Kyle Lowry (PG – TOR)
Lowry was a totally different player with Kawhi Leonard off the floor last year, sporting a 22.7 percent usage rate, 37.6 percent assist rate and 1.24 fantasy points per minute across 1046 minutes of work. In 1953 minutes with Leonard on, Lowry saw those rates decline significantly to 17.2 percent, 28.2 percent and 0.92, respectively. He didn’t see much of a hit in production playing alongside Fred VanVleet, however, maintaining 21.7 percent usage, 34 percent assists and 1.20 FPPM.
At $6,800 on DraftKings you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid Lowry in tonight’s meeting with New Orleans. We should expect the Pelicans to field a strong backcourt defense with Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday, but this team played at the second-fastest pace in basketball under Alvin Gentry last season and should do more of the same in 2019. Toronto boasts a slate-high 118.5-point implied total in a game that features a 230 over/under. Lowry makes too much sense now that Leonard is back in the states.
Fred VanVleet (PG/SG – TOR)
VanVleet can coexist with Lowry, but he’s obviously played better as the Raptors’ primary ball handler. Toronto sorely lacks bench depth at the point guard position, so it’s possible that VanVleet will continue to soak up all of the backup minutes behind Lowry while also playing alongside him for decent stretches of tonight’s game. Assuming VanVleet plays around 30 minutes, he should see between 15-17 of them with Lowry off the court. Across 611 minutes with Lowry and Leonard sidelined last season, VanVleet owned a 22.3 percent usage rate and 36.5 percent assist rate, while producing just shy of one fantasy point per minute (0.97).
I know we’re usually more enticed by a player when he’s in the starting lineup, but I don’t know that starting would work in VanVleet’s favor tonight. That said, Nick Nurse is a smart coach who knows he’ll need a viable ball handler with Lowry off the court. We could see a scenario where VanVleet starts and is heavily staggered with Lowry, with one of them playing a short rotation to start the first and third quarter. Either way, VanVleet is cheap enough to deploy in a pace-up affair.
Lonzo Ball (PG – NOP)
Ball is too cheap on DraftKings for a player who should see around 33 minutes tonight. He isn’t a good shooter despite making some marginal improvements in that department, but Ball does an excellent job of racking up counting stats which mitigates that concern. For his two-year career, Ball is averaging nearly one FPPM (0.98) with 27 percent assists and 10 percent rebounds. Those numbers took a hit last season with LeBron James on the floor and should rebound nicely with the Pelicans. Moreover, New Orleans played at a top-two pace in the league last season with 103.9 possessions per 48 minutes.
You can’t really ignore the $5400 price tag when Ball is a legitimate threat to flirt with triple-double numbers each night. He won’t need anything close to an elite performance against the Raptors to pay off this negligible salary. Actually, Ball’s style of play is very similar to that of Elfrid Payton, who thrived as a play-maker in this offense when healthy last season. There’s no reason to believe Ball can’t do the same.
Honorable Mention: Nickeil Alexander-Walker (PG/SG – NOP) (GPP)
Jrue Holiday (PG/SG – NOP)
What would happen if Jrue Holiday started the 2019-20 season without Zion Williamson and was no longer playing alongside Anthony Davis and Julius Randle? Well, we’re about to find out. Williamson is sidelined for 6–8 weeks and the Pelicans’ former starting big men are adjusting to life outside of New Orleans.
Holiday was excellent in 808 minutes without Davis and Randle season, sporting a 28 percent usage rate, 33 percent assist rate and 1.33 FPPM. Lonzo Ball isn’t much different than Elfrid Payton, and Brandon Ingram likely won’t assume much ball handling responsibility, so Holiday should be expected to shoulder a huge workload early on. Holiday led the Pelicans in touches by a wide margin last season (86.3) and paced the team in potential assists (13.9). He’s very reasonably priced, given the lack of depth at shooting guard and how much he’ll be asked to do in the backcourt.
Norman Powell (SG – TOR)
This is purely a price play at a shallow shooting guard position tonight. Norman Powell is a below-average per-minute fantasy producer who relies solely on shooting to contribute. He owns a career usage rate below 20 percent and doesn’t offer any upside as a facilitator (10.7% AST) or rebounder (7.0% REB).
The advantage to rostering Powell on Tuesday, however, is the elevated pace of play against New Orleans and a slate-high 118.5-point implied total for Toronto. With Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles and the Raptors lacking depth at the wing, Powell could log upwards of 30 minutes in the starting lineup. Powell would still carry some low-end value off the bench, but we’d have to lower his minute projection.
Honorable Mention: Lou Williams (PG/SG – LAC)
LeBron James (PG/SF – LAL)
James might draw a difficult matchup against Kawhi Leonard, but he’s so productive in every facet of the game that this shouldn’t deter us from rostering him tonight. He is coming off his first season with the Lakers where he dished out nearly 40 percent assists and operated with 31.6 percent usage. His 1.53 FPPM was no surprise, either.
