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NBA Optimal Lineups Picks for DraftKings & FanDuel Keldon Johnson | Friday, Dec. 31

Terry McBride



Happy New Year, Awesemo NBA DFS fans. The final day of daily fantasy fear and loathing in this foul year of our lord, 2021, is here, and all gamers can all hope for is more stable lineups and the end of COVID-19 chaos in the coming months. For today, the NBA DFS gods have granted an interesting seven-game slate filled with values, stars and potentially slate-winning selections from the mid-range. The slate includes three games later in the evening that are all totaled above 220, with the hammer coming in the final contest of the evening, a 227.5 total in Trail Blazers vs Lakers game. This should provide numerous opportunities for late-swapping into better position as the night rolls along, and there will be a lot of NBA DFS gamers targeting the premium plays from the late games. Getting to the right blend of positively leveraged plays while leaving room for both the obvious and the pivots from later contests is a strong approach to lineup building across the industry 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 seven games on the slate, this article will focus on several of the top overall plays from different salary tiers 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.

Kyle Guy: DraftKings — $3,800 — PG | FanDuel — $3,500 –SG

After looking like a clear go-to for several different salary tiers before their most recent game was postponed, the Heat return to the very top of the Boom/Bust Tool by virtue of a simple lack of bodies. There are several relevant players from the Heat taking up residence near the peak of probability percentages on this slate, most of whom were covered in this space two days ago. All of Tyler HerroCaleb Martin and Omer Yurtseven should deliver obvious value and the field has not yet come around to the quality available. Joining their ranks for this one is extreme value option Kyle Guy, who is a minimum-priced shooting guard on FanDuel and a $3,800 point guard on DraftKings. Guy is a veteran of 34 NBA games. He signed a 10-day contract with the Heat yesterday and today he is projected for a 32-minute night in the rotation, such is the nature of NBA basketball in the days of COVID-19. In his limited career, Guy has produced 13.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists per-36, but his career playing time amounts to a mere 245 minutes. He has a career true shooting percentage of just 44.7% and he has shot 26% from three, this is not an awe-inspiring producer of fantasy points.

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At the flat minimum, Guy is a potential value play on the FanDuel slate. He lands ninth overall on the slate with a 26.3% optimal lineup appearance rate in early afternoon projections, but the field is nowhere close to an appropriate level of exposure if that projection holds. Guy is forecast to be in just 6.1% of public lineups, which would leave him at a slate-leading 20.2 leverage score that would be one of the bigger numbers of the season in the category. If everything holds firm, Guy’s value would be clear. He is projected for a 25.2-point median night and he has a 47.2% boom score probability at the minimum price. By boom score percentage he is the third-best option on the slate while coming in dramatically less popular than similarly ranked plays. Guy sits 14 or more percentage points behind the next 10 highest boom score marks on the blue site today. If the projection for his playing time holds, Guy is a strong option for both value and lineup differentiation, but expectations should probably be somewhat tempered given the experience and talent levels at hand.

On DraftKings, Guy costs a little more and comes up less frequently optimal, but he is still very much in play. Guy has a 21.8% optimal lineup appearance rate, sixth on the site and second at his position behind only Herro. The field is not getting to either of the Heat guards with enough urgency, Herro leads the slate with a 45.1% optimal lineup rate but he is projected for just 30.7% ownership, leaving a 14.4 leverage score. Meanwhile, Guy is projected for just 2.1% popularity, which rockets him up the board to a slate-leading 19.7 leverage score tonight. Either player is a strong option on a points-per-dollar basis and at ownership, they can be rostered in any number of combinations with other quality plays tonight. Guy is projected for a 26.3-point median night on DraftKings, and he has a 44.2% boom score probability, the fifth-highest point on the slate at any position. Paying attention to the news and updates to projections and probabilities will be critical here, if it becomes apparent that Guy will not play the role currently anticipated by the minutes he has been allocated, this play could change dramatically before lock. As things stand, this is an underappreciated asset from the very bottom salary tier.

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Keldon Johnson: DraftKings — $5,900 — PF | FanDuel — $6,400 — PF/SF

Looking from the value range to some more reliable talent in the middle of the salary board, Spurs forward Keldon Johnson stands out as a potentially under-owned option at a fair price. Johnson is projected for a 35.7-minute night in the team’s matchup against the Grizzlies, and he comes at positive leverage across the industry. The Spurs forward has produced a 0.89 fantasy points per minute rate this season, up from 0.85 on slightly less usage last year. Johnson has a 56.8% true shooting percentage to go with a 7.5% assist share and 9.9% rebounding rate. The forward has stepped up over the team’s three most recent games, posting a 0.98 per-minute mark in 30 minutes a game. With a bit more time on the floor and plenty to do, there should be a nice opportunity for Johnson’s production to outpace his popularity, making him a targetable play on this slate on both sites.

