It’s an eight-game Tuesday in the NBA with the schedule starting to wind down as the end of the regular season draws near. At this time of year, we really need to focus on what every team is playing for, given the playoff and lottery standings. It can be a tricky landscape considering teams are at every point along the motivation spectrum, and the DFS implications become ever more volatile. Let’s look at some of the big plays on this slate and let our NBA Optimizer round out your lineups for FanDuel and DraftKings.
Damian Lillard, vs. Pelicans (FD: $9,000, DK: $9,400)
Projected Points: FD: 47.68, DK: 49.51
This is a high-leverage game in a fight for the fourth seed in the West. Portland is three games up on the Pelicans in the loss column, and we can assume Lillard will see a full complement of minutes. He’s played 36 or more in seven of the last eight games and is averaging 28 points, six assists and four rebounds over the last month. Point guards have shredded New Orleans this season, racking up 5% more scoring and 4% more assists than they do against a league-average defense. With a lot of big money options on the board tonight, Lillard’s ownership rate will likely be modest, but he has tremendous upside.
Quinn Cook, vs. Pacers (FD: $5,300, DK: $5,900)
Projected Points: FD: 27.11, DK: 29
The Warriors are in a bad way right now. Stephen Curry will (likely) miss the first round of the playoffs, while Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson remain out. They’re working with a skeleton crew even assuming they get Draymond Green back. Cook’s been called in to play nearly all of the point guard minutes and has actually seen adequate usage rates in the depleted version of the offense. He’s hit double-digit shots in all of his last six games and is averaging 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in that span. One might look at the recent price increase and think he’s getting too expensive, but that’s missing the forest for the trees. Cook’s increased role is unlike almost anyone else who has gone through a similar transformation in the NBA this late in the season. The plodding Pacers aren’t an ideal matchup, but Cook is coming at solid mid-tier value.
Update: James Harden has been ruled out for rest leading into Tuesday’s game. If you think the Rockets extend Chris Paul and Eric Gordon to anything north of 30 minutes, they both become solid value plays.
Victor Oladipo, vs. Warriors (FD: $8,500, DK: $8,300)
Projected Points: FD: 43.07, DK: 42.63
The Pacers are locked into the playoffs and now are in a fight for the No. 4 seed in the East, giving them a chance at homecourt advantage in the first round. Oladipo has hit something of a fantasy wall in the short term, as compared with his early season run, but remains a viable option on this slate. The Warriors are a vastly different defensive team without Durant, Thompson, and even Curry. Oladipo’s struggles come from a dip in his three-point shooting to a 31% success rate over the last five games, down from 36% over the last two seasons. He isn’t seeing a usage dip, however, so if the shot falls these prices will look like a bargain.
Nick Young, vs. Pacers (FD: $4,800, DK: $4,800)
Projected Points: FD: 24.58, DK: 25.71
This one doesn’t feel that great because of Swaggy P’s volatility, but there’s no denying the opportunity. Much like the case with Quinn Cook, Young has been asked to shoulder a lot of minutes with the Warriors so thin. He’s put up double-digit shots in each of his last seven games and scored 16 or more points in four of them. The problem, of course, that he’s so reliant on putting the ball in the bucket. Among players who’ve scored more than 700 fantasy points this season, Young ranks third in percentage of fantasy production that comes from literal scoring (Troy Daniels and Eric Gordon are above him). That means he’ll see a higher standard deviation if the shot isn’t falling. But the price is in check, and we can safely project high-30s minutes.
LeBron James, vs. Heat (FD: $12,300, DK: $11,600)
Projected Points: FD: 63.1, DK: 64.05
James Harden will almost definitely win the MVP this year, but Lebron is making a real case down the stretch. He’s worked himself to third in player efficiency rating, second in offensive win shares, second in box plus/minus and first in value in over replacement player (VORP). He’s played every game this season and has averaged a triple-double over the last month and change. These are eye-popping numbers even for arguably the best player to ever take to the hardwood. This isn’t a great matchup against a defensively sound Heat team, but we are in somewhat uncharted territory with James. It’s getting awfully tough to fade him at these prices, and Cavaliers are still playing with an eye on playoff seeding.\
Harrison Barnes, vs. Kings (FD: $5,700, DK: $6,300)
Projected Points: FD: 29.96, DK: 30.8
With the Mavericks almost fully in the tank, it can be a bit risky rostering any of them. If you’re going to trust one player, it has to be Barnes, who has seen fantastic usage in the last three games. He’s averaging nearly 20 shots per game and has jacked 21 threes in that span. He’ll get a Kings’ squad ranked 29th in defensive efficiency with no discernible way to improve over the last few games. The pace of this game will be a mind-numbing slog (third and fifth slowest teams in the league), but Barnes still rates as a FanDuel play at a weaker small forward position.
Noah Vonleh, vs. Rockets (FD: $4,400, DK: $4,800)
Projected Points: FD: 22.14, DK: 22.28
This play is a bit speculative and working on the assumption that Lauri Markkanen continues to sit. The Bulls are already coming into the game without Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine and Paul Zipser, while Denzel Valentine is questionable. They are in the tank but also playing shorthanded, and the power forward position is so bad on FanDuel that we’ll likely need to take a chance on a punt play for value. Vonleh has reinvented his fantasy profile since arriving in Chicago from Portland, where he took a major backseat in production to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. For the Bulls, he’s found a shot and is even hitting the glass. Keep an eye out for the Markkanen news, but even as a bench play Vonleh could get the job done if he can hit mid-20s minutes.
Skal Labissiere, vs. Mavericks (FD: $5,300, DK: $5,300)
Projected Points: FD: 26.6, DK: 26.33
Again, power forward could be a potential problem on this slate, especially on FanDuel where rostering two is a chore. And the fact that were considering a King says everything you need to know about the power forward position. Sacramento’s minutes this season have been the thing of predictive nightmares, with players randomly sitting and guys rarely topping the 30-minute mark. Labissiere has seen 25 to 30 minutes in four of the last five games, even with Zach Randolph active. Labissiere is reliably productive on a per-minute basis, and that’s all we can ask for here.
Jusuf Nurkic, vs. Pelicans (FD: $6,900, DK: $6,700)
Projected Points: FD: 33.95, DK: 33.53
Nurkic’s biggest issue on a night-to-night basis has been figuring whether Terry Stotts would leave him on the court for quality minutes, especially in crunch time. There have been effort concerns for the big man, but those look to be subsiding. He’s seen 27 or more minutes in the last four games, with an average 17 points and 11 rebounds in that stretch. Now he faces a Pelicans team that’s about league-average against opposing centers in terms of overall fantasy production, but below average on the glass. I actually like the moderate discount we’re getting on Nurkic considering his recent returns.
DeAndre Jordan, vs. Bucks (FD: $8,000, DK: $8,000)
Projected Points: FD: 39.19, DK: 40.92
The Clippers will likely be on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff field, but their fate isn’t sealed quite yet. Jordan is coming off a terrible outing against the Raptors on Sunday, but has a great bounceback opportunity on Monday against a Bucks defense against that has allowed 6% more scoring and 3% more rebounding than league-average to opposing centers. Their deficiencies are understandable considering they’re running John Henson out there for moderate minutes and even playing Giannis at the five for longer stretches. Jordan should take advantage.