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NBA DFS Optimizer Picks Tonight for DraftKings & FanDuel Lineups Ja Morant | Sunday 3/13/22

Terry McBride



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A five-game Sunday evening slate tips off an hour early, with a 6 pm ET start time set to include the Philadelphia vs Orlando game. That lopsided contest comes in with the 76ers favored by more than 12 and with a 223-point total and the game should offer several useful pieces for NBA DFS lineup building, including superstar center Joel Embiid, who is likely to hit his ceiling even in a blowout in this matchup. The slate peaks with a 237-point total between the Pacers and Hawks, with the Rockets vs Pelicans and Lakers vs Suns games also cracking the 230-point mark. With plenty of star power and some obvious value plays, the slate is coming together in clear ways. Finding the correct bolt-on pieces to round out a lineup with reliably productive positively leveraged upside players is the differentiation point on a slate with a few strong focal points.

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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 five games on the slate, this article will focus on the top overall plays that also have positive leverage 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.

NBA DFS Optimizer Picks for DraftKings & FanDuel Lineups

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.

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Jonas Valanciunas: DK $8,300 — C | FD $8,400 — C

With a limited number of major upside centers on the board (read: no Nikola Jokic) Pelicans’ big man Jonas Valanciunas rises toward the top of the board this evening across the industry. Valanciunas can be weighed fairly against superstar Joel Embiid, who is roughly $4,000 more expensive and less frequently optimal on DraftKings, where multiple centers can be rostered. On FanDuel, that comparison runs a bit thin, as Embiid and Valanciunas cannot be rostered together, creating opportunity cost around the cheap-for-him Embiid on the blue site. Overall, Valanciunas is an underrated contributor and has been through most of the season. Across all situations, the talented center has a 1.19 fantasy points per minute rate on 23.8% usage, a 60.8% true shooting percentage and quality supporting statistics. Valanciunas fills every box on the stat sheet, contributing a strong 13% assist percentage and an 18.4% rebounding rate. He is not the most stout defender on the court, but he adds 1.6 stocks per-36 to pad stats slightly.

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On the DraftKings slate, Valanciunas lands in the top lineup in 22.6% of Awesemo’s simulated slates, the sixth-most frequently optimal player on the board at any position. That also ranks Valanciunas as the most frequently optimal center, Embiid checks in at a 16.3% rate for his $12,000 salary, while superstar LeBron James also has center eligibility with his power forward positioning and checks in at a 12.8% optimal rate for $11,800. With Valanciunas coming in far less expensive, it makes sense to give him shares at the center spot and build in one of the superstars alongside him. Valanciunas is projected for a 43-point median DraftKings score and he has a sharp 32.3% boom score probability that makes him the fourth-most likely player to hit his salary-based ceiling score on the slate. Valanciunas will be owned by the public, he is currently projected for an efficient 22.2% ownership, leaving just a 0.4 leverage score, he is highly playable at these ownership numbers, however, making him a strong fit in a number of interesting premium lineup constructions tonight.

The story changes significantly around FanDuel’s singular center requirement. The New Orleans pivot drops from his strong platform of optimal lineup appearances from site to site, checking in at just a 14.6% optimal lineup rate in simulations. That makes him the 20th most frequently optimal player at any position and the fourth-most frequently optimal center. Embiid climbs to the top on the FanDuel slate, surprising exactly no one. He stands at a 30.3% optimal rate with -7.4 leverage and makes a ton of sense to occupy most center shares on the blue site. Also dropping in above Valanciunas by optimal rate are Jaren Jackson Jr. and John Collins, both of whom can be rostered at power forward. The positional flexibility around those two options and the players immediately below Valanciunas on the board, namely Christian Wood and Wendell Carter Jr., help keep the New Orleans center as afloat as he is. If Valanciunas were competing directly with all of those options for center shares he would come up less frequently optimal. As it stands, Valanciunas can be the primary pivot when not rostering Embiid on the slate, with those players clicking in at forward. He has a strong 41.2-point median projection that exceeds those of any of the multi-positional options listed above, and his 25.42% boom score probability outpaces all of them but Jackson Jr. Valanciunas is slated for a mere 11.5% public popularity, with Embiid soaking in much of the available ownership at the center spot. That leaves the New Orleans big man with a targetable 3.1 leverage score, but again he has to be weighed by opportunity cost, it is difficult to reassemble Embiid’s ceiling in the aggregate, even with the $2,300 salary savings.

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Cameron Payne: DK $6,500 — PG/SG | FD $7,400 — PG

On the other side of the coin, point guard Cameron Payne looks like a stronger play on the FanDuel slate than he is at a higher cost on DraftKings. The guard has seen steady minutes and a starting role in the absence of Chris Paul, and he exploded for value on a recent slate that was also short one Devin Booker. With Booker in the starting lineup alongside him, Payne will have someone to defer to on the court, but he still has significant fantasy scoring potential and he comes at a fair price. Payne has been a 1.02 fantasy points per minute player on 24.8% usage across all situations this season, and in 191 minutes without Paul on the floor since the beginning of February, Payne has returned a 1.20 per minute rate, borderline star-caliber production for which he has yet to be appropriately priced. The talented guard has just a 49.9% true shooting percentage, if he made more buckets he would be a major asset in this situation. As it stands, Payne gets strong production from his 30.7% assist rate and he scores 18.5 points per-36 while adding 1.6 stocks and 4.8 rebounds.

