NBA DFS: Matchups to Exploit March 24, 2016
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two months improving my own ability to trust my gut in NBA DFS. It gets exponentially tougher to trust your own gut when you’re building fewer lineups. When you multi enter contests, you can take some shots you normally wouldn’t take with only one “perfect” lineup. At the level I, and likely most of you, play at, last minute tinkering or “rosterbating” is a common occurrence.
After I wrote 3800 words about yesterday’s slate, I absolutely loved the grasp I had on the 12 games. I knew what situations I could avoid, I felt like I had a grasp on potential ownership, and I really liked my “first instincts” lineup. After ingesting information from the surrounding DFS community, I ended up making a few swaps from my original lineup, and I cost myself some points. My FanDuel lineup last night scored 305.4 points, which is the goal. You want to get yourself to 300 and let the chips fall where they may. I made three swaps from my original lineup, however, that cost me a much bigger night. My gut told me Nikola Mirotic, Robin Lopez and Gorgui Dieng were great plays. They combined for 125.2 FD points at a combined salary of $17100, a return of 7.32X value. I ended up playing Omri Casspi, Nikola Jokic and Alex Len, who combined for 80 FD points at a combined salary of $17100, a return of 4.68X value. Instead of 305.4 FD points, my gut reaction to the slate would have yielded 350.6 FD points, good for a top 150 finish in the Slam and money in every 100 man league. Hindsight is so frustrating, but it’s a lesson in going with your gut.
My article yesterday led me to those plays through roughly four to five minutes of research on each side of the games they were involved in. It really can be that simple. Yesterday’s slate had a lot of static with so many games to choose from. Our job is to sift through the static and use numbers to achieve clarity. Tonight’s slate is only five games, and I’m excited to get right back into action knowing that what I type is something I can believe in. As I’ve been doing the last two days, I’m going to go game by game and identify a play or two from each side. I’m hoping to carry over the momentum of this piece into fantastic results tonight. Let’s dive in.
New Orleans Pelicans vs Indiana Pacers
As has been the case with the New Orleans Pelicans on short slates over the last week, we must decide whether or not we can achieve the results we’re seeking by rostering Jrue Holiday ($8200FD/$8400DK). Holiday is now New Orleans’ highest usage player, primary shot taker, and best overall player. He does not have to share with the likes of Anthony Davis or Ryan Anderson, and the points he delivers tonight will pretty much decide the slate. If he hits or exceeds value on FanDuel, the majority of owners who will roster him tonight will be in good shape. If he fails to reach value at his inflated price, those who decided to fade him will be even happier, because they will be in the minority. Holiday is averaging 42.4 FD points over his last three games, a sample size that reflects New Orleans’ current roster set up. The Pacers rank inside the league’s top ten in fantasy points allowed to opposing guards, allowing less than two points above expectation to either guard spot. Holiday’s move to shooting guard on FanDuel makes him an easy plug and play at a scarce position, but I think you can do better tonight. I prefer Luke Babbitt ($3800FD/$4000DK), Toney Douglas ($5100FD/$5100DK) or Dante Cunningham ($3800FD/$3800DK) for a much friendlier price at similar minutes to Holiday with less points needed to reach or exceed value. Holiday doesn’t have a ceiling tonight in my estimation.
