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NBA Optimal Lineups Picks for DraftKings & FanDuel Giannis Antetokounmpo | Thursday, Dec. 30

Terry McBride

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The small Thursday slate of NBA DFS action features just four games, with the early contest between the 76ers and Nets carrying the night’s highest total at 221.5. There are capable stars and relevant plays on both sides of that game, they will have varying popularity and utility from site to site, but most options fall short of true standouts. The remaining three games land between 211 and 217 points, with another Bucks vs Magic game looking like a blowout spot. The Vegas outlook and the ongoing absences of key contributors make for an interesting set of NBA DFS lineup construction decision points, with several extremely popular plays from the value range and a limited set of quality pay-up options up top there will be a lot of similarly built lineups this evening. Making one differentiated decision can set a lineup far enough afield to either vault it well ahead or drop it far behind where the bulk of chalky public lineups will land on a small slate.

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This space will always focus on the factors mentioned above, but at times we will call out plays that are over-owned, taking the opportunity to discuss the potential pivots. With four games on the slate, this article will focus on several of the top leverage plays on the Boom/Bust Tool. As always, the goal is to find players who are under-appreciated for the frequency with which they land in the optimal lineup in DraftKings and FanDuel NBA DFS projections and simulations.

DraftKings & FanDuel NBA DFS Lineup Optimizer Picks

These picks are made utilizing the Boom/Bust Tool, specifically analyzing the optimal lineup rate, leverage score and boom probability. The optimal lineup rate represents the frequency at which a player appears in the optimal lineup in Awesemo’s simulated DraftKings NBA and FanDuel NBA slates. The leverage score is the difference between the optimal lineup rate and projected ownership, while the boom probability indicates a player’s likelihood of hitting a ceiling score. It is important to remember that not all of these NBA DFS picks are highlights, at times we will discuss plays that are outright bad or come at such aggressively negative leverage that they are rendered bad in this space, so be sure to read the analysis and not just the headlines.

Lauri Markkanen: DraftKings — $5,800 — SF/PF | FanDuel — $5,500 — PF/SF

The depleted Cavaliers lineup has several key contributors landing in strong positions in Awesemo’s probability metrics this afternoon. The most compelling of these in early projections is forward Lauri Markkanen, who is projected for a 33-minute night, significant fantasy point scoring relevance, and a lack of appropriate ownership across the industry. Markkanen has produced just 0.82 fantasy points per minute for the season on 19.6% usage, down from the 0.88 mark he posted on the same usage last year, but he has seen an uptick in recent outings. Over the team’s last three games, Markkanen has posted a 0.92 per-minute rate in 28.3 minutes a night, remaining a somewhat steady presence as the rotation shifts around him. Markkanen played 30 minutes in the team’s most recent game, returning just 28 fantasy points, but there is upside for more if he is getting more than 30 minutes regularly, on a small slate the probability marks seem worth chasing when weighed against the forward’s overall popularity.

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On DraftKings, Markkanen is the second-most frequently optimal player at any position. He costs $5,800 and slots into both forward positions, where he lands in the optimal lineup in 35.5% of Awesemo’s simulated slates. The rate at which he comes up in the top lineup would is a slate-leader when compared to every other player on the board who is not named R.J. Hampton. The $3,900 Orlando guard comes up as a 61.4% optimal play, but he is at significantly negative leverage. Markkanen’s optimal rate is five percentage points ahead of the next-most frequently optimal player on the board, Nikola Jokic, who has a 30.4% frequency rate. All three options can, of course, be played in the same lineup if desired, but it is Markkanen who is a differentiator. He is projected for just 19.1% public popularity against the excellent optimal rate, leaving a 16.4 leverage score that should be appealing for tournament lineup construction. Markkanen is projected for a 32.3-point median scoring night and he has an excellent 34.3% boom score probability that also ranks second behind only Hampton. He lands ahead of similar plays such as Kevon Looney, Daniel Gafford, and Kevin Love in the category while coming in far less popular than those options, which is where the appeal comes in even for the underwhelming average per-minute production. With more to do, more time in which to do it, and an excellent point-per-dollar mark, the Cavaliers forward is a strong candidate for additional lineup shares in early projections this afternoon. Keeping an eye on the ownership and leverage column will be important as the slate shifts toward the slate’s lock, but this should remain a sturdy differentiator of a play.

