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)!
We have a small, six game slate on deck for Wednesday, with the smallest spread listed at 5.5 points, making it likely we have game environment concerns for most or all of the games on the slate. From a DFS theory perspective, we should lower our exposure to “studs” playing for teams on the wrong side of a blowout, as these are the likeliest players to see their minutes affected by a large loss. From a Game Theory perspective, however, there is credence to leveraging ownership for the case of these players playing a full allotment of minutes (the game in question plays close throughout as opposed to a blowout), particularly on smaller slates.
Ja suffered a sprained ankle in Monday’s overtime victory over the Nets and will miss the next three to five weeks. The Grizzlies are already extremely short-handed and just lost their primary scorer and usage leader, creating a void that will be filled by a few players, primarily Dillon Brooks (31.6% usage), Kyle Anderson (26.0% usage) and Jonas Valanciunas (18.1% usage) considering usage and Tyus Jones considering minutes. Both Anderson and Brooks saw their prices jump significantly, but the Grizzlies are likely to use a tight rotation of eight to nine players due to their massive injury list, with seven to eight of those players playing the majority of the minutes. This lessens the concerns associated with a blowout (currently listed at nine-point dogs against the Celtics), as the primary players will be needed for heavy minutes due to the injuries on the team. Dillon Brooks brings the highest cost-considered floor to the table and is viable in all formats. This is also a situation where I am comfortable playing multiple players from the same team together on a roster.
Jimmy Buckets missed Tuesday’s game against this same Bucks team with an ankle injury and appears likely to miss Wednesday. This would again heighten blowout concerns and decrease the viability of Bucks’ studs. Tyler Herro went off on Tuesday, registering a 23 (9/16)/3/7/1/0 line, but is still a moderate usage player with Butler off the court (22.6% usage), again meaning he is more volatile than the field will think.
Leonard has missed the last two games after taking an elbow to the mouth, which required stitches. Consider him a true game-time decision tonight, which would benefit Paul George (34.2% usage without Kawhi) and Serge Ibaka (28.6% usage without Kawhi) the most. Expect Luke Kennard to see the start in his absence, who is likely to come over-owned respective to his chances at hitting value. Due to the slow combined pace between the Clippers and Trail Blazers, I would limit exposure to Paul George and his massive usage with Kawhi off the court and would have little interest in the Clippers should Kawhi play.
LeBron is currently listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Should he miss, it would likely swing the line significantly towards the Spurs (current line is LAL -5.0) and open up usage for the remaining Lakers. Dennis Schroder benefits the most without LeBron (33.3% usage) and would become the top point per dollar option on the slate priced at only $6,200 on DraftKings.
Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen are extremely low usage players, meaning they should be treated as a high variance fantasy assets. Their ownerships (Jones currently projected as the highest owned player on the slate at 35-40%, Allen top five at 30-32%) are likely to be larger than their chances at hitting GPP-worthy value considering the pace-down nature of the matchup (-5.2 pace differential), high defensive efficiency of Boston (second highest rating this season (114.5) and low usage, creating an interesting ownership leverage fade situation. Although priced higher, both Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson offer higher usage-boosted ranges of outcomes and would be the preferred Game Theory plays.
Basically, all players not named Tyler Herro from the Heat should come in lower owned than they should be, including Goran Dragic (28.3% usage without Butler, over 1.1 PPM), Bam Adebayo (28.1% usage without Butler, 1.2 PPM but likeliest to see minutes reduced in blowout), Precious Achiuwa (24.7% usage without Butler, likely to see increased minutes in a blowout), and Kendrick Nunn (24.7% usage without Butler, likely to see increased minutes in a blowout). Not only are the Heat high leverage plays, but so too is Giannis, who we will discuss below.
Milwaukee just ran Miami off the court yesterday, setting the NBA record for most three-pointers made in a game in NBA history. That headline has been all over the internet and ESPN, which is likely to swing public perception and lower Bucks’ combined ownership. Giannis Antetokounmpo is currently projected for 16-18% ownership. As one of the highest usage players in the NBA (38.2%), that would be a mistake. Not only are three-pointers high variance, but it is extremely difficult to blow a team out in consecutive contests, let alone consecutive days. With the blowout yesterday, Giannis played only 24 minutes and would be back up to 36-37 minutes in a close game. Leveraging against public perception and playing Giannis at low ownership will win more money over time than it will lose!
If I were setting this line, I would have it closer to BKN -9.5, indicating a market misconception. Brooklyn currently rank first in the NBA in defensive efficiency (95.7), Atlanta have some of the worst individual defenders in the league but have started 3-0 on the backs of offensive ability (and a second-ranked offensive efficiency metric), and the Nets will play with a rested Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Trae Young has one of the highest pure usage rates in the league (a large portion of the offense runs through him) and Kyrie is one of the most underrated on-ball defenders at the point guard position. Add it all up and there is a higher-than-perception chance at this game turning into a blowout, which creates solid leverage by fading the studs (DISCLAIMER: this is a high variance play, but one that wins you more money over time than it costs you; when you get a play like this right, you place yourself in position to win a lot of money at once).
On the other side of that argument, both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are currently projected for under 20% ownership, with Trae Young projected for sub 10% ownership, bringing us full circle to the “Macro Slate View” section. IF this game plays close throughout, the high game total and high usage rates of these three is likely to provide ample opportunity for two of them to be among the highest scoring players on the slate from a raw fantasy points perspective. Stacking this game environment by playing one of Durant or Kyrie, paired with Trae, allows us to capture this scenario at low combined ownership. If playing multiple lineups, I would build with each of these scenarios in mind, as it could prove to be the difference-maker of the slate.
This one comes down to understanding NBA rotations, as DeRozan’s usage doesn’t initially pop off the page. Usage-leader LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging only 26 minutes per game for the Spurs, and DeRozan’s usage jumps all the way up to 29.9% with Aldridge off the court. Furthermore, DeRozan and Aldridge typically see very little time on the court together outside of the five to six minutes to start each half due to head coach Gregg Popovich’s rotation. The next highest usage on the team is point guard Dejounte Murray, who will be guarded by one of the best defenders at the point guard position over the last two years in Dennis Schroder. DeRozan is also SF-eligible, which is one of the highest variance positions on the court.
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You can also grab the first five lessons of Hilow’s Game Theory course for FREE.