On DraftKings, Payne has seen his price climb to $7,400, putting him squarely in the mid-range but not detracting too much from his quality probability metrics. The Suns guard has a 19.1% optimal lineup appearance rate on this slate, making him the ninth-most frequently optimal player at any position. His star teammate stands several spots above him on the board, Booker comes in with a 23% optimal rate for his $9,200 salary, but Payne is a quality alternative who offers a 37.1-point median projection with a 22.86% boom score probability. Booker has a 46.2-point median and a 28.41% boom score mark from the higher salary point. In no way is this an argument that Payne is the better player, or even the better DFS play in a vacuum, but at his salary there is a good reason to consider him in lineups where paying for something else is a major upgrade compared to the delta between the two Suns guards. Payne also benefits from lower raw ownership, he checks in with a 19.3% popularity mark and -0.2 leverage, making him the least popular player in the top-10 by optimal lineup rate after Jaren Jackson Jr. at 16.1%. It makes sense to chase shares of Payne where his value salary helps pay for premium options in other spots.

FanDuel has Payne still at just $6,500, which lands him as the third-most frequently optimal player at any position on the blue site. Payne is in the optimal lineup at either guard position in 41.3% of Awesemo’s simulated slates, putting him immediately behind Devonte’ Graham and his 43.8% optimal rate at both guard spots. Graham is a 0.80 per-minute player who has kicked things up to a 0.97 rate over the team’s three most recent games, but even the enhanced rate falls well short of the standard performance from Payne, let alone his 1.2 mark since the start of February in this situation. Payne is the better raw option; he costs just $800 more than Graham and is nine percentage points less popular than the Pelicans’ guard who will be in 52.7% of the public’s lineups at a -8.9 leverage score. Payne makes sense, he has a 35.73-point median projection and a 34.13% boom score probability that can be inserted reliably into a lineup to create purchasing power at other positions. The Suns guard will be popular, but he seems worthwhile at the situationally low price tag.

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Dueling Point Guards

With the Grizzlies and Thunder squaring off in a game with a 227.5-point total and Memphis favored by 14 points, this game may not seem like the prime target for rostering star quality that could be at risk of blowout limitations. Still, each team offers an ascending star-caliber point guard who lands cleanly on the board for probability, upside, and leverage that draw the eye. On the DraftKings slate, $10,400 Memphis star Ja Morant lands 23rd overall with a 13.1% optimal lineup appearance rate, one spot above LeBron James who has a 12.8% mark. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sits in eighth overall with a 20.4% optimal rate for his $10,300 salary. The comparable guards have been highly productive throughout the entire season. Morant has a 1.39 fantasy points per minute rate across all situations, and he has been at a 1.50 rate over the team’s three most recent games, including a 60.8-point FanDuel outing in 38 minutes in the team’s most recent game. Gilgeous-Alexander has a 1.21 season-long rate and a recent three-game run at 1.54 but slipped with just a 22.6-point outing in 31 minutes the last time out. The Thunder point guard is projected for a 50.6-point median score while Morant checks in at a 47.6-point mark, leaving the latter at a 17.28% boom score probability that falls 10 percentage points below that of Gilgeous-Alexander. Morant claws back value by virtue of a lower raw ownership projection, the Memphis star is slated for 11.5% popularity and a 1.6 leverage score on DraftKings, while Gilgeous-Alexander’s 25% popularity drops him to a -4.6 leverage score. With both players looking like strong bets, they should both be rostered aggressively. Morant is potentially under-owned on the site, while Gilgeous-Alexander has the stronger probability metrics for a similar price. A strong blend of the two players is recommended, but for the gains in lineup differentiation, Morant is slightly favored in this space, despite the lower overall probability marks.

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On the FanDuel slate, Gilgeous-Alexander ranks fifth overall with a 36.7% optimal rate for his $10,300 salary, while Morant sits 10th with a 24.3% optimal lineup rate for $10,200. The comparable guards have similar median projections, with Morant slightly behind at 46.09 compared to 49.27, but Gilgeous-Alexander gains further ground based on his multi-position eligibility. Morant can be rostered only at point guard, while his counterpart also slots into shooting guard, making him a slightly better fit for a wider variety of lineup combinations, though that could be negated by a 36.7% ownership projection that outstrips Morant’s rate by 14 percentage points. Morant will be at a 1.6 leverage score, while Gilgeous-Alexander sits at perfectly efficient ownership and a 0.0 leverage score that would engage Dean Wormer. Morant has just a 16.49% boom score probability, falling well short of the 24.79% rate at which Gilgeous-Alexander hits his ceiling score, but based on the actual player ceiling potential and the fairly ownership advantage provided by the Memphis star, he edges out the competition on this site as well. Gilgeous-Alexander is projected slightly higher and has the stronger probability metrics, but the gains in the lower raw ownership and leverage categories on a tight five-game slate seemingly provide enough to make up for the difference. Both guard should be rostered heavily and they can be played together, but when deciding between the two Morant’s leverage wins the day on FanDuel as well.

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