This article last updated 10/16/2018 – Featured image Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
The NBA season has arrived! While I absolutely love NFL DFS, I think I like NBA even more. NBA is the sport that I have the best DFS history in from a success standpoint, I really enjoy watching the NBA games, and while the overall prize pools aren’t as large as they are in NFL, there are significantly more slates and opportunities to win. I don’t particularly love playing in large pool tournaments on a 2-game slate, because there are so few potential winning combinations available that there is bound to be either huge overlap on the winning lineup, splitting the grand prize over hundreds of lineups, or some dumb luck lineup that takes it down but shouldn’t have.
Either way, though, it’s opening night and I’ll have a lineup in each of the Fanduel and Draftkings $1 million prize pool contests. This season, each site opted for a rule change to their DFS format for NBA to help combat the issue of players getting scratched at the last minute. On Fanduel, your lowest-scoring player will not count towards your final score. This will almost certainly introduce a dramatic new strategy of playing a stone-minimum player and loading up at the other positions, using the salary savings from the guy whose score you’re planning to have dropped to bolster your other roster spots. On Draftkings, they’re allowing late swaps up until tip-off of each game.
I will not be posting articles for every NBA slate this season… There are simply too many slates and too little time. On tonight’s 2-game slate, feel free to get your beak wet a little bit, and play some, but don’t overdo it. There’s a much bigger slate of games tomorrow night where we can really separate ourselves from the field. The analysis will be primarily focused on Fanduel pricing and positions, but most of this can be easily translated over to Draftkings. If I see a particular value opportunity on DK, I’ll try to call it out.
The Golden State Warriors are getting a banner hung and getting their rings tonight, so there will be a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding this game that may take away from the focus of the Warriors team. With that being said, though, they are the heaviest favorite on the slate and have the highest implied team total. The Warriors are projected for just under 117 points, about 9 points higher than the Celtics who own the second-highest implied team total. Stephen Curry, but I don’t think he’ll return more than 3-4x his salary, and I think there are other options at PG who will return better value, so Curry is not likely to make the final cut on my main team.
Kyrie Irving is the best player and the primary scoring option on his team. He’s too cheap at $8400 on Fanduel, especially if you believe as I do that he is fully healthy. Philadelphia is a strong defensive team, but if you got a chance to see Uncle Drew this summer, you know that they’re not going to be able to check him. I think Irving is pretty close to a lock at his price point and upside. He’s got the same ceiling and a similar floor to Curry at $1200 salary savings.
I’m a big believer in Ben Simmons‘s talent, and he’s the type of guy that probably worked his butt off this summer to improve some of the weaker areas of his game. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if his jump shot has improved dramatically. At $10,000, though, I need to see it first. The Celtics gave Simmons fits in the playoffs last season, and while I love what he brings to the table from a peripheral stats standpoint, with his rebounding, assists, and defensive statistics bringing his floor way up, I need to see him take that next step as a scorer. If this were a bigger slate with lots of games, I would be more likely to take a stab at Simmons hoping that he would go overlooked. On a 2-game slate, though, he’s going to carry way more ownership than he should based on his price point and projected production, so I’ll be fading him tonight.
Markelle Fultz is another guy for the 76ers that may carry some ownership because he is going to start over JJ Reddick. He’s an option, and like Simmons, he may have done a lot of work improving his game during the offseason, but he did not look like a number 1 overall pick last year to me. I still think Reddick is going to soak up a lot of Fultz’s potential minutes and opportunity, so I won’t be using Fultz.
The other guy at PG that I’ll be on is Terry Rozier at $4100. He’s not far above the minimum price on Fanduel, and I think he’s likely to get about 20 minutes or so. Rozier projects at about 0.87 fantasy points per minute, so he should get us 17-18 points. That’s a bit over a 4x return with upside for more, which we’ll definitely take from one of our bargain guys. I don’t think I’ll have more than 2-3 lineups tonight, and they will almost all have some combination of Rozier and Irving or Curry at Point Guard.
With Westbrook out, I’ve got Dennis Schroder locked into all of my lineups. He’ll probably be close to 60-70% owned on a short slate like this one, but I don’t care. The position is relatively thin and he should see 30-35 minutes. In that offense, he’s probably pretty close to a fantasy point per minute kind of player, so at his $6100 salary, I expect him to return at least 5x value as a floor.
I think that if JJ Reddick were still going to be the starter, on this slate, he would be a 50%+ owned guy. Because Fultz is starting, I think it will reduce ownership on Reddick, and he’ll be closer to 25-30%. He’s still going to see 28-32 minutes tonight, and while he doesn’t have terrific peripheral stats, giving him a somewhat low floor, if he catches fire from outside, he could really spark your team’s performance. I’ll be using Reddick as my second SG on 1-2 of my lineups.
The third guy I had some interest in is Andre Iguodala at $4300. He’s always a solid performer, and at his salary, he doesn’t need to do a ton to return good value. He’s locked in for 25-27 minutes tonight, and this is a good area to carve out some value for studs you’ll want to have at other positions.
