1100x400_ImpactPercentage

Impact Percentage: A New NBA Fingerprint

No two teams in the NBA are alike when it comes to the mixture of player tendencies, lineup combinations and styles of play. One metric that tells a story of player involvement (and furthermore, can serve as a team’s fingerprint) is usage percentage. This estimates the portion of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. In other words, it shows us how often a player ends his team’s possessions. Players like Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, and DeMar DeRozan currently lead the league in usage percentage.

Using our revolutionary STATS SportVU data, we have recently developed an improvement upon traditional usage percentage. Now, not only can we tell how frequently a player terminates a possession (with a FGA, FTA, or Turnover), but we can also quantify how often they impact a possession (with a drive, a ball screen, an isolation or a post up). We’ve appropriately named this value impact percentage.

Why is this valuable? Consider players like Goran Dragic and Mike Conley, who rank 38th and 49th, respectively, in usage. Although a glance at these numbers might persuade one to think that these two aren’t chief possession-influencers, they are both among the top 10 in the league in impact percentage.

This new statistic was mentioned in ESPN the Magazine’s newest analytics issue, which hit the stands on March 17. Today, we are going to use it to analyze Monday’s matchup between Oklahoma City and Golden State.

As mentioned earlier, Russell Westbrook leads the NBA in usage percentage – but he also sits at the top of the leaderboard in impact percentage. When you look at OKC exclusively, no one comes close to the amount of impact that Westbrook has on their possessions.

ImpactPercentage

Usage plays a part here, but when you break down OKC’s SportVU plays – drives, isolations, post ups, and ball screens – it’s evident that these are where the bulk of Westbrook’s impact lies. Westbrook accounts for over 51 impactful plays per game on average. The next closest Thunder player is Victor Oladipo at 16.

ImpactPlays_OKC

Let’s talk about variability. In statistics, standard deviation measures how spread out a distribution is. A low standard deviation tells us that most of the numbers in a sample are close to the sample’s average – in other words, there isn’t much spread. A high standard deviation tells us that the numbers are more scattered. Unsurprisingly, due to Westbrook’s outlandish numbers, OKC has a very high standard deviation when considering impact percentage.

The Thunder’s standard deviation comes to a whopping 15 percent. In comparison, Golden State, before Kevin Durant’s MCL sprain on February 28th, had a standard deviation of 8 percent.

ImpactPercentage_standard-deviation

The biggest and most obvious takeaway here is that these are two completely diverse teams when it comes to how the ball is facilitated, and further, who the offense revolves around. Yet, a deeper dive into the Warriors’ Impact numbers reveals that they’ve had to adjust their strategy in KD’s recent absence.

ImpactPercentage_KD-Table

Steph Curry’s impact percentage has increased from an already team-leading 49 percent to an even higher 55 percent while Klay Thompson’s has shot from 31 to 37. This is all expected. What’s more compelling, though, is how a guy like Ian Clark is doing exponentially more with his limited minutes.

In his first eight games* since Durant’s injury, Clark has nearly doubled his ball screen usage (2.6 to 4.8 per game) and increased his drives (1.2 to 1.9 per game). On top of that, his minutes slightly decreased – even with him playing 34 minutes March 11 against the Spurs as Steve Kerr rested all his stars.

It’s important to mention that impact percentage is not necessarily a reflection of efficiency. Just because a player is influencing his on-court possessions doesn’t mean that he’s influencing them positively. It’s no secret that the Warriors are struggling to fill Durant’s shoes, especially when it comes to productivity – but it does appear as if guys are at least stepping up to the challenge and getting involved.

With all of this in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how OKC handles a Golden State team that finally seems to be adjusting to Durant’s absence.

*all numbers are as of 3/17/17

Photo By: AP Photo/Alonzo Adams
Illustration By: STATS/Andrew Skweres

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Cavs’ Korver lights up league with historic February

The most impactful trade made in the NBA in 2017 didn’t take place on deadline day. Or during the week of the deadline. Or even in the same month.

Kyle Korver became a Cavalier just a week into January, joining Cleveland for the 1-3 conclusion of a .500 West Coast trip in a month that seemed to see the NBA champions transition from slight hangover to full-on malaise. The Cavs’ 7-8 mark in the first 31 days of 2017 was LeBron James’ first losing month as an NBA player since February 2006.

Korver arrived three weeks after J.R. Smith went down with a fractured thumb, but the beginning of his 2017 looked a lot like the end of Smith’s 2016 – underwhelming. He shot 40.7 percent from 3 in his first 11 games with Cleveland after shooting 40.9 percent in his last 32 with Atlanta, and suddenly a guy who was a 45-percent marksman from downtown over the previous seven seasons seemed to be looking very much like a 35-year-old on the decline. Remember how mediocre the Cavs were in January? They were still plus-3.8 per 100 possessions when Korver sat. They were a minus-9.5 when he played.

Shooters go through slumps all the time, but we seemed to be heading toward enough of a sample to see that Korver’s best days were, in fact, behind him. So, naturally, he responded with one of the best months for a shooter since the 3-point line was introduced. And the man who was largely responsible for it had one of the best months of his illustrious career.

Korver had four 20-point games in February, exactly twice as many as he’d put up over his previous season and a half combined, but a few big nights only tell the beginning of the story. Korver shot 58.9 percent from 3-point range in February on 73 attempts, a connection rate no player to take that many 3s has topped in a single month since 1985-86. If we lower our minimum standard to 50 attempts, it’s still a 3-point percentage no one has topped in one month in 15 years.

MON YR PLAYER 3PM 3PA PCT3
Mar 2002 Eric Piatkowski, LAC 33 55 .600
Feb
2017
Kyle Korver, Cle
43
73
.589
Mar 2016 Josh Richardson, Mia 33 56 .589
Nov 1988 Trent Tucker, NY 30 51 .588
Feb 1990 Craig Hodges, Chi 31 53 .585

So, what caused Korver to suddenly remember he’s one of the best 3-point shooters who’s ever played basketball? It’s hard to say. Korver played 187 minutes with James in January and Cleveland was outscored by 66 points – the worst two-man combination on the team (Korver was plus-8 in 79 minutes without James). Let’s flip to February. James and Korver together? Plus-68 in 190 minutes, the best two-man unit on the team (Korver was minus-5 in 114 minutes without James).

That’s a pretty stark difference. But consider this: the Cavs rarely had time to practice after acquiring Korver. He spent four and a half seasons as a major focal point in an Atlanta motion offense that worked to get him open looks off of screens. When you think of those first 11 games as his indoctrination into a new system, it starts to make more sense. As teammate Channing Frye – himself a Cavaliers deadline acquisition a year ago – told Fansided just before February began, joining a new team isn’t just an adjustment for the player but for his teammates as well.

“That just takes time, man,” Frye said. “Whenever someone goes out or comes in, it’s weird to kind of get your rhythm. What works? How much do I work out? Who am I going in with? When am I going in? What are the plays I’m going to play?”

Korver immediately got more open looks in Cleveland than he did in Atlanta. With the Hawks this season, 67.1 percent of his 3-point attempts were deemed either open (nearest defender 4-6 feet) or wide open (6+ feet). That percentage ticked up to 74.1 with the Cavs in January, when Korver shot 16 of 40 (40 percent) on those looks. Almost all (87 percent) of his 3s were of the catch-and-shoot variety.

He got slightly more open/wide open looks in February (75.3 percent), and he rarely missed. Korver was 34 of 55 (61.9 percent) on those shots, and when you single out the wide-open looks he shot a startling 72.0 percent. What changed? For one, he wasn’t catching and firing all the time. This time, one in five of his 3-point attempts came after taking a dribble, perhaps an indicator of being more comfortable in his new surroundings and not feeling the need to let it fly upon the catch.

That’s not to say Korver isn’t still happy to come off a screen and unload. Darting right off a brush screen to drill a 3 from the top of the left wing remains Korver’s most common shot.

His most, effective, though, comes from the left corner. Korver’s 17 of 25 from that spot since joining the Cavs.

Let’s get back to James for a second. Fifty-eight of Korver’s 61 field goals in February were assisted, and a team-high 26 of those were off feeds from James. Korver went 19 of 28 from 3 on passes he received from James last month, and you better believe that’s a combination that will terrorize opposing coaches come playoff time – particularly because most of those Korver/James minutes comes against second units. You can see below where James expects Korver to be, and it’s a safe bet that wherever Korver sets up, James can be found on the opposite side of the floor.

Korver

Playing on a team with a player who sees the floor the way James does is almost certainly a dream for Korver, but that can go both ways. James has played with some terrific shooters in his career – Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Damon Jones, and at least for a time, Mo Williams and Boobie Gibson – but statistically Korver is by far the best.

And that was reflected in James’ play in February. The 25.9/10.6/7.2 line for a month is good but hardly spectacular by James standards, but the efficiency with which he got there is something the league has almost never seen. Prior to February, there were three players since ’85-’86 to shoot 60 percent overall and 55 percent from 3 (min. 20 attempts) in a single month. Now, there are five after James posted the only month in his career in which he topped 50 percent from long distance (perhaps we should have seen this coming after this shot went in).

NBA, .600+ FG Pct and .550+ 3PT Pct in a Single Month – Since 1985-86 (minimum 100 FGA)

MON YR PLAYER FGM FGA FG_PCT 3PM 3PA PCT3
Feb
2017
Kyle Korver, Atl-Cle
61
101
.604
43
73
.589
Feb
2017
LeBron James, Cle
100
157
.637
21
37
.568
Nov 1995 Arvydas Sabonis, Por 68 105 .648 15 26 .577
Jan 1995 John Stockton, Uta 80 126 .635 20 36 .556
Mar 1986 Brad Davis, Dal 68 113 .602 14 24 .583

The Cavs have won 11 of 15 since James’ Jan. 23 plea for help to Cleveland’s front office, imploring GM David Griffin that the team needs a playmaker. There’s assistance on the way in the form of Deron Williams, enforcement in the form of Andrew Bogut, and the eventual returns of J.R. Smith and Kevin Love should serve as a pre-playoff boost to an already impressive array of shooters.

But James already had been given the piece that could make a difference between a successful title defense and being outmatched by the Warriors come June. He just needed some time to find out.

Brett Huston is a Senior Editor at STATS LLC. Contact him at bhuston@stats.comor on Twitter @BHuston_STATS.

Photo By: AP Photo/Nick Wass
Illustration By: STATS/Andrew Skweres

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Kingdom of Kevin: Why Durant is the NBA’s first-half MVP

If it seems like a basketball lifetime ago that Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all shared the same hardwood, that’s because it was.

It’ll be five years this June since one of the most talented Big 3s we’ve ever seen disbanded before the NBA would truly grasp the potential that Oklahoma City trio had, none having reached his 24th birthday prior to getting the little brother treatment from LeBron James and friends in the 2012 Finals. Harden was shipped to Houston before the following season began, and after four years of not quite getting over the hump together, the Durant/Westbrook duo broke up with the former’s decision to bolt for the Bay Area.

Each finally has a franchise to pilot on his own, and in the case of Westbrook and Harden, that’s being taken quite literally. Jilted at the altar by Durant, Westbrook has channeled his manic on-court energy into a one-man show the league has rarely seen. His 41.1 usage rate is the highest since the league started keeping track in 1997-98 – Michael Jordan’s swan song from relevant hoopdom (sorry, Wizards). The season Kobe averaged 35 for a mediocre Lakers team? The era of Iverson’s “practice” rant? Both positively passive compared to what Russ is doing.

Harden is just three spots behind, using 34.3 percent of the Rockets’ possessions while leading the league in minutes. As he continues to rack up assists in his new role as Houston’s point guard, Harden has touched the ball 5,730 times this season. Only Westbrook (5,504) is within 1,000.

Either has a perfectly good case as the league’s MVP. Westbrook has kept the Thunder firmly in the Western Conference playoff picture by himself. He’s averaging a triple-double. He’s pulling down basically the same number of rebounds per night as DeMarcus Cousins while carrying a team that scores 106.6 points per 100 possession with him on the court and just 97.2 – think last season’s 10-72 Sixers level – when he’s on the bench.

Prior to New Year’s Eve, no player in NBA history had recorded a 50-point triple-double. Before the end of January, Harden had done it twice. Until 2016-17, there had been five seasons in NBA history where a player had averaged double figures in both assists and free-throw attempts – all by Oscar Robertson in the 60s. Westbrook and Harden are on pace to give the Big O company for the first time in a half century.

