There are only three games on tonight’s slate and injuries have basically decided the slate for us. Whereas cash game strategy could have featured some contrarianism, there are now stars to lock and load because of their usage boosts. Thankfully, none of the games are expected to be blowouts so analyzing normal rotations are all that is necessary tonight (as opposed to researching the mop-up crews). Kings/Lakers feels like it should be the highest scoring but do not sleep on Cavaliers/Timberwolves either.
There are two ways to go tonight: full-on stars and scrubs or eliminate one of those stars and even out the roster a bit. Basically, at least 2-3 stars are going to be required on every roster because guys like DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins will all need to play a larger part on their respective team’s offense due to injury. When star players take over, they can almost single-handedly cause a fantasy team to cash or even finish first in tournaments. All of their ownership should be reasonably high tonight but you will not want to get caught without having at least a few of them in every single lineup.
Note: all mentions of fantasy points are based off of the DraftKings (DK) and FantasyDraft (FDr) scoring systems
DeMarcus Cousins, Kings – Prior to the injury news, DeMarcus Cousins felt like the guy to lock and load in all formats but things have changed slightly since that time. Even with Kevin Love and Dwyane Wade out tonight, Cousins probably still possesses the highest ceiling on the slate. With Rudy Gay off the court, Cousins has garnered a ridiculous 39.8-percent usage rate (USG%) and now the team faces a matchup against a Lakers team that has struggled all season long to defend opposing Cs (they rank 29th in defensive efficiency versus the position). In his last meeting against the Lakers, he destroyed them to the tune of 31 points (PTS), 17 rebounds (REB), five assists (AST) and 68.25 fantasy points. Nothing has changed on the Lakers roster that would suggest the Lakers will fare any better this go-around and the Kings are only listed as 2.0 point underdogs. Especially on FantasyDraft, building around him makes a ton of sense. On other sites, assuming more value emerges, pivoting to him is a fine idea as well.
LeBron James, Cavaliers – Okay so maybe LeBron James does not lead the team in USG% with Kevin Love off the floor (that honor goes to Kyrie Irving) but he does lead the team in terms of fantasy points per minute (FPPM) by a wide margin (1.43 to Irving’s 1.24). His opponent, the Timberwolves, are allowing 110.6 PTS per game (PPG) to opponents over the course of their last 10 games and rate as a very neutral matchup to opposing SFs. With the uptick in USG% (to 31.5) and plenty of minutes available (tied for league lead at 37.2 per game), James is a player to build around in cash lineups because there is almost no scenario in which he does not at least flirt with value…especially in a game Vegas is projecting to be both high-scoring (218.5 over/under) and close (4.0 point favorites).
Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers – This, of course, brings us to the other Cavalier whose value is severely enhanced: Kyrie Irving. In the five games Irving and James have played together minus Love, the fewest fantasy points they have combined for is 83. Other than that outlier game against the Mavericks, Irving has produced at least 38.5 fantasy points in all the other games and James has exceeded 51 fantasy points in each. Basically, they become a two man show and the Timberwolves happen to struggle defending opposing PGs as they rank 26th in defensive efficiency against the position. With a full allotment of minutes on board with these game likely remaining close, Irving should once again be able to exceed 40 fantasy points with ease.
Jimmy Butler, Bulls – Without Dwyane Wade in the rotation, Jimmy Butler absolutely takes over as evident by his 34.0 USG%. By comparison, this is superior to Irving’s without Kevin Love and only five or so percentage points away from Cousins without Gay. Furthermore, Butler is averaging 1.39 FPPM without Wade and 57.6 fantasy points per game (FPPG) over the course of a four game sample. The reason Cousins is not absolute necessary in cash now is because Butler could be similar for cheaper. The issue here is the Bulls absolutely stink so there is always a bit of blowout concern even though Vegas only lists them as 4.5 point underdogs. With the additional usage available, just go ahead and roster him and hope for the best. If he reaches a ceiling game, we could be talking about 70 fantasy points.
Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves – Like all of the others mentioned before, Andrew Wiggins is benefitting from an absence in the rotation. The player missing from the Timberwolves is none other than Zach LaVine and Wiggins has taken his game to a new level since the injury to the team’s starting SG. Including his first game following the injury (a dud against the Pistons), Wiggins is averaging 37.1 minutes per game (MPG), 26.3 PPG, 4.0 REB per game (RPG), 3.0 assists per game (APG) and a healthy 39.9 FPPG without LaVine. If you take out the 25 fantasy point flop, those numbers inflate even higher. If needing salary relief from one of the aforementioned studs, moving down to Wiggins is the play. The issue is choosing which stud to fade and that is a difficult proposition and will depend on roster construction.
Bargains (sub-$6,000 options on DK):
D’Angelo Russell, Lakers – This is solely a price point play as D’Angelo Russell was listed as a $7,000 player on DK on Feb. 6 and since has dropped all way to tonight’s price tag of $5,600. There is nothing scary about the matchup against the Kings as Darren Collison is both exhausted and a poor defender. Not only has Collison played 41-plus minutes in consecutive games but he also ranks second worst on the team in terms of defensive rating (DRTG) and third worst on the team in defensive box plus/minus (DBPM). Coach Luke Walton has started a youth movement with the rotation so additional minutes are supposed to be available to the young core moving forward although that certainly fluctuates from game-to-game. For a player averaging 28.9 FPPG, his price is way too cheap throughout the injury. Both his playing time and production are typically volatile but this is a spot where he is worth the risk.
Michael Carter-Williams, Bulls – Even though Butler will suit up tonight, Michael Carter-Williams still has produced 1.00 FPPM with Butler on the floor and with Wade/Nikola Mirotic off. There is a bit of concern now that Carter-Williams’ minutes may get toned down because he was needed to match up against Wiggins last game which is why he flirted with 30 minutes (29.6 to be exact). Now, the team can stick Butler on DeMar DeRozan so the most important matchup is covered (although Carter-Williams’ size could be necessary for DeMarre Carroll). One of the main areas on defense where the Raptors have struggled have come against opposing PGs although they have fared much better as of late (third in efficiency over the last 10 games). For a player sporting a 25.3 USG% with the current roster construction, the price is simply still a bargain especially once factoring in his propensity to grab REB, dish out AST and produce some STL.
DeMarre Carroll, Raptors – Terrence Ross has been shipped out of town so DeMarre Carroll should be forced into big minutes by default tonight. Of course, Norman Powell should enjoy a few extra minutes as well but he is virtually the same price and Carroll has played 34-plus minutes in back-to-back games. Minutes equal fantasy production in daily fantasy basketball and DeMar DeRozan will be forced to deal with the defense of Butler. Therefore, there could be a bit of a funnel effect towards Carroll on the offensive end, meaning he shoulders a larger portion of the scoring load. Hell, he is averaging 17.0 PPG over the course of his last two so this is not such a farfetched thought. To me, Carroll is a cash game building block tonight because of the safety in role combined with the bargain price tag.
Jordan Clarkson, Lakers – Playing Jordan Clarkson is simply a price point play as he has slipped all the way to $7,700 on FDr. At times, Clarkson plays both PG and SG and the Kings are well-known for their struggles against opposing two guards (SGs). It was mentioned in the Russell tidbit that they struggle against PGs but they ranked dead last in efficiency last year versus SGs and they currently sit at 27th this season. At just $7,700 on FDr, Clarkson has topped 2.5x value in three of his last six games and has eclipsed 3.0x value in two of his last five. He is a bit volatile but something like 12 real points is all that is needed for him to put a fantasy team on pace for 300 fantasy points.
Lucas Nogueira, Raptors – This is the last hurrah for Lucas Nogueira rosterers because Serge Ibaka is on his way to the Raptors. In what could be Nogueira’s final game with extended minutes, he matches up against a Bulls team that is likely going to have two large players on the floor at all times (some combination of Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio). This means Nogueira will be necessary in order to match size with size and he is coming off a game where he played 32 minutes against a pretty big Pistons team. At this price tag, Nogueira has exceeded 6.0x value on DK in two of his last three games and has exceeded 5.0x value in five of his last seven. Since he is only $400 above the minimum, there is not much risk to using him and he helps fit the plethora of studs worth rostering.