• Welcome back after an eventful All-Star break. We should all be well-rested and unless you are a degenerate like me who played DFS during the break you are likely chomping at the bit to get back into this. Well on Thursday we have an awesome six-game slate to look forward to and I have been all over them all week long.

    Of course, we have plenty of high-priced studs to choose from and I am not going to get into breaking them down as value plays. Let’s be real, James Harden, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are all in play. As always with the Warriors players we are correlating them to the game. This means if we think it is going to stay close for four quarters we could look at Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. If not we take a longer look at some of the bench options over on Sacramento. Either way I still want some action in this game and I think Curry is my favorite Warrior. At this point he may be one of my favorite plays in general due to his price tag.

    If you want a pivot you could look at Damian Lillard versus the Nets. Not at all a bad play, but we can’t play everyone and as of now I’m listing Curry ahead of him for a similar price tag. My secondary play on the Warriors is Draymond Green. Both he and Curry just feel criminally underpriced in what is a great spot on paper.  The only starter on the Kings side of the ball I am looking to get exposure to is Buddy Hield ($6,400). In three games against the Warriors this season he is averaging 43.3 DK points and has helped keep these games intact.

    As for James Harden, yes, he is in play. We know the Rockets are starting to get healthy once again and a report came out that Clint Capela is expected to play. With both Paul and Capela on the floor we see Harden’s usage dip down to 35.6 percent. It sounds almost comical using the word ‘dip’ in there, but it is actually a significant decrease from the almost 43 percent usage he was seeing with both Paul and Capela off of the floor.

    That being said, he will likely draw less ownership than he has over the past few weeks and even when both Paul and Capela were healthy Harden dropped a 50-point triple-double on the Lakers earlier in the season. The upside will surely be there and I will have some exposure, but will lean Paul and Gordon over him in some other lineups. This will, in turn, allow me to get some exposure on the Houston side of the ball and still manage to fit either Giannis or LeBron in my lineup as well.

    Now that we got those high-priced studs that we are all looking to jam in out of the way we can break down some of the value plays we might need to make this all work.

    Don’t forget to join tomorrow’s Beat the Expert contest on DraftKings! There will be cash for the top 20 finishers, a Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee gift pack for second place and a Hoop Ball t-shirt for the top dog. You can enter multiple times, as well, and reserve your entry by clicking right here.

    Point Guard

    Chris Paul vs. Lakers $7,600 – If you are looking for a narrative to buy into on Thursday’s slate, look no further than Spit-Gate. Let’s not forget earlier in the season when Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo got into a pushing match leading to what we now know as “Spit-Gate 2019.” Take the narrative out and this is still a great spot for Paul. Over his last three games Paul is averaging 33.1 minutes and a whopping 43.6 DK points per game and has notably cut into James Harden’s usage and assist totals. In the two previous games that Paul has faced the Lakers this season he has averaged 21.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 33.3 minutes per game.

    On Thursday we are expecting Clint Capela to return to the lineup after an extended absence. This is an early look, but from what I am seeing he is practicing without any limitations and could play without any restrictions. Now If I had to bet I would expect a slight minutes restriction, but we have to remember Capela hurt his thumb and this shouldn’t have impacted his cardio while he was out. This all bodes well for Paul, who has made a living off of running pick and rolls. We have some pivot options around Capela’s price range of $7,000, but if we hear he is playing without any restrictions he would immediately become one of my favorite center plays on the board.

    Rajon Rondo vs. Rockets $5,800 – Again we have the narrative in place for Rondo as well, but either way he still makes for a solid play Thursday night. Before CP3 incident, Rondo was on his way to a triple-double in only 29 minutes of play. Lonzo Ball is still out following the All-Star break and we know the Lakers are going to need their scoring to come from Kyle Kuzma and LeBron James in order to keep pace with the Rockets. If the game stays close this should equal a good number of assists for Rondo and allows us to get some cheaper exposure on the Lakers’ side of the ball.