And neither should be the NBA’s midseason MVP.

Durant left a good situation in Oklahoma City for a historically great one in Golden State, and while there’s not going to be a follow-up 73-win season for the Warriors, make no mistake – this is a better team than the regular-season juggernaut of 2015-16. They’ve been 12.6 points better than their opponents per 100 possessions, a full point above last year’s 9-loss squad and 3.6 ahead of the league’s next-best team (San Antonio) this season. For as incredible as Golden State was last season, the Spurs had a better point differential.

It wouldn’t have taken a fortune teller to figure out that Durant would score less for the Dubs than he did with the Thunder, but he’s still leading Golden State by averaging 25.8 points – just 2.4 fewer than he did last season on 2.2 fewer shots. Durant is producing 1.52 points per field-goal attempt, second best in the league other than the DeAndre Jordan/Rudy Gobert/Dwight Howard troika which rarely takes a shot outside the restricted area.

Who’s the only one ahead of Durant? That would be Harden (1.55), but the Rockets’ star is getting there with a 52.5 effective field-goal percentage. Durant’s at 59.5. His true shooting percentage of 65.2 is the best of his career, better than any non-big other than the Wizards’ Otto Porter.

Durant’s shooting 37.4 percent from 3-point range, which while far from a bad number is his lowest since 2010-11. But consider what he’s doing from inside the arc. As NBA.com’s John Schumann points out, he’s finishing at an elite level both inside the paint and from mid range.

Schumann_graphic

What Durant has done when he drives to the basket separates him from any MVP candidate, LeBron James included. Seventy-five players in the league have driven toward the hoop at least 200 times. The only player scoring more than one point per drive is Durant, and he’s nearly a full quarter of a point (1.14) ahead of No. 2 Tobias Harris. Last season, no one was higher than 0.88 per drive – Durant himself.

Perhaps an even better measure is team points per drive, which takes into account more than just the individual’s finishes. Durant’s head and shoulders above the rest of the league here, too, with a top eight that’s basically a who’s who of NBA megastars.

Drives Team Points Per Drive
1. Kevin Durant (GSW)
235
1.55
2. Chris Paul (LAC) 212 1.36
3. LeBron James (CLE) 490 1.35
4. James Harden (HOU) 628 1.32
5. Stephen Curry (GSW) 336 1.32
6. DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 520 1.31
7. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 565 1.30
8. Jimmy Butler (CHI) 473 1.29

In the two years STATS SportVU data on drives has been fully available, the top finishers were Harden (1.37 in 2014-15) and Curry (1.38 in 2015-16).

Durant is shooting 72.4 percent when meeting resistance at the rim, tops in the league among 108 players with at least 100 contested field goals. Finishing in the restricted area overall? 78.1 percent, 2.7 above LeBron James at No. 2 and miles better than any big (Howard, Jordan, Whiteside, et al) who makes his living inside the few feet around the basket.

It only seemed logical that moving to Golden State’s ball-movement favoring, constant motion offense and leaving behind Oklahoma City’s ISO-heavy sets would decrease Durant’s need to create by himself once a play breaks down. And it has. Durant had the seventh-most ISOs in the league last season, going at his defender 1-on-1 on 9.2 percent of his possessions. That percentage is down to 6.8 with the Warriors – 19th in the NBA – but he’s been even a tick more effective, scoring 1.00 points per ISO after putting up 0.99 with the Thunder. Westbrook (0.90) and Harden (0.88), who ranked first and fourth in total ISOs, are considerably behind.

They’re not as far back of Durant there as they are in transition, however. Let’s start by pointing out that the three teams we’re looking at are the three who most frequent the fast break. Let’s continue by mentioning that there are 36 players in the league, as of the All-Star break, to attempt at least 100 field goals in transition. Durant happens to cash in more often than any of them, averaging 1.34 points per transition bucket while Westbrook (0.99) and Harden (0.97) sit at 31st and 32nd. Part of the reason? Durant rarely coughs up the basketball.

Transition turnover percentage Rank (out of 36 qualifiers)
Durant
9.4
25th
Westbrook 21.1 2nd
Harden 29.2 1st

Neither Durant, Westbrook nor Harden has the reputation as a lockdown defender, and it’s still difficult to find a reliable all-encompassing defensive statistic to go by. ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus, measured in net point differential over 100 offensive and defensive possessions while adjusting for teammates and opponents, has Durant ninth among small forwards (1.89), Westbrook 19th among point guards (-0.09) and Harden 72nd among shooting guards (-1.72), a position he doesn’t even really play. A lot of noise there, too hard to draw a huge conclusion.

But remember how effective Durant is when he drives to the basket? He’s been nearly as good when he’s the one defending the drive. Last season, of the 126 players to stand in front of at least 200 drives, Durant ranked 106th while allowing 1.22 team points per drive. As we inch toward the three-quarters mark of the 2016-17 season, let’s use 150 as a minimum threshold. With the Warriors, Durant is seventh of 117 qualifiers at 1.04.

That’s just one example, but Durant has taken on the challenge of protecting the rim after going from a team that had multiple great defensive options inside to one without any particularly good ones. His 1.7 blocks per game and easily a career best and he’s accounted for 36.4 percent of the Warriors’ blocks overall. He’s defending slightly more post plays per game than he did in OKC and he’s doing it well. Durant’s limiting the player posting him up to 0.40 points per post, ninth best in the NBA of the 60 players to defend at least 75. And consider the company. Marc Gasol is giving up the exact same number. Teammate Draymond Green is at 0.41. Likely defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert is at 0.59. Does that mean Durant is a defender on par with those three overall? No. He’s had roughly two-thirds of the amount of post-up defensive opportunities as Gasol, Green and Gobert. But does it mean Durant can hold his own on key possessions down low against the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and James come late May? Quite possibly.

Consider one other part of his game that doesn’t get a ton of credit. The Warriors are the league’s third-best team from behind the 3-point arc, shooting 38.8 percent. Golden State is shooting 41.2 percent on 3s off passes from Draymond Green, 39.9 percent from Curry and 37.7 percent from Andre Iguodala, their first-, second- and fourth-ranked assisters overall. On passes from Durant, they’re shooting 47.9 percent. Curry’s percentage on passes from other Warriors is 40.3, and on Durant dishes it kicks up to 49.5. Klay Thompson goes from a 41.7 percent shooter from deep on passes from non-KD teammates to a 53.7 deadeye when firing off a feed from No. 35.

Westbrook and Harden have been fantastic this season, the NBA’s two most overwhelming forces lifting what are likely lottery teams without them to playoff squads (and, in Houston’s case, home-court advantage) with them. But Westbrook has the ball in his hands more than a quarter of the time he’s on the floor. Harden’s a smidge under the 25 percent mark.

Sure, that’s their job. Ball dominance shouldn’t preclude a player from being the league’s MVP. But Durant is finding a way to take over games while having the ball in his hands just 7.5 percent of the 34 minutes a night he plays. He’s been the best player on a team with the two-time reigning MVP, a team that’s statistically even better than last season’s regular-season behemoth.

Durant won’t lead the league in scoring, rebounding or assists and he won’t turn in lines every night that would make Oscar Robertson blush. The Warriors don’t need him to. What they do need from Durant has been delivered on a higher plane than any other player in the league. And that’s why he’s the NBA’s midseason MVP.

Brett Huston is a Senior Editor at STATS LLC. Contact him at bhuston@stats.com or on Twitter at @BHuston_STATS.

Photos By: AP Photo/George Bridges/Sue Ogrocki/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Illustration By: STATS/Andrew Skweres

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Al Horford’s Usage and Impact in Year One with the Celtics

With rumors starting to swirl around the Celtics, particularly as peak trade season approaches and January 15 rolls around enabling the team to move Tyler Zeller’s tradeable $8 million expiring contract, now is an appropriate time to analyze the big splash Boston made over the summer when they signed Al Horford. The Celtics are utilizing Horford’s wide range of skills in almost every capacity possible for a big man in today’s NBA game, and as a result his passing ability is being showcased more than it ever has been in his 9-year career. Averaging 69.0 touches per game, his highest since his 64.2 average in 2013-14, has led to him being a primary ballhandler on plenty of half court possessions:

Horford grabs a defensive rebound, dribbles the ball up the court, and finds Jae Crowder for the easy layup. This play is a result of the improvisation encouraged by Brad Steven’s motion offense. Watch Crowder cleverly lose Paul George by acting like he’s going to use Isaiah Thomas’ pin down screen and instead cut back door. It’s not just the Celtic guards who thrive on cuts and off ball screens though, with Al Horford heaping praise on Amir Johnson’s off ball movement after being asked on Chis Mannix’s recent Vertical podcast about which teammate he had developed the most chemistry with thus far.

Quirks like this in Boston’s offense, with a point guard setting a back screen for a forward, cause confusion for defenders like Josh Richardson who find themselves in unfamiliar situations. Horford’s ability to allow primary ball handlers to work off the ball and make the right read is a big reason why he leads all Centers in both potential assists (9.2) and assists per game (4.9).  In fact, we haven’t seen a Center put up passing numbers like that since Joakim Noah’s bid for MVP in the 2013-2014 season when he averaged 10.2 and 5.4 per game in those respective categories, though he did so on far more touches and passes.

Individual Year Per Game Passing Statistics for Centers: 2013-2016*

Season Player Name Team Pos G Assists Potential Assists Points Created FT Aassists Secondary Assists Passes Touches
2013-14 Joakim Noah Chi C 80 5.4 (1) 10.2 (1) 12.4 (1) 0.6 (1) 0.6 (22) 67.4 (1) 83.8 (1)
2016-17 Al Horford Bos C 28 4.9 (2) 9.1 (2) 12 (2) 0.4 (10) 0.8 (9) 51.5 (4) 69.5 (6)
2014-15 Joakim Noah Chi C 67 4.7 (3) 8.9 (4) 10.9 (3) 0.4 (8) 0.7 (18) 57 (2) 68.7 (8)
2016-17 Mason Plumlee Por C 40 4.3 (4) 8.2 (5) 10.3 (5) 0.6 (2) 0.5 (47) 39.4 (39) 53 (40)
2016-17 Marc Gasol Mem C 38 4.1 (5) 9 (3) 10.3 (4) 0.5 (3) 0.8 (8) 50.3 (7) 73 (4)

Potential Assists: Any pass that leads to a shot where the shooter takes the shot in 2 or less seconds or 1 or less dribbles
Points Created: Points created off a player’s assists and free throw assists
Secondary Assists: Passes made by a player to the player who earned an assist. Assister required to have the ball for less than 4 seconds and less than 2 dribbles for passer to earn a secondary assist

*Rank relative to all Centers from 2013 to 2016 in parenthesis

 

In addition to the points that Horford generates organically in half court sets, Boston often involves Horford in actions to magnify the effect he can have on the game. Stevens frequently refers to how he wants to utilize the post to initiate offense, but until this season he didn’t have a post player that had the vision of Horford. Of the 30 Centers that have posted up at least 40 times this season, Horford is 1st in assist rate at 10.4% and 2nd in secondary assist rate at 3.7% because of his ability to pass out of the post:

Horford receives the double team and has the vision to find Crowder in the weak side corner where he subsequently makes the extra pass to Isaiah Thomas. Giving up an open three to “the little guy”, as Tommy Heinsohn regularly grumbles during telecasts, is the worst possible outcome for the Pacers in crunch time: Thomas recently usurped Russell Westbrook as the NBA’s leader in 4th quarter scoring this season.

Similar to his work in the post, Horford leads all Centers who’ve set at least 200 screens in assist rate at 4.0%. The Celtics average 1.31 points on possessions where Horford screens and pops, second only to Nikola Jokic on such possessions, because defenders have to respect Horford’s variety of playmaking abilities.

Al Jefferson would have a difficult enough time recovering to the perimeter if he only had to worry about Horford shooting a 3, but Horford’s unique ability to handle the ball at the center position results in a blow by after Jefferson closes out too hard. Stevens loves to space the floor with shooters at all five positions, which is why the Celtics are trailing only the Rockets in catch and shoot 3 point attempts this season and why Horford has the option to dish to either Jerebko or Bradley after attracting 3 Pacer defenders in the paint.

