Mark “Hilow” Garcia
Last year, during the first round of the NFL playoffs, Hilow contributed a game theory piece :: breaking down the best way to leverage the expected movements of the field in order to maximize expected value on rosters. My first thought upon reading that first written piece from him: How do we keep this guy around forever???
As you guys probably know by now, Hilow is right up there with my favorite DFS writers of all time (Jonathan Bales // CheeseIsGood // Hilow…yup; it’s not a long list!), and I’m so stoked to be presenting a new, weekly NBA article from the Game Theory GOAT.
Hilow’s Fast Break will be available for free to all OWS members (including OWS Free!) each Wednesday this NBA season.
As RotoMaven (Aaron) said to me after he read this :: “OWS is going to wish this was available every day!”
Let’s dive in!
Before we jump into our first NBA Game Theory article, if you’re new to the NBA and haven’t yet checked out the free portion of my course in the Marketplace, I highly recommend you do so first. There I break down the game of NBA, how to think of its players from a DFS perspective, and how those players compare to the NFL. With that understanding you should have a better time sticking with me here as we discuss Game Theory in the NBA (and I cover Game Theory in the NBA in depth in a later lesson of my course)!
We saw a little bit of everything on last night’s opening night slate: sloppy play, foul trouble (Marc Gasol, which led to increased run for Montrezl Harrell), a blowout, bad chalk (Nicolas Batum, whom I covered as such yesterday in Discord – if you’re planning on playing NBA, get into Discord before first tip to follow all the happenings of the slate!), a shooter getting hot (Paul George), and leverage in the NBA (a lower-owned Caris LeVert handily outscoring the higher-owned Kelly Oubre, Jr.; late news lowering the ownership on a solid-in-a-vacuum play (James Wiseman); Dennis Schroder and his multi-positional eligibility used to cover a high variance position (his natural position is PG and we could have played him in the SG position on DK, where I had 100% ownership on him at)).
The big picture for early season NBA is we should expect relative sloppy play (due to the COVID-shortened off-season), lower-than-typical minutes for older players (again, primarily attributed to the shortened off-season – LeBron James was a prime example of this from last night), largely unknown rotations (from new coaching/new player personnel on teams), and poor roster decision making from the field as they round back into form on everything the NBA entails (a low-priced Dennis Schroder carrying lower-than-should-be ownership to cover a high variance position). With these in mind, we can begin to formulate the highest EV means of attacking a slate!
During early season NBA, values are less attributable to injuries and inactives as they are to players simply being mispriced for a new role (think James Wiseman and Dennis Schroder from last night). When we now pair that idea with the shortened off-season and higher chance at blowouts in the early going due to sloppy play, stars and scrubs DFS rosters become far less viable, particularly for cash games (the idea of a “stars and scrubs” DFS lineup should be entirely driven by the value available on a given slate, but the field likely has a carryover effect from the end of last season where there was value readily available on each slate). For these reasons, we should look to be adopt a more balanced approach as our percentage solution in the early going paying attention to expected game environments.
Video surfaced on social media last night of Harden frequenting a strip club without a mask, which would violate the NBA’s COVID protocols. The NBA is currently working with the Rockets to investigate the incident, but the interesting scenario is what to do should Harden be allowed to play on opening night. It sounds hilarious, but NBA fans have established a trend with Harden that he performs poorly in cities with good strip clubs (I know, farfetched, but it’s been proven to be accurate!). Should he play, I like the fade of a player at a high price ($10,400) with so many unknowns. Furthermore, John Wall becomes a Game Theory smash play at only $7,400, as he’s averaged 31.4 fantasy points per game in the preseason on only 22.9 minutes per game (an elite 1.37 fantasy points per minute). I’d expect his minutes up in the 34-36 minutes range, and at 1.37 fantasy points per minute, he’s sitting at a floor of a 6x+ multiplier. His ownership will likely be lower than it should be should Harden play. (UPDATE: John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were sent home following a positive COVID test on the team early Wednesday morning, so keep an eye on the outcome of the league’s contact tracing over the course of the day. Christian Wood and Eric Gordon become high confidence plays if this game does end up being played, with all of John Wall, Ben McLemore, DeMarcus Cousins and possibly James Harden out of the lineup.)