Johnson ranks fifth overall on the DraftKings board when sorting by optimal lineup rate. He lands in the winning lineup in 21.9% of Awesemo’s simulated slates but the field is behind the curve on the power forward, rostering him just 18.6% of the time. With a 31.5-point median projection and a 3.3 leverage score there is an appeal in the underappreciated player, his $5,900 salary and his position both fit well into builds that follow the clear optimal build path as well as those that depart from that line of construction. The 24.7% boom score probability at his salary is a respectable mark, but it lands 16th overall on the slate, so the value comes more in differentiation than pure upside. It would not be surprising to see Johnson outscore his median projection, but the absolute ceiling score is less likely. For the fair mid-range value, getting additional shares of Johnson into DraftKings lineups is a strong idea. He should be in lineups at a rate above the field, but something in the neighborhood of 25% exposure seems more correct than getting bogged down by shares of the player.

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On the FanDuel slate, Johnson’s price rises to $6,400, but he picks up eligibility at the small forward position, extending his utility. Johnson ranks 14th overall on the slate with a 21.2% optimal lineup appearance rate. Johnson is projected for just a 14.6% public exposure, which would land him at a premium 6.6 leverage score that not many others on the slate are capable of reaching tonight. Johnson is slated for a 30.5-point median projection, but the 15% boom score probability shows the minor cap on his absolute ceiling score tonight. Johnson should be mixed into lineups at around 25% on the FanDuel slate as well, though getting extended beyond that point at the expense of other strong plays in lineups could be a bit of a dangerous proposition from an opportunity cost perspective.

LeBron James: DraftKings — $12,000 — PF | FanDuel — $11,200 — SF/PF

Now a 37-year-old grizzled veteran, Lakers superstar LeBron James looks like a standout pay-up option across the NBA DFS industry once again this evening. A very different range of prices from site-to-site at the top-end of salary makes it difficult to talk about players like Trae Young as go-to’s on both sites tonight; Young is an $11,500 point guard who is only 11.8% optimal on the DraftKings slate, but he is priced at a mere $9,700 on FanDuel, making him one of the top stars on the board and thrusting him into 29.5% of the optimal lineups. Similarly, Damian LillardJarrett AllenRussell Westbrook and Jimmy Butler are all at much lower and far more valuable prices on the blue site tonight. James is the lone star who is projected for quality while also being similarly high priced on both sites. James has posted a 1.76 fantasy points per minute mark over the team’s three most recent outings, putting up a 70.1 FanDuel score in 38 minutes the last time he took the court. For the season, James has produced at a 1.39 per-minute mark, the highest rate available from any player on tonight’s slate. He will be popular and lands in negative leverage across the industry, but there is enough value and there are several places to offset major ownership weight with leverage plays, so gamers the popularity and roster the production. The added consideration is the lack of star power at the forward spot this evening. At a point, it is best to book pure NBA DFS point-scoring potential into lineups.

On FanDuel, James is an $11,200 option at either forward position. He lands in the optimal lineup in 24.7% of simulated slates but he will be owned by 33.7% of the field, leaving him at a -9.0 leverage score. The concern is generally offset by the ability to roster James in multiple positions and a wide range of differentiated lineup configurations on the site. The forward has a 52.7-point median projection and an excellent 23.2% boom score probability that is fourth among players priced at $9,000 or more on the site. It is worth paying attention to the cost differences here. James is not only the most expensive player on the FanDuel slate, but he is $1,400 more expensive than Westbrook, the next-most expensive option. The difference is clear in his median projection, however, and James can be included in lineups without much detriment, even when considering the value of salary savings in constructions. The superstar should be rostered at least with the field, and a case can be made that additional shares will have value on a slate of this size and shape.

The DraftKings board sees James land as a $12,000 power forward only selection who comes up in the optimal lineup in 15% of simulated slates. He is at a -9.4 leverage position on the slate, with 24.4% of the public including him in lineups in afternoon projections. Still, the clear raw scoring potential should not be entirely ignored. James is projected for a 55-point median night, several fantasy points higher than similarly expensive players on the slate. The salary differential is not what it is on the blue site; Trae Young, for example, sits just $500 short of James’ salary on this site. The Lakers star has a 17.3% boom score probability, which sits third among the highest-priced players available. While the savings provided by other options can purchase upside in other positions, no one has the raw potential that James provides from the ground up. He can be included in lineups at or above the public’s ownership projection, but there are other considerations for similar salaries. Given the positioning, James will likely see an uptick in optimal lineup rate at the forward spot if Heat star Jimmy Butler is unable to play, virtually all of the other premium options on the slate are at the guard positions, leaving James as a lone standout forward if the currently questionable option from the Heat does not take the floor.

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