As the Celtics continue their quest to add another superstar, it’s important to remember that this team has already added one star in the offseason, and they’ve integrated him in a way that has led to career numbers and a team vying for the 2 spot in the East. Were Boston to add one more complementary player to the mix, the expectations for Boston will reach their highest yet of the Brad Stevens era.

Photo By: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

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STATS NBA DFS Preview: Westbrook Wednesday

Tonight’s slate is a bit smaller than the typical Wednesday slate. It’s bereft of super-duper stars, with guys like James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Durant all off tonight. This makes Russell Westbrook an obvious must-play, and hopefully this piece can help you find the value “scrubs” to put next to him in your “stars and scrubs” style lineup. Remember that all value that is discussed is based on Fanduel’s scoring and pricing. I try to highlight all injuries and some backup plans, but please be aware that surprise news WILL come out before or after lock. Good luck and enjoy the slate of the season!

Sacramento Kings at Philadelphia 76ers

Sacramento:

  • Cash and GPP: none
  • GPP only: Demarcus Cousins
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: none

Philadelphia:

  • Cash and GPP: Sergio Rodriguez
  • GPP only: Robert Covington
  • Fade: Joel Embiid
  • Injuries: Jerryd Bayless (out)

Sacramento Roundup: The spread isn’t huge, playing at Philadelphia with Embiid active, so there’s much less blowout risk than the typical 76ers game. Neither team in this matchup defends, but Sacramento plays at a slow pace, which makes this a middle-of-the-road game in terms of expected points. Cousins’ high usage makes him a constantly decent option, but I’d look elsewhere in cash today with his price adjusted up near $11k. Rudy Gay is in play – I prefer him to the more expensive Carmelo, but also prefer the much cheaper Wiggins and Otto Porter. Nobody else is relevant in a large slate: Barnes is productive but doesn’t have typical “bench blowout upside”, Collison isn’t as productive as similarly priced Schroder and Rubio, and Afflalo doesn’t put up stats.

Philadelphia Roundup: Sacramento doesn’t play defense, but their slow pace makes this more of a neutral matchup than a good one. Without a plus matchup, 76ers players are typically not recommended plays. The only recommended cash option is Sergio Rodriguez, who is the best bet to play close to 30 minutes and is the best PG you can get for well under $5k. Covington is always a GPP threat, especially as he’s been hot recently and re-earned his playing time. I would fade Embiid today – his minutes limit caps his upside, and there is enough other center value today (Lopez, Turner, Gasol to name a few).

Memphis Grizzlies at Toronto Raptors

Memphis:

  • Cash and GPP: Jamychal Green, Tony Allen, Troy Williams, Marc Gasol
  • GPP only: Wade Baldwin
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: Mike Conley (out), James Ennis (out), Chandler Parsons (out), Vince Carter (out), Zach Randolph (doubtful)

Toronto:

  • Cash and GPP: none
  • GPP only: Kyle Lowry
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: none

Memphis Roundup: Memphis is decimated, down to 9 available rotation players, only 5 of whom are always in the rotation. The fact they’ll struggle to crack 90 points doesn’t matter when that 90 is distributed to only a few guys. Those few are all viable plays today. The three best values are Jamychal Green, Tony Allen, and Troy Williams, who should all play 30 or so minutes out of necessity and are all good bets for 20+ FDP at near-minimum prices. Marc Gasol is also a great cash play, projected for 37 FDP at just $7k (Drummond is projected for 38 FDP at $8.1k). Wade Baldwin is an intriguing GPP play to me – he isn’t guaranteed more than 12-15 minutes, but he averages 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals per 36 minutes and could go off if he absorbs a lot of Conley’s minutes.

Toronto Roundup: Memphis is the 3rd slowest team in the league, limiting Toronto’s upside in a game they should win. Memphis is also without half of its usual rotation, which means there’s serious blowout potential. A low scoring blowout would be a disaster, so no Toronto players are comfortable cash options. Lowry is a decent GPP option with Mike Conley out – it’s neck and neck between him and Isaiah Thomas for which PG below $8.5k is ranked higher. Derozan has almost become a constant GPP option, but it’s not a great matchup against Tony Allen, and he’s expensive.

Detroit Pistons at Boston Celtics

Detroit:

  • Cash and GPP: Tobias Harris
  • GPP only: Andre Drummond
  • Fade: everybody else
  • Injuries: none

Boston:

  • Cash and GPP: none
  • GPP only: Isaiah Thomas
  • Fade: Al Horford
  • Injuries: Al Horford (probable)

Detroit Roundup: Boston has really tightened up their defense with Crowder and Horford in the lineup, and they’re no longer a defense to target in DFS. In a large slate, coming off a back-to-back, and without a great matchup, guys like KCP, Morris, and Ish Smith aren’t in play. Drummond is a GPP option, as he should have the freshest legs on the team after being ejected early last night, but he’s not as good of a value as Gasol or Turner at center. Tobias Harris is the best play on the team – he has played 33 minutes or more in 7 of their last 10 games and has averaged 39 minutes in the last 3 second legs of back-to-backs. He’s a good bet for somewhere around 25-30 FDP, making him a no-brainer play tonight at $5.3k.

Boston Roundup: Detroit has displayed a top-5 defense and a bottom-5 pace, so nobody on Boston sticks out as value. Isaiah is a decent play at PG, but primarily just in GPPs if you want to fade Russ or something (don’t do that in cash). I’d stay away from Horford, who is more expensive than Turner and Gasol with fewer projected FDP. Crowder and Bradley are both alright plays, I guess, but both have players at their position ranked higher for cheaper, such as Zach Lavine and Mo Harkless.

Washington Wizards at Oklahoma City Thunder

Washington:

  • Cash and GPP: Otto Porter
  • GPP only: John Wall, Markieff Morris
  • Fade: Bradley Beal
  • Injuries: Ian Mahinmi (questionable)

Oklahoma City:

  • Cash and GPP: Russell Westbrook
  • GPP only: Enes Kanter
  • Fade: Victor Oladipo
  • Injuries: none

Washington Roundup: Oklahoma City plays a fast pace and mediocre defense, so nobody on Washington is a horrible play, but nobody sticks out as great value, either. John Wall is the #2 PG behind Westbrook tonight, but you should just spend money on Westbrook. Otto Porter isn’t the type of player who should be “shut down” by Andre Roberson – he does his work without the ball, so he’s a decent option at SF (he and Wiggins are the two best cheap options). At PF, I prefer cheaper Jamychal Green or more expensive Tobias Harris to Markieff, but he’s always a GPP option playing 30+ minutes and costing less than $5k. Beal is the worst value of the bunch, as his price has been adjusted up to $7k after his recent hot shooting. His floor is too low for that price.

Oklahoma City: The matchup is fine, and Harden and AD are off tonight, so Westbrook is a no-brainer to build your team around. He may relish the matchup against Wall and be even more possessed than usual. Russ’s usage is so high, of course, that it’s tough to trust any of his teammates. At SG, I prefer Booker and Lavine to Oladipo at his price. Kanter is a per minute beast and played 28 minutes last game, so he’s a GPP option, but he also averaged just 19 minutes in the previous 4 games, so he’s not a cash option. You can do better than Adams at center tonight.

New York Knicks at Minnesota Timberwolves

New York:

  • Cash and GPP: Kristaps Porzingis
  • GPP only: Carmelo Anthony
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: Joakim Noah (questionable)

Minnesota:

  • Cash and GPP: Zach Lavine, Andrew Wiggins
  • GPP only: Karl-Anthony Towns
  • Fade: Ricky Rubio
  • Injuries: none

New York Roundup: This should be a high scoring game, as neither team plays defense. Porizingis has passed Carmelo as the top Knicks’ DFS option, and you can never go wrong with him in lineups. Towns has surprisingly struggled to defend opposing centers, and Porzingis should get some minutes at Center, so an outburst is certainly possible. He’s neck and neck with Millsap for top PF (at the same price) tonight. Melo is also always an option – tonight I’d rather go more expensive with Jimmy Butler in a nice matchup, or cheaper with his counterpart Wiggins. There’s enough PG value to avoid using Rose tonight. No other Knick is interesting – even if Joakim Noah sits, O’Quinn and Hernangomez cancel each other out by playing around 20 minutes each.

Minnesota Roundup: The Knicks currently have a bottom 5 defense, and it’s been a team effort, with each position yielding average to above average production. Wiggins and Lavine both play 40 minutes most nights and both get up plenty of shots, so they’re both great plays tonight in any format. If you could roster 2 centers, Towns would be in play, but it’s tough to roster him over Cousins, Gasol, or Turner tonight. I put him as “GPP only” just in case he is a little extra juiced for the matchup against Porzingis. Rubio has seen his minutes drop below 30 as Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones are both in the rotation at PG, so he’s not as good of a cheap PG play as Schroder and Rondo. There’s enough value at PF tonight to avoid rostering Dieng, even though he could approach 30 FDP.

Los Angeles Lakers at Chicago Bulls

Los Angeles:

  • Cash and GPP: Lou Williams
  • GPP only: Brandon Ingram
  • Fade: everybody else
  • Injuries: Julius Randle (probable), Nick Young (out), D’Angelo Russell (out)

Chicago:

  • Cash and GPP: Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Taj Gibson
  • GPP only: Nikola Mirotic
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: Dwyane Wade (questionable)

Los Angeles Roundup: Nick Young is out, and Metta World Peace can only absorb so many of his minutes, so we could see 30 minute games from Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams. Both are in play for 25-30 FDP, but Clarkson’s price was recently adjusted way higher than Williams’, so Sweet Lou is the better play at SG. No other Laker provides any value in a game in which they should struggle to top 100 points. Brandon Ingram is a somewhat intriguing GPP play at just $3.8k, as he may play 30 minutes and has untapped upside.

Chicago Roundup: The Lakers have a bottom 3 defense, and Chicago has the highest team total tonight. Their entire starting lineup is in play as cash options. Butler and Wade are the two best, even moreso than usual with the Lakers’ best swingman defender (Young) out. Note that Wade is a game-time decision, so don’t roster him in cash if you don’t know his fate before tip. Rondo, Gibson, and Lopez are all very solid cash options at their positions – Lopez is the weakest, just because you can only roster 1 center, and I’ve mentioned a million times already that I love Gasol and Turner tonight. If Wade does sit, Butler is a no-brainer building block, while Mirotic becomes a great option in all formats.

San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks

San Antonio:

  • Cash and GPP: none
  • GPP only: Kawhi Leonard
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: entire team is at risk of being rested

Dallas:

  • Cash and GPP: Harrison Barnes
  • GPP only: Dwight Powell
  • Fade: everybody else
  • Injuries: Dirk Nowitzki (out)

San Antonio Roundup: This matchup of two of the slowest teams in the league has by far the lowest over/under tonight. With San Antonio favored on the 2nd leg of a back-to-back, as well, you have to be wary of random “DNP (rest)” announcements. They may not come before lock, so it’s just not worth rostering any Spurs in this matchup. I’ll leave Kawhi up there as a GPP-only option, as he is the #2 SF and makes for a nice “fade Butler” option for $600 cheaper.

Dallas Roundup: They can’t score against average teams, so they won’t be able to against the Spurs. Harrison Barnes is a constant cash option due to minutes and usage, and his price ($6000) hasn’t adjusted upward enough to reflect that. You can’t trust anybody else on the team. Dwight Powell is an interesting GPP punt play at $3700, coming off his best game of the season and an encouraging 26 minutes.

Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets

Miami:

  • Cash and GPP: Goran Dragic
  • GPP only: Hassan Whiteside
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: Dion Waiters (out), Tyler Johnson (questionable)

Denver:

  • Cash and GPP: none
  • GPP only: Jusuf Nurkic
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: Gary Harris (out)

Miami Roundup: Denver is a bottom 10 defense, despite an above-average defensive front-court. That means they get killed by other team’s scoring guards, and Dragic is the only Miami player that can capitalize on that. He’s a fine play at just $6800 (I’d rather have him than Lowry at $8k+). He has additional upside if Tyler Johnson misses another game. Have I told you yet that I like Gasol and Turner at center tonight? Hassan Whiteside has become as consistent and dynamic of an option as anybody in the NBA, but he’s not in my optimal lineups tonight. Nobody else on Miami is worth considering in a large slate.

