Welcome to another edition of our NBA Preview here at PlayON’s Daily Fantasy Focus.
Below is a breakdown of my top picks in each of tonight’s games. Once you’ve seen who I like, be sure to lock in your line-ups and win some cash tonight.
Philadelphia 76ers @ New York Knicks
In the first game of the day, both Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid should play, as should Trevor Booker. These returns mean little to no fantasy value for Richaun Holmes, as well as a likely reduction in the minutes and production of Michael Beasley ($8.6 million), who has been a high value pick of late in a bench scoring tole but whose role might not now be needed. He therefore goes from an automatic pick to an outside one.
At point guard, Frank Ntilikina, normally a regular value pick at $8.1 million, is also struggling of late. He has averaged only 11.4 fantasy points over the last four games, and has lost the offensive aggressive and decision making that briefly made him a fantasy value pick. Indeed, unless Beasley plays well, fantasy value is hard to find anywhere on the Knicks’ roster currently.
Value is also hard to come by for the 76ers right now. However, power forward Dario Saric ($14.0 million) has had a good eight game stretch, averaging 16.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.0 steals per game for a 34.4 fantasy point average. Saric has been more aggressive offensively with Embiid in and out of the line-up, both on the perimeter and in the post, sometimes taking overly difficult shots but nevertheless being very productive from a fantasy point of view. Consider him here.
Markelle Fultz, Justin Anderson and Tim Hardaway Jr are still out.
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors
In the showpiece match-up of the day, the same two teams that have met in the last three NBA Finals also meet in their third consecutive Christmas Day matchup. And neither comes in with full health, especially at guard. For the Cavaliers, the long-term injuries to Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert, alongside unused two-way player John Holland; Golden State, meanwhile, are missing both point guards Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston, and two-way player Chris Boucher, with both Zaza Pachulia and Draymond Green as doubts.
In the absence of both point guards, Patrick McCaw ($6.1 million, SG) has been starting at the position, performing with some low-end fantasy value. Averaging 16.5 fantasy points over the last four games, McCaw does not record big nights, but does put up some contributions across the board, including high-value steals (recording six in that stretch).
Up front, Jordan Bell ($7.8 million) has been the most obvious beneficiary of the Green and Pachulia injuries and a consistent fantasy steal, averaging 28.0 fantasy points over the last six games with his athleticism, unselfish play and hustle. Omri Casspi ($8.2 million) has also seen an uptick in minutes and a big one in his production, averaging 26.9 fantasy points over the same span through his hustle, cuts and rebounding. Between the two, that is superstar production for a combined cost of a second-tier talent. Pay heed.
Kevin Durant ($24.0 million) of course is on a tear, the rare player who can score big in any fantasy category on any night. Averaging 58.1 fantasy points over the last eight games, he really should cost the maximum by now. LeBron James already does, returning an average of 61.0 points over his last night. You should definitely get one of these two into your line-up. And if you can afford both, that is also a logical play.
Elsewhere for Cleveland, Jose Calderon ($6.4 million) is possibly the best cheap point guard pick on the slate, playing significant minutes in every game and recording 20.4 fantasy points per game over the past eight. Tristan Thompson ($6.7 million) is also back playing, and the only real big man on the team, but be advised that he has averaged only 13.4 fantasy points per game since his return and may never have that big of a role again.
Washington Wizards @ Boston Celtics
Missing Gordon Hayward, Semi Ojeleye and Marcus Morris leaves the Celtics short-handed at forward, meaning an expanded role for Daniel Theis ($6.7 million). Theis has had fantasy value for a while, a productive rebounder and defender no matter the size of his variable role, yet with 18.4 fantasy points over his last five games and a healthy 37.0 last time out, he is a viable deep bench candidate tonight.
For the Wizards, only the inconsequential Sheldon Mac is out, but note that Tomas Satoransky ($7.0 million) has it seems won the backup point guard spot from Tim Frazier full time. And while his production is streaky and his variance significant, the 15.8 fantasy point average over his last five is reasonable value, and he has proven more capable of big fantasy point nights than most backup point guards have.
The main value for the Wizards is reserve power forward Mike Scott ($8.6 million), who has continued his incredible shooting stretch. Scott has averaged 27.5 fantasy points over his last five and 23.0 over his last nine, doing so by simply taking and making a large number of shots from all areas. He has been unbenchable for the Wizards, and with a stretch like that, you should consider him for your bench too.
Houston Rockets @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Back-to-back 50+ point performances for James Harden ($25.0 million) has meant back-to-back 60+ fantasy point performances. With a 57.4 fantasy point average over the last eight, he must of course be in your consideration.
Alongside Harden, Chris Paul is not expected to play, which means that behind Harden, Eric Gordon ($14.3 million) gains fantasy value. Averaging 34.4 fantasy points over the last three, Gordon gains more minutes and shots with Paul out, and while he does little other than score, he is suitably important as a scorer to take a lot of shots and bring him a lot of points. The same is also true of the effect of Paul’s absence on Harden.
Up front, Clint Capela is listed only as questionable, and if he is absent, the start goes to Nene ($7.7 million). Note however that Nene is unreliable as a fantasy player – while he has had a 28.3 fantasy point outing in his last three games, he has also had a 5.4. Luc Richard Mbah A Moute is also out.
The Thunder, the healthiest team in the league all season, have no injuries, which usually means less value picks. We must however doff our caps the way of Russell Westbrook ($24.6 million) – in averaging 61.0 fantasy points over his last six games, and 56.9 over his last ten, he is very much back to his savage fantasy best.
Minnesota Timberwolves @ L.A. Lakers
Famously, Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau rarely uses his bench. But the by-product of him overplaying his starters is that Minnesota’s bench players have had their fantasy price driven down. And when those bench players hit good stretches, that gives them fantasy value.
Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng are now two such value picks. Crawford ($7.5 million) has averaged 21.9 fantasy points over the last four games, including a couple of 20+ real point performances off the bench, the exact thing he was brought in to do. With help off the bench very needed right now, Crawford will get good minutes on any night he is playing well. Meanwhile, Dieng ($8.1 million) gets a pretty consistent amount of minutes (20.6 per game in the month of December), with variable results, but he has recorded a combined 55.2 fantasy points over the past two games, sticking his jump shots and grabbing some rebounds. Should that keep up, he has good value at this price.
For the Lakers, Brook Lopez is out for a while, yet although he gets the starts at centre, Andrew Bogut does little in his time (averaging 10.0 fantasy points only in the last three games). Julius Randle ($13.5 million) has picked up his performances slightly in that time, averaging 34.4 fantasy points in the last two, yet the Lakers are playing more small ball without Lopez, the most direct beneficiaries of which are their forwards.
In particular, that means Kyle Kuzma ($15.1 million), who has been on a scoring tear since his return from injury, averaging 38.5 fantasy points over the past seven games. His offensive role has increased further in Lopez’s absence, and with Brandon Ingram ($16.9 million) a doubt due to injury, Kuzma may have even more value than he already has.
Be advised that Lonzo Ball ($18.0 million), frequent and favoured pick who has been on a remarkably consistent stretch of games in the high 30s and low 40s, is also a doubt due to an injury.
That’s all for today’s analysis. Be sure to get your lineups in to tonight’s games, and look out for our “Beat Mark Deeks” double-ups in the coming days, where you can win an extra $5 cash on top of the regular prizes just for finishing ahead of me.