    Collin Sexton vs. Suns $4,900 – 22, 21,14,18 and 24 are the shot attempts Sexton has taken over the last five games. During that span Sexton’s usage has been 27.8 percent and has translated into .93 DK points per minute. That’s not too bad for a guy who is averaging 38.8 minutes over the last five games, granted one was overtime.

    Jordan Clarkson is firmly in play as well, but feels more viable for tournaments given his price tag and volatility.  Clarkson is averaging 32.6 minutes over his last five games and has taken full advantage of them. During that span he has sported a team-high usage rate of 32.6 percent leading to 1.10 DK points per minute. His numbers are slightly inflated from the overtime game versus the Nets, but the usage does not lie. Both draw a fantastic matchup against a Suns team that ranks 29th in defensive efficiency against opposing point guards.

    Shooting Guard

    Devin Booker vs. Cavs $7,700 – Booker seems to be slightly underpriced coming out of the All-Star break and this may be a time to take advantage. He has had plenty of time off to help rest up and comes in against a Cavs team ranked dead last in team defensive efficiency. Before the break, the Cavs started Brandon Knight at shooting guard. This may not happen again, but there is no reason why Booker shouldn’t be able to take advantage of one of the worst defensive guards. Book has a ton of tournament upside on this slate, but limit your Suns exposure, as this game may not be as high-scoring as some may think.

    With T.J. Warren out once again I think it is safe to fire back up some Oubre. Again, I would not over-expose myself to this game, just grab a few pieces you feel confident in and work them with your lineup construction.

    Eric Gordon vs. Lakers $4,400 – This price tag just seems absurd for Gordon. Yes, I know we have a fully healthy Rockets’ team now, but Gordon will still handle the helm off of the bench and take plenty of shot attempts. When Paul, Harden and Capela are all healthy we till see Gordon absorb a usage ate of 24.1 percent. That is the second-highest on the team next to James Harden’s massive 43.2 percent. But as we dove in Harden’s numbers a little earlier, we know that fluctuates with who is on the court.

    With Gordon we know he is the only scoring threat on the court for the Rockets’ second unit and there is no reason why he wouldn’t close out the game as well. Gordon’s faced the Lakers three times this season and is averaging 25.8 DK points in 32.1 minutes per game. If you are playing Harden or Paul and do not want Gordon in the same lineup due to correlation you could look to Bogdan Bogdanovic ($4,500) or Dywane Wade ($4,300) as pivots. I feel that both are underpriced, but also a tad bit riskier.

    Small Forward

    Ben Simmons/Jimmy Butler vs. Heat $7,900/$7,200 – The news of Embiid being ruled out shook up some of my lineups. Over the past two weeks Embiid has been sporting a usage rate of 31.7 percent over the last two weeks. I used a two week sample size that way I could get a better understanding of how his usage may be distributed amongst some of the newly acquired players. It’s a small ample size, but with Joel Embiid off of the floor over the last two weeks we see Jimmy Butlers DK points per minute skyrocket to 1.70 DK points per minute while having a usage of 26.6 percent. Simmons has been someone we would immediately target when Embid has missed games in the past, but Simmons usage has been down since the arrival of Tobias Harris. I am willing to take some shots though, we can’t forget the price tag Simmons was seeing earlier in the season when there were three big names in the Philly starting lineup and thats what we have again tonight. It also helps that Thursday night is Australian heritage night. For those who did not know Ben Simmons is Australian.

    Kyle Kuzma vs. Rockets $5,900 – Kuzma’s rebounding numbers have taken a massive hit since LeBron James has returned to lineup, but if we take a look at the Lakers as a whole over the past five games, we will see that Kuzma actually has a team-high usage rate of 28.3 percent. That is translating to 1.04 DK points per minute, leaving plenty of room for upside on Thursday’s slate.

    Caris LeVert vs. Trail Blazers $5,100 – Don’t look now, but LeVert managed to play 31 minutes the game prior to the All-Star break. Now, the Nets medical staff said LeVert has an appointment this week to be re-evaluated, but this sounds like the medical staff is just doing their jobs and we should have word prior to tip-off of his availability.

