Both the NBA and the Steve Avery story (from the Netflix Documentary “Making a Murderer”) continue to become more and more interesting. Last night, the Cavaliers and Spurs battled it out in a game that featured one of the game’s best offensive players (LeBron James) against one of the game’s best defensive players (Kawhi Leonard). San Antonio pulled it out and looked awfully good against a contender while the Golden State Warriors, with Draymond Green back, battled it out with the Lakers for a while (until they inevitably blew them out). This came one night after the Denver Nuggets defeated them sans Green…and we thought they were indestructible. Meanwhile, Steve Avery’s former girlfriend went on Nancy Grace and said “she thinks he did it” and that “he’s a monster behind closed doors.” Okay, but through the documentary she was so supportive and sad to have to leave him alone? The moral of both stories: you think you know someone or some team until the next development happens…then it leaves you clueless.
Hopefully tonight’s NBA slate will play out in a reasonable fashion and make more sense than both the aforementioned ongoing dramas. Let’s get to the grind…
“The Play”: Finding the absolute top point guard (PG) on a slate with nine games is never easy and tonight is certainly no exception. There is a superstar option (Russell Westbrook), plenty of mid-tier options (Isaiah Thomas, Brandon Knight, Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday) and even some options on the cheaper end (George Hill, Emmanuel Mudiay and Patrick Beverley). On larger slates, I like to avoid going stars and scrubs unless true value emerges late and right now there isn’t enough to spend up on a Westbrook type. Therefore, my preferred option at the PG position is Isaiah Thomas against a Phoenix team that struggles against opposing backcourts. Thomas has scored at least 39.5 fantasy points in each of the last three games so the return of Marcus Smart clearly has not slowed him down. The over/under of this game sits at 207.5 with a 1.5 point spread so it should be a close, high-scoring game…and that’s exactly what we love in daily fantasy basketball.
Other Options: All of the options mentioned in the above tidbit are viable. Westbrook and the Thunder just squared off against the Timberwolves and he managed a 22 point (PTS), seven rebound (REB) and 11 assist (AST) line. Assuming the Timberwolves can keep the game close once again, there’s no reason he can’t approach those same numbers. So far the Boston Celtics have locked down opposing PGs but Brandon Knight’s usage could negate the trend as he is by far the team’s number one scoring option plus he is also their main distributor. Do not sleep on Jrue Holiday if Tyreke Evans is in fact out as he may get the start (finally) and morph into the role of their only ball-handler. No Evans is a huge positive for Holiday whose usage percentages ticks up to 27 percent without him as well as 1.07 fantasy points per minute. I have no qualms using both Thomas and one of the cheaper PGs in the lineup as the position provides a plethora of options and a fair amount of value tonight. UPDATE: Jeremy Lamb is out so Jeremy Lin emerges as a high-priority start.
“The Play”: Safety or upside: which do you prefer? Tonight the safe option would be to go back to the well with Jimmy Butler who dropped a 53 PT, 10 REB double-double last night in Philadelphia. The game went to overtime so the Bulls may want to limit some of their players’ minutes tonight but Butler’s minutes never seem to be affected since the team is comfortable running him out there 40-ish minutes a night. The one guy I am intrigued by tonight even more at the price point is Khris Middleton who is somewhat volatile, as are most pure shooters. He has scored at least 39 fantasy points in each of his last two games and has scored less than 37.75 fantasy points just three times in his last nine games. In other words, he has been truly hit or miss, yet his misses haven’t sunk below 23.75 fantasy points either. Atlanta will rely on either Kent Bazemore or Kyle Korver to cover him on the wing meaning Middleton should continue to eat.
Other Options: As always, James Harden warrants consideration as the Rockets will take on the Cavaliers coming off a loss to San Antonio last night. Most teams show up to play against the Cavaliers and even Coach Gregg Popovich extended his starters’ minutes last night in order to pull out the victory. Harden should play a full allotment of minutes and I’m not worried about Iman Shumpert covering him for an extended period. Otherwise, Andrew Wiggins has dropped at least 19 real points in every meeting versus Oklahoma City in his career and I expect that trend to continue tonight. In the tournament format, C.J. McCollum makes a ton of sense against a Brooklyn Nets team that allows 2.5 3PM to opposing shooting guards (SGs) per game. If needing salary relief, Avery Bradley should put together a solid enough game against a Phoenix backcourt that struggles defensively especially with rookie Devin Booker playing a majority of the minutes at two-guard.
