Welcome to the Friday edition of NBA DFS Picks and Pivots, a fantasy basketball column focused on helping you find the best core lineup for this slate of DFS action!
For those of you finding us for the first time, the concept behind NBA DFS Picks and Pivots is to give you a first look at the day’s NBA DFS slate, including our top picks, plays and pivots, using FantasyDraft pricing as a reference to help you build your best line-up and win big.
Picks and Pivots is not a simple “best plays” column but rather it focuses on slate strategy and roster construction to help give you insight into how I will look to play this slate.
Thursday’s NBA DFS three game slate ended up playing out nearly identical to Tuesday’s Opening Night in that the stars ruled the day and it became a game of which punt plays did you hit on. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, LeBron James and John Wall were the top fantasy leaders on the night and scores even on this short slate pushed upwards of 325-340 points on FantasyDraft to take down GPP’s.
Picks and Pivots is not a simple “best plays” column but rather it focuses on slate strategy and roster construction to help give you insight into how I will look to play this slate. The goal of this article is to dig through the slate, highlight our top plays and help you identify the best slate strategy across your NBA DFS line-ups.
As always, we will look to update our final lineup thoughts throughout the day on our twitter account @FantasyCPR so make sure to give us a follow for all the late breaking lineup news.
Without further ado, let’s get into today’s slate!
NBA DFS – Core Game Stack
When looking to narrow down my NBA DFS player pool, I try to look at the specific games I want to target rather than look at a laundry list of players and try to cherry pick. With that in mind, there is no better place to start than the Pelicans-Kings, a game with a slate high 230 game total which is projected to be played at one of the fastest paces on the night.
The Pelicans are going to be one of those teams on any slate you almost need to start your player pool with – they lead the league in pace last season and continued that trend into the preseason before dropping 130 points on the Rockets in Houston on their Opening Night. What I absolutely LOVE about this New Orleans team is their rotation – look at the minutes for their core players – every player in the starting five played 30+ minutes while they had only two bench players going for 20+ minutes. If you can find a team playing at a league leading pace with a core rotation of 7 guys – you find a way to stack them up every single night.
It all starts with Anthony Davis ($20.8K) who is the highest priced player on the slate, coming off a 77 fantasy point outing against the Rockets and reminding us that he is one of those rare players that can set the cash line on any given night all by himself. AD was a beast on opening night – with a 30% usage rate, putting up nearly 2 FP/M and will now get to match-up with a Kings team that just let Rudy Gobert 19/15 and 3 blocks against them. AD is the stud to pay for tonight and frankly, I am going to make that case nearly every night he plays.
Nikola Mirotic ($13.4K) was the one Pelicans player I left out of my stacks their first game because honestly I thought he would take a backseat usage wise to AD-Holiday – but boy was I wrong. Mirotic came out in a ball dominant role, sporting a team high 30.4% usage rate and put up 20 shot attempts on his way 30 points and 10 rebounds in their opening night win. Conversely, what that meant was that Jrue Holiday ($13.4K) took a big time backseat with a 16% usage rate and generally underwhelming performance considering this was a player we saw last year routinely with a 30-35% usage rate when Boogie was off the court.
Now, this was only one game – we have over a 700 minute sample size since last year where Holiday, Mirotic and AD shared the floor and the usage numbers in that exercise are essentially the complete opposite of what we saw against Houston – Holiday at 25% while Mirotic was only at 18%. So what is the take away here – do not overreact either way. Mirotic is not going to take 20 shots a night and Holiday is not going to shoot “0 for” from behind the 3 point line every night. These two are both elite plays in this offense and if people want to overreact to Holiday’s slow start, then I would be happy to lock him in at low ownership.
Elfrid Payton ($11.9K) did exactly what he has shown us he can do as a lower usage, multi-category monster, racking up a triple double with 10/10/10 on his way to 42 points and frankly that is the upside you get with him anytime he is on the floor. For a starting PG to have an under 20% usage rate would normally be a red-flag but in this offense he works as a great secondary piece who relies on peripherals to get his fantasy value.
E’Twaun Moore ($8.3K) is one of those value plays that I would ignore outside of a game stack but when you are talking about a guy who played 30+ minutes and shot the ball 12 times – he makes for an exceptional complementary piece. Lastly, Julius Randle ($13.2K) who is probably for tonight’s game showed he is going to be a second team usage monster for this team with a 28.4% usage rate while putting up 1.7 FP/M.