    Barring any setbacks, I am expecting a few more minutes for LeVert here and even if he manages around the 30-minute mark again he is still too cheap. We have a very limited sample size of LeVert’s usage without Spencer Dinwiddie playing, but LeVert has a usage rate of 30.9 percent during that time and that’s turned into 1.16 DK points per minute. Let’s not forget the breakout this kid was having prior to injury.

    I am not against playing D’Angelo Russell in this matchup, but after looking at the numbers it is clear Russell takes a major hit when sharing the floor with LeVert. In fact, his usage drops by 2.1 percent and he averages .27 fewer DK points per minute. Of course, Russell still possesses immense tournament upside, but I’d rather go with a few safer spots in cash. Portland’s defense is not bad by any means, but they are currently ranked 20th in the league for defensive efficiency vs. opposing small forwards.

    Power Forward

    Larry Nance Jr. vs. Suns $7,200 – I have to list Nance for the obvious reason: he has been smashing as of late. His price tag now reflects this though and we know Kevin Love is starting to get healthy once again, and earlier in the season the Cavs were reluctant to play Nance big minutes when the bigs were healthy. For me, I want to hear that Nance is starting and with Ante Zizic back that may not be the case. He is in a fantastic matchup and he should chew up the glass.

    As I mentioned earlier, I am limiting my exposure to this game on both sides of the ball and hoping to capitalize later in the night. Again he is a fantastic play as the Suns are the second-worst team in the league in defensive efficiency versus opposing centers, but I won’t be shocked if I am slightly underweight once I start constructing my lineups.

    Tobias Harris vs. Heat $6,600 – I am mentioning just about everyone from the Sixers following the Embiid news, because well, they are all in play. Embiid’s usage will be distributed mostly amongst Harris, Butler and Reddick. These will be the guys who are expected to take on a larger scoring role for me. Yes, Simmons usage will go up, but mostly from handling the ball, not shooting. Harris is underpriced for what he could with Embiid out of the lineup. I’d expect a few extra rebounds for Harris as well.

    Al Horford vs. Bucks $6,000- This game has the making to be one of the more competitive ones on the night. There is a decent chance these two teams could face off in playoffs and we have already seen them play. Horford only managed to play in the first meeting, but still showed up with 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds. That does not sound like a big game, but that accounts for 38.8 DK points and would in turn be a steal at $6,000.

    Now, Horford obviously won’t put up the exact same numbers, but if he comes out of the break anywhere close to the form that he went into it with we should be in good shape. In the two games prior to the All-Star break Horford turned it on, averaging 20.0 points, 6.5 assists and 11.0 rebounds for an average of just over 50 DK points per game. It also allows us to have some rock-solid exposure across from Giannis if we are playing him.

    The Bucks have one of the league’s top defenses, but the one spot where they remain the most vulnerable is against opposing centers, where they are ranked 15th in defensive efficiency.

    Marvin Bagely vs. Warriors $5,800 – As I mentioned earlier, this article is an early look and as of now we do not have any of the game totals or spreads available, but we have to imagine this one having one of if not the highest total on the slate. Any time we have the Warriors playing we have to worry about blowout risk, but these two teams have played three times already this season and they have all stayed within five points.

    Bagley has averaged 19.9 minutes against the Warriors this season, but the last time these he got to face them was back in December when he was still seeing limited minutes because, well the Kings are the Kings. As of late those minute totals have risen slightly as the team is figuring out how bad Nemanja Bjelica is. It’s not the best price, but he should be low-owned and if the game were to get out of hand he should still see minutes in the mid-twenties. We’ve seen a lot of centers limited against the Warriors in the past and if this is the case Bagley could take advantage of playing some small-ball five in place of WCS.

