gas pedal, and I’d expect Jordan to log upwards of 35 minutes in what should be a highly competitive affair.


Robert Covington was a free square last night, owning a depressed priced tag against the Nets due to a string of blowouts and unlucky performances. Since the Sixers are playing their second of a back-to-back on Wednesday Covington’s salary has remained stable across the industry. At $6,900 on DraftKings and $6,700 on FanDuel, Covington won’t need to replicate Tuesday’s outburst in order to succeed. That being said, Brett Brown will almost certainly give Covington 35-plus minutes in a closely contested affair, and the potential absence of Gerald Henderson would only further secure his minutes against the Hawks.

Atlanta will be without both Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha tonight, and although they’ll regain the services of Kent Bazemore, this team has struggled mightily to manufacture offense, ranking dead last in ORtg over that span. The Hawks’ defensive efficiency has been serviceable during this 1-7 slump, but their inability to produce any semblance of offense has allowed inferior teams to stay competitive across four quarters of play. 35-plus minutes for Covington should be more than enough time for him to impress, especially considering Atlanta will be without their best wing defender in Sefolosha.


Zach Randolph is boasting a 31 percent usage rate over his last two games, making spot starts for the ailing Marc Gasol against Sacramento and Golden State. Wednesday’s matchup with Indiana is neither good nor bad on the surface, but if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that the Pacers pose a phenomenal matchup for the veteran forward. On the season, Indiana is allowing the most points per possession and highest eFG% in the post. Z-Bo ranks fourth in basketball with a 32 percent post up frequency and sits seventh in post points per game despite playing far fewer minutes than each of the six players ahead of him. Myles Turner is a solid defender, but he could struggle with Randolph, who excels at using his size and strength to back defenders down to the basket. I’ll be going back to the well again on Wednesday, as Mike Conley is the only Memphis starter capable of siphoning usage away from Randolph.


LaMarcus Aldridge draws a tough positional matchup against Draymond Green, but the pace-up meeting with Golden State and recently elevated minutes and usage put him firmly in play. Aldridge owns a near 28 percent usage rate over his last 10 games, and Gregg Popovich has been much more liberal with his playing time in close games. 35-plus minutes against the Durant-less Warriors should afford Aldridge ample opportunity to produce at a low-$7K price point across the industry.

There are many low-total contests on this 10-game slate, so the 208-O/U attached to this game becomes a bit more appealing as a result. Moreover, the Spurs are 4.5-point home favorites but I’m expecting this game to be ultra-competitive throughout. 40-plus fantasy points feels like a reasonable projection for Aldridge, who’s averaging a very serviceable 37 FPPM over his last seven starts despite facing Memphis (twice), Minnesota and Oklahoma City over that span.


CORE – Dwight Howard; DeAndre Jordan [DraftKings]; Robert Covington; Zach Randolph

SECONDARY – DeAndre Jordan [FanDuel]; Dario Saric; LaMarcus Aldridge; George Hill [If Gordon Hayward is OUT]

GPP – Ersan Ilyasova [DraftKings]; Dennis Schroder; Jeff Teague; Blake Griffin [DraftKings]


VALUE   [$3000-$5800]


T.J. McConnell is poised to log big minutes for the second straight night with Sergio Rodriguez sidelined, and a strong matchup with Atlanta 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 was used as the Sixers’ backup point guard on Tuesday, 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 $5,500 on both FanDuel and DraftKings. On a night where the Sixers are only 2-point home dogs against the flailing Hawks, you’d be hard-pressed to find a safer value play in McConnell’s price range. A points/assists double-double is very much a possibility on Wednesday.


Ersan Ilyasova is inexplicably priced at $4,800 on FanDuel despite averaging 28 FanDuel Points and 30 minutes per game in six spot starts for the injured Paul Millsap. Ilyasova’s averages would’ve been even nicer had the Hawks not been blown out in three of their last six games, but at $4,800 we have to consider him against the Sixers. The Turkish big man has been logging the bulk of his minutes alongside Dwight Howard, but he’s had no trouble hauling in his fair share of rebounds with Millsap sidelined, averaging 11.5 boards per 36 as a starter. Furthermore, Ilyasova is producing right around one fantasy point per minute and Mike Budenholzer hasn’t been shy about handing him the lion’s share of minutes at the four. Continue to target Ilyasova until FanDuel decides to let his salary reflect his recent production.


Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot enjoyed a career game on Tuesday, posting 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists, one block, one steal and 37 fantasy points in 33 minutes against the Nets. It was a very strong performance from Luwawu-Cabarrot, who Brett Brown is clearly willing to develop in another losing season. If Gerald Henderson is unable to play, TLC would figure to log another 30-plus minutes against the Hawks. Nik Stauskas will be forced to play minutes at the point, while Justin Anderson (also a GPP play if Henderson is out) will have to spell Covington and Saric at the two forward positions.

With Sergio Rodriguez already ruled out and Henderson’s status in question, Philadelphia could be left with McConnell, Stauskas, Luwawu-Cabarrot, Anderson and Covington as their only healthy bodies to play the 1-3 positions. This should free up big minutes for TLC and even Anderson in what should be a competitive affair at the Wells Fargo Center. Both of these punts present plenty of risk, but also solid upside at near minimum salary price points.


Brandan Wright could immediately become a core value play if JaMychal Green (questionable; shoulder) is unable to take the court. Wright would be the logical candidate to start at power forward if Green joins Marc Gasol on the sidelines, and as we’ve seen in previous seasons, the veteran big man is very capable of producing a fantasy point per minute when provided the run. Additionally, Wright has always done a phenomenal job of capitalizing on easy opportunities, as he’s capable of cleaning up around the rim and converting high-percentage field goal attempts into buckets. I can confidently proclaim that Wright will be in the majority of my lineups if we get the Green news prior to lock, as Memphis would be left with Randolph and Deyonta Davis as their only remaining bigs.


CORE – T.J. McConnell; Ersan Ilyasova [FanDuel]; Brandan Wright [If JaMychal Green is OUT]

SECONDARY – Guillermo Hernangomez

GPP – Greg Monroe [DraftKings]; Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot; Justin Anderson [If Gerald Henderson is OUT]