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NBA Optimal Lineups Picks for DraftKings & FanDuel Ja Morant | Monday, Jan. 3

Terry McBride



The Monday slate of NBA DFS action starts the week off with an exciting 10-game slate that seems loaded with opportunity. The inflated scores we have seen at the top of standings recently should not be slowed by a Vegas board that includes a game totaled above 230 points and a trio of games between 226 and 228.5. With reasonably competitive point spreads in most of those contests, there should be a wide range of strong fantasy point-scoring plays available. The earliest contest of the night, between Houston and Philadelphia, offers some interesting value options but the game is carrying a 217 total with the hometown 76ers favored by 13 and the Rockets will be without two of their best players. The other lopsided spread of the night comes later in the game that sees Miami take on Golden State, with the Warriors favored by 11. Both of these games offer pieces for NBA DFS lineup building despite the unappealing Vegas numbers, but most of the primary value plays come from the last matchup of the evening. The game between the Timberwolves and Clippers has many of the top mid-range salary options by optimal lineup appearance rate tonight, it is critical to leave room to move pieces around that game in late-swapping in FanDuel and DraftKings NBA DFS lineups tonight.

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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 10 games on the slate, this article will focus on several of the top overall 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.

Naz Reid: DraftKings — $4,800 — PF/C | FanDuel — $4,600 — C

Superstar center Karl-Anthony Towns is likely one game away from returning to the Timberwolves lineup. Towns is eligible to return from COVID-19 protocols on Monday, but early reporting seems to indicate that he is more likely to resurface on Wednesday, after a brief conditioning period. Assuming Towns is not in the lineup, Naz Reid looks like a strong play across the industry tonight. Reid posted 36.2 fantasy points in 30 minutes in the team’s most recent outing, and he has been a 1.17 per-minute performer over the past three games. For the season, Reid produces at a 1.07 per-minute rate across all situations. He is a strong contributor at low prices when he sees extended time on the hardwood. Reid is projected for a 29.5-minute night tonight, more than enough to deliver value, and he seems very likely to burst through for a ceiling score, but the public is not getting to him often enough on either site.

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On the DraftKings slate, Reid is the second-most frequently optimal player on the slate. He costs $4,800 with eligibility at both power forward and center; the extended positional flexibility adds value in this case. Reid is in the optimal lineup in 33% of simulated slates, trailing only fellow value play Anfernee Simons. Reid is projected for more raw points than Simons. He has a 32.5-point median number and he is coming up at a 57.2% boom score probability that also trails only Simons, who is projected for a 30.1-point night but has a 60.7% boom score probability for $4,100 at either guard spot. Both value players are solid options, but it is in the leverage category where Reid is currently well ahead. The big man is projected for just 18.1% popularity on the slate, which currently lands him at a 14.9 leverage score that leads the slate by more than five points. Reid’s ownership projection may grow when Towns is confirmed out, but even if it expands into negative leverage this would be a strong building block play in the frontcourt.

Reid is a singular center option on the FanDuel slate, where his lack of positional flexibility is slightly accounted for by a lower price against a higher cap. At just $4,600, Reid remains a strong option on the blue site. He lands in the optimal lineup in 26.5% of Awesemo’s simulated slates, the fourth-highest number on the board and tops among all eligible centers. The next-most highly forecast center by optimal lineup appearance rate is Serge Ibaka, who is a $4,000 option with added power forward eligibility, but one who comes with negative leverage. Most of the viable center options also have power forward eligibility. The true opportunity cost comes when compared with center-only option Nikola Jokic, who lands in the optimal lineup in just 11.2% of simulated slates for $11,500. The clear raw scoring potential of Jokic can be worth rostering, but the public is outpacing the degree to which we find him optimal in simulations, and other centers are coming up at better than double his rate. Reid seems like the clear option up top for the value. He has a 32.5-point median projection and a 58.3% boom score probability on the site, but the public is forecast for just 14.9% ownership, leaving the center with an excellent 11.6 leverage score that falls in behind only Nets big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who also slots in at power forward or center. Reid is a top option on the blue site tonight, barring a major change in his minutes projection that would come with news of Towns returning.

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Jaren Jackson Jr.: DraftKings — $6,600 — PF/C | FanDuel — $6,800 — PF/C

Another premium option with eligibility at both power forward and center across the industry is Memphis big man Jaren Jackson Jr. who is forecast for a 30.3-minute night. Jackson posted 42.7 FanDuel points in a 31-minute outing in the team’s most recent game and he has produced at a 1.13 per-minute mark through the first 36 games of his season across all situations. Jackson has a 53.6% true shooting percentage but just a 6.1% assist rate and a 9.0% rebounding percentage. He is capable of producing more than he has, just last year Jackson was a 1.26 per-minute man on essentially the same usage. With much attention going to a few of the other power forward and center options mentioned in the Reid coverage above, it seems like Jackson has the opportunity to go slightly under the radar on both sites. At a fair mid-range price and with less than appropriate ownership, Jackson would make a strong potential pivot option from the negatively leveraged plays with more popularity.

On the DraftKings slate, Jackson ranks 17th overall with a 12.8% optimal lineup appearance rate. Among eligible power forwards and centers, that mark stands seventh from the top of the board. The third-ranked player on that list is Marcus Morris Sr., who slots in with an 18.3% optimal rate, so there is not a dramatic difference between the plays after Reid and Ibaka up top. Among the top-10 players by Awesemo’s optimal rate at either center or power forward – excluding 10th ranked star Nikola Jokic, who is simply on a different tier – Jackson’s 1.13 per-minute mark is second only to teammate Brandon Clarke, who is at a 1.16 but forecast for only 20.4 minutes and less value. Jackson has a 34.3-point median projection on DraftKings and he comes in with a 29.7% boom score probability that compares to other options in the same way that his optimal lineup rate does. Jackson is an interesting alternative on the slate. He comes in at just a 10.1% ownership projection and a 2.7 leverage score that can be targeted for underappreciated value.