Denver Roundup: Miami is a good defensive team and a slow team. Also, with Barton and Gallinari likely re-joining the rotation, usage will be very spread out. Therefore, there’s no good value here. The most intriguing GPP option is Jusuf Nurkic – he’ll be low owned against Whiteside, and Whiteside’s help-side blocks cover up the fact that centers score an above average amount against Miami.

Atlanta Hawks at Phoenix Suns

Atlanta:

  • Cash and GPP: Dennis Schroder, Paul Millsap
  • GPP only: none
  • Fade: Dwight Howard
  • Injuries: Mike Scott (questionable to make season debut)

Phoenix:

  • Cash and GPP: Devin Booker
  • GPP only: none
  • Fade: Eric Bledsoe
  • Injuries: T.J. Warren (out)

Atlanta Roundup: Phoenix often stinks and both teams run, so Atlanta players are definitely in play tonight. Millsap is the top PF option (slightly above Porzingis), and he’s a cash building block if you don’t spend on Jimmy Butler at SF. Dennis Schroder seems to be one of the only guys who didn’t have his price adjusted upward appropriately, so he’s one of the best cash plays of the day, at just $5600 and projected for over 30 FDP. Bazemore is a decent but “meh” option at SF, and there’s a chance Mike Scott debuts and eats into his minutes. I’d fade Dwight at center, for obvious Turner/Gasol related reasons.

Phoenix Roundup: Atlanta currently has the NBA’s top rated defense, so it’s tough to roster Phoenix’s cheap players. It’s even tougher to roster Eric Bledsoe, who is expensive ($1k+ more than Dragic and Teague despite lower projected FDP). He’s a fade. Len and Chandler cancel each other out, and Brandon Knight’s minutes have been slipping. Devin Booker is the best value on the team – his price is down to just $6k, and Atlanta’s defense is less great at preventing swingmen from scoring. Somehow and some way, Phoenix will score over 80 points, and Booker may get a lot of those.

Indiana Pacers at Portland Trail Blazers

Indiana:

  • Cash and GPP: Myles Turner, Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Thaddeus Young
  • GPP only: none
  • Fade: Glenn Robinson III
  • Injuries: Paul George (out), C.J. Miles (out), Kevin Seraphin (out)

Portland:

  • Cash and GPP: Maurice Harkless
  • GPP only: none
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: Al-Farouq Aminu (out)

Indiana Roundup: Indiana is facing the league’s lowest-rated defense, and doing so without Paul George, so the team’s other scorers are in for potentially big nights. If Myles Turner plays anything close to 30 minutes, he could have a huge night, and we project him for 35 FDP, just a couple less than much more expensive Howard and Drummond. Who can guard him on Portland? Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, and Thaddeus Young are all very solid plays at their positions – at PG I prefer Dragic, at SG I prefer Lou Williams, and at PF I prefer Tobias Harris, but all three players are right there and could be vaulted into optimal lineups if anything changes. Glenn Robinson III is no longer a minimum price guy, and even his hot shooting games result in 20-25 FDP, so he’s no longer in play.

Portland Roundup: Despite Indiana’s defense tightening up recently (87.7 PPG allowed last 3 games), Vegas still expects Portland to score around 110 points. It’s no secret that Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will do around half of that scoring, but they’re priced appropriately. I’d avoid Lillard (he’s more expensive than John Wall, with similar projections), while C.J. makes a better play at a thinner SG position. Harkless has consistently played 30+ minutes and quietly has double-digit points (real life points) in 7 consecutive games. His price of $5k does not reflect a consistent, 20-30 FDP point producer, so he’s a great (albeit low-upside) cash option at SF. Mason Plumlee is the only other guy who may benefit enough from the high-scoring game to be a DFS option, but there’s too much other value at center today, including Robin Lopez for $800 cheaper or Turner for just $600 more.

Photos By: AP Photo/Ryan Kang/Darron Cummings/STATS Illustration

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STATS NBA DFS Preview: 11 Game Monster Slate

The NBA does a great job scheduling tons of games on Wednesday night, with zero competition from the NFL. This helps casual fans see some games, but more importantly, it allows us DFS players to pay undivided attention to the monster NBA slate. Tonight’s slate features almost every superstar in the league: Westbrook, Curry, Lebron, Durant, Harden, AD, Cousins, Greek Freak, to name a few. You definitely will want a “stars and scrubs” type lineup. Hopefully this helps you identify which stars and scrubs are particularly good value tonight, using Fanduel’s scoring and pricing. Remember that I try to highlight all injuries and some backup plans, but please be aware that surprise news WILL come out before or after lock. Good luck and enjoy the slate of the season!

Cleveland Cavaliers at Indiana Pacers

Cleveland:

  • Cash and GPP: Kevin Love
  • GPP only: J.R. Smith
  • Fade: Kyrie Irving
  • Injuries: J.R. Smith (questionable)

Indiana:

  • Cash and GPP: none
  • GPP only: Monta Ellis, Myles Turner
  • Fade: Paul George
  • Injuries: none

Cleveland Roundup: First of all, keep in mind that this is the 2nd game of a back-to-back, and the Cavs needed a 100% effort to beat Toronto last night. Even if you assume LeBron will be closer to 35-36 minutes than 40, he’s still the top SF for the day, and he’s in play as a cash guy. He’s $300 more expensive than the #1b SF though (Kevin Durant), and you’ll probably need that $300 today (or more), to roster Harden and/or Westbrook, so he’s not an optimal play. Kevin Love is a much more optimal cash play – projected for 35.8 FDP at $7500, with much less value at the PF position. I like either him or Millsap at that spot. Kyrie is not a recommended play – he’s great, but you’ll either want to splurge on Westbrook or go cheap value at PG today. The only other Cav worth mentioning is J.R. – he’s a dart-throw GPP play as one of the few cheap SG that can put up 20+ FDP.

UPDATE: LeBron James has been ruled out of tonight’s game

Indiana Roundup: Obviously this is a tough matchup, as 4.5 point underdogs. In a slate this big, no Pacers are optimal plays. Just because of the weakness of the SG position, Monta is a decent play as a guy who can put up 23-25 FDP for $5500 points. Myles Turner is an almost permanent GPP option until he’s priced like a guy who can go off for 60 FDP. I wouldn’t touch Paul George today – he’s banged up, and if the game gets out of hand, they’ll rest him and relieve him of Lebron-stopping duties. Kawhi and Carmelo are better SF options.

New Orleans Pelicans at Orlando Magic

New Orleans:

  • Cash and GPP: Solomon Hill
  • GPP only: Anthony Davis
  • Fade: Tim Frazier
  • Injuries: E’Twaun Moore (probable), Jrue Holiday (out)

Orlando:

  • Cash and GPP: Evan Fournier, Jeff Green
  • GPP only: Nikola Vucevic
  • Fade: Elfrid Payton
  • Injuries: None

New Orleans Roundup: In a slate this big, you must be nitpicky, and this isn’t a plus matchup for AD, against a slow-paced team that can throw Ibaka and Biyombo his way. He has earned permanent GPP option status, but I wouldn’t pay for him in cash. Tim Frazier also doesn’t fit the stars-and-scrubs strategy tonight – you either want a $4k option or a guy like Westbrook/Steph. The only decent cash play is Solomon Hill – if E’Twaun Moore sits or is limited, Hill should play 30 minutes and put up around 20 FDP at a minimum price, allowing you to fit stars next to him in your lineup.

Orlando Roundup: New Orleans has struggled to guard swingmen, allowing an above average number of Points to both SG and SF. Thus, Evan Fournier and new starter Jeff Green are very solid cheap, cash plays. Green only needs to put up 18-20 FDP to hit value, much like his counterpart Solomon Hill. Vucevic’s price has come down enough to make him a GPP play, but he’s ice cold and losing minutes, so you definitely can’t use him in cash. The same thing I said about Frazier above applies to Elfrid today. Ibaka is a “meh” play – he’s the cheapest PF you can rely on for 25 FDP, but Markieff Morris is so much better for $200 more.

Washington Wizards at Philadelphia 76ers

Washington:

  • Cash and GPP: Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat
  • GPP only: John Wall, Sheldon McLellan
  • Fade: Otto Porter
  • Injuries: Bradley Beal (out)

Philadelphia:

  • Cash and GPP: Jahlil Okafor
  • GPP only: Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: Joel Embiid (rest)

Washington Roundup: Tonight is “Okafor night”, not “Embiid night” for Philly, making Wizards big men great plays. Markieff and Gortat should both find their way into lots of lineups tonight. Banged up John Wall is a solid GPP play with the usage he’ll get without Beal, but he’s a risky cash play because of monitored minutes and blowout potential. Sheldon McLellan will probably start in Beal’s place – last game Beal missed, he played over 30 minutes with 15 real points, so he’s a GPP punt option. Otto Porter’s price adjusted upward due to his recent play, so he’s now properly valued.

Philadelphia Roundup: Philadelphia has the 4th lowest team total tonight, but their starters are so cheap that they are decent “scrubs”. Jahlil is the best, as the top center under $5k – I’d personally rather go with Kelly Olynyk for $700 cheaper (if Horford sits). I swore off Robert Covington in cash games, but he’s always a decent GPP option if he gets hot from 3. Lastly, Richaun Holmes has played 12, 28, 20 minutes in the last 3 Embiid-less games. If he plays 28, he can win you a GPP, and if he plays 12, he can lose for you in cash. Thus, he’s a good GPP but not cash option.

Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks

Milwaukee:

  • Cash and GPP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • GPP only: none
  • Fade: Jabari Parker
  • Injuries: none

Atlanta:

  • Cash and GPP: Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap
  • GPP only: Dwight Howard, Mike Muscala
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: Dwight Howard (questionable)

Milwaukee Roundup: The over/under is rather high in this game, due to Atlanta’s fast pace and the fact Dwight Howard is banged up for Atlanta. Giannis is going to be a GPP option all nights and a cash option most nights, especially with decent matchups. The most optimal lineups tonight all contain either 2 superduperstars (Harden and Westbrook types) or 1 of them with 2 cheaper stars – if you structure the lineup with the latter format, Giannis is a great option. We project him for 20/8/6 and 43.7 FDP. He does everything for them, so nobody else is ever going to be a recommended cash play without an A+ matchup or some injuries. Jabari Parker is just properly valued and matched up against two great defenders (Bazemore and Millsap).

Atlanta Roundup: Milwaukee is an average defensive team, which makes Kent Bazemore the best SF you can roster for under $5k. He’s in a lot of my most optimal lineups tonight. Millsap is also a fine option at PF against a team that has nobody to guard him – I keep going back and forth between him and Love at the same price, and I’m leaning Love. You have to watch Howard’s status – either way he’s only a GPP play, as usual. If he’s out, Muscala is a GPP play who can put up 20-25 FDP for just $4k.

Dallas Mavericks at Boston Celtics

Dallas:

  • Cash and GPP: Harrison Barnes
  • GPP only: Wesley Matthews, J.J. Barea
  • Fade: Deron Williams
  • Injuries: Deron Williams (probable), Dirk Nowitzki (doubtful)

Boston:

  • Cash and GPP: Kelly Olynyk
  • GPP only: Amir Johnson
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: Al Horford (doubtful), Jae Crowder (out)

Dallas Roundup: Boston’s defense is ranked only 24th in the league, but they were ranked dead last at this time last week, so they’re trending upward. Still, Barnes is an almost automatic cash play at $6k while taking around 18 shots per game. Wesley Matthews is a decent option at a weak SG position, but he’s too streaky to be anything but a GPP guy. Deron Williams is returning (most likely), taking Barea out of cash consideration – he’s capable of going off against Boston’s backcourt and benefits from Dirk sitting, so he’s a GPP option. If you’re wondering, Deron is more expensive than Barea, so he’s obviously out of play at the same position.

Boston Roundup: If Horford sits (likely), Olynyk is a borderline top 10 C option for only $3.9k, and you must roster him in cash in order to fit more stars into your lineup. This would also mean continued heavy minutes for all 3 of Isaiah, Bradley, and Smart, in small-ball lineups, but all 3 are valued appropriately and you could do better tonight. Amir Johnson is the only other relevant player, and he’s a GPP option at $4200 – use him if you think he may put up 25+ FDP, but we project 20.9. There’s downside to Johnson, too, as Boston may go small against a Dirk-less Dallas.