I’m not worried about James deferring to Anthony Davis, as it will only result in inflated assist totals each night. He also logged the seventh-most minutes per game in basketball last season (35.2), and we shouldn’t expect that to change in 2019. Even if LeBron did take less of an aggressive role than he has in the past, the Lakers won’t exactly have a ton of depth outside of him and Davis. Kyle Kuzma has already been ruled out, Rajon Rondo is questionable to play, and you won’t find a single alternative ball-handling player on this roster if he sits. James makes for an easy play on both DraftKings ($9,900) and FanDuel, where you’re forced to play two small forwards.
Kawhi Leonard (SF – TOR)
Leonard is a lot cheaper than LeBron James on FanDuel, weighing in at a $1,500 discount on Tuesday night. It would be hard to justify paying nearly $10,000 for Leonard if Paul George was active, but the reigning Finals MVP will be the focal point of L.A.’s offense until further notice. It’s hard to fall in love with Leonard in any spot though, as he simply doesn’t offer the same ceiling as other top-flight players. He should operate with a usage rate around 30 percent, but Leonard has never posted a 20 percent assist rate or 13 percent rebounding rate in his career. His minutes ceiling is also lower than LeBron’s.
Honorable Mention: O.G. Anunoby (SF/PF – TOR)
Anthony Davis (PF/C – LAL)
Davis will shoulder a huge offensive load for the Lakers, who rounded out their roster with spot-up shooters and defenders. I have absolutely no problem pairing him with LeBron James if you can make it work — especially on FanDuel where the power forward position is a barren wasteland. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Davis and James both maintain 30 percent usage rates throughout the season, while players like Kyle Kuzma, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard, Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope clean up the scraps.
Davis is one of the best rebounders (19%) and shot blockers (6%) in the game. He’s also one of the league’s most dominant scorers. It’s hard to believe any combination of Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green and Ivica Zubac will be able to contain Davis, let alone slow him down on Tuesday. While we generally don’t concern ourselves too much with correlation in basketball, it’s very likely that LeBron and Davis play a big hand in each other’s production.
Brandon Ingram (SF/PF – NOP)
Ingram should spend a lot of time at power forward with Zion Williamson sidelined, which will do a lot to bolster his rebounding opportunities and hopefully more chances closer to the basket. Usage will also increase substantially for Ingram now that the Pelicans’ rookie phenom won’t be returning for upwards of two months.
This would be a less appealing spot for Ingram tonight if Nick Nurse was starting Serge Ibaka alongside Marc Gasol, but he hasn’t shown a willingness to play them together in the past. Pascal Siakam is a quality all-around player, but he isn’t as polished as Ibaka on the defensive end. Ingram finished the preseason with a 26.2 percent usage rate, which was the highest among all projected starters including Williamson. His 10.3 percent rebound rate was also encouraging, and could see improvement at the four.
Honorable Mention: Pascal Siakam (SF/PF/C – TOR), Serge Ibaka (PF/C – TOR), JaMychal Green (SF/PF/C – LAC)
Marc Gasol (C – TOR)
Gasol is yet another Toronto player to consider tonight, sitting at only $5,500 on DraftKings in a favorable matchup with New Orleans. Even at $6,500 on FanDuel you have to consider Gasol, as the position offers little depth. Derrick Favors (PF/C – NOP) is similarly priced, but he’ll have to contend with Gasol all night and has averaged 23 MPG in two of his last three seasons. We shouldn’t be projecting Gasol to cross 30 minutes tonight, but 28 minutes is reasonable.
Gasol was very productive with Kawhi Leonard off the floor last season, averaging 1.11 FPPM on 15 percent rebounding and 23 percent assists. His usage was below 20 percent, but that shouldn’t be a major concern when he’s priced at a discount. The Pelicans could really struggle defend the paint with an aging Favors and an undersized Ingram. Both Gasol and Ibaka offer pretty strong value in this appealing matchup.
JaVale McGee (C – LAL)
McGee was one of my favorite value centers to roster last season before his salary soared through the roof. He’s back below $5,000 on DraftKings, though, and is $5,600 on FanDuel. We can’t expect McGee to get the lion’s share of minutes at center, but he shouldn’t need more than a split at center to pay off his salary. Even with around 22 minutes, McGee could do enough damage against the Clippers.
In the 2018-19 season, McGee served as a monster shot blocker (7.3%) and very competent rebounder (17%) for the Lakers. Combine those rates with the fact that McGee should see plenty of wide open looks around the basket this season with James and Davis drawing most of the defensive attention. McGee shot 76 percent on attempts within three feet of the rim last year, which contributed to his efficient overall production. He produced an excellent 1.21 FPPM last season, which is why we won’t need an abundance of minutes to feel okay about rostering McGee in tournaments tonight.
Honorable Mention: Montrezl Harrell (PF/C – LAC), Nicolo Melli (PF/C – NOP) (GPP)