The Pelicans have the highest game total on the night at 120, 10 points + higher than all but one other team and their opponent tonight, Sacramento, actually played at one of the fastest paces of any team on opening night.
The nice part about this game as a stack is that the Kings ran a similarly tight rotation in their opener, playing 6 guys 27+ minutes each and their price points are cheap enough to run back any Pelicans stack tonight in the highest game total on the board. What really stood out was that the Kings played at a considerably faster pace in their opener against the Jazz of all teams – remember this was a team that played at the slowest pace in the entire NBA last season.
If you look back at the preseason however, this should not come as a surprise – the Kings played at a pace metric of 106 possessions per game (108 pace mark in their opener by the way) which is a massive jump over their 95 league low mark in 2017-2018. So now you take a Kings team in put them in a potential track meet against a team that thrives in those game environments and you can see why this total is so high.
Willie Cauley-Stein ($12.8K) and De’Aaron Fox ($12.2K) put up 44 and 41 fantasy points against the Jazz in their opener while back-court mate Buddy Hield led the team with a 30% usage rate. Now the 11 point spread may scare some people off, but again this whole core concept is built around a game stack – you are running the core plays from each team with the hope/expectation that this game stays close. Considering the pace increase the Kings are showing under their new coach, this is a trend I am hoping the majority of players is not quite yet on and we can get lower ownership on an elite game stack situation.
NBA DFS – Game Stack Pivot Plays:
Of the nine games on this slate, six of them have game totals of 217 or higher so Vegas is trying to tell us we have a variety of logical pivots with strong NBA DFS environments to attack. The one game that I have a feeling will become a popular “pivot” is the Knicks-Nets who will play their first “rivalry” game of the 2018-2019 season in Brooklyn.
Now you all know by now – I am perhaps the most over the top DFS believer in Tim Hardaway Jr. ($13.6K) in the entire industry. The formula is so simple – when guys like Kristaps Porzingis are off the court, THJ is a usage monster with a volume scoring mentality that can crush value in the right spots. We saw this on Opening Night, THJ dropped a 50 spot with 31 actual points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and went 8-8 from the FT line with a 36.3% usage rate. This is what THJ does people – I try to tell you.
So tonight after a big opening night and now taking on the Brooklyn Nets, a team that was top 10 in pace and bottom 10 in defensive rating last season – you probably think THJ is the first guy in my line-ups tonight but let me school you on the THJ rules – you play him when he’s low-owned and you run far away when he becomes popular and pricey – exactly what you could end up seeing tonight.
Last season, THJ played 25 games without Porzingis and in those outings he put up 40-50 fantasy points 4 different times – again the upside I always scream about. But you want to know what he never did? He never had a big game back to back. The perfect example of this – his best game during that stretch was a 52 fantasy point outing against Minnesota that he backed up in his next game with 25 fantasy points – shooting 30% from the field. This is what happens with scoring dependent volume scorers like Hardaway – you cannot expect their shot to always fall and as much as I love THJ – he simply doesn’t have the peripherals to make up for a poor shooting night.
I could end up seeing this game becoming a popular game stack with people using Hardaway and Enes Kanter on the Knicks side, specifically attacking a Nets team that routinely gets destroyed by opposing center – something Kanter proved with a 20/20 game against Brooklyn in the preseason. The one nice thing – FantasyDraft did a great job of pricing these guys up – so will people really opt to pay up for them on this slate? If the buzz is not super high than I am fine working either guy in but it may make sense to fade if they get too popular.
D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert were two of the more popular options on their opening night and to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised at the tight rotation that coach Kenny Atkinson ran – playing 6 guys 25+ minutes but that was in large part due to a depleted bench. Tonight, Allen Crabbe is probable to return and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson remains questionable after missing the Nets first game and being away from the team Thursday due to the birth of his child. If the Nets start getting guys back healthy on the bench – this is where you move away from them as Atkinson as shown he is happy to run deep rotations with his bench guys.
I have a feeling this game stack becomes popular – especially the Kanter/THJ/DRuss/LeVert core and I think there is merit to fading it if that becomes the case. Now there is certainly upside but the floor here is perhaps the lowest of any game stack tonight for the simple fact that neither team has a true superstar you can build around. If you stack the Pelicans with AD or the Bucks with Giannis you know you have a high floor/high ceiling star at the center but in this Knicks/Nets game stack you have a player pool of nice plays in theory but ones that also have incredibly low floors so tread carefully if this game becomes too popular today.