Detroit Pistons at New York Knicks

Detroit:

  • Cash and GPP: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris
  • GPP only: Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: Andre Drummond (questionable)

New York:

  • Cash and GPP: none
  • GPP only: none
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: none

Detroit Roundup: Detroit is more probable than not to put up 100 against New York’s bad defense, so some of their guys are good cash options. KCP and Tobias aren’t showing up in my most optimal of lineups, but both are fine options who play 35 minutes a night and are consistently productive. Drummond is a permanent GPP-only option, especially on a night when he may not play. His questionable status makes Baynes a GPP guy – Baynes put up 20 real points at the minimum FD price when Drummond sat the other day. Ish Smith, Marcus Morris, and Jon Leuer are all priced fairly, and you can find better cheap value.

New York Roundup: The Knicks have 3 fantasy relevant players – Carmelo, Porzingis, and Rose. At least 2 of the 3 are typically cash and GPP options in plus matchups, but none of them are tonight against the 3rd ranked defense in the league. I wouldn’t call them fades because they’re pretty cheap, but you are better off going “scrubbier” at PG and “starsier” at SF and PF. Justin Holiday may be a dart throw GPP option – he started last 2nd half when they went small, so there’s a chance he plays 25+ minutes near the minimum price.

Golden State Warriors at Toronto Raptors

Golden State:

  • Cash and GPP: Kevin Durant
  • GPP only: Steph Curry, Draymond Green
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: none

Toronto:

  • Cash and GPP: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan
  • GPP only: Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson
  • Fade: Norman Powell
  • Injuries: DeMarre Carroll (questionable)

Golden State Roundup: 113 points is actually a below average team total for Golden State, so their stars aren’t automatic plays. Lowry and Derozan do a good job defending back-courts, while the rest of the team is susceptible to opposing front-courts, so Durant is the best play. See what I said about Giannis earlier – if you put 2 other stars next to either Harden or Westbrook (but not both), Durant is a top notch option. Curry and Draymond are permanent GPP options, of course. It’s tough not to call Klay a GPP option, but without a plus matchup, I prefer cheaper Fournier and Oladipo, or a total punt at the SG position.

Toronto Roundup: Golden State’s pace keeps Lowry and DDR in the cash lineup picture, but they’re not showing up in my most optimal lineups. I do prefer Lowry at his price to, say, CP3, Wall, and Isaiah. Valanciunas is the top C under $6k, but he’s not projected for much more production than the much cheaper Olynyk and the somewhat cheaper Okafor, so he’s a GPP-only option. Some of the most optimal lineups tonight feature punt plays at PF, and Patterson is intriguing as a guy who plays 30 minutes and can get hot – chances are he puts up under 20 FDP, though, leaving him as a GPP-only guy. Even when he starts for Carroll, Norman Powell is a very low usage player, so you don’t have to pay attention to that situation.

Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder

Houston:

  • Cash and GPP: James Harden
  • GPP only: Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: Patrick Beverley (out)

Oklahoma City:

  • Cash and GPP: Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo
  • GPP only: Steven Adams
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: none

Houston Roundup: You can’t fade Harden in plus matchups. D’Antoni’s offense against OKC’s fast pace means this is definitely a plus matchup. Fit him in! As usual, nobody else stands out – the plus matchup means Eric Gordon and Ryno are both GPP options, in case either gets hot. I wouldn’t roster Clint Capela in cash today over cheaper Olynyk and Okafor, but he could play more than usual (to counter Adams/Kanter) and rack up rebounds, making him a GPP guy.

Oklahoma City Roundup: I don’t have to explain to you that Russell is a fine play against the Rockets. I’m still torn on whether it’s optimal to use him and Harden together, or just one of them with 2 lesser stars. If you go the second route, I like Harden over Westbrook, with more value at the PG position than at SG. It’s going to be so tough to not roster a guy we project for a 31/7/11 line, though. Oladipo is also a great play – he has burned fantasy players this year, but just needs to put up something like 15/3/2 to approach 25 FDP and justify his cheap price ($5100). Steven Adams may double-double, but he could also sit a bit if Houston goes small, so he’s just a GPP play.

Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets

Phoenix:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: Alex Len, rest of starters
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: Tyson Chandler (questionable)

Denver:

  • Cash and GPP: Jameer Nelson, Jamaal Murray
  • GPP only: Emmanuel Mudiay, Danilo Gallinari
  • Fade: Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Kenneth Faried
  • Injuries: Will Barton (out)

Phoenix Roundup: Both of these teams are top 10 in pace and bottom 10 in defense, so the over/under is naturally quite high. Still, none of the Suns rotation players are great values today. Use guys like Bledsoe and Booker in GPPs if you are so inclined, but I’m being picky today. Keep an eye out for the Chandler situation – if he sits, Alex Len can approach 30 minutes and 30 FDP in this matchup. I still prefer Olynyk and Okafor in cash, either way.

Denver Roundup: This could be the make-or-break team of the night! I have mentioned how several PGs priced in the $5-6k range are not good enough to justify rostering over better values at PG. Well, Nelson and Murray are those values. With Barton hurt, both are playing around 30 minutes, and Murray has really warmed up after a dreadful start to the season. Some great lineups feature BOTH of them together, if you decide to fade Westbrook and go with, say, Harden, Durant, and Giannis. If you roster Westbrook and have to choose between the two, I would choose Nelson and his more consistent minutes. Because of the matchup, Denver’s two top usage guys (Mudiay and Gallo) are strong GPP considerations, but I wouldn’t use them in cash at their fair prices. The frontcourt is too jumbled to try to figure out who will play 20+ minutes, and if they all do, chances are none of them will win you a GPP.

San Antonio Spurs at Sacramento Kings

San Antonio:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol
  • Fade: none
  • Injuries: Dewayne Dedmon (out), Danny Green (probable), Pau Gasol (probable, rest)

Sacramento:

  • Cash and GPP: none
  • GPP only: DeMarcus Cousins (always)
  • Fade: Rudy Gay, everybody else
  • Injuries: None

San Antonio Roundup: With the team at near-full strength, there are only 3 guys worth ever considering in DFS: Kawhi, Pau, and Aldridge. Tonight’s game features two of the slowest paced teams in the league, so even though Sacramento can’t defend, nobody here is a plus value. Kawhi is a very decent play as your 2nd or 3rd star if you are so inclined, and I like him more than PG13 and Melo at SF tonight. With Dedmon out, Pau could see closer to 30 minutes than usual, making him a GPP option. Beware that he could be scratched (rest) at any moment.

Sacramento Roundup: They have the lowest team total tonight, for obvious reasons. Thus, it’s the rare night when DeMarcus isn’t at least a decent cash option. I guess you can use him in GPPs as a contrarian play – he’ll be low owned and is still a good bet for 25 and 10. Stay away from everybody else – Rudy Gay is too expensive.

Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers

Memphis:

  • Cash and GPP: none
  • GPP only: Vince Carter, Jamychal Green
  • Fade: everybody else
  • Injuries: Tony Allen (questionable)

Golden State:

  • Cash and GPP: Steph Curry
  • GPP only: Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: None

Memphis Roundup: The Clippers have been otherworldly on the defensive end, and you need to be fading their opponents. JaMychal Green is capable of hitting value without double digit points (say, 9/7/1), so he’s at least a consideration as a PF punt. If Tony sits, Carter may play 30 minutes, making him a GPP consideration, albeit one I would stay away from. Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan straight up shut down PGs and Cs, so I wouldn’t touch Conley and Gasol tonight, unless you want to be very contrarian.

Los Angeles Roundup: With a 12 point spread, this game has the largest blowout potential tonight. If Paul, Blake, and DeAndre don’t play minutes in the high 30s, they won’t produce like Westbrook, Harden, etc. Thus, all 3 are usable in GPPs only. Marreese Speights is capable of FDP-per-minute production, so he’s an interesting GPP punt play, if you think he’ll play 20+ minutes in a blowout. Nobody else on the team produces stats.

Photo By: AP Photo/Alonzo Adams/STATS Illustration

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STATS Preview: Massive Wednesday Slate

Here at STATS, the same predictive analysts that produce award-winning NFL projections also produce top notch NBA projections, with applications to daily fantasy. With the election over on Tuesday, and no football again until Thursday, tonight (November 9) is the perfect night to play the 11-game NBA slate on DFS. I put together a comprehensive preview of all tonight’s matchups, citing value plays and GPP picks using Fanduel’s scoring and pricing. I tried to highlight all injuries to watch and some backup plans, but please be aware that surprise news WILL come out before or after lock. Good luck and enjoy the monster slate!

Minnesota Timberwolves at Orlando Magic

Minnesota:

  • Cash and GPP: Karl-Anthony Towns
  • GPP only: Gorgui Dieng
  • Fade: Andrew Wiggins, Kris Dunn
  • Injuries: Ricky Rubio (out)

Orlando:

  • Cash and GPP: none
  • GPP only: Serge Ibaka, Elfrid Payton
  • Fade: Evan Fournier
  • Injuries: Evan Fournier (questionable)

Minnesota Roundup: This is one of the lowest team totals of the day (99 expected points), playing at Orlando the day after a loss in Brooklyn. Orlando plays at one of the slower paces in the league, as you’d expect from a Frank Vogel team with 2 traditional bigs sharing the floor. That being said, Karl Anthony-Towns is still a great play with his high usage (3rd among starting Centers) and matched up against Nikola Vucevic. He’s the only center we have projected for 40+ Fanduel Points (FDP) tonight, and at just $500-600 pricier than Drummond and Howard, he’s a fine choice to build a lineup around. Gorgui Dieng is also a decent play at PF, projected for around 30 FDP at only $6000, with little value at the position today. No other TWolves should be in play, even Kris Dunn at $4800.

Orlando Roundup: Despite the nice matchup, no Orlando players stand out as great plays, largely due to the depth they have and pace they play at. Elfrid Payton is a decent cheap PG, but his production is so sporadic you may want to utilize him only in GPPs. Evan Fournier is okay (if he plays), but at his price, we prefer Bradley Beal and Rodney Hood. Serge Ibaka at $5400 may be the best play – he could put up similar production to Trevor Booker at the same price, while being lower owned. Keep in mind, Frank Vogel hinted at changes to his starting lineup, which could mean fewer minutes for Payton, Aaron Gordon, or Vucevic.

Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks

Brooklyn:

  • Cash and GPP: Sean Kilpatrick, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
  • GPP only: Brook Lopez
  • Fade: Isaiah Whitehead
  • Injuries: Jeremy Lin (out)

New York:

  • Cash and GPP: Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis
  • GPP only: Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: None

Brooklyn Roundup: The Knicks have the lowest rated defense in the NBA and have yet to hold an opponent under 100, so Brooklyn could put up some points. Rondae-Hollis Jefferson and Sean Kilpatrick are thus both very solid plays. Kilpatrick at $4900 is a good bet for 25-30 FDP, as he’s played at least 20 minutes and scored at least 13 points in every game this season. Hollis-Jefferson has had two solid, more active games in a row (handling the ball more with Lin out), and he doesn’t have to do much at all to provide value at $3900. Brook Lopez is a GPP play only at $6900, as he’s always a minutes risk, and we project similarly-priced DeAndre Jordan and Myles Turner to produce more.

New York Roundup: Brooklyn’s defense is surprisingly average so far, but they play at a fast pace, and the Knicks are favored. The usual Knicks are great plays tonight. The Nets allowed 37 real points to Andrew Wiggins last night, and Carmelo should produce like a $8000-9000 player while priced at $7500. The Knicks have made more of a conscious effort to feed Kristaps Porzingis, and he’s the best PF you can roster for under $8000 (well under in fact). Nobody else on the Knicks is both valuable and reliable, but Courtney Lee ($3900) and Joakim Noah ($4400) are both decent and cheap GPP plays.

