With tons of pricey options worth spending up for on this slate, punting with Maurice Harkless, who should see an extended role in the absence of Evan Turner, makes all the sense in the world. Check out daily fantasy expert Ricky Sanders’ recommended plays to help you fill out your roster for today’s NBA contests.
James Harden/Eric Gordon, Rockets – If choosing between James Harden and Russell Westbrook on this slate, the decision is incredibly difficult but I lean Harden for a variety of reasons. For one, Harden dominated the Hornets in their only meeting this season to the tune of 40 points (PTS), 15 rebounds (REB) and 10 assists (AST) en route to 79.75 fantasy points. Additionally, the Hornets rank 20th in defensive efficiency against opposing PGs over their last 10 games so the position has been torching them as of late. If using Harden then it makes sense to deploy the correlation play that is Eric Gordon as well. One aspect where the Hornets defense is susceptible is the 20-24 foot range as they allow the seventh highest percentage from that range. Also, they allow the 12th most three-pointers made per game so a long-range shooter like Gordon should excel. When he and Harden are on the court together, expect Harden’s penetration to create open shots from distance so the two should help enhance one another’s final line.
Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers, $15,300 – With LeBron James expected to sit out on Thursday, Kyrie Irving is the easiest play on the board. Playing alongside James, Irving has produced a 26.1-percent usage rate (USG%) whereas that number increases to a whopping 42.1 with James off the court. Furthermore, Irving averages just 1.04 fantasy points per minute (FPPM) playing next to James compared to 1.43 FPPM sans the team’s starting SF. As if that were not enough, the Cavaliers’ opponent, the Thunder, play at the sixth fastest pace in the league. Aside from just the quick pace, the Thunder rank 19th in defensive efficiency against opposing PGs and they have allowed the 12th highest FG percentage to the position too. A sub-$15,500 cost simply is not high enough for a player with a similar USG% to Russell Westbrook (41.7 this year) so take him at the discount and ride him all the way to the bank.
Alternative with Irving resting: C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers
Nicolas Batum, Hornets, $14,000 – So far in the month of February, Nicolas Batum is averaging 32.5 fantasy points per game (FPPG) and Kemba Walker is averaging 24.6 FPPG. This is not a new trend as Batum actually topped Walker on a per-game basis in the month of December as well (40.4-36.4) and yet Walker’s price has consistently remained higher than his. Most of Walker’s value comes from his ability to score so an off shooting night automatically leads to a flop. Batum, on the other hand, is averaging 1.7 three-pointers made (3PM) per game, 7.2 REB per game (RPG), 6.0 AST per game (APG), 1.1 steals per game (SPG) and 0.4 blocks per game (BPG) so he can still produce without scoring much. The Rockets play at the league’s fourth fastest pace so the Hornets should enjoy some additional possessions in this game compared to the norm. As icing on the cake, this game will be played at home where Batum has consistently played better comparatively to one the road since the beginning of last season. If spending up for one Hornets guard, take the one not in an individual matchup against Patrick Beverley and the one averaging more FPPG so far this month: Batum. UPDATE: With Irving and Love likely out now, the Walker/Batum stack is certainly in play as most of the usage runs through the two guards. Even with a difficult individual matchup, Walker certainly possesses 50 fantasy point upside.
Nikola Vucevic, Magic, $14,300 – This is a crazy high price for Nikola Vucevic and yet it is still worth paying solely because of the matchup against the 76ers. Joel Embiid has been ruled out for the at least the next two games which means Jahlil Okafor will be the primary defender against Vucevic for a majority of his time on the court. Here are the last six Cs’ fantasy outputs against the 76ers: Robin Lopez 44 fantasy points, DeMarcus Cousins 75.75 fantasy points, Salah Mejri 42.25 fantasy points, Dewayne Dedmon 33.5 fantasy points, Hassan Whiteside 61 fantasy points and Andre Drummond 47.75 fantasy points. The team is simply getting dominated by the position and Vucevic will head into this game having topped 45 fantasy points in two of his last four games including a 52.75 burger his last time out. Over the course of his last seven games against the 76ers, Vucevic has produced at least 36.75 fantasy points in each and has topped 53 fantasy points in four of those outings. This is simply an elite spot for an upper-echelon C so he is worth the hefty price tag.
Kevin Love, Cavaliers, $16,000 – Other than Irving, Kevin Love of course is the other member of the Cavaliers who gets a gigantic boost without LeBron James because the offense will now run through the team’s other two superstars. With James in the rotation, Love has produced a 24.9 USG% and 1.18 FPPM versus 35.8 USG% and 1.46 FPPM without James. On paper, the matchup against the Thunder is not incredibly easy but the uptick in pace should lead to more rebounding opportunities and offensive possessions. Love disappointed somewhat last night and yet he still finished with a double-double. So far this year, Love is averaging 45.2 FPPG without James so an average performance without the team’s best player would equate to 2.82x value or enough to put a fantasy team on pace for 282 fantasy points. Usage is more important than matchup in this case so start Love with confidence in any and all formats.
Alternative with Love resting: Rudy Gobert, Jazz (especially if Favors sits out the second end of a back-to-back)
Maurice Harkless, Trail Blazers, $7,800 – News broke on Wednesday that Evan Turner will miss the next 4-6 weeks so clearly there are going to be additional minutes available to other healthy players in his absence. Without Turner on the court, Maurice Harkless has played the second most minutes on the team behind only C.J. McCollum whose minutes are already solidified. For those thinking Allen Crabbe should see the biggest boost, he has actually played nearly 300 less minutes sans Turner and only averages 0.58 FPPM without him compared to 0.74 for Harkless. Expect 30-plus minutes from Harkless in a game with a 1.5 point spread and 220.5 over/under. In other words, he should play plenty in a favorable game atmosphere so he should be a lock to exceed value barring a blowout (which is unlikely).
UPDATE: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love may be amongst the resting Cavaliers on Thursday which would make the remaining Cavaliers virtually all viable. Here is the nbawowy on the minutes and fantasy production in the absence of the big three:
As you can see, Kay Felder and Jordan McRae emerge as the best plays on the team as Iman Shumpert is expected to miss as well. If you start cash lineups with those two and Harkless, you should be able to spend up on whatever else you want. Now, Russell Westbrook suddenly emerged as a viable option because both he and Harden can actually be fit into the same lineup without an issue.