Happy Hump Day everyone! There’s a massive 14-game slate tonight due to the shortened week, so there will be a lot of great plays to target on this slate. With all the value that should open up as news breaks, the core recommendations will be players with higher salaries than normal. There were several players that could be used in a core tonight, but this article will highlight two expensive plays and two cheaper plays with great upside. To the plays!
Giannis Antetokounmpo ($19,200)- The Greek Freak comes in as the first core play tonight, as he faces off against the woeful Brooklyn Nets. The Nets not only present the best PG matchup in the entire NBA, they also play at the fastest pace (103.7), allow the most points per game (113.9), and have the fourth worst defensive rating (109.1).
The Bucks themselves have been somewhat of a nightmare recently, allowing 108.8 points per game to opponents over the past 14 games. During that stretch, they have only scored 104.9 points per game, but have shot 47.7% from the field. This game is projected for 220 points – the third highest total on the slate – with only a 5.5-point spread, so Giannis should get his full allotment of minutes tonight.
Without Jabari Parker on the floor this season, Giannis has actually seen a slight dip in production with his usage rate dropping 0.9% to 28.1%, but he is still putting up a modest 1.35 fantasy points per minute without Parker.
Giannis has been an absolute monster this season when driving to the rim, attempting over 68 percent of his shots in the restricted area. The Nets are a bottom-20 team this season when protecting the rim, so Giannis should have plenty of success there tonight. Giannis has averaged 1.5 fantasy points per minute in three games this season against the Nets, and he has a massive amount of upside for both cash games and GPPs.
Kemba Walker ($13,900)- After posting six straight disappointing, the first time All-Star turned things around with a solid outing against the Philadelphia 76ers. In his first five games this February, Walker was shooting 28.4%, but came out firing against the 76ers and shot 55.6% from the field on his way to 29 points and seven assists. Tonight, Walker comes in priced at only $13,900 and is only the 15th most expensive guard option on the slate.
Walker doesn’t get the best of matchups tonight, as he faces off against the Toronto Raptors, but the past 15 games have not been very kind to the struggling team from up north. The Raptors have lost 11 of their last 15 games and have surrendered 104.8 points per game during that stretch. Opposing guards have averaged 46.4 points per game against the Raptors in those 15 games, and they have surrendered 45.45 fantasy points per game to opposing PGs during that stretch.
Walker’s past performances against the Raptors this season have been rather encouraging, as he has scored 67.5 and 51 fantasy points in two games against them. Both of those games took place in Charlotte, so tonight will be the first time he has faced off against the Raptors in Toronto this season. Walker has exhibited some high variance home/road splits in previous seasons, but they have been less severe this season, scoring 40.1 fantasy points at home compared to 37 fantasy points on the road.
Walker has been thrust in to more minutes with the loss of Ramon Sessions, and has averaged 37.1 minutes per game over the last five games, so he should see plenty of time on the court this evening.
Nikola Jokic ($18,300)- Tonight’s matchup between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Denver Nuggets will feature two of the NBA’s best young big-men, including the third core player in Nikola Jokic. According to Statmuse.com, Jokic is one of only three players to average 20+ points per game, 10+ rebounds per game, and 5+ assists since January 1st. The other two are none other than Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins, which is some pretty impressive company to be associated with. Jokic is priced a startling $4,000 less than Westbrook, and $1,800 less than Cousins.
The Denver Nuggets have a pretty significant lack of depth in the frontcourt tonight: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, and Darrell Arthur are all out, and Jusuf Nurkic is in Portland now. Wilson Chandler is questionable with an illness, and it’s still unsure how newly acquired big-man Mason Plumlee will fit in. What that all means is Jokic should be in line for a significant number of minutes against the Timberwolves tonight.
The Serbian phenom posts an impressive 1.40 fantasy points per minute with a 26.3% usage rate when Faried, Gallinari, and Nurkic aren’t on the floor, and that number increases to a massive 1.72 fantasy points per minute if you take Chandler and Mudiay (also questionable) off the floor as well.
Tonight’s matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves isn’t the best on paper, but it is a matchup that Jokic and other high-usage centers have had success in this season. In the first three matchups against the Timberwolves this season, Jokic has averaged only 25.3 minutes per game but has managed to average 35 fantasy points in those limited minutes. All three of those games featured a full-strength Nuggets squad, so the opportunity for a huge game tonight is there.
The Timberwolves have allowed a league-leading 34.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game to opposing centers this season, meaning Jokic is in a prime position tonight to pay off his salary.
Dario Saric ($11,500)- The fourth and final core player to lock in tonight is Dario Saric. The Croatian rookie has been a driving force in the success of the 76ers since the team lost Joel Embiid to a meniscus tear, and Saric is in a great spot tonight against a Celtics squad that has struggled on the defensive end of the court this season. The Celtics are allowing 106.2 point per possession on the season, and have allowed 108.9 points per game since Avery Bradley went down with an injury on January 17th.
Saric notched his fifth double-double on the season with an 18 point and 11 rebound effort against Charlotte on Monday, and he has averaged 20.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in the last four games. Some of that improvement can be attributed the absence of Jahlil Okafor, who has sat the last two games, but Saric has also been the beneficiary of Joel Embiid’s absence the last 10 games. Okafor has joined the team in Boston and is listed as questionable for tonight’s game, but it is unlikely he plays as the team continues to seek a trade partner for him. Saric has seen a 3.3 percent increase in usage without the duo of Embiid and Okafor on the court, and has averaged 1.01 fantasy points per minute without that duo on the court the last 10 games.
The Celtics and 76ers have faced off twice already this season, with Boston taking a 2-0 lead in the season series, but Philadelphia has kept it close in both games (Embiid sat out one of those games). In the first contest, the Celtics outscored the 76ers 107-106, and Saric took advantage of Embiid’s absence by putting up 21 points with 11 boards in 27 minutes. Joel Embiid played in the second game between these two teams, and Philadelphia lost 111-106. As expected, Saric struggled in that game, only scoring eight points with six boards in 23 minutes.
Saric has seen his price climb $3,400 over the past three games, but he has averaged 40.25 fantasy points per game and exceeded 3x his current salary in three straight games.
Good luck with your lineups tonight, find me on Twitter @BrentHeiden1, and check out our great NBA content at DFSDatalytics.com!