NBA DFS – Superstar Pivots:
One of the things that stands out to me on this slate is how many top-tier pivot plays there are – which is leading me to think more and more that people will opt to take the savings off the high-priced Anthony Davis and move down a tier to some similarly high ceiling plays.
Giannis Antetokounmpo ($19.4K) and Victor Oladipo ($15.9K) make for an interesting mini-stack in the Bucks-Pacers game – another potential game stack on this slate. Giannis put up 50+ in three of his four fantasy meetings with Indiana last season and is coming off a 59 fantasy point outing opening night. Oladipo meanwhile struggled with under 30 fantasy points and will face-off against a Bucks team he similarly struggled against last season with “only” 34 FP/G in three meetings.
With the status of Russell Westbrook still firmly up in the air – it could bring opening night chalk plays like Paul George ($15.8K) and Dennis Schroder ($14.5K) back into the fold tonight against the Clippers. The Thunder duo did exactly what the numbers said they would without Russ – leading the team in usage but I do think it is worth noting – Schroder only put up .65 FP/M and with his price pushing to this level – it could be a spot you jump off.
Kemba Walker sees his price rise to over $15K today and in James Borrego’s new up-tempo line-up that is meant to feature Kemba, this is a price we can argue is worth paying. Walker put up 55 fantasy points opening night but that was largely due to 41 actuals points as the peripheral stats were lacking – only 6 combined rebounds and steals. The one interesting thing from this game to call out – the Hornets went with a small ball line-up the majority of the game, something Borrego talked about in the preseason where Malik Monk played 34 minutes off the bench alongside Kemba and Nicolas Batum so it will be a trend worth watching to see if the Hornets continue to play small each night.
It seems crazy to get to this point in the article and not yet have mentioned the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors and Jazz play tonight in a game with a 218 total and only a 2 point spread – seemingly the perfect condition for a game stack as any time we can expect a close game with the Warriors stars, they become an intriguing option. In their opening game it was the core 4 – Curry, KD, Draymond and Klay – all playing 30+ minutes (so much for Draymond’s minute limit huh?).
Interestingly enough last season, the Warriors only played the Jazz once with their core 4 on the court – and in that game all of Curry, Durant and Green were shut down – putting up less than 30 fantasy points each in that game while all playing 30 minutes. It was actually Klay Thompson with 43 fantasy points that led the way that night against a Jazz team that ranked first in the league last season in team defensive rating.
Now this is still Golden State and the Jazz have stars like Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert that you can try to run a stack back with but this feels like a game where the Jazz play a slow pace (like they did all last season) and if you look back to a season ago – this is essentially the same team that held Golden State to under 100 points in 3 of their 4 meetings.
The one value play from this game that stands out to me is Damian Jones ($7.1K) who started at Center for Golden State against OKC and played 27 minutes, with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 3 blocks on his way to 24 fantasy points which would return 3.3x value at this price point. What really stands out to me here is that after the game Steve Kerr commented that Jones will continue to start at Center for the next few games because they believe they need his size and athleticism against big men like Steven Adams (in the opener) and Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic over the next two games. Considering the run Jones got in the opener against Adams, I have a hard time seeing him getting any less tonight against Gobert and he proved already he can hit value against tough opposing centers.
NBA DFS – Slate Overview and Sample Line-Up:
Please note the sample line-up shown below is not meant to be an optimized “Plug and Play” line-up – it is simply meant to be an illustrative example of the plays outlined in the previous pages.
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G: Jrue Holiday ($13.4K)
G: De’Aaron Fox ($12.2K)
G: Elfrid Payton ($11.9K)
F/C: Anthony Davis ($20.8K)
F/C: Nikola Mirotic ($13.4K)
F/C: Willie Cauley-Stein ($12.8K)
UTIL: E’Twaun Moore ($8.3K)
UTIL: Damian Jones ($7.1K)
Slate Overview: There are a ton of great game spots tonight but frankly none that I believe have the upside of the Pelicans and Kings so I want to have some GPP game stacks built around it. As mentioned, you have a team in New Orleans that we know plays at a league leading pace but it is really the change in the Kings approach that has me looking at this game stack – the Kings were dead last in pace last season but their new coach is looking to play fast and the results have shown that change in philosophy in the preseason and through one game in the regular season. If the Kings turn this game into a track meet and can keep it close – watch your stack just shoot up the standings tonight.
Stay tuned to Fantasy CPR for all the latest DFS news and analysis across FantasyDraft, FanDuel and DraftKings all NBA season long!