Markkanen costs $5,500 at either forward spot on the blue site, where he lands as the most frequently optimal player at any position. He has a 43.2% optimal lineup appearance rate on FanDuel, but the public is not getting to him frequently enough, even with a 27.8% ownership projection. The forward is carrying a 30.8-point median projection on the site and his positional flexibility makes him a strong utility piece for lineup building. Markkanen can provide a viable score from the lower mid-range, and he is one of the more useful pieces for both savings and differentiation, his 15.4 leverage score leads all players on the FanDuel slate, while his 31.5% boom score probability lands second behind only Gafford. Markkanen should be rostered above the field’s rate on this small-slate night.


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Giannis Antetokounmpo: DraftKings — $11,600 — PF/C | FanDuel — $11,200 — PF/SF

Note: In considering all of the comparisons below, the potential for a postponement of the Denver game should not be ignored. Several Nuggets were added to the COVID-19 protocols, leaving the team potentially short of the required eight players tonight.

With only four games and a number of strong plays coming from the value and mid-range tiers, there is more than enough call for plug-and-play raw scoring potential on tonight’s slate. The primary decision points at the star level are between Jokic, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, and Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Every player on that list is a candidate to lead the slate in fantasy scoring across the industry tonight. By DraftKings projections, Jokic stands atop the list with a 57.5-point median score, with Antetokounmpo landing second overall. Harden is the third player projected for more than 50 DraftKings points, with a six-point gap between his number and Jokic’s. Among the list of stars at the top of the board, only Antetokounmpo comes at a positive leverage score on either site, ignoring the currently questionable Bradley Beal, who comes in at a different projection from his peers on DraftKings and a dramatically different price on FanDuel.

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Antetokounmpo is an $11,200 option at either forward position on the blue site. He lands as the third-most frequently optimal player at any position despite the hefty salary. The positional availability is a part of the optimal lineup frequency. Giannis works well with some of the primary value pieces on the slate, ending up in the top lineup in 35.5% of Awesemo’s simulated FanDuel slates. He is projected for a 53.2-point median fantasy score, the second-highest total on the board behind Jokic, and his 26.3% boom score probability also lands third overall on the slate. By boom score, Antetokounmpo and Jokic land side-by-side, with the Denver center coming up with a 24.2% probability of hitting a ceiling. The differentiator in this case becomes the leverage score, while Antetokounmpo is owned at a higher mark, 31.3% compared to Jokic’s 26.1%, the former comes in as a 4.2 leverage play as compared to just a -2.1 for the Nuggets big man. Both stars make for amazing options on any given slate, Antetokounmpo averages 1.68 fantasy points per minute this season and has posted a 1.82 rate over the team’s three most recent games, while Jokic has a 1.72 per-minute mark for the season and a 1.79 rate over the last three. Either option is worth building toward, but the available leverage on the Bucks player is slightly more interesting for FanDuel NBA DFS lineups.

On DraftKings, Antetokounmpo is the ninth-most frequently optimal player at any position. He is an $11,600 option at either power forward or center on the site, changing the nature of how he fits in both by comparison to Jokic and with the value pieces on the board. On this site, Jokic stands taller, his optimal lineup appearance rate is the third highest on the board at 30.4% for his $11,900 salary at the center position, but he comes in with a 35.8% ownership projection and -5.4 leverage. Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, lands in the top lineup in 24.9% of simulated slates and is projected for just a 22.8% ownership share. That difference has an impact in construction, as does the minor price savings when making a direct comparison between the two superstars. Jokic is carrying a median projection that comes in four points higher, and his boom score probability is 33% compared to the 24.4% mark on Antetokounmpo, but the lower overall ownership and the 2.1 leverage score provided by the less expensive Bucks star is difference-making in the head-to-head comparison. It is worth noting that Harden slides in between the two stars on the DraftKings slate as well, but he is a point guard option whose positioning differences put him further afield for comparison. Harden does have a 25.3% optimal rate, but he comes in at just a 21.9% boom score probability and -1.7 leverage at 27% popularity. It is Antetokounmpo at positive leverage who seems like the appealing option, though there is a minor concern about a total blowout by the Bucks, who won by 17 when these teams played on the 28th. In that contest, Antetokounmpo played 29.6 minutes, including three brief fourth-quarter stints. The superstar put up 28 points, six rebounds, and six assists in compiling a 45.2-point fantasy outing that was a letdown for the price. Still, the clearly massive per-minute upside cannot be ignored, Antetokounmpo can easily deliver a ceiling in 30 minutes in this matchup.