There are currently over half of Atlanta’s roster listed as questionable or out for tonight, making John Collins and Trae Young high ceiling plays.
High game total and low spread amongst two teams with both poor team defense and poor individual defenders. Trae Young and Zach LaVine are two of the highest usage players in the league, and we should expect a high-scoring, back and forth affair here. Clint Capela is also listed as doubtful, raising the floor and ceiling for John Collins (who is listed as PF/C on DK, which plays into an area of leverage that not many people utilize in NBA DFS – covered in my course!). Finally, CHI PG Coby White should be locked into 34-36 minutes and proved to be one of the rare point guards capable of contributing to more than just scoring and assists in his rookie season.
Frontcourt-mate Jabari Parker has already been ruled out, we have a game with an aggressive 226 point total and large spread (DEN -7.5), and starting Center Richaun Holmes has a history of foul trouble and will be charged with handling opposing Center Nikola Jokic, which all come together to provide upside to Whiteside’s modest minutes projection. Whiteside is one of the highest point per minute (PPM) players in the NBA, capable of valuable peripherals through blocks and steals. My personal projection for Whiteside is 24-26 minutes for opening night and he has the profile to put up 36-40 fantasy points with that run at a bargain-bin price of only $3,800 (again, if you haven’t read my NBA course, I explain why this is a situation worth targeting there!). I’ll go out on a limb and label Whiteside as the highest point per dollar play on the slate!
The Memphis front court will be extremely thin due to injuries to start the season and the expected game environment for SA/MEM (231.5 game total, 2.5 point spread) should force JoVal into the higher end of his expected minutes range (34-36). Another high PPM player to target when expected minutes lands at the higher end of his expected range.
Previously discussed but wanted to again highlight him here! (UPDATE: John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were sent home following a positive COVID test on the team early Wednesday morning, so keep an eye on the outcome of the league’s contact tracing over the course of the day. Christian Wood and Eric Gordon become high confidence plays if this game does end up being played, with all of John Wall, Ben McLemore, DeMarcus Cousins and possibly James Harden out of the lineup)
Less a leverage spot than he is one of the top overall plays on the slate, Doncic averaged an insane 38.6% usage and 1.70 fantasy points per minute in 2019 with Kristaps Porzingis off the court (who will miss the start of the 2020-2021 season). Playing in one of the highest game totals of the slate, with Phoenix currently favored by only a point, expect this game environment to be ripe for the highest usage player in the league.
The blowout concerns against the 76ers are muted when talking about a rookie, in that we should expect continued time on the court even in a blowout as Washington looks to develop their 9th overall draft pick from this year’s draft. Expected to start at the three, with Rui Hachimura already ruled out (the presumed starting four), we should see a floor of 24 minutes with upside for 30+ at a price of only $4,000. An avid scorer in the Euro League, we can expect around a point per minute fantasy expectation, making him one of the better values available on the slate.
The dynamic of the Spurs has changed rather drastically over the previous two seasons, with three main players soaking up the majority of the usage on the court: DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, and LaMarcus Aldridge. The interesting part of that is head coach Gregg Popovich has reportedly asked Aldridge to attempt more threes moving forward in an attempt to space the court and transition his game to more of a “stretch four,” which boosts his per-game ceiling slightly. Early season is a great time to jump on these trends before the field catches on.
You can catch Hilow (and Sonic, and Xandamere, and JM) on the OWS Discord server…
You can get inside Hilow’s DFS mind here.
You can also grab the first five lessons of Hilow’s Game Theory course for FREE.
Here are a few questions-and-answers between our Director of Operations Aaron (RotoMaven) and Hilow regarding today’s slate ::