NBA Deep Dive – 3/06/17

HIGH-PRICED   [$8400+]

 James Harden, believe it or not, is sporting a sub-30 percent usage rate in five games since the All-Star break. He’s played 176 minutes over that stretch, 56 of which have come alongside Lou Williams where both guards are operating with usage rates around 23 percent. Williams’ arrival has affected Harden’s fantasy value. I’m not sure there’s any denying that. Harden is averaging a respectable 52 DraftKings Points per game with Williams in Houston, and while that would be an elite number for almost any other player, it’s not going to cut it on Monday. The Spurs have ceded a couple strong games to Harden this season, too, but lower usage and more time for Gregg Popovich to coordinate a game plan has me fading Harden across the board.

Stephen Curry is a top tournament play of mine on Monday, facing a Hawks team that should keep this game competitive throughout. At first glance, Curry doesn’t draw much appeal; he’s overpriced compared to recent production, is shooting 20 percent from three-point range over his last four starts, and is playing his second of a back-to-back on the road. This is what I’m expecting most people to consider when assessing Curry’s value, but I’m looking at things from a slightly different angle:

First, Curry is operating with a 36 percent usage rate in 107 minutes since Kevin Durant hit the shelf. He’s attempted 71 field goals and 33 three-point attempts over that three-game stretch, and while his shooting hasn’t been superb, we should all be expecting a huge correction soon from one of the world’s most elite scorers. Second, Steve Kerr will need Curry to play big minutes on Monday in a contest I’m expecting to remain very close (ATL +5.5). Finally, Curry hasn’t seen a decline in production on back-to-backs, and while Atlanta boasts a strong defense overall, they have struggled to contain point guards all season long. I’ll be looking to have relatively high exposure to a low-owned Curry in a game that should soar over its 216-point total assuming it remains close.

Jimmy Butler has been brilliant with Dwyane Wade sidelined this season, averaging 30.3 points, seven rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.3 steals through six games with his counterpart off the court. Butler’s usage rate jumps from 23 percent with Wade on the court to 33 percent with him off, while his fantasy point per minute production skyrockets from 1.04 to 1.35 in the process. Butler also enjoys a seven percent increase in assist rate (20% to 27%), as he serves as one of only a couple capable ball handlers in Chicago.

Rajon Rondo is also questionable to play Monday, which in the event that he is out would make Butler an even more appealing option across the board. Hoiberg has a stable of point guards, who he could use in place of Rondo, but none of them are above average facilitators and all of them are below average shooters. This draw with Detroit isn’t ideal, but we’ll take Butler’s depressed price point and inflated usage over individual matchup any day of the week. Despite some recent sub-par performances, I’m expecting Butler to bounce back nicely on a night where he’ll control the lion’s share of possessions for Chicago.

Kawhi Leonard can no longer be classified as a mid-range fantasy option, but his recent performance would suggest that he deserves to be priced like a stud. The two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year has tallied 30-plus points in 14 of his last 21 starts, while his 23 30-plus-point games on the season ranks seventh in the league. Meanwhile, Leonard has failed to eclipse the 40-fantasy point mark only five times in his last 25 games played. With a career-high 31 percent usage rate, Leonard has become virtually unstoppable. He’s the clear leader in San Antonio, who should take control on Monday in a phenomenal matchup with Houston.

Amazingly, the Spurs are involved in a contest that owns a whopping 221-point total, currently sitting at -3.5 in what should be a very competitive affair. Houston plays at the league’s fourth fastest pace, and while their defense ranks middle of the road overall, they’re coughing up the sixth most points and fifth most field goal attempts to their opponents. Furthermore, Harden’s Rockets should cough up plenty of turnovers, subsequently leading to ample steal opportunities for Leonard whose 2.9 percent steal rate is among the best in basketball.

Leonard has produced well above expectations in projected high-scoring games this season, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t top 50 fantasy points on a night where transition scoring should be abundant. At $9,200 on FanDuel, Leonard is the cheapest he’s been in quite a while, but $9,600 on DraftKings makes him more of a secondary play based on capped upside at this price point. Nevertheless, the All-Star small forward should obliterate this Houston defense with relative ease.