Boston Celtics at Washington Wizards

Boston:

  • Cash and GPP: Marcus Smart
  • GPP only: Jaylen Brown, Tyler Zeller
  • Fade: Amir Johnson
  • Injuries: Al Horford (out), Jae Crowder (out)

Washington:

  • Cash and GPP: Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris, Otto Porter
  • GPP only: John Wall
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: None

Boston Roundup: This should be a high scoring affair, as Boston plays at a fast pace, can score, and also can’t defend without Horford and Crowder. Marcus Smart is the best play here – he’s playing 30+ minutes a night and scoring in double figures to go with his usual high volume contributions (rebounds, assists, steals). We project him at 27.5 FDP, making him a great cash and GPP play for under $5k. Isaiah Thomas is our #6 PG at 36.6 FDP, but your best lineup will probably feature a slightly more expensive Curry or CP3, and/or a much less expensive Smart. Jaylen Brown and Tyler Zeller are decent GPP dice rolls at $3700 and $4100, respectively. Avery Bradley’s hot start led to an upward price adjustment, so he’s an okay but not great value at $6900. Kelly Olynyk is expected to make his season debut, so Amir Johnson is no longer a solid play at PF.

Washington Roundup: For the second straight game, Washington has a doozy of a matchup and all of their starters are decent-to-great plays. Avery Bradley will probably guard John Wall, leaving Beal to light it up – his projected 28.8 FDP would more than exceed his $5600 value. Markieff is a great play in both cash and GPP at projected 28.7 FDP, and he may even be low owned after disappointing the 60% of players who owned him for his dud against Houston. Otto Porter is shooting the ball well and is a fine play at $5200 if you decide to go cheap at SF rather than rostering Carmelo, George, Butler, or Barnes (we wouldn’t). Matched up against Bradley, and at $9100, Wall is probably the worst value in the starting lineup – as mentioned, we like Curry and CP3 among expensive PGs.

Utah Jazz at Charlotte Hornets

Utah:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: Derrick Favors
  • Fade: Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, George Hill
  • Injuries: Alec Burks (out), George Hill (questionable)

Charlotte:

  • Cash and GPP: Nicolas Batum
  • GPP only: Marvin Williams
  • Fade: Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller (if most of the front court plays)
  • Injuries: Roy Hibbert (questionable), Frank Kaminsky (questionable), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (questionable)

Utah Roundup: Utah has the lowest team total of the day, playing at a slow pace against a good defensive team. Rodney Hood ($5300) and Rudy Gobert ($6500) are decent plays, but they’re priced at about where they should be, and not too low. A Derrick Favors GPP play may be the best one here – he’s on the verge of playing 30 minutes and putting up 30 points, and if he does, he’ll provide surplus value at $5800. Hill and Gordon Hayward are too expensive, and Shelvin Mack isn’t in play even if Hill sits.

Charlotte Roundup: Even in a low-scoring affair, Nicolas Batum is a good play at SG. Beal provides better value, but if you fade the inconsistent Beal in cash, Batum provides the next best value at $6400 and 29.8 projected FDP. Most of the frontcourt is questionable, so it’s tough to project minutes and declare any SF/PF/C as more than GPP plays. Marvin Williams at $4900 is the best one – he could play 30+ minutes and put up 25-30 points if any of the questionable SF/PF sit. MKG is a decent but not great value (if he plays), while Kemba and Zeller are both a bit too expensive.

Philadelphia 76ers at Indiana Pacers

Philadelphia:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: Robert Covington
  • Fade: Sergio Rodriguez, Jahlil Okafor
  • Injuries: Joel Embiid (out)

Indiana:

  • Cash and GPP: Paul George
  • GPP only: Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: None

Philadelphia Roundup: With Embiid resting, there are no good DFS plays on the 76ers. Normally Sergio Rodriguez and Robert Covington are decent cheap options at PG and SF, respectively, but there is enough other value at those positions today. I could understand using Covington in GPPs, with his ability to get hot from 3, and he could see 1 or 2 extra minutes as a small-ball 4 with Embiid out.

Indiana Roundup: Indiana has one of the highest team totals today, playing a fast pace against a bad team. There is certainly blowout potential to be wary of, making them more comfortable as GPP plays. The obvious plays are Paul George and Myles Turner. George has to put up 40 FDP or so to hit value, which may be possible even in a blowout, making him the best cash play on the team. Turner is a great “fade Towns” play at Center, matched up against Okafor’s matador D. Thaddeus Young is another sneaky play as a guy who can put up 30 FDP for just $5500 at PF – we project him for just 23.6, though, and would fade him in cash.

Chicago Bulls at Atlanta Hawks

Chicago:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: Jimmy Butler
  • Fade: Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Taj Gibson
  • Injuries: None

Atlanta Significant Injuries:

  • Cash and GPP: Dennis Schroder, Paul Millsap
  • GPP only: Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore
  • Injuries: Kyle Korver (questionable)

Chicago Roundup: This game could be one of the lower scoring of the day. Chicago’s slow pace plus Atlanta’s top 5 defense could make it particularly tough to rack up points. Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Taj Gibson are all too expensive, and there’s no reason to use Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez, and their low upside, in a large slate with so much other value. Jimmy Butler is the best play of the bunch – he’s a top 6 SF and comes cheaper than Durant, Kawhi, and PG13. Unfortunately, we like the cheaper Carmelo and Barnes more, as cash options.

Atlanta Roundup: Chicago’s mediocre defense presents a few good plays in Atlanta. We like Millsap to put up around 36 FDP, putting him in play as a PF to build around at just $8000. We like him more than Draymond, but less than Blake Griffin. Dennis Schroder at $6000 is a fine choice at PG – Rondo and Chicago have defended point guards decently well, but he only needs around 30 points to hit value, and we project him for 30.8. Dwight Howard is a GPP play only – in cash, I prefer the cheaper Drummond or Turner. If Korver misses a 2nd game due to the birth of his child, Kent Bazemore should play a couple extra minutes and will certainly be in play with around 25 projected FDP at just $4400.

Toronto Raptors at Oklahoma City Thunder

Toronto:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: None
  • Fade: entire matchup
  • Injuries: Jonas Valanciunas (questionable)

Oklahoma City:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams
  • Fade: Victor Oladipo
  • Injuries: None

Toronto Roundup: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan should both have their hands full guarding Westbrook and Oladipo, and neither provides good value today. The only other relevant player is Valanciunas, who could struggle to put up his usual 30 points (all in the first half) against Steven Adams. There’s really not much to like here, as well as no popular picks to fade, from a top heavy team expected to score under 100.

Oklahoma City Roundup: Toronto’s a slow and good defensive team, so this could be a low scoring matchup, even for Russell Westbrook and co. We project Westbrook for 48 points, and he’s not worth his price-tag at anything below 50. There is better value at SG than Oladipo, and Enes Kanter isn’t priced like a guy who struggles to get 24 minutes. Steven Adams is a decent GPP play at $5100, but in cash we prefer going expensive with Towns or cheap with Bogut. I’d fade this whole matchup, unless you’re dying to get Westbrook into a lineup or two.

Detroit Pistons at Phoenix Suns

Detroit:

  • Cash and GPP: Ish Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris (all okay but not great)
  • GPP only: Andre Drummond
  • Fade: Marcus Morris
  • Injuries: Reggie Jackson (out)

Phoenix:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: Marquese Chriss, Alex Len
  • Fade: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, TJ Warren
  • Injuries: Tyson Chandler (questionable)

Detroit Roundup: Detroit is favored in a somewhat high-scoring matchup, so there should theoretically be decent plays here. Ish Smith is an okay cash play at PG (we prefer cheaper Marcus Smart), and KCP is the best SG you can pick for under $4.5k. Tobias Harris is another good cash play, although we prefer the slighty cheaper Markieff Morris. Markieff’s brother has gotten too expensive, so he’s a fade. Drummond may be the best GPP, but not cash, play here. He’s $600 cheaper than Towns, almost as likely to put up 40+ points, and potentially lower owned – not good enough value for cash, but capable of winning a GPP.

Phoenix Roundup: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, and TJ Warren are the only guys guaranteed minutes, and they’re all bad values today against a good defensive team. Marquese Chriss is starting at PF while priced at the minimum. We don’t know what he’s capable of, so he’s definitely a GPP play, but he fouls too much to be trusted in cash, even at the minimum. If Chandler returns to the team, both he and Alex Len are irrelevant. If Chandler misses the game, Len could see a ton of minutes against Andre Drummond and makes for a very intriguing GPP play. He averages 36.3 FDP per 36 minutes so far this year, and Drummond plays matador D.

Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs

Houston:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: James Harden, Clint Capela
  • Fade: Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson
  • Injuries: Patrick Beverley (out)

San Antonio:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: Tony Parker (out), rest of team (always questionable)

Houston Roundup: The tough matchup makes Harden a poor value at $11,100, although he’ll probably prove that wrong with more Magic Johnson numbers. Nobody else on the team produces enough to provide value in this matchup, aside from maybe Clint Capela at $4600. Between the matchup and the number of choices in the slate, this is the rare day where Capela is not a recommended cash play.

San Antonio Roundup: Danny Green’s probable return throws even more uncertainty into the swingman picture here. It’s tough to roster any of those guys. Patty Mills is a cheap option in GPP – we project him for a 24.2 FDP with Tony Parker out. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are top 5 options at their positions based on projected FDP, but they are priced out of our cash lineups. We prefer cheaper PG to Kawhi, but feel free to GPP Kawhi in case he goes off against the Rockets defense.

Portland Trailblazers at Los Angeles Clippers

Portland:

  • Cash and GPP: None
  • GPP only: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Mo Harkless
  • Fade: Lillard and McCollum (in cash)
  • Injuries: Al-Farouq Aminu (out)

Los Angeles:

  • Cash and GPP: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin
  • GPP only: DeAndre Jordan
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: None

Portland Roundup: The Clippers are firing on all cylinders right now, especially on defense, with a ridiculous 90.3 rating. Chris Paul shuts down backcourts, and could slow down either or both of Lillard and McCollum, who are too pricey. They are both hot and are permanently good GPP plays (contrarian tonight), but avoid in cash. Mo Harkless is the only other decent GPP play, getting 30 minutes a night and priced at just $4400. If you go cheap at SF in cash, we prefer Brooklyn’s RHJ (yikes).

Los Angeles Roundup: They should put up 110+ tonight, as Lillard and McCollum do most of their All-Star caliber work on the offensive end. Chris Paul is our #3 player (behind Westbrook and Harden) at 44.6 FDP, and he’s worth building your team around at $9400. Our best projected lineups today have Paul at that price plus two other stars. One of those stars could very well be Blake Griffin, the day’s top PF, although we prefer the value guys at that position (Porzingis, Dieng, Markieff, Booker). DeAndre Jordan is in the same tier as Myles Turner at the same price – he’s a very solid “fade KAT” option. Nobody else is relevant in a large slate.

Dallas Mavericks at Golden State Warriors

Dallas:

  • Cash and GPP: Seth Curry
  • GPP only: J.J. Barea, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes (revenge), Andrew Bogut (revenge)
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: Dirk Nowitzki (out), Deron Williams (out)

Golden State:

  • Cash and GPP: Steph Curry
  • GPP only: Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green
  • Fade: None
  • Injuries: None

Dallas Roundup: Blowout watch! Dallas is decimated by injuries and played last night, so they could easily lose by 30 and rest their few remaining starters. This makes their 4 main guys GPP-only plays. Those guys are J.J. Barea ($5700), Wesley Matthews ($4600), Harrison Barnes ($5700 – REVENGE NARRATIVE!), and Andrew Bogut ($4500), all of whom are priced quite low, yet not low enough to be trusted in this matchup. The only cash play is Seth Curry, who is finally seeing 20+ minutes (by necessity) and also finally shooting well. Priced at the minimum and due for playing time even in a blowout, you can confidently roster him in any lineup. He may even go off in a fun matchup against his brother.

Golden State Roundup: As mentioned, this game has blowout potential, and by Golden State’s standards, a relatively low over/under. Steph is a decent all-around play any time he’s priced under $9k, but we prefer Chris Paul. The rest of the big 4, particularly Kevin Durant, are permanent GPP plays, but poor cash values tonight. Of course, nobody else is relevant.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, right, celebrates with guard Klay Thompson, center as Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul walks by during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Los Angeles.  The Warriors won 124-117. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

NBA Finals Preview: Splash Brothers Shooting for a Repeat

2016 has been the year of Steph Curry. After leading Golden State to its first NBA title since 1975 last season, Curry took his game to new heights in 2015/16 and has established himself as the best shooter in the history of the league.