    Center

    Jusuf Nurkic vs. Nets $7,400 – This is going to be a complicated situation that will either win or lose you some money. We know targeting centers against the Nets is an easy way to make money and Nurkic fits the build perfectly. His price tag is more than fair given the matchup, but the one thing lingering in the back of my mind is Enes Kanter’s playing time. There is not a chance these two will play alongside of each other and this means Kanter will eat into Nurkic’s playing time. Update: Kanter has been added to the player pool at $5,500. Strictly a tournament play given his upside in limited minutes, but we have plenty of centers to choose from on this slate.

    Now, Nurkic could easily smash in this spot only playing 28 minutes, but the lingering fear that he only sees 24 minutes is there. Hopefully, casual fans forget about this because as of now Kanter is not even being listed in the player pool for Draftkings and will surely suit up on Thursday night. For me, Nurk is strictly for tournaments and we could easily pivot to Ayton or Capela (if we know his minutes will not be limited) if needed.

    Deandre Ayton vs. Cavs $7,000 – I don’t care who starts center for the Cavs, they are bad at defense regardless. The Cavs have allowed opposing centers to grab double-doubles in each of the past three games, and it would have been over the last four games had the Wizards not played Thomas Bryant, Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker evenly. Let’s keep in mind the other three teams they faced following the Wizards game: the Nets, Knicks and Pacers. None of these teams have offensive minded centers and that is exactly what Deandre Ayton is.

    Kevin Love is back and should see a slight increase in minutes and those would only place another poor defender in front of Ayton for longer. I mentioned only playing one player from the Suns per lineup and, as of now Ayton is my favorite option. I think this game will garner a ton of ownership. I think limiting your plays and hitting on the few that should overperform in what is otherwise expected to be a low-scoring game is the way to go. Ayton also makes for a great pivot off of the some of the other options whom we are a little less certain about.

    Boban Marjanovic vs. Heat $3,500 – Enter the chalk of the night, BOBAN! With Embiid ruled out I think it’s safe to expect at least 18-20 minutes from him and we know what he could produce in those minutes. Any more minutes than that is a bonus. There is some merit in fading him at this ownership, but it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t make value. When it’s all said and done I will probably have two Sixers in most lineups.

    Ed Davis vs. Trail Blazers $3,400 – Enter my sneaky play of the slate. This has a little gut feeling to it, but I think Davis could be in store for a big rebounding game against his former team. As of now we do not have a ton of value, but as I mentioned this is an early look and we generally have some more value open up closer to lock. Jarret Allen has struggled against bigger bodied centers in the past and there is perhaps no center with a bigger body than Jusuf Nurkic. Not to mention, the Blazers also added Enes Kanter during the All-Star break.

    The Nets may need at least 22 minutes out of Davis in this one. If you are telling me some of those minutes come against the terrible defense of Enes Kanter, even better. Before Kanter’s arrival, the Blazers held their own against opposing centers, but they also are ranked 25th in the league when it comes to allowing opposing centers to score in the paint.

    As always you can find me on Twitter @MikeApotria with any of your questions or comments. Good luck to everyone competing in our Hoop Ball “Beat the Expert” contest this week. These are always a ton of fun and our community is growing week by week.

    Remember to monitor Hoop Ball for news and information. It is extremely important to adjust to the news as it breaks, including the games after lock. We know the Suns vs. Cavs and Heat vs. Sixers games are the first to lock. It is going to be hard not having any exposure to the first game, but I could get away with the shares I have shares in the Sixers vs. Heat, making it easier to adjust to later games. Remember if you are playing anyone in these games to play them at their primary position, not the guard, forward or utility spot. This will give you more options to choose from if you are adjusting to news on the fly after lock.

    *Major news to monitor: Damian Lillard – Currently listed as questionable as of Thursday morning. I’d have interest in C.J. McCollum and Seth Curry if Lillard is ruled out.

    Let’s crush a GPP for Hoop Ball!

Fantasy News

  • Marc Gasol - C - Toronto Raptors

    Marc Gasol double-doubled on Monday with 12 points and 11 boards while chipping in an assist, a steal, a block and two triples.