The Indiana Pacers are 13 point favorites tonight, so the New Orleans side is easier to work through because we can accurately project minutes. The Pacers are in a dog fight for seeding in the Eastern Conference and are double digit favorites at home for the second straight game. Paul George ($9000FD/$8500DK) isn’t a necessary play tonight, as the blowout factor looms and George is likely the first Pacer to sit down in a fourth quarter romp. His price is too high to feel comfortable, and the spread caps his ceiling at value. Although the Pelicans allow the second most FD points per game to opposing shooting guards, rostering Monta Ellis ($6500FD/$6100DK) is a potentially volatile situation, as Ellis’ production is anything but consistent, despite eight of nine exceeding expectations. My focus on the Pacers’ side is focused squarely on their front court, as Myles Turner ($5000FD/$4700DK) and Ian Mahinmi ($5000FD/$4800DK) draw better matchups against the undersized and immobile Pelicans frontcourt. Turner is priced where he belongs and has provided over 6X value in six of his last seven games. Without Anthony Davis roaming the paint, New Orleans has sprung a leak in their paint defense, and Turner should be able to exploit that for another potential 6X performance. Mahinmi draws the top matchup for any center in play tonight, as the Pelicans allow the second most FD points per game and allow centers to score 5.68 points above expectation. I think Mahinmi is a lock for 25 FD points tonight to get you to 5X, and if the game stays closer than expected, his upside is 7X tonight.
Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks
These two teams played last night, and the Knicks controlled the boards on their way to a surprise eight point victory that really wasn’t as close as the final score suggests. I called the Nikola Mirotic ($4700FD/$4400DK) blowup and didn’t play him, so I’m going right back to the well with him tonight. DFS players are trying to figure out the Bulls rotation with Pau Gasol on a minutes limit, and I have it figured out. Gasol is only playing about 24 minutes right now, which takes him out of the game midway through the first quarter rather than playing the entire quarter as he usually does without a restriction. Mirotic is among the first Bulls’ subs and is in line for 20-25 minutes unless he gets hot and stays hot like he did last night. Mirotic has torched the Knicks in six meetings over the last two seasons as I outlined yesterday, and I’m expecting most probably didn’t notice last night. His price didn’t budge, so we have an idea of his upside and reaching 5X tonight in the exact same spot should be a cakewalk.
In a rerun of yesterday’s article, I’m only looking at only Robin Lopez ($6000FD/$5600DK) on the Knicks’ side. Lopez draws the fantasy friendly matchup with the Bulls’ front court that allows the third most FD points per game to opposing centers and a slate high 6.86 points above expectation to the position. Lopez dropped 39.1 FD points on the Bulls last night and his price didn’t move. I probably prefer Mahinmi a bit more on a one center site like FanDuel, but on DraftKings, playing both Lopez and Mahinmi makes a lot of sense tonight. We do have to account for the back to back spot for both teams, so active rosters may be a bit different than last night, but Lopez has momentum and the same opposition in front of him tonight.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Brooklyn Nets
This is the only game on the slate I’ll likely avoid completely. The second night of a back to back is usually a spot where we see reduced minutes for Cleveland’s fragile starters, and even though early reports suggest we won’t see anyone rested tonight, I’ll have my ears to the pavement for news later today. The Nets have no answer for LeBron James ($9900FD/$9200DK), and his DraftKings’ price makes him extremely playable. The Cavs have opened up as a 7.5 point favorite, which is lower than I would have expected, but since I’m not currently playing on DraftKings, James will not be on my radar. The Cavalier on my radar tonight is Kyrie Irving ($7000FD/$6800DK) due to the Nets recent shake up in their rotation. I saw that Brooklyn is planning to start Shane Larkin over Donald Sloan, which means Irving will see increased minutes against Sloan. Irving plays the first seven to eight minutes of the first quarter and then comes back to run point with the second unit. Larkin is the better defender of he and Sloan – both are terrible with defensive ratings of 109 or worse – and Irving will start the game guarded directly by Larkin before giving way and coming back to the defense of Donald Sloan as the primary scorer on the court. Kevin Love’s price didn’t budge from last night either, but Irving is far too cheap based on the type of upside he has. On the second night of a back to back, I’m more willing to trust a point guard than a power forward, and if you require exposure to this game, Irving is my favorite way to do it. Brooklyn also allows a slate high 3.52 points above expectation to opposing point guards.