Giannis Antetokounmpo will likely go overlooked on Monday, but I won’t be able to ignore him in this road matchup with Philadelphia. Jahlil Okafor being doubtful actually hurts Giannis a bit, but he’s still set to face a 76ers team that offers no rim-protecting ability and can’t defend in the paint. Richaun Holmes, Justin Harper and Dario Saric will all see minutes at the five with Okafor (doubtful), Embiid (out) and Noel (traded) gone, and none of the three stand above 6-foot, 10-inches tall.

Philly is playing at the second fastest pace in basketball since Embiid went down, and this game owns a favorable 215-point total. Antetokounmpo’s usage rate hasn’t declined since Khris Middleton returned, and Michael Beasley’s expected absence should continue to result in more minutes at the four. Robert Covington is a strong wing defender, but he won’t be able to guard Giannis in transition or around the rim when he elegantly gallops from basket to basket in three swift strides. The extend of which I’ll be using him is still unclear but I’m having a difficult time ignoring the potential here, as Antetokounmpo’s recent pedestrian play will almost certainly suppress his ownership across the industry.

CORE – Jimmy Butler; Kawhi Leonard [FanDuel]

SECONDARY – Kawhi Leonard [DraftKings]; Karl-Anthony Towns; Blake Griffin [DraftKings]

GPP – Stephen Curry; Giannis Antetokounmpo


MID-RANGE   [$5900-$8300]

Paul Millsap has churned out 42-plus fantasy points in each of his last three starts, and I’m expecting him to make it four straight on Monday. Golden State is playing their second of a back-to-back on the road, and the absence of Kevin Durant should keep them from running away with this game early on. They beat the Knicks by a mere seven points on Sunday, and this tilt with Atlanta won’t be nearly as accommodating. Sure, the Hawks have struggled in recent weeks, but they’ll undoubtedly get up for this home meeting with the league Juggernaut and Millsap’s services will be frequently required. Millsap is logging between 36-39 minutes in closely contested affairs, and although he’s also playing his second of a back-to-back, Atlanta desperately needs a win to stay afloat in the East.

The Warriors’ lightning-fast style of play leads to a massive uptick in possessions for opponents, more peripheral scoring opportunities and added points in the paint. Golden State’s ability to light up the scoreboard from beyond the arc allows them to relax in the paint defensively, as two points surrendered is far less threatening than three. Most importantly, however, is Millsap’s depressed price point across the industry.

Kevin Durant’s absence shouldn’t be understated either, as the Warriors’ frontcourt defense now becomes far less imposing when Draymond Green shifts to the five. Starting power forwards (Kristaps Porzingis, Bobby Portis, and Markieff Morris) have averaged 21 points, 11.3 rebounds and 43.8 fantasy points in three games since Durant hit the shelf. Note: Porzingis started at center but played many of his minutes at his natural four position.

Dennis Schroder should also be on the radar, as he’s back to playing upwards of 35 minutes in competitive games. No, Schroder hasn’t been ultra-effective from a fantasy standpoint, but with this game owning one of the highest totals on the slate he should earn every opportunity to pay off a low-$6K price point. Golden State owns middle of the road defensive numbers against the pick-and-roll, and should serve up plenty of three-point shooting to Atlanta’s guards.

Greg Monroe is no longer a value play, but I wouldn’t expect him to post value-type fantasy totals against the Sixers, either. Joel Embiid is out for the season, Nerlens Noel is acclimating to life in Dallas and Jahlil Okafor is unfortunately dealing with a swollen knee. That leaves Philadelphia with a less-than-healthy Richaun Holmes, Justin Harper and possibly Dario Saric to man the frontcourt. Ultimately, the Sixers don’t have the size, talent or strength to combat Monroe down low, as he is attempting more than 71 percent of his shots from within five feet of the rim.

