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NBA Optimal Lineups Picks for DraftKings & FanDuel James Harden | Monday, Dec. 27

Terry McBride



A new week starts with a seven-game NBA DFS slate loaded, once again, with variables and unpredictability. According to the Vegas board, the giving season will continue tonight for fantasy basketball gamers, two games are totaled above 230 this evening. The Rockets vs Hornets game has one of the highest totals of the season, coming in at 234.5 and the Jazz vs Spurs contest checks in at 230.5, albeit with a fair margin in favor of the visitors from Utah in the point spread. With two potential big scoring nights there is sure to be a lot of focus on those games, but there is an abundance of quality throughout the slate, particularly with several distinct value points still lingering as the league looks to gain a foothold in the fight against their COVID-19 outbreak.

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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 seven games on the slate, this article will focus on several of the top plays with 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.

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.

Skylar Mays: DraftKings — $3,800 — SG| FanDuel — $4,300 — SG

One of the prime value plays on the slate comes from the still depleted Atlanta Hawks rotation, which should see guard Skylar Mays receive upward of 30 minutes. Currently projected for a 32.3-minute run in what should be a competitive game, Mays should be able to deliver upside for the low cost. In the team’s last outing, Mays delivered 20 fantasy points in 23 minutes of action, and he has contributed at a 0.83 per-minute rate over the team’s last three games. For the season, the shooting guard has the same 0.83 rate, having played in just 10 games so far. In the limited action, Mays has contributed as a facilitator, racking up a 28.2% assist share to go with his 56.9% true shooting percentage and a 6.0% rebounding rate. If the minutes projections hold through the afternoon, Mays looks like an excellent play across both sites this evening. The Hawks have more inactive players than active this evening, and almost all of their primary guards are laid up, so it is well within reason that Mays will meet or potentially exceed those projected minutes.

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On the FanDuel slate, Mays stands as the second-most frequently optimal player at any position, with point guard and shooting guard eligible Jalen Brunson being the only player who outpaces the Hawks guard. Mays costs about half of what Brunson does, but they can easily be paired since they both come at excellent positive leverage marks and should be major building blocks this evening. Mays lands in the optimal lineup 30.2% of the time, but the public is trailing the play by a wide margin. The 19.4% ownership projection leaves him with a massive 10.8 leverage score that should not exist on such a strong value play. The 32.3-point median projection is very realistic, and at just a $4,300 salary, in spite of a lack of positional eligibility, Mays checks in with a slate-leading 63.7% boom score probability. This is a dynamite option this evening; even at the less than desirable per-minute rates that he has posted so far, the price and expected time on the hardwood are more than enough reason to include Mays in far more lineup shares than where the public is currently rostering him.

The situation applies similarly on DraftKings, where Mays is also restricted to just the shooting guard position but blasts through any concerns about the production with excellent probability rankings and positive leverage. He lands in the optimal lineup in 30.9% of simulated slates but the field is only rostering him in a projected 21.1% of lineups at his low $3,800 cost, this is an inefficiency that can be exploited by sharp players. Mays has a 9.8 leverage score on the slate, he is projected for a 32.7-point median score and his ceiling is at a ridiculous 69.1% boom score probability. That mark leads the DraftKings slate at any position, coming in a full seven percentage points above fellow value play, Nathan Knight, who is a $3,300 center on the site. With other $3,000-4,000 players occupying the top spots by boom score percentage, Mays stands the tallest for his lack of popularity, he is a great option for upside and lineup differentiation purposes and should be rostered accordingly.

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Larry Nance Jr.: DraftKings — $5,200 — PF/C | FanDuel — $5,700 — PF/SF

The Trail Blazers are another team that will be missing most of their regular starting lineup and a significant number of role players. This situation should create excellent NBA DFS opportunities around a number of options, not the least of which is forward Larry Nance Jr. who will have to do a lot of the team’s dirty work around the basket this evening. Nance is joined near the top of the boom/bust board by teammate Nassir Little, who is also an excellent value piece and likely building block for tonight, but it is Nance who lands at positive leverage and less overall popularity; despite the higher price, Nance is the preferred player in this space for that reason. The Portland forward is familiar to most DFS gamers, he has delivered value at times when given opportunities, and he lands at a fair price on both sites. Across all situations in the 32 games that he has played this year, Nance has produced 0.86 fantasy points per minute, a mark that he has maintained across the three most recent games in which he appeared. In his last outing, the forward delivered a 31.2-point night in just 28 minutes, if he is able to provide more than a fantasy point per minute, he will make for a splendid option with ownership only reaching the mid-teens. With a 35.2-minute projection this evening, Nance should be able to blast through his strong median projections into the upper atmosphere of slate-relevant scoring.