    Gasol drew his fourth consecutive start with Serge Ibaka (suspension) sitting out what will be his last game of his three-game suspension. It's no coincidence that Gasol has had his best three-game stretch with the Raptors during Ibaka's suspension and the hope is that he can carry the momentum going forward even with Ibaka returning to the lineup on Wednesday against OKC.

  • Pascal Siakam - F - Toronto Raptors

    Pascal Siakam scored 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting while adding eight rebounds, five assists, a block and a 3-pointer on Monday.

    Siakam's overall game is a bit underrated because of how great he is in transition. Kawhi Leonard (load management) has missed a quarter of the season and Siakam always steps up when Leonard rests. He's averaging 4.0 assists over the past month and is a guy who could eventually average a triple-one. There's a lot to be excited about in Toronto.

  • Mitchell Robinson - C - New York Knicks

    Mitchell Robinson scored zero points with five rebounds and three blocks on Monday.

    With his three blocks tonight, Robinson has now tied Patrick Ewing for the Knicks' franchise rookie record for consecutive games with a block. He's swatted a shot in 28 consecutive games and even though he fouled out and his minutes have been low, you have to hang onto him because of his insane per-minute production. On the year he's averaging 2.4 blocks in only 18.9 minutes.

    Source: Ian Begley on Twitter

  • Allonzo Trier - G - New York Knicks

    Allonzo Trier scored 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting with four rebounds, three assists and a 3-pointer on Monday.

    He scored more tonight than his previous three games combined which should calm down any overreaction to tonight. Trier is a solid isolation player and coach Fizdale has shown a liking to his game which means he's on the radar for owners in need of points and treys, but all of the Knicks wings are risky plays due to coach Fizdale's maddening rotations.

  • DeAndre Jordan - C - New York Knicks

    DeAndre Jordan only logged 20 minutes on Monday, scoring six points with six rebounds, three assists and a block.

    He went 0-for-2 from the floor, but 6-for-6 at the line which is something no one would have predicted. Jordan's minutes cratered tonight because of the game turning into a blowout and coach Fizdale playing everyone on the active roster. He's worth holding onto for now as the Knicks have three more games, but the lines will be inconsistent.

  • Mario Hezonja - F - New York Knicks

    Mario Hezonja scored eight points on 3-of-10 shooting with five rebounds, three assists and two steals on Monday.

    Hezonja started again on Monday, but he didn't do much with the opportunity. The Knicks got blasted in this game and even though he's a hot name, his teammates eat up a ton of usage and coach Fizdale is reluctant to let him loose which makes it hard for him to really establish value.

  • Isaiah Thomas - G - Denver Nuggets

    Isaiah Thomas got to play seven minutes on Monday in Boston, though the only stats he compiled were two assists.

    It was a lovefest before the game with a tribute video and standing ovation for one of Boston's favorites. Thomas will likely be back out of the rotation going forward.

  • Cedi Osman - F - Cleveland Cavaliers

    Cedi Osman turned in another solid performance in Monday's win over the Pistons, posting 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting with four rebounds, six dimes, two 3s and one steal in 38 minutes.

    Osman has struggled with consistency this season but has thankfully been a reliable source of production so far down the stretch. Keep him slotted in your active lineups.

  • Collin Sexton - G - Cleveland Cavaliers

    Collin Sexton caught fire in Monday's 126-119 win over the Pistons, hitting 5-of-6 shots from deep en route to his team-high 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting.

    He added two rebounds, one assist and two steals to the box score tonight. Sexton has been blossoming while the season has been winding down. He's been a top-40 play in 9-cat over the last week, a good sign of things to come from the Cavs' rookie. Jordan Clarkson added 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting with two rebounds and one assist in 27 minutes off the bench.

  • Joe Ingles - F - Utah Jazz

    Joe Ingles scored 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting while chipping in three rebounds, four assists, a steal and four 3-pointers on Monday.

    Ingles carried the Jazz on offense in the beginning of the game while Donovan Mitchell struggled and he had a nasty triple-threat move which almost detached Bradley Beal from his ankles. He's averaging 7.3 assists over the past month and the shooting was bound to correct itself after a slow week.