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NBA Optimal Lineups Picks for DraftKings & FanDuel Jimmy Butler | Monday, Dec. 28

Terry McBride



A larger-than-normal Tuesday slate of NBA DFS action features eight games that offer an enticing blend of star power and extreme value plays on both sites. The board in Vegas is carrying just two totals above the 220 mark, the matchup between the Lakers and Rockets is slated as the highest scoring of the night at 225, with the Thunder vs Kings contest dropping in a point behind it at 224. The entire slate features intriguing matchups and we are starting to see some recently missing players clear protocols and rejoin their teams, which helps to fill out the ranks of quality NBA DFS plays, to a degree. Of course, most teams will still be missing a host of players and standout values top the board once again, making it a challenge to parse through the good and bad chalk of the night.

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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 eight 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.

Jordan McLaughlin: DraftKings — $3,200 — PG| FanDuel — $3,600 — PG

Update: As this article was being written, several Timberwolves players cleared the protocol, it remains unclear who will be available tonight, monitoring news is mandatory for this play.

The Timberwolves will be at home to take on the Knicks this evening, but most of the Minnesota stars and key contributors are laid up on the sidelines once again. This situation renders several Timberwolves as strong value options this evening, not the least of which is big man Nathan Knight, who is coming off a 43.2-fantasy-point outing in 29 minutes. Knight is an extremely cheap option at power forward on FanDuel and center on DraftKings, but he is negatively leveraged into the 20+ range, with ownership hovering around 70% against optimal lineup rates in the 45% range. Other Minnesota options, including Jaylen Nowell and Malik Beasley, are listed near the top of the probability board as well, with Nowell drawing positive leverage across both sites and Beasley carrying efficient ownership. The option currently drawing the eye, however, is Jordan McLaughlin. It is worth noting at the outset that a return by Patrick Beverley would likely have a diminishing effect on the McLaughlin play, reducing his potential minutes. For the season, McLaughlin has averaged 0.69 fantasy points per minute on just 13% usage. He has a strong 29.6% assist rate and a ridiculously bad 35.9% true shooting percentage. Over the team’s three most recent games, McLaughlin has produced at a 0.73 per-minute mark, seeing 20.3 minutes per game. In starter’s minutes last night, he posted a 26.2-point outing, racking up fewer minutes than Nowell received coming off the bench. Assuming Beverley does not make it back, the appeal in McLaughlin is between the price and the ownership. He is a major leverage piece on both sites for a minimal investment, despite the uninspiring rates this season.

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On the FanDuel slate, McLaughlin comes in with a 20.3% optimal lineup appearance rate on a 26.2-point median projection. That places him fifth overall on the site, behind just Nowell, Knight, and stars Jimmy Butler and LeBron James in the optimal lineup category. In that list only Nowell, Butler, and McLaughlin carry positive leverage, while Knight is dramatically negative and James’ ownership is level with his probability marks. McLaughlin comes in with a 48.1% boom score probability on the blue site, ranking him third among all players on the slate, behind just his two teammates. The point guard costs a mere $3,600 and he is projected for just 14.4% ownership, which leaves a targetable 5.9 leverage score. This play requires monitoring the news, if Beverley starts it will be reflected in later updates to McLaughlin’s probability metrics, which will nosedive into unplayable territory. If Beverley is missing in action once again, this is one of the stronger spots on the slate for differentiated value.

McLaughlin is less expensive on DraftKings at just $3,200. He is one of the leading pieces for boom score probability on the slate, ranking third overall behind just Nowell and Knight, at 62.7%. With his teammates at 82.1% and 76.9%, respectively, the obviousness of the Minnesota value plays is on display. McLaughlin will be owned at half the rate of both of those options. If he is a full-go for minutes with Beverley on the shelf, he seems like a terrific option to pick up some leverage on the slate. McLaughlin lands in the optimal lineup in 21% of Awesemo’s simulated slates, but he is projected for just 9.3% ownership on this side of town, leaving an extraordinarily favorable 11.7 leverage score that stands second on the entire slate. With this game starting an hour after lock, we can only hope to have the Beverley news in hand; if not, it will be important to have a backup plan to pivot away from McLaughlin shares, which could prove tricky at this low a price. McLaughlin could be either a major piece of value or a late-breaking landmine of a play on both sites tonight, depending on which way that news swings.

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Gary Payton II: DraftKings — $5,000 — PG/SG | FanDuel — $5,500 — SG

With a host of players still out and only Andre Iguodala listed as a current question mark, it seems reasonable to expect extended minutes in the starting unit for Gary Payton II once again this evening. Payton has averaged 27 minutes per game over the team’s last three, well up from the 15.5 he has seen on the average over the 32 games he has played in total this year. In the recent three-game stretch, Payton has provided 1.05 fantasy points per minute, which is in line with his 1.06 on the season, which he posts despite just a 15.2% usage rate. The guard has a 71.3% true shooting percentage but just a 6.9% assist rate. He does bring a strong for a backup guard 10.2% rebounding share to the table, and his defensive acumen contributes additional point-scoring opportunities for NBA DFS purposes. Payton is averaging 1.5 stocks in his limited season run, a number that scales to 2.8 steals and 0.6 blocks on a per-36 scale. The field seems uncomfortable paying for him in the $5,000 range, leaving him in single-digit ownership territory despite the strong probability metrics.