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As a power forward or center on FanDuel, Jackson is the 12th-most frequently optimal choice at any position. He lands in the optimal lineup in 16.8% of simulated slates on the blue site but he is drawing appropriate ownership that pushes him to a -1.2 leverage score. With ownership at 18%, Jackson is not the strong under-the-radar play that he is across town. However, with the clear value in the frequency with which he is found in the optimal lineup, as well as the upside indicated in his 26.4% boom score probability, Jackson can be targeted for lineups. The Memphis big man has a 35-point median FanDuel projection and at the fair mid-range price he makes for a solid play who is still somewhat low-owned by comparison to other top positional options.

Dennis Smith Jr.: DraftKings — $5,500 — PG | FanDuel — $4,000 — PG

The Portland rotation remains in shambles, with several primary options out and players like Tony Snell occupying real estate in the starting lineup. The Trail Blazers are expecting Anfernee Simons to play tonight, but he is currently a game-time decision, his absence would change the nature of the Dennis Smith Jr. play, which would become even more popular as the guard would enter the starting lineup once again. As it stands, Smith is still projected for a 28-minute night in Awesemo’s afternoon projections, making him an interesting value play across the industry, but one that plays very differently from site to site. Smith has produced at a 0.95 per-minute rate across all situations this season, and he has provided a 1.02 per-minute rate over the team’s three most recent games. The last time out, Smith produced a 24.4-point performance in 24 minutes. Tonight the point guard is carrying a minutes projection that should produce more than 30 fantasy points on both sites, and he has clear indicators for a potential ceiling score. At very different prices, Smith’s value depends on where one is building a lineup.

Smith is the 11th-most negatively leveraged player on the FanDuel slate at a -8.4. He trails several teammates, including Simons and Norman Powell, who are the two most negatively leveraged players on the board at -21 and -19.4 respectively. Smith costs just $4,000 at the point guard spot and he is projected for a 31-point median night. That expected production lands the guard in the optimal lineup in 44% of simulated slates, making him the leading play on the entire slate at any position. For that level of probability, Smith seems somewhat playable, even at negative leverage. At the very least, he seems like a stronger option than either teammate. Still, with a raw ownership projection in excess of 50%, there is major weight on the value play. Smith seems like the easiest way to get cheap at the point guard position, but there are other values on the board that can lead to differentiated constructions for similar upside. The Trail Blazers point guard is an interesting inflection point on the slate. He will carry half the field to either a point from which they can access the top of standings with the correct combination of players or he will tank them to a point at which success becomes unlikely. The 63.7% boom score probability suggests a stronger chance that he is a key play for success tonight, despite the extreme popularity.

The popularity is not nearly as great a concern on the DraftKings slate, because Smith comes at a higher price against a lower cap. With a $5,500 cost and eligibility at only the point guard position, Smith is a much less frequently optimal play on this site, but he comes at a strong positive leverage mark in the mid-range. Smith lands in the optimal lineup in a still good 15.7% of simulated slates and he is projected for just 11.3% popularity on the slate. By optimal lineup rate, Smith ranks ninth overall on the site. The board hits a thin plateau very quickly after the top four options, who are the only four players with a greater than 20% optimal lineup appearance rate. Smith is projected for a 31.1-point median projection and he has a 35.9% boom score probability on the slate, ranking him fourth among eligible point guards, a group in which he is the most positively leveraged option available. Smith is a sneaky play with strong metrics across the board on the DraftKings slate. He is not exactly at a discounted salary, but there is an appeal in his lack of popularity on the slate. He should be rostered ahead of the field’s projected ownership.

Bonus Pick! – Ja Morant: DraftKings — $9,800 — PG | FanDuel — $9,500 — PG

With a little time to spare and no major pay-up option featured in the article so far, it is worth spending a quick moment to look at Memphis star Ja Morant on both sites. The point guard has been on a recent tear for fantasy point production, racking up a 1.57 per-minute mark over the team’s three most recent games. Morant has produced a 1.35 rate across all situations through the first part of the season, up in a big way from the 1.08 mark that he produced on far less usage last year. The increased opportunities from 26.7% to 31% this year are part of the reason for the uptick, but Morant is also doing well as a facilitator. He has a 33.6% assist percentage this season and he is capable of producing in multiple categories. Morant remains under $10,000 on both sites, possibly for the last time for a while, getting him in lineups when the public is somewhat reluctant seems like a quality decision when perusing the top shelf across the NBA DFS industry tonight. Morant is projected for just 11.7% popularity on FanDuel and 9.4% on DraftKings. Morant’s leverage mark on the blue site is -0.9 and on DraftKings. He is at a 0.3 score, but he is a high-quality option for raw scoring with a 44.2-point median projection on the former and 45.8-point mark on the latter. His boom score probability is far higher at a lower price on FanDuel, where he lands at a targetable 18.9% value in the category, with a higher price against a lower cap on DraftKings, that rate stands at just 9.1%, but there is still perceptible value in the idea of Morant at less than 10% ownership, particularly when compared with the popularity of other similarly priced options at similar probabilities.

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

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 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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