The Brooklyn side is a bit tougher to gauge because they have added players back to the rotation and already aren’t a very good team. When you add bad players to an already bad and convoluted rotation, you get a crapshoot. I’m avoiding the Brooklyn side in general tonight, but if you want exposure, the aforementioned Shane Larkin ($3500FD/$3000DK) is minimum priced and now starting. I would have to assume that he’ll get starter’s minutes, and you can’t turn the other cheek at a minimum priced player getting increased minutes. When Larkin plays 21 minutes or more this season, he averages 8.76 FD points more per game then when he doesn’t. It’s a reach, and with good punts available in the front court tonight, punting point guard doesn’t seem necessary.
Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
I wish Utah wasn’t on the second night of a back to back, because these are the types of spots we want to target their options in. Oklahoma City at home provides a slow paced opponent with a massive pace bump, but the Jazz are 9.5 point underdogs here and I’m not overly excited about their outlook tonight. The best way to attack the Thunder is through the point guard spot, where they allow the fourth most FD points per night and 2.27 points above expectation. Shelvin Mack ($6300FD/$6300DK) is clearly overpriced, but he’s priced based on his current role, so we can’t complain too much. He becomes the primary beneficiary of Russell Westbrook turnovers, but Mack has had turnover issues of his own over the last nine games, averaging 3.8 turnovers per game in that time span. The Jazz are avoidable tonight, but Mack is your best route.
Tonight’s toughest decision is Russell Westbrook ($10800FD/$10300DK) versus Kevin Durant ($10500FD/$9900DK), but to me, on a small slate like this, the only real decision is whether or not you can be profitable without Westbrook. The Jazz are a top six defense against every position, but they’re especially tough on opposing front courts, ranking in the league’s top two against both forward spots and centers. Shelvin Mack isn’t exactly a candidate for defensive player of the year, which leads me towards Westbrook. Westbrook’s ability to dominate a game without scoring is why I’m planning to center my action around him tonight. Westbrook is unlikely to score 30 or more points tonight, but the Jazz aren’t going to be able to stop him from rebounding or distributing, and Mack’s issues with ball security have me excited for a multiple steal game from Westbrook. You will deal with turnovers from Westbrook tonight, but his peripheral stats should be more than enough to cover those potential blemishes.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Both teams are playing night two of a back to back tonight, with Portland coming to town off of a victory at home against Dallas. You should know that Mason Plumlee ($5200FD/$4700DK) averages over 30 minutes per game when Meyers Leonard is sidelined, scoring 7.45 FD points more per game as a result. The Clippers are allowing the eleventh most FD points per game to opposing centers on the year, and Plumlee is averaging 31.97 FD points per game in three meetings with the Clippers. You should also consider Damian Lillard ($8900FD/$9000DK) because he’s underpriced and his offense will be the main reason Portland either competes or fades away fast in this game. We have seen Lillard perform against the league’s other top point guards.
The Clippers lost four out of five on their recent road trip and a return home is likely just what the doctor ordered for the Clips to get right. My favorite plays in this game are not surprising, as Chris Paul ($9900FD/$9500DK) and DeAndre Jordan ($8100FD/$7700DK) continue to be the only means of survivial for the suddenly sliding Clippers. Paul hasn’t had great games against Portland this season, but targeting Damian Lillard with an elite point guard in a home spot has led to fantastic fantasy results of late, as Portland’s last four opposing home point guards averaged 24.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 13.5 assists per game. Paul is coming off his worst fantasy performance since January in last night’s loss to Golden State and my guess is he puts on a show tonight. Jordan has been wildly consistent this season, exceeding salary based point expectations in 62% of his games. He actually performs slightly better on the second night of back to backs, averaging 1.59 FD points per game more in these scenarios. In three games against Portland this season, Jordan is averaging 42.53 FD points per game including a 54.3 FD point performance in an earlier home meeting. With the value available at center tonight, paying up for Jordan is a great contrarian strategy, as he’ll provide a floor higher than most of the other center’s ceilings.