Mark “Hilow” Garcia
Again, 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)!
As of last night, it didn’t appear we had many questionable players for today, but that quickly changed. We now have no less than six high impact players listed as questionable for tonight, with Luka Doncic downgraded to doubtful and a handful of stars still on the sideline with various ailments. We also have the curious case of the Raptors, who had their game postponed last night and moved one day to the right to play tonight. Toronto is set to be without five players due to COVID protocols, including three starters, and there is tangible risk that the game could be postponed further. A ton of moving pieces to keep an eye on tonight, so stay up to date on the latest news through last tip! From a macro slate view standpoint, nine of the ten games tonight have spreads 5.5-points or lower, with the lone blowout potential coming from BKN@HOU. We also have a game that should go more or less under the radar with a massive game total (237.5) and moderate spread (5.5) in the CHI@NO game. I don’t expect players from that game to draw heavy ownership, but chances are we see one or two players there make a splash. The last thing to bring up is tonight is the last game before the All-Star break for a lot of these teams, meaning questionable players are more likely to rest as a precaution when compared to a game in the middle of the grind, whereas starters in tight rotations could see increased run with the break on tap. Let’s dig in!
Luka was downgraded to Doubtful as I was writing his blurb up, so Command+DEL to that (yea, I’m a Mac guy, don’t hold it against me!). The biggest beneficiaries for the Mavs with Luka off the court this season are his direct replacement, Jalen Brunson, and Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis sees his usage jump to 32.4% with Luka off the court, putting up a respectable 1.13 fantasy points per minute (FPPM) while Brunson sees a moderate usage boost to 23.4% but is managing a solid-for-the-price 1.10 FPPM, should see 30 minutes at bare minimum tonight and is priced at only $5,300.
Another late in the day status update, Capela was added to the injury report with a foot injury. He is currently listed as Questionable in what could have significant effect on the game opposite big man Nikola Vucevic. If Capela misses, I would tentatively expect John Collins to shift to center in the starting lineup and Solomon Hill to enter the starting five at power forward. This would keep the second unit more or less intact. Being the last game for the Hawks prior to the All-Star break, chances are Capela is held out as a precaution. In my opinion, it is likely we see Collins play 30-34 minutes in this scenario, which boosts his floor. The problem is Orlando is one of the top defensive rebounding teams in the league (third-ranked 79.9%), lowering his ceiling.
Hield missed practice Tuesday with a lingering ankle issue that he has been playing through for a couple weeks. Of all the questionable players tonight, I would place the highest odds on any one player suiting up on Hield. Should he miss, he would leave behind 15-20 shot attempts to be dispersed amongst the remaining starters.
Removing the main scoring and usage threat from Detroit would be a big blow to a team already extremely shorthanded. The interesting thing, though, is that Toronto will also be extremely shorthanded tonight, missing five regular contributors including three regular starters (OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet).
Harris is coming off two missed games with a bone bruise in his right knee and we have to question the 76ers’ need to rush Harris back for the last game before the All-Star break. The matchup for the Sixers is less than ideal against the Jazz, but the usage Harris leaves on the court is substantial.
Oubre is listed as questionable for what should be the highest-profile game tonight with a wrist injury. Typically seeing minutes in the 36-38 minutes range, he would leave behind substantial court time for Andrew Wiggins and Kent Bazemore. Both are primarily spot-shooters, so consider each high price-considered ceiling, low floor plays should Oubre miss.
Keep an eye on the statuses of Sabonis and Doug McDermott tonight, as the absence of both would open up a lot of usage (Sabonis) and shots (both) for the Pacers, against a Cleveland team allowing 112.0 points per game. The good news is we should get updates out of Indiana prior to the slate tipping off as this is the first game of the night.
We covered why each are solid plays above, this is all about creating the necessary leverage. Both are going to be highly owned, and both are solid in-a-vacuum plays, so playing them together will lower the combined ownership. The Thunder allow the 13th-most fantasy points per game to opposing point guards and the seventh-most fantasy points per game to opposing centers. The matchup, usage and price all scream value, and we can leverage what we know about Game Theory to solve the fourth piece of the player evaluation equation: ownership (or combined ownership in this case).
Keep an eye on the status of Pau Gasol and Kyle Kuzma, who both missed last night’s contest and are currently listed as questionable. Again, it is likely we see teams take a cautious approach with the break around the corner (more pertinent for Kuzma and his heel bruise than Gasol and his health protocols). The Lakers are playing a kings team that struggles against opposing frontcourts and Morris would be in line for 30-36 minutes if both Gasol and Kuzma miss due to the limited frontcourt bodies available for the Lakers.
With the loss last night to the Suns, the Lakers slipped to third in the Western Conference and a loss to the lowly Kings would not be the way to end the first half of the season, regardless of how shorthanded the Lakers are. The biggest usage bump should fall on Schroeder’s shoulders, who will be charged with primary ball-handling duties.
Finally, the Kings rank dead last in defensive rebound rate at 75.7%, raising the ceiling of Harrell substantially (offensive rebounds are much more valuable than defensive rebounds for the ability to pick up points in multiple ways with put backs and shooting fouls). I’m unsure where Harrell’s ownership will land tonight after playing only 18 minutes last night, but if Gasol and Kuzma miss tonight we’re getting a lot of usage and scoring potential out of these three Lakers for only $15,100 in combined salary. The Lakers also play the last game of the night, which should serve to hold Morris and Harrell’s ownership in check.
With OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam off the court this season, Normal Powell, Kyle Lowry and Chris Boucher combine for a staggering 85.4% usage (33.2% for Powell, 29.5% for Lowry and 22.7% for Boucher). Powell puts up 1.05 FPPM, Lowry 1.18 FPPM and Boucher a borderline elite 1.30 FPPM. The Raptors play a struggling and shorthanded Pistons team likely to be without their main scorer (Jerami Grant). That’s a lot of expected fantasy production concentrated on three players. I can all but guarantee nobody will be playing all three together, which is an interesting thought tonight on a team projected to score 108 points.
I expect this game to go somewhat overlooked tonight. As the highest game total on the board, that would be a mistake. Coby White, Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson stand out to me as the likeliest to put up a slate-breaking score at cost and ownership (NO are susceptible to opposing backcourts and CHI are susceptible to opposing down low big men and the point).