Curry comes into the 2016 NBA Finals having led the Warriors to the regular season wins record and looking to secure a second consecutive championship for a team that is built in his image. Fast, competitive and unfailingly entertaining, the Warriors are at the peak of their powers and Curry is at the heart of all that they do.

Record Breaker

The 2015/16 regular season saw Curry re-write the record books from three point range. Breaking the record of 286 made threes that he set last season, Curry drained an astonishing 402 shots from beyond the arc while maintaining a 3P% of 45.4%. Three of the top five three point shooting seasons of all-time now belong to Curry, who also led the league for Effective Field Goal % this season at 63%.

Steph-Curry-All-FGM NBA Finals

The exceptional level of Curry’s shooting becomes even more evident when we break down his three point shots into contested and catch and shoot using STATS SportVU® technology. Curry shot 38.3% on contested threes during the regular season, 11th in the league for players who made 100 or more shots from beyond the arc, that being despite his astronomical volume of shots (he attempted 886 threes, 229 more than second-placed James Harden).

Curry’s numbers are equally impressive for catch and shoot opportunities, with the Golden State superstar knocking down 48.8% of the threes he attempted in those situations (2nd of players to make over 100 threes). An unstoppable offensive force, Curry has proved uncontainable for many NBA defences this season.

Splash Brothers

As good as Curry is, he can’t do it all on his own. Klay Thompson may have been overshadowed by the back-to-back MVP, but the Golden State shooting guard has had a phenomenal season as part of the stellar ‘Splash Brothers’ backcourt.

Making 276 threes at 42.5%, Thompson’s 2015/16 ranks as the third best three point shooting season ever recorded. Thompson has even exceeded Curry in certain areas, making 39% of contested three point shots, ninth among players to have made more than 100 threes and 0.7% better than his illustrious teammate. Thompson isn’t far off Curry in terms of Effective Field Goal %, recording 56.9% to sit seventh in the NBA.

StephCurryKlayThompson NBA Finals

Another impressive aspect of Curry and Thompson’s play this season has been their durability. Almost ever-present during the regular season, Thompson started 80 of Golden State’s 82 games, while Curry started just one fewer. It’s only been during the postseason that injury has disrupted the Warriors’ backcourt partnership, with Curry missing six of 17 games after suffering a knee sprain against the Houston Rockets in the First Round.

Curry’s injury issues may have worried Golden State’s fans, but Thompson stepped up to fill the scoring void left by his teammate. Having attempted 8.1 threes per game in the regular season, Thompson has increased the frequency of his shooting in the postseason on the road to the NBA Finals, attempting 10.1 threes and making 4.5 to the 3.5 he averaged before the playoffs. This enhanced productivity has seen Thompson’s points per game increase from 22.1 to 26.2 in the postseason, as he did a superb job of leading the offense in Curry’s absence.

Individually, Curry is a unique player taking the art of shooting to new heights. However, when placed in the context of this balanced and extremely talented Warriors team, his talent shines even brighter as he is given the freedom to be creative and inflict damage on teams across the league.

Photo By: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) speaks to officials against the Atlanta Hawks in the first half of Game 3 of the second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Friday, May 6, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

NBA Finals Preview: Can LeBron Drive the Cavs to the Title?

LeBron James has transcended basketball for over a decade and is now set to appear in the NBA Finals for a sixth consecutive season. This outstanding talent of his generation, James enters the 2016 Finals seeking to win his third championship and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first.

Scrutinised more closely than any other player, James’ shooting has been under the microscope this season as the four-time MVP has struggled from beyond the arc. Shooting a low percentage from downtown yet being an unstoppable force at the rim, STATS SportVU® technology can show us how LeBron’s game has evolved this season.

Shooting Decline?

As the NBA becomes increasingly reliant on the three point shot, James has moved in the opposite direction, becoming less dependable from deep but better at creating high percentage shots around the rim.

2015/16 has been James’ worst season from beyond the arc since his rookie year. Shooting just 30.9% from deep, James has been ineffective relative to his usual standards. However, he has compensated for these struggles by improving the efficiency of his two point shots. Driving to the hoop 9.2 times per game during the regular season (15th overall) and 7.7 in the postseason (16th), James has excelled at creating high quality shots at the rim.

Lebron James

James has been efficient at close range, hitting 57.3% of his two point shots and 72% of contested shots at the rim, and is having his fourth best season for FG% (52%) despite a downturn in his shooting from three.

Lebron James - Contested FGA Efficiency

James’ ability to drive to the basket was particularly apparent during the Eastern Conference Finals as he took down the Toronto Raptors with 26 points per game and shooting 62.2%. During the series, LeBron drove to the hoop 5.83 times per game, scoring a total of 28 points off the drive at an average of 0.8 per drive (above his season average of 0.77).

If James can repeat similar levels of efficiency in the Finals against great rim protectors such as Andrew Bogut, while the likes of J.R. Smith continue to shoot well from deep, then the Cavs will put themselves in an excellent position to claim a first NBA title.

Finishing Under Pressure

James has been particularly impressive in terms of finishing under pressure this season. Making 4.2 contested field goals at the rim per game (more than any player during the postseason), 44.2% of LeBron’s shot attempts have been contested and yet he has maintained a contested FG% of 72%, far exceeding the league average of 53.7%.

LeBron James Contested FGM

Fascinatingly, when we look at catch and shoot opportunities, James actually performs better when defenders are closer to him. When defenders are within two feet, he hits 56.3% of his shots, falling to 54.9% from two to four feet and 47.4% when more than four feet away. If James can start to hit his open shots with more regularity then the Cleveland offense could be even more dangerous than it already looks heading into the Finals.

Photo By: AP Photo/John Bazemore

Graphic By: Andrew Skweres

NBA

Justin Time: Breaking Down Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs

What should be an outstanding, entertaining two months worth of NBA playoffs are about to begin. STATS is here to offer a little analysis, along with providing warning of the one millennial vocalist from north of the border who could ruin it all. Let’s break it down.

The matchup: No. 1 Cleveland (57-25) vs. No. 8 Detroit (44-38)

Offensive rating: Cavaliers 108.1 (4th), Pistons 103.3 (14th)

Defensive rating: Cavaliers 102.3 (10th), Pistons 103.4 (13th)

Net rating: Cavaliers 5.6 (4th), Pistons -0.2 (16th)

STATS primer: The Pistons rely on their starting five A LOT. The league’s most-used quintet this season (915 minutes) came from the Motor City, which is amazing considering that group hasn’t been together since Ersan Ilyasova was traded to Orlando on Feb. 16. Enter Tobias Harris, who joined Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond for 462 minutes over the last 25 games to rank second behind Minnesota’s starters since the All-Star break. A ludicrous 74.3 percent of Detroit’s points come from its starting unit, the largest figure in the NBA and just ahead of … Cleveland’s 73.1.

Can the Pistons win? Probably not. They did beat the Cavs three out of four this season, though one of those came without Kyrie Irving and another came Wednesday night as Jordan McRae took 29 shots and Joel Anthony played 25 minutes. The Pistons are one of a few teams that can hang with the Cavs on the boards, as their 52.1 rebound percentage was a tick above Cleveland’s for second best in the league. The Cavs are at their best when Tristan Thompson is grabbing alley-oops off the pick-and-roll and crashing the offensive glass to create extra possessions, but he’s been marginalized against Detroit. In Thompson’s 74 minutes in the series, the Cavs have been outscored by 6.3 points per 100 possessions. That’s an extremely small sample but the worst Cleveland has fared with Thompson on the floor against anyone in the East.

BAI (Bieber Affected Index): 10: Justin Bieber has a concert at Quicken Loans Arena scheduled for April 26 – the same date as a potential Game 5 – so if the Cavs can’t sweep, the teenage girl population of Northeast Ohio may be set for a mutiny.

The pick: Bieber gets bumped, which upsets Drake, creating additional hostility for a potential Cavs-Raptors conference finals. Cavs in 5.

 

The matchup: No. 2 Toronto (56-26) vs. No. 7 Indiana (45-37)

Offensive rating: Raptors 107.0 (5th), Pacers 102.4 (23rd)

Defensive rating: Raptors 102.7 (11th), Pacers 100.2 (3rd)

Net rating: Raptors 4.3 (6th), Pacers 2.2(11th)

STATS primer: The Raptors have won the last three Atlantic Division titles and have a grand total of three playoff wins to show for the first two. Can Toronto finally win just the second playoff series in franchise history and first since Vince Carter could jump? It’s hard to look at the numbers and see a title contender here, but the Raptors can make some noise in the East.  DeMarre Carroll was supposed to be the big addition, but the former Hawks forward only played 26 games, and Toronto’s jump from a nice regular-season team in a bad division to a legit power boiled down to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan getting to another level. Lowry’s average rose from 17.8 points to 21.2 as his 3-point shooting hit a career-high 38.8 percent, while his VORP of 6.3 is ahead of Kawhi Leonard’s and Chris Paul’s. No player in the league scored more points per game on drives than DeRozan (8.7), who also drew 166 fouls when bolting toward the rim – just five behind league leader James Harden.

Can the Pacers win? Maybe. Only the Suns allowed opponents to shoot better from 3 than the Raptors (37.3 percent), and Paul George, George Hill and C.J. Miles are all capable of going off from beyond the arc. A league-high 48.9 percent of the Raptors’ field goals are unassisted, and while letting Lowry and DeRozan penetrate and create worked in the regular season, relying on refs to call contact consistently in the playoffs is a dangerous line to toe. It did work against Indiana during the season. Toronto won three of four and got to the line at least 38 times in each victory, ultimately hitting the stripe 51 more times than the Pacers.

BAI: 4.5. Biebs isn’t set to invade Bankers Life Fieldhouse until June 25, which is after the Finals, but a two-night stop in Toronto in mid-May could provide trouble in the conference finals. In the meantime, there are other issues. Mumford and Sons has already moved a concert scheduled for the same night as Game 4 in Indianapolis to April 24, with lead singer Marcus Mumford politely claiming “it was not your fault, but mine.” That’s not all. The Who are set to play at the Air Canada Centre on the same night as Game 5, so a retirement tour that makes Kobe Bryant’s seem expeditious will be pushed back a night.

The pick: George and Miles shoot the Pacers to a pair of wins, but the Raptors embrace their musical guests and decide not to get fooled again. Raptors in 6.

 

The matchup: No. 3 Miami (48-34) vs. No. 6 Charlotte (48-34)

Offensive rating: Heat 104.2 (12th), Hornets (105.1, 9th)

Defensive rating: Heat 101.5 (7th), Hornets (101.8, 9th)

Net rating: Heat 2.6 (10th), Hornets 3.3 (8th)

STATS primer: We’ve entered the 48-34 portion of the proceedings with the Battle for Josh McRoberts’ Soul. The East’s middle four playoff teams all finished with the same record, and the way things shook out gives us a rematch of the last time the Hornets – who are 0 for 8 in playoff games since 2002 – were in the postseason. Things figure to be much more competitive this time in a series that Vegas considers the toughest first-round matchup to call. Charlotte was the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last season (31.8 percent) on the eighth-fewest attempts. Now it’s the eighth best (36.2 percent) while jacking up more 3s than everyone but Houston, Golden State and Cleveland. Kemba Walker is no longer a sub-40 percent shooter who can’t make a 3, Nicolas Batum averaged a 14-6-5 on fewer than 13 shots a game (Draymond Green this season is the only other player to do that in the past 10) and Marvin Williams reinvented himself as a 40 percent 3-point shooter who’s actually willing to rebound and play defense. The Heat don’t take 3s (18 per game, 28th) and rarely make them (33.6 percent, 27th), but shoot better in the restricted area than anyone in the league (65.3 percent).

Can the (wait, who’s the underdog here?) win?: Steve Clifford has Charlotte playing like a team that’s greater than the sum of its parts – though the parts, as we detailed above, are pretty solid – while Miami is still heavily reliant on the offensive brilliance of Dwyane Wade and the game-changing interior presence of Hassan Whiteside. This is probably not a series for Al Jefferson even though the 12-year vet has shown flashes of his former self off the bench since returning from knee surgery. The Hornets were outscored by 12 points in the 49 minutes he played against Miami but were a plus-20 when he wasn’t around. How’s this for a starting point? In the 60 minutes Batum, Walker, Williams and Cody Zeller shared the floor against the Heat – easily the most of any Charlotte foursome – the Hornets were a plus-38. That’s significant. Stick Courtney Lee or Jeremy Lamb out there to check Wade and Whiteside might be hanging around the rim with nothing to do. For Miami to win, it actually might matter more how its young guys – Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson – perform as opposed to the veterans.