“The Play”: If spending up on one player tonight, I’m going back to the well with Kevin Durant against the Minnesota Timberwolves as I did in their last meeting earlier this week. The pace of the game should be fast which suits Durant’s style of play and he would have had a monster game the other day if his shot were on. He shot just 11-24 (44 percent) from the field and still managed to score 30 real points on the count of some late free throws (6-6 overall) and clutch buckets. The Timberwolves are not a lock-down team defensively (rank 11th in defensive efficiency to opposing small forwards (SFs)) so I would not expect this trend to continue. Considering Durant shot the ball poorly, his 30/7/3 outing could be his floor in a close game. If things go right for him this time, the sky is the limit…
Other Options: Are you feeling lucky? Well are yuh? The ultimate tournament play just about every game is C.J. Miles and SFs versus Washington has been a winning formula this season. Otto Porter looks primed to sit this game out, and Marcin Gortat will not play, so Washington will yet again be forced to go with a lot of small lineups. If/when they do, the Pacers will counter with Miles and he has been known to win GPPs when his shot is on. The problem is it could just as easily be off so, again, he’s for the GPP format only. Oh and Paul George should spend a fair amount of time on the wing as well so he too is an elite option on this slate if Durant is slightly too expensive. The value play at the position would be Shabazz Muhammad who followed up his 28.5 fantasy point performance against Oklahoma City with a dud on Jan. 13. In the same matchup, he should be called upon to score yet again. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been on the tear the past two games as he’s managed at least 46.25 fantasy points in each and his price still only sits at $6,700. Mirza Teletovic was on fire last game and the Suns will probably go small a fair amount against the Celtics so he could see some solid run. I love him for tournaments as a punt. Last but not least, Nicolas Batum will look to recover from a dud game against the Hawks in a great matchup against a horrific Pelicans defense.
“The Play”: Milwaukee is absolutely terrible defensively against the power forward (PF) position (they rank 29th in efficiency versus the position) so there is maybe no safer bet for 40 fantasy points tonight than Paul Millsap. Although his production has slowed down a little recently (eclipsed 40 fantasy points twice in the last five games), it’s doubtful this trend will last. In six meetings against Milwaukee over the past two seasons, Millsap has scored at least 32 fantasy points each time and eclipsed 37 four of the six meetings. Again, on larger slates I prefer not to spend up for the absolute studs but Durant is an exception. With the news that Jeremy Lamb will sit out, rostering Jeremy Lin should allow you the flexibility to use both Durant and Millsap.
Other Options: By default, Nene Hilario might be the cash play tonight because of his high floor. His minutes are on the rise and both Marcin Gortat and Kris Humphries have already been ruled out for tonight. With Otto Porter out as well, Nene will surely have to play minutes in the mid-20s and is a solid per-minute producer. If Millsap turns out to be too expensive, fade him and not Durant because alternatives such as Dirk Nowitzki and Thaddeus Young should produce similar fantasy point/salary totals at a lesser cost. Nowitzki all of a sudden transformed from a boring cash option to a player that possesses nice upside every time he steps on the floor sort of like vintage Nowitzki. He hasn’t slipped below 34.25 fantasy points since Jan. 1.
“The Play”: Even thought I just mentioned Nowitzki, do not be afraid to roster both him and Zaza Pachulia against the Bulls. After playing an overtime game yesterday, some of the starters’ minutes may be held back and Nowitzki/Pachulia may get to play significant time against the backups. The Bulls allow the eighth most fantasy points to the center position and the fourth most rebounds to position…and we know Pachulia is a rebounding machine (he averages 10.9 per game). At just $6,300, it seems only foul trouble should limit Pachulia from a double-double which makes him a very safe option for a very reasonable price on DraftKings.
Other Options: For me, Pachulia is the play and the guy I will take most places but there is no shortage of other options. Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Greg Monroe and Brook Lopez can all be considered in cash games if extra salary is available. Lopez has been one of the most consistent producers all season and Portland is one of the worst defensive teams against opposing centers so he would be my preference amongst that group. Otherwise, Karl-Anthony Towns was benched for poor play in the last meeting versus the Thunder and I doubt that happens again. Look for him to outdo his 28 fantasy point performance. The last option I would suggest of the evening is Nikola Jokic against the Heat who has been splitting minutes with Jusuf Nurkic but still has scored at least 23.25 fantasy points in each of the last two and his price went down.