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On the DraftKings slate, Payton costs $5,000 and slots in as either a point guard or shooting guard. He is projected for a 29.4-point median night which leaves him at a strong 37.5% boom score probability for the fair salary. In a projected 30.9-minute night, there will be plenty of time for Payton to rack up counting stats to pad his NBA DFS scoring potential, there is far more upside than what the public is crediting him for. The field is projected to roster Payton at a microscopic 3.3%. Weighed against a 15.9% optimal lineup appearance rate, Payton is left with a slate-leading 12.6 leverage score tonight. Between the positional flexibility and general points-per-dollar upside, there are good reasons to play a dramatically under-owned Payton in DraftKings NBA lineups tonight.

Across town on the blue site, Payton climbs in cost to $5,500 against a higher cap. He is restricted to just the shooting guard position on this site, but it only has a minimal impact on his overall value. Despite the higher cost and positional rigidity, Payton has a 22.8% optimal lineup appearance rate on his 31-point median projection. He is carrying a sturdy 32.7% boom score probability that ranks ninth on the entire slate and third among shooting guards behind Butler and Lakers role player Talen Horton-Tucker. Butler is projected for a 40.3% ownership mark and Horton-Tucker is carrying a 21.4% popularity projection on the FanDuel slate. Payton, meanwhile, is projected for just 7.4% public exposure, which provides a slate-leading 15.4 leverage score against his excellent probability marks. With the strongest leverage score, a respectable median projection base, and excellent probability marks, barring any news that changes the shape of the play, Payton is an excellent option across the industry as a low-owned tournament play.

Star Power

The availability of so many strong value plays continues to yield opportunities to play several stars in a lineup, and today’s board leans into the construction. Several of the top options by price and median projection are also carrying strong probability marks and, at the worst, playable leverage and ownership scores. On DraftKings, all of James, Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander land in the top-15 by optimal lineup appearance rate. On FanDuel, Jokic slips to 21st, but the other four players are all in the top-13 by optimal lineup rate.

On FanDuel, the only center options stronger than the $11,600 Jokic’s 13.5% optimal lineup appearance rate are fellow center-only plays Jonas Valanciunas (16.3%) and Joel Embiid (13.8%). Knicks big man Julius Randle has power forward eligibility on his 17.8% rate and can be played in tandem with any of the pure centers. Jokic is projected for 15.9% ownership compared to an 18.4% mark on Embiid at $900 less and 16.3% for Valanciunas at $7,700. Jokic makes a strong center pivot, but the salary requirement slightly suppresses his always massive upside by comparison to other options. On DraftKings, Jokic is ranked 12th overall with a 16.5% optimal lineup rate. He costs $12,400 on the site and slots in behind Antetokounmpo, who also carries center eligibility on DraftKings. Only Knight and Omar Yurtseven rank higher by optimal rate, but obviously come nowhere near the raw 55.7-point projection on the Denver big man. Jokic is a strong play where he can be afforded, but the field is not allowing any room. He is efficiently owned and in negative leverage on both sites.

The top-ranked star play on DraftKings is LeBron James, who lands at a 30.3% optimal lineup rate but is a -7.9 leverage play who is projected for 38.2% popularity. James has a 55.1-point median projection for his $11,300 salary, leaving him a 33.6% boom score probability that is a strong grade for such a highly priced player. The superstar averages 1.35 fantasy points per minute and has posted a 1.66 rate over the team’s three most recent games. He is always worth getting to, but the field will be matching the play frequently. James has a 37.5% optimal lineup appearance rate on FanDuel, which is the fourth highest at any position on the site for his $10,900 salary. He is also coming in at positive leverage with a 3.5 score in the category, only 34% of the field is projected to include the 45.2-point median projection in their plans this evening, James is an excellent pay-up option on the blue site.

Butler has returned to action for the Miami Heat, and he immediately grades out as a strong play from site to site. In his most recent outing, Butler posted a 44.7-point night in 35 minutes, and he has averaged 1.27 fantasy points per minute this year across all situations. The Heat will still be without Bam Adebayo and a number of other options, which should thrust Butler into the spotlight and give him an uptick in everything we care about. He is carrying a 39.2% optimal lineup rate on the FanDuel slate and a 25% rate on DraftKings and he comes at fair ownership on both sites. Getting to Butler at or around the field’s rate is a solid plan for this evening, but considering a slight undercut and reallocating some shares to star players with lower raw ownership projections could be worthwhile as well.

Curry seems like something of a forgotten star by comparison. He is projected for just 21% ownership on FanDuel and 15.4% on DraftKings, likely because of a seemingly prohibitive salary. Curry is a $10,400 option on FanDuel where he lands in 18.7% of optimal lineups and has the same number in his boom score probability. The Golden State star is an $11,500 point guard on DraftKings and he will be owned at just 15.7%, but that plays more evenly with his 13.7% optimal lineup rate. Curry will have to deliver a big scoring night to pay off the hefty salary on that slate. He is a better option on FanDuel, but he should be mixed and matched into lineups on both sites.

The star with the best leverage on FanDuel is Antetokounmpo, who is eligible at both forward spots for $11,300 on the site. He has produced 1.68 fantasy points per minute, and he put up a ridiculous 61.9-fantasy-point total in just 30 minutes in his return to action the last time out, a 2.06 per-minute mark. Nothing will stop Antetokounmpo from producing at that type of clip again tonight. He is facing the hapless Magic and he is owned at just a 20.8% rate against a 23.5% optimal lineup rate on the blue site. On DraftKings, Antetokounmpo is projected to be owned by 18.1% of the field and he is slightly negatively leveraged with a 17.3% optimal rate.

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