BAI: 1. The pride of London, Ontario, isn’t set to hit South Beach until early July and Charlotte was not deemed a worthy enough stop by His Biebness. Heat fans will have to make a tough call prior to Game 3, though: Watch their team play in Charlotte or attend something called “Miami Bash,” which features such acts as Alex Sensation, Ken-Y, De La Ghetto and Jacob Forever. D Wade or Jacob Forever? Now that’s a Decision.

The pick: Those touting playoff experience will favor the Heat, but many of these Hornets have been there before. If Chris Bosh were healthy, this might go the other way, but Charlotte gets the slight edge. Hornets in 6.

 

The matchup: No. 4 Atlanta (48-34) vs. No. 5 Boston (48-34)

Offensive rating: Hawks 103.0 (18th), Celtics 103.9 (13th)

Defensive rating: Hawks 98.8 (2nd), Celtics 100.9 (4th)

Net rating: Hawks 4.1 (7th), Celtics 3.0 (9th)

STATS primer: On paper this might be the most interesting first-round matchup between two of the NBA’s best defensive teams, but on the court Atlanta exposed the otherwise brilliant, swarming system employed by Brad Stevens. The Hawks put up 110.4 points per 100 possessions in winning the final three meetings and Boston had no answers for Paul Millsap. One of the league’s best defenders was a nightmare at the other end for the Celtics, averaging 25.3 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks in three games the Hawks won by a combined 43 points. Atlanta’s Spursian ball movement and Kyle Korver’s amazing accuracy were the big stories when it won 60 games last season, but the defense was good then and better than anyone this side of San Antonio’s in this one. Most of the Hawks’ best lineups come without Jeff Teague on the floor – they’re better defensively with Dennis Schroder – but what’s lurking behind either point guard allows for some leeway in non-pick-and-roll situations. It’s safe to say Isaiah Thomas will be able to break down either to some extent, but the Celtics are going to need more than their point guard running at an optimal level to beat Atlanta. This feels like a series Evan Turner could swing, but he could just as easily put Boston out of it as he could help it go the distance.

Can the (wait, who’s the underdog here?) win? These are two of the league’s eight fastest teams in terms of pace, but getting up and down the floor did nothing to favor the Celtics against the Hawks this season. The three Atlanta wins featured 106, 105 and 105 possessions while Boston’s lone victory back in December was a 97-possession slog they pulled out even with Avery Bradley sidelined. The Celtics are going to have to do a bulk of their work from outside the paint, as Atlanta is the best team in the league defending the restricted area (56.7 percent). Only the Lakers shot worse on catch-and-shoot 3s than Boston’s 34.6 percent, so that’s not going to be easy. Thomas, Bradley and Jae Crowder each attempt five 3s a game, but none is what you’d call a knock-down shooter.

BAI: 3. Add Boston to the list of cities Bieber could infect invade in later rounds, as he’s due for May 10 and 11 stops at TD Garden. Atlanta got its two shows out of the way on the last two days of the regular season, which is a total baller move by a team that knew it would be playing important games in late April and May. Or … that’s just how the “Purpose World Tour” worked out geographically. The Bruins conveniently missed the playoffs and the Thrashers haven’t been a thing for five years, so these arenas are wide open.

The pick: The Celtics are fun to watch, make the most of their talent level and are about to add a top-five draft pick courtesy of the Nets’ stupidity. But for now, this is a tough matchup. Boston probably beats either of the other 48-34 teams, but not this one. Hawks in 6.

 

 

On to the West.

The matchup: No. 1 Golden State (73-9) vs. No. 8 Houston (41-41)

Offensive rating: Warriors 112.5 (1st), Rockets 105.5 (8th)

Defensive rating: Warriors 100.9 (6th), Rockets 105.6 (20th)

Net rating: Warriors 11.6 (2nd), Rockets -0.2 (15th)

STATS primer: Yes, it’s a Western Conference finals rematch in Round 1 that features the league’s top two scorers, the two teams who fire up the most 3-pointers and two teams who were each coached by two men this season. That’s about where the similarities end. The Warriors are much better than last season’s title winner and the Rockets are much, much worse. Golden State was missing Steve Kerr as he recovered from back surgery while Houston waited only 11 games before showing Kevin McHale the door and never quite looked like they were on the same page for the next 71. What were once an assortment of enticing options around James Harden now looks like a rotating cast of question marks centered by none other than Dwight Howard, who barely took six shots a game over the final month of the season amid reports his teammates were freezing him out. So yeah, it’s hard to look at the Rockets and get excited about the fact that they took nearly as many corner 3s (799) as mid-range 2s (899).

Can the Rockets win? Wellllll….

BAI: 0. Beebs hit Oracle Arena on March 18 and the Toyota Center on April 9. Coincidence that Golden State went 39-2 at home and the Rockets haven’t lost at home since (they’ve played two games)? Yes. Actually, that’s not even a coincidence. Let’s move on.

The pick: Harden has a huge first half in Game 3 – think like 30 points – and the Rockets lead by double digits at the break. But they won’t win that, or any other game, in this series. Warriors in 4.

 

The matchup: No. 2 San Antonio (67-15) vs. No. 7 Memphis (42-40)

Offensive rating: Spurs 108.4 (3rd), Grizzlies 102.6 (22nd)

Defensive rating: Spurs 96.6 (1st), Grizzlies 105.4 (19th)

Net rating: Spurs 11.8 (1st), Grizzlies -2.9 (22nd)

STATS primer: Poor Memphis. The Grizzlies have played almost an entire NFL 53-man roster worth of players this season thanks to an injured list that looks like Jack Bauer’s body count, and they almost built such an insurmountable lead for the No. 5 seed when healthy that it looked like they’d get a somewhat reasonable matchup with the Clippers in Round 1. But their 3-14 tailspin ultimately dropped them to seventh and a matchup with a team that, in many ways, is BETTER than the one that won 73 games. No Marc Gasol or Mike Conley, but Jordan Farmar played in the Finals six years ago! Heck, Chris Andersen was there two years ago! And Vince Carter? Well, he’s no stranger to playing basketball! JaMychal Green, Xavier Munford, Raheem McCullough, Jarell Martin and Bryce Cotton? Four of those five guys are real! Dave Joerger has done an amazing job keeping this M.A.S.H. unit together at all, but the Grizzlies weren’t going to beat the Clippers. Or the Thunder. They probably wouldn’t beat a few non-playoff teams in a seven-game series right now. Yet, we have to ask…

Can the Grizzlies win? Ummmmm

BAI: -10. These are the only two playoff teams whose arenas will not be graced with JB’s presence. Therefore, this series means nothing.

The pick: Gregg Popovich gives Boban Marjanovic at least 25 minutes in at least one of these games. At some point, Pop trots out what will forever be known as “The Molasses Lineup” of Boban, Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner, Kevin Martin and Andre Miller, but that unit still goes on a 13-2 run. Spurs in 3. OK fine, 4.

 

The matchup: No. 3 Oklahoma City (55-27) vs. No. 6 Dallas (42-40)

Offensive rating: Thunder 109.9 (2nd), Mavericks 104.8 (10th)

Defensive rating: Thunder 103.0 (12th), Mavericks 104.3 (16th)

Net rating: Thunder 6.9 (3rd), Mavericks (14th)

STATS primer: The Thunder would certainly have preferred a matchup with the Grizzlies, but it’s not like the Mavericks should have them questioning whether they’ll survive to see the Spurs in Round 2. Oklahoma City swept four meetings with Dallas this season, twice winning by three points and twice cruising. That’s probably about what it should expect here, but the Mavericks can at least look to the sidelines for an edge. Rick Carlisle’s club gave the eventual champion Spurs their toughest test in the first round two years ago, and he’ll come into this series with a plan of how to contain Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The odds are long, of course, that it will work. The Thunder have made a living crashing the offensive glass this season, with a 31.1 offensive rebounding percentage that’s easily the NBA’s best and a 54.7 total percentage that’s also far and away atop the league. The Mavericks are 26th overall at 48.5, and those numbers have bared themselves out head-to-head. Oklahoma City outrebounded Dallas 194-152 in the four meetings, with their 58 offensive rebounds leading to 72 second-chance points. Enes Kanter, a defensive liability in many ways, has helped the Thunder grab 42.3 percent of available offensive boards in the 80 minutes he’s played against Dallas.

Can the Mavericks win? It’s fairly amazing Dallas is even in the playoffs. There are game when J.J. Barea is their best offensive player, or at least the one most capable of creating his own shot. But he’s slowed by a groin injury and he’s not exactly been a positive presence overall to begin with considering the Mavs have allowed 109.7 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break when he’s played. There’s enough offense elsewhere for Dallas to be able to hang in most games, but Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams aren’t likely to all have it going at the same time. This is where the absence of Chandler Parsons kills, and he lit up the Thunder in three separate Mavs wins a year ago. It comes down to this, particularly given Oklahoma City’s rebounding edge – Zaza Pachulia has to stay on the floor, and has to control the boards when he is.

BAI: 0. Bieber made all the tweens swoon at Dallas’ American Airlines Center on April 10 and wasn’t invited to Oklahoma City. Amy Schumer played Chesapeake Energy Center on Friday, the eve of the series opener. Perhaps a sign of Trainwrecks to come?

The pick: Dirk has one of those vintage Dirk games where the fadeaways are falling, Matthews gets hot from deep and the Mavs steal a game in Dallas before going out quietly to allow the Stars use of the arena to continue their Stanley Cup playoff run. Thunder in 5.

 

The matchup: No. 4 LA Clippers (52-29) vs. No. 5 Portland (44-38)

Offensive rating: Clippers 106.5 (6th), Trail Blazers 106.1 (7th)

Defensive rating: Clippers 100.9 (5th), Trail Blazers 105.6 (21st)

Net rating: Clippers 5.5 (5th), Trail Blazers 0.6 (13th)

STATS primer: Terry Stott’s team lost LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum and somehow managed to win only seven fewer games, so if you’re wondering why he might win Coach of the Year, look no further. CJ McCollum picked up right where he left off in last season’s playoff loss to Memphis and became a 20-point scorer in more extended minutes, also showing that he could thrive as one of the league’s best 3-point shooters (41.7 percent) in a bigger role. Beyond him and Damian Lillard, who took a step toward superstardom now that the show is officially his, it’s tough to find a reason why these Blazers finished as high as they did. The rest of the rotation is mostly full of spare parts, and there’s no consistent secondary scorer to rely on. That’s a problem when they’re going up against a backcourt that’s at least similar offensively in Chris Paul and J.J. Redick and can get points from Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford just as easily. There’s no answer for Griffin or DeAndre Jordan now that LaMarcus Aldridge is a Spur.

Can the Blazers win? Portland was starting Noah Vonleh at the four from about mid-November to mid-March before Stotts inserted Mo Harkless in his place, and that move has paid dividends. The Blazers have outscored teams by 13.3 points per 100 possessions since Harkless became a starter and they’ve been outscored by 8.3 with him off the floor. Harkless, McCollum, Lillard, Mason Plumlee and Al-Farouq Aminu have posted a 16.0 net rating in that stretch, giving Portland a five-man starting unit it can feel good about, and the Clippers’ bench isn’t exactly great. The question will be if the Blazers can find a scoring option when the second units are on the floor.

BAI: 0. Bieber paid his respects to both the Moda Center and Staples Center in March. The Clippers have to share Staples with the Kings – and definitely, definitely not the Lakers – while the biggest thing happening in Portland besides the Blazers is something called the Pentatonix World Tour. I’ve been assured that’s an a capella group, so one more pitch perfect prediction and we’ll get out of here.

The pick: The Blazers are too good offensively and the Clippers too inconsistent for this to be a short series. The Lillard-Paul matchup alone should make this arguably the most entertaining first-round series, even if it doesn’t quite go the distance. Close enough. Clippers in 6. 

Brett Huston is a Senior Editor at STATS. Follow him on Twitter @BHuston_STATS.

Photo By: AP Photo/R Brent Smith