Happy Monday everyone and thanks for checking out my FantasyDraft Core Plays article! We have a pretty large 11-game slate tonight as we round the corner towards the All-Star Break, so let’s dig in and take a look at the four core players I am looking to lock in my lineups tonight. Tonight’s core plays will highlight two guards and two big men that are in great spots. As is the case every time they’re on the slate, guys like Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant are always great options but the purpose of this article is to highlight other plays that we can surround them with.
Jrue Holiday ($16,300)- The first core player to lock in tonight is going to be Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans. Holiday comes in tonight on the heels of several solid outings, including a game in which he put up 58 fantasy points against the Timberwolves on 25 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, and five steals. Holiday has eclipsed 50 fantasy points in five of his last 11 games, including 59.25 fantasy points against this same Suns team on February 6th.
The Suns are allowing the fourth highest opponent field goal percentage on the season to guards (47.3 percent), and are surrendering over 47 fantasy points per game to opposing point guards. Holiday has shot an outstanding 56.2 percent from the field on 16.9 attempts per game over his past 10 games, including 43.8 percent from three.
The Phoenix Suns play at the fourth highest pace in the NBA (101.7) and allow the second most opponent points per game (112.7), so there will be a lot of fantasy value to be had from this contest. Holiday has seen his price increase $2,300 over the past week, but he still offers plenty of upside at his current price tag.
Damian Lillard ($16,000)- Damian Lillard is going to be the second player to build around tonight, as he gets a great home matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. Lillard has now scored 28 points in three straight games, and he will now be relied on even more with the recent injury to Evan Turner and departure of Mason Plumlee.
Without the duo of Plumlee and Turner on the floor, Lillard has posted a massive 40.3 percent usage rate and 1.54 fantasy points per minute this season. To put that usage rate in perspective, only Russell Westbrook has a higher usage rate on the season. Usage rates can be misleading at times from a fantasy perspective, but per NBAWowy.com’s per-36 stats paint a nice picture for Lilliard without Plumlee and Turner; Lillard sees an extra 6.01 FGAs (field goal attempts), and sees an overall increase of 12.45 fantasy points per-36 without that duo. Lillard’s 32.1 percent assist ratio is a hefty increase over his mark for the season (26.7 percent).
The Atlanta Hawks and Dennis Schroder present one of the better PG matchups in the NBA, as they have allowed opposing guards to score over 47 fantasy points per game against them, and are allowing opposing guards to score 54.4 real points against them on the season.
Nerlens Noel ($10,500)- Nerlens Noel makes an excellent core play tonight, as he faces off against the woeful frontcourt in Charlotte. Joel Embiid is going to sit this game out with a meniscus tear and Jahlil Okafor is out due to trade rumors, so Nerlens Noel will find himself starting and shouldering the bulk of center minutes tonight for the 76ers.
The second year center started for the 76ers against Miami in their last game and didn’t disappoint, posting 19 points with three boards, one assist, one block, and four steals in 32 minutes. Noel has struggled at times to see the court this season, but he has been a dependable fantasy asset in the games he has started: in five starts for the 76ers this season, Noel has put up 46, 37.2, 32.5, 22.2, and 33.8 fantasy points.
The Charlotte Hornets present one of the best big man matchups in the NBA this season, allowing 52 fantasy points per game to opposing centers, and allowing opposing centers to pull down 12.6 rebounds per game against them. Noel does the bulk of his scoring within five feet of the basket, where he is shooting 68.1 percent, and the Hornets have posted a woeful 65.2 DFG%(defended field-goal percentage) within six feet of the basket since losing Cody Zeller to a quad injury on January 23rd.
Noel is averaging 1.28 fantasy points per minute as a starter this season, and he averages 1.07 fantasy points per minute in 465 minutes without Embiid and Okafor on the floor. For all the reasons above, Noel will be an incredibly popular pick tonight, but at only $10,500 he offers a substantial amount of value.
Dwight Howard ($13,000)- Dwight Howard is the final core play of the night as he faces off against a Portland team that has been a punching bag for opposing centers all season. The Portland Trail Blazers have surrendered 44.7 rebounds per game to opponents on the season, along with 51.43 fantasy points per game to opposing centers. The Trail Blazers just sent Mason Plumlee – who was averaging 11.1 points per game and eight rebounds per game – off to Denver, so Dwight will be matching up against players like Myers Leonard and Ed Davis tonight.
Dwight Howard currently ranks fourth in the NBA with 12.9 rebounds per game and is averaging 4.2 offensive rebounds per game. Howard has helped turn the Hawks in to the 12th best offensive rebounding team this season, a season after they posted the third worst OREB% in the NBA since 1973-74.
Howard doesn’t soak up a lot of usage for the team, and he only attempts 8.24 shots per game, but he is extremely efficient with the shots he takes. Howard is shooting a career-high 64.4 percent from the field this season, and he is attempting over 80 percent of his shots in the restricted area this season.
Don’t expect Howard to put up the numbers he did last season against the Trail Blazers (40.2, 46, 49.2, and 48.2 fantasy points), but he is underpriced for the upside he possesses in tonight’s matchup against the Trail Blazers.