Monroe torched the Sixers earlier this season, and although their personnel are different now, they’re still entirely inferior. On the season, Philadelphia is allowing the fourth most points per possession on post ups, while having been torched on cuts to the basket since Embiid hit the shelf. My only concern with Monroe is Jason Kidd’s willingness to run him for the necessary amount of time needed to pay off a low-$6K price point. Michael Beasley should remain sidelined, though, and both Thon Maker and John Henson have seemingly fallen out of favor with their coach. I’m willing to roll the dice on Monroe as a top tournament option against the Sixers, as he boasts legitimate 45-plus-fantasy point upside depending on how much playing time he receives.

Pau Gasol makes for a very intriguing pivot away from Monroe, as he’ll go overlooked across the industry in a plus matchup with Houston. Gasol’s minutes will always be volatile so long as he’s playing under Popovich, but assuming he gets the run Gasol should have no trouble victimizing an undersized Houston frontcourt. Opposing centers have dismantled the Rockets of late, and Gasol remains cheap enough to exploit across the board.

Jusuf Nurkic has seen his salary skyrocket since being inserted into the Blazers’ starting lineup, but a legitimate case can be made for him on Monday. Terry Stotts will need to combat the Timberwolves’ frontcourt with size, and outside of the defensively inept Meyers Leonard, Nurkic is the only option he’ll have. The Bosnian big man is producing 1.15 FPPM since coming to Portland, which coupled with the 30-plus MPG he’s been seeing over the past one-plus weeks makes him well worth a look on Monday.

Dario Saric is going to continue earning huge minutes in the Sixers’ frontcourt so long as they can remain semi-competitive on Monday. Fortunately, the Bucks are only 4.5-point road favorites at the Wells Fargo Center, and Saric serves as one of only four healthy Philadelphia players capable of playing the four or five. His 27 percent usage and 1.17 FPPM rate since the All-Star break should serve him well, especially considering Okafor, who led the team with a 30 percent usage rate over that span, is expected to sit. Saric’s price point also hasn’t budged from $7,400 on both FanDuel and DraftKings, and considering he’s averaging 40 fantasy points per game over his last 10 outings, it wouldn’t be a stretch to project him for six times his salary this evening. Milwaukee has struggled mightily to defend opposing bigs since removing John Henson from the rotation.

Goran Dragic played only 24 minutes against a gutted Cavalier lineup on Saturday, but he should face a full squad tonight with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James back in the mix. Fortunately, Kyrie Irving is one of the worst defensive guards in basketball, whose inability to defend the pick-and-roll leads to huge production from talented point guards. Dragic operates out of the PnR 42.5 percent of the time, and also ranks second in basketball with 12.4 drives per game. He obviously loses usage playing alongside Dion Waiters, but this is a very tough draw for his backcourt mate, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it lead to more scoring opportunities for Dragic. At a very accommodating mid-range price point, Dragic won’t require a career game to produce in this matchup.

Mike Conley is the preferred option over Dragic on FanDuel at a mere $300 increase, but I prefer the $1000 savings with Dragic on DraftKings. Memphis is a 12-point home favorite against the Nets, so paying a premium for Conley doesn’t make sense on a night where he could easily play only 26 minutes.

CORE – Paul Millsap; Greg Monroe

SECONDARY – Jusuf Nurkic; Dario Saric; Goran Dragic; Mike Conley [FanDuel]; LaMarcus Aldridge; Draymond Green; DeAndre Jordan

GPP – Dennis Schroder; Dwight Howard; Pau Gasol


VALUE   [$3000-$5800]

Bismack Biyombo will be the top overall value option on Monday’s slate if Nikola Vucevic (questionable) is unable to play, and considering this is Orlando’s second game in as many days, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Vucevic sit. Biyombo isn’t the tallest center (6’9”), but he plays much bigger than he’s listed, and Frank Vogel is going to need his rebounding and shot-blocking on full display against New York. New York’s jumbo frontcourt will force Orlando to run Biyombo for big minutes if Vucevic is sidelined, as they simply don’t have the personnel to combat the Knicks with him off the court. I suppose Stephen Zimmermann could earn some run, but the chance of him playing more than 10 minutes is slim to none. It’s really this simple: if Vucevic is out, play Biyombo everywhere. It shouldn’t matter that he’s chalk when you’re getting him at the bare minimum across the board.