Monte Morris: DraftKings — $4,700 — PG | FanDuel — $5,100 — PG

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Facundo Campazzo: DraftKings — $4,100 — PG/SG | FanDuel — $5,400 — PG

If the currently questionable Monte Morris is unable to play after missing his first game of the season with a knee injury on Monday, the team may end up short of the eight required players and be forced to postpone the contest entirely. If Morris is active but not starting, it seems like he would just be dressing to fill out the roster requirement to let the game take place, but if news comes in that he is in the starting lineup he would be an interesting option from the mid-range on tonight’s slate of NBA DFS action. In the middle scenario, backup guard Facundo Campazzo would likely step into the starting lineup and would be in line to see major minutes. Either situation in which the game actually plays would yield an option for fantasy point potential at a fair price and potentially low public ownership, keeping an eye on the news will be critical for this decision.

For the season, Morris has produced 0.79 fantasy points per minute. He has a 56.2% true shooting percentage and a 19.9% assist rate for the year. In 276 minutes approximating the on/off situation if both Aaron Gordon and Austin Rivers do play for the Nuggets this evening, Morris has just a 0.61 per-minute rate that is not inspiring much faith in his potential. The sample with those two off the floor as well lands Morris at a 1.11 rate, but that, unfortunately, was in just one shift of seven minutes and should not be considered. At his low price across the industry, Morris is currently an interesting piece that is driven by a 28.4-minute projection. Even at the low per-minute production that is extending him to a 17.2% optimal rate on FanDuel and a 14% mark on DraftKings, with around a 7.0 leverage score on both sites. If he is confirmed in and the ownership projections do not take a major bump, Morris will remain a playable value piece who should be expected to deliver around his median projection, which could be enough on a short slate.

In the event that Morris does not play but the game does take place, Campazzo would become a very interesting piece. The guard is actually more expensive than his teammate on the FanDuel slate, where he is priced at $5,400, but he is just a $4,100 play on DraftKings, where he also picks up shooting guard eligibility, extending the utility of the play. Campazzo has produced 0.83 fantasy point per minute this season and he has been at a 0.93 per-minute mark in 27.3 minutes a night over the team’s three most recent games. With Morris missing the last game, Campazzo entered the starting lineup and played 32 minutes, putting up a 28.3-point fantasy night. That would be enough on a per-dollar basis to justify the play, but there is upside for more in an extended outing. Campazzo is a better option on DraftKings in any situation, even as the backup with just a 22.2-minute projection he is pulling minor relevance with a 5.4% optimal rate if he jumps to a 30-minute projection or more his value will clearly climb.

To put a fine point on it, pay attention to the news coming out of Denver. There seems to be high potential for this game to scratch entirely, which would fundamentally alter the shape of the small slate. If the game plays, there are targetable values and stars on the board who may go under-owned across both sites, but if recent history is any precedent, there will be a postponement within minutes of this article’s publication.


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We also have FanDuel ownership rankings, DraftKings NBA ownership rankings and Yahoo! NBA ownership rankings for today's slate. Looking for more NBA DFS tips and the top NBA DFS picks tonight? Check out our NBA daily fantasy rankings for fantasy points and values that are derived directly from Alex Baker's own DFS NBA projections. View our Yahoo! NBA ownership projections, our FanDuel NBA ownership and our DraftKings ownership projections. Our NBA projections DraftKings are updated regularly, including whenever any relevant news breaks.

Terry used to do other things, now he writes words on the internet. He hopes his more than 20 years’ experience in season-long and daily fantasy sports and his custom models for MLB, NBA, and NFL don't steer you too wrong when he writes columns and makes picks on Awesemo.com. A lifetime of experience keeping odd hours make Terry ideal to cover KBO baseball overnight until the world returns to normal. Most of those late night hours have been spent on the couch watching sports, T.V., and movies; just try to shut him up about any of the above. You can find his pop-culture ramblings and more on Sideaction.

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