On FanDuel, Nance is the 11th most frequently optimal player at any position, but he lands third among small forwards and is also the third-ranked play at power forward. For a $5,700 investment, Nance is not quite an extreme value play, but he is an excellent option who is getting overlooked in the mid-range this evening. Nance is projected for just 19.1% ownership, but he lands in the optimal lineup in 25.2% of Awesemo’s simulated slates. With a targetable 6.1 leverage score and a sharp 34.5% boom score probability that vaults ahead of fellow power forward option Al Horford, there are good reasons to expect an upside game and a potentially outcome-altering score from the Portland forward. Nance is projected for a 32.4-point median score on the blue site, he is a strong value that the public is not getting to frequently enough.

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The play gains ground on the DraftKings slate, while Nance lands in the optimal lineup in a lower-by-comparison 21.9% of simulated slates that actually makes him the ninth-most frequently optimal player at any position. Correctly positioned between power forward and center on the site, Nance comes in with a very reasonable $5,200 salary for his 32.5-point median projection. This thrusts him to a 36.1% boom score probability that is also the ninth-highest rate at any position. That frequency of hitting a ceiling score is eclipsed somewhat by fellow values Mason Plumlee, Gorgui Dieng, and Knight at the center position, but Nance is the only member of that quartet that also slots in at power forward, making combinations a breeze. He is the third-most frequently optimal power forward, trailing only Little and $3,700 Jalen McDaniels at the position. Getting to added shares of Nance should be easy on this slate; the public is projected for just a 15.7% ownership rate, far behind the optimal lineup rate, leaving the player at a highly favorable 6.5 leverage score. Nance should be clicked on frequently when building DraftKings NBA DFS lineups tonight.

James Harden: DraftKings — $11,200 — PG | FanDuel — $11,000 — SG/PG

The starting lineup for the Nets is also in shambles this evening, most of the normally relevant players have been waylaid by the league’s Health and Safety Protocols, leaving a better team on the shelf than the one that will take the court. Still, in a game projected to remain fairly competitive, there is one shining star on the Brooklyn roster who will be forced to carry his team on his back this evening. Superstar James Harden has produced 1.29 fantasy points per minute across all situations this season and has seen a major jump in recent outings with many teammates, but primarily fellow star Kevin Durant, off the floor. The Nets are inarguably a better basketball team with those players present, but the uptick to a Jokician 1.82 per-minute rate over the team’s three most recent contests should not be ignored. In 107 minutes without Durant and many of tonight’s absent players off the court this season, Harden has seen a gigantic 37.7% usage rate and has delivered 1.76 fantasy points per minute. He is the North Star in the sky of tonight’s slate. The public will be on him, but at the anticipated production, he is far more a piece of pay-up good chalk than he is a negative play.

Harden ranks third on the blue site with a 35.3% optimal lineup appearance rate despite doubling as the slate’s most expensive player at $11,000. He is helped by eligibility at both guard positions, but a player who is priced $1,600 above anyone else on the slate should typically not be such a strong play. The projection is simply that strong. Harden is carrying a 50.4-point median mark in 37.1 projected minutes, in 39 minutes in the team’s most recent outing he delivered a 71-point ceiling score, a feat he could easily manage once again in the last game of the night against the Clippers. Harden’s 18.6% boom score probability is the one point at which the high salary has a bit of an impact, but he is projected to easily outpace most other options and he seems worth an investment (it is worth noting that LaMelo Ball makes for a strong point guard pivot, or a good pay-up alongside Harden option on the FanDuel slate; he is positively leveraged despite a $9,400 salary). Harden slips into slightly negative leverage territory, but the star power should overcome just a -3.0 mark and deliver enough raw point scoring to make it work.

On DraftKings, the Nets star is relegated to just the point guard position and his price is higher against a lower cap, climbing all the way to $11,200. However, he lands in the optimal lineup in 27.2% of simulated slates despite the hefty price, making the play worthwhile on this side of town as well. Harden ranks third overall by optimal rate, landing behind only Brunson at the point guard spot, with Mays in the middle as a shooting guard option who can and should be played with either or both fellow guards. The trio makes for a strong start to a “core” for those who prefer to view lineup construction through that prism. Harden is projected for a slate-leading 54.6-point median score and he has a 17.1% boom score probability meaning there is a reasonable chance of upside along the lines of the 71-point performance we just saw. The field is rostering Harden aggressively on DraftKings; he is projected for a 35% ownership share and a -7.8 leverage score. However, that is not enough weight to scare off the quality of the play and the potential for a slate-bending score from the Nets superstar. Get Harden in lineups and get different at other positions.

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We also have FanDuel NBA rankings, Yahoo! ownership rankings and DraftKings NBA ownership rankings for today's slate. Check out our daily fantasy rankings NBA for fantasy points and values that are derived directly from Alex Baker's own most accurate NBA DFS projections. View our FanDuel NBA ownership projections, our DraftKings ownership and our Yahoo! NBA ownership projections. Looking for more NBA DFS value plays and the best free NBA DFS tools? Our NBA DFS projections FanDuel 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 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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