Aaron Gordon would also make for an excellent value play if Vucevic remains out, as he’ll earn additional rebounding and scoring opportunities while also logging additional minutes in the frontcourt. Gordon sees a three percent usage bump with Vucevic off the court, but his total rebounding numbers also spike as well. At a low-$5K price point across the board I’ll have no problem deploying Gordon against a Knicks team that will likely start Lance Thomas and his 113 DRtg at the four.

Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore come into play for one reason: their positions suck. Having shooting guard eligibility on DraftKings is huge for both of these Atlanta wings, as it is unbelievably shallow despite having 12 games to choose from. I’ve never been a fan of rostering cheap SG/SFs who lack peripheral stats, but this game should facilitate more auxiliary scoring due to the elevated pace (217 O/U). I’m more interested in Sefolosha on DraftKings where he can be used at shooting guard, but the problem here is it’s difficult to project which one of these two middling wings is going to produce. Nevertheless, they’ll hopefully offer some cheap production at two weak positions in a game that I’m expecting to remain close. 30-plus minutes for both of them should be enough to warrant consideration.

Willie Cauley-Stein continues to earn big minutes in the starting lineup since DeMarcus Cousins’ departure, but his highest minute totals have come against teams with large starting frontcourts. With Nikola Jokic questionable to play and Kenneth Faried already ruled out, Cauley-Stein is at risk of losing playing time due to matchup purposes. I’m willing to deploy him in some GPP lineups now that he has earned power forward eligibility on DraftKings, too, but if Wilson Chandler starts at the four we could be looking at closer to 25 minutes and not the 39 minutes he logged on Sunday.

Mason Plumlee will make for another stellar value option if Nikola Jokic’s illness keeps him sidelined. The only concern here is we may not have the news before lock. If Jokic sits, however, Plumlee would likely be thrust into the starting lineup, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him log 30-plus minutes in a great matchup with Sacramento. This could be a spot where I’m willing to take the chance on Plumlee even if we don’t have confirmation on Jokic’s status before 7pm lock, as the Nuggets’ starting big man didn’t participate in shoot around and the Nuggets are already 12-point favorites at home. Plumlee should thrive in what’s guaranteed to be a high-scoring affair at the Pepsi Center.

Ty Lawson has been earning huge minutes in the starting lineup since the trade deadline, and nothing should change on Monday in a fantastic matchup with Denver. Garrett Temple returned to the lineup after a month long hiatus, but he’ll take the night off to rest on the second of a back-to-back. Tyreke Evans will presumably be back in the mix after resting on Sunday, but Lawson still figures to log 30-plus minutes at Sacramento’s starting two-guard.

Lawson’s former team allows massive point totals to opposing shooting guards, including the fourth highest FG% and fifth highest 3PT% on the season. Moreover, the elevated pace should work heavily in Lawson’s favor, as this game owns a 216-point total in Denver. Even if Sacramento cedes an early lead to the Nuggets, Lawson should still earn enough playing time to pay off a mid-$4K price point across the board.

I see why Amir Johnson could be considered a tournament option with Al Horford doubtful to play, but there’s a ton of risk here that outweighs the upside. Boston is playing their second of a back-to-back, Johnson could find himself in foul trouble against Blake Griffin, and I don’t see him logging 27 minutes on two straight nights.

If anything, Kelly Olynyk would be the preferred tournament option after laying an egg on Sunday. Boston could use his three-point shooting against the Clippers, and his ownership will be through the floor after last night’s performance. If Horford is in fact sidelined, I’d rather take my chances with Olynyk in GPPs. That being said, center could offer so much value based on how injury news breaks that neither of these two Boston bigs could be necessary.

CORE – Bismack Biyombo/Aaron Gordon [If Nikola Vucevic is OUT]; Mason Plumlee [If Nikola Jokic is OUT]

SECONDARY – Thabo Sefolosha; Kent Bazemore; Ty Lawson

GPP – Willie Cauley-Stein; Mason Plumlee [If Nikola Jokic isn’t confirmed out by lock]; Kelly Olynyk [If Al Horford is OUT]