I’m not going to pay $6800 for Klay Thompson with all of the GSW options healthy and ready to go on FD, but I don’t mind him at $5900 on DK. He works out with one of my optimal lineup constructions on DK, so I’ll have him in a lineup over there, but I will be fading him on Fanduel.
Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo should also be on your radar, although I won’t be playing them. Ferguson will carry some ownership because he is the projected starter at SG for the Thunder. He will likely see over 20 minutes of action, so at the minimum salary, if he can manage to get 8 points, 2 assists, 3 rebounds, and a steal, he’d be a great value. Based on what I’ve seen from him, though, I don’t think he’s going to be nearly that productive. Diallo has a lot more upside in my mind, also at the bare minimum salary on FD, but he’ll probably see about 5-7 fewer minutes than Ferguson. If you need a value play at SG and can’t afford to go up to Iguodala, pick one of these guys and roll them out. Maybe even make 2 lineups, one with each of these guys, because there is a decent chance that at least one of them hits 3-4x value.
I’m not getting cute at Small Forward tonight. Gordon Hayward is back, but he’s going to be restricted to 25 minutes. That definitely caps his fantasy ceiling at ~3.5x or so. Robert Covington has had big games in the past, and may have a big game tonight, but I just can’t see choosing anyone other than Paul George and Kevin Durant at SF on this slate.
On Fanduel, where you have to play 2 SF, George is a stone cold 100% lock for me, and he will probably be 80%+ owned. With Westbrook set to miss this contest, George will be the primary scoring option for the Thunder. He’ll probably post about 45 fantasy points tonight, which is a 5x return on a $9000 salary. With so few options at SF period, you’ve gotta lock that in. Durant is the guy you might be able to talk me off of if you wanted to work in Covington, but right now I don’t think that’s going to happen on any of my lineups. At a $10,600 salary, Durant is going to need to post a monster game to return huge value based on his salary, but on a short slate like this, you have to pick the right places to pay up for studs and just take the raw point production. I think Durant has a 40 point floor and a 70 point ceiling, so I’m going to lock those 2 guys into my lineups on FD and differentiate elsewhere.
In the $4 clutch shot contest with 300k entries, I don’t hate the idea of fading George on a lineup or two just because of the crazy high ownership he’s likely to carry, in case of injury or ejection, but that’s really the only logical reason to do so.
I like PF as a good spot to get your value from tonight. If you need bottom-of-the-barrel guys, Kevon Looney and Patrick Patterson are both viable options at $3500 each. Looney will be coming off of the bench in a timeshare, but will likely see about 20 minutes of action and should get us 15-20 fantasy points. A bit over 4x return is where I would say his floor is tonight. Patterson will begin the year as the starting PF for the Thunder, hoping to cement that role as he fights off Jerami Grant, who will split time with him off the bench. Patterson should see about 25 minutes or so, and at $1200 less than Grant, I think he is the better value, even if Grant ends up with a few more raw points. If Grant works into your lineup over Patterson without downgrading any other position, I like Grant’s raw point projection more, but my lineups have worked out better with the extra $1200 in salary to spend elsewhere, so I’ve found myself with a decent amount of Looney and Patterson.
If we spend up a bit, I also think that Jayson Tatum and Dario Saric are good value options. Both of these guys project for 31-34 minutes a piece. Saric is a player who will get you fantasy production in a number of ways, including through defensive statistics, and can go on scoring sprees. Tatum is a hot-or-cold kind of player who can be incredibly frustrating when he’s off, or unbelievable when he’s on.
The way my lineups have worked out so far, I’ve either had the 2 super cheap PF options together or the two mid-range PF options together. Picking my favorites from each though, I give a slight nod to Looney over Patterson and Tatum over Saric, but all are very close. I don’t like Draymond Green at his price.
Joel Embiid is a monster. If he can stay healthy for the most part for the rest of his career, I think he’ll be the best Center of his generation. I’m not scared of this matchup against Al Horford, and I think Embiid is good for about 50 fantasy points tonight. If he works into your lineup salary-wise, I’d try to get him in there.
I do think that both Horford and Steven Adams (if he plays) will score more fantasy points per salary dollar than Embiid because of how cheap they both are. I haven’t been able to put together a lineup that I feel good about on FD with either of those guys in it, though, because of the lack of balance at other positions, so I don’t have those guys on any of my teams.
Nerlens Noel, Damian Jones, Aron Baynes, and Jordan Bell are all reasonable options if you’re looking for value. The most interesting guy out of that group for me is Jones. He had a good preseason, and it earned him the season-opening start. He’ll be splitting time with Bell, Green, and Looney, so he probably won’t see more than 15-16 minutes, but he may be jazzed up getting the start and come out of the gate with something to prove. If he can really make an impression those first 5-6 minutes of the game, maybe he’ll earn some extended minutes and make a big fantasy impact.