This is our primary in-depth NBA DFS article, and it will be free this season. The goal of this article isn’t just to give you a few plays to plug into your lineup, but to dig a little bit deeper into why projections may (or may not) like certain players. Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll have a better feel for the slate as a whole. Combining the context from this article with the raw data that is available in our Boom/Bust tool, Projections and Ownership Projections should allow you to build strong lineups and make optimal NBA DFS picks for any type of contest on DraftKings and FanDuel.
I plan to update this article with notes at the top until about 5 p.m. EST each day. After that, be sure to check out the Deeper Dive show with Loughy and myself from 5 to 6 every weekday and Live Before Lock in the hour leading up until lock each day on the Awesemo YouTube channel.
If you have any questions after reading the article, always feel free to DM me in Slack.
NBA DFS Deep Dive: DraftKings + FanDuel Picks | Jan. 7
Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets (+1.5): 226
We don’t have an injury report yet for the Sixers so, for now, I’m assuming the same players that were active yesterday will be active today.
Joel Embiid had a monster game against the Wizards last night and he gets another nice matchup tonight against the Nets. Embiid played 36.6 minutes last night and we’ve seen him consistently play 34-36 minutes in competitive games this season. He’s averaged 1.55 DraftKings points per minute this season and stands out as a great pay-up option as long as he suits up tonight on the second half of a back-to-back.
Embiid stands out as the top option, but we can look to any of the other Sixers’ starters as well. Ben Simmons is probably the most difficult to get to just because he is priced so closely to Embiid. Ownership considerations aside, I would rather find the money to get Embiid in my lineup or save some salary and look to Tobias Harris, who offers similar playing time and per-minute fantasy production.
Curry shot the lights out last night and I think he’s an underrated part of this offense. He only has a 17.7 percent usage rate this season, but he’s one of the best three-point shooters in the league so he doesn’t need much volume to be effective as long as his salary doesn’t increase. We can expect 32-plus minutes from him and he’s also contributing more peripherals so far this season than he did last year in Dallas.
Danny Green had a ceiling game last night. We obviously shouldn’t expect the same thing tonight, but his salary hasn’t moved so he still has value as a cheap option in, what should be, a high scoring game.
Top DraftKings NBA DFS Picks: Joel Embiid ($9,500)
Top FanDuel NBA DFS Picks: Joel Embiid ($9,900)
The injury situation for Brooklyn is the same as last game with Kevin Durant still in COVID protocols.
The Nets used a weird starting lineup last game, but they won by 34 points so I’m assuming we get the same lineup tonight. Bruce Brown started and played 23.1 minutes in three quarters. We didn’t get to see a closing lineup since the game wasn’t close, but he did close the first half so there is at least a chance that he would have gotten more run in the fourth quarter. He’s still close to minimum salary so he’s a viable value option tonight as long as he starts again.
Taurean Prince and Jeff Green are in the same boat as Brown. They each played 19 to 20 minutes through three quarters and didn’t play in the fourth. They’re similarly priced to Brown and I think we’re basically flipping coins between these guys with a slight edge going to Brown since he played the most against Utah. Neither of Joe Harris or Caris LeVert closed the first half last game after coming off the bench, but it would be really surprising if neither of them are in the closing lineup of a close game in the fourth quarter and I think the most likely outcome is that they both lose in a competitive game. That leaves room for one of Brown, Prince and Green, assuming that Kyrie Irving and one of the centers also closes. I’d be okay using two of these cheap guys together since it’s only a five-game slate, but I wouldn’t feel great about it and I definitely don’t want all three.
Irving is the main piece here that we can trust. He’s averaged 1.49 DraftKings points per minute with a 33.8 percent usage rate and 34.6 percent assist rate in 398 minutes without either of Durant or Spencer Dinwiddie on the floor since the start of last season. We should expect 34-plus minutes from Irving if this game is competitive and his salary hasn’t increased much despite massive ownership last time he played.
LeVert has some upside but I’m still concerned with how the Nets have been using him. His most valuable minutes come when he’s playing without Irving on the floor, so I do like that he plays with the second unit. But the Nets haven’t shown much of an interest in having him close games when he comes off the bench this season. Even if he is going to close in the fourth quarter, which we can’t tell from last game, the fact he didn’t close the first half is still concerning because it’s a handful of minutes that we need him to get in order to justify his current salary. If he’s low-owned on a five-game slate I’ll take some shots at him in tournaments, but I think there are legitimate concerns about his playing time even without Dinwiddie and Durant. The same can be said for Harris, except Harris doesn’t have the massive ceiling that LeVert does even if he gets more minutes.
Jarrett Allen started at center and played 31.9 minutes in three quarters. He benefitted from DeAndre Jordan picking up four fouls in four minutes in the first half, so I’m not reading too much into exactly how much Allen played. What I am looking at is that we once again saw Allen and Jordan splitting all of the center minutes (until garbage time) with Durant out. Based on how they’ve split minutes this season, I would expect about 26 minutes for Allen and 22 minutes for Jordan if we know they’re going to play 48 minutes. Once we factor in that Allen replaced Jordan in the starting lineup, I think it’s more likely that we see a 28/20 or 30/18 split in favor of Allen. That said, Jordan is much less expensive than Allen and there is still a lot of volatility in how these minutes will be divided.
Top DraftKings NBA DFS Picks: Kyrie Irving ($9,600), Bruce Brown ($3,500)
Top FanDuel NBA DFS Picks: Kyrie Irving ($10,000), Bruce Brown ($3,900)
Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies (-5): 209
The Cavs were without Darius Garland last night and he is expected to miss tonight’s game as well.
Update: Collin Sexton and Damyean Dotson are both questionable now as well. Things could get really interesting in Cleveland tonight if they’re both out as the Cavs would be extremely short-handed and would also be without their top four point guards in Garland, Sexton, Exum and Dellavedova. While multiple players would have to take on expanded ball-handling duties, don’t overlook Drummond’s ability to pick up assists.
Andre Drummond only played 26.3 minutes last night as he dealt with first half foul trouble and then lost a few minutes to a blowout at the end of the game. His playing time has been an issue this season as he frequently loses minutes to foul trouble, blowouts or the presence of JaVale McGee off the bench. That has kept his salary down, however, which means he has a very high ceiling for his price tag. Drummond has been excellent on a per-minute basis this season with 1.50 DraftKings points per minute over 233 minutes played.
Sexton has averaged 37.3 minutes per game this season and we can see him approach 39 or 40 minutes if this game stays close. He’s a scoring dependent guard, but he’s averaged 0.97 DraftKings points per minute this season so he grades out as a strong mid-range value based on how many minutes we expect him to play. He does also see a slight bump in his peripherals with Garland sidelined as he has about a 19 percent assist rate without Garland on the floor this season compared to 17 percent overall.
Drummond and Sexton are the priorities here, but you could also look to Larry Nance Jr. or Cedi Osman as secondary options. They’re both more expensive than their per-minute production dictates in a game with a low total, but they should each play around 36 minutes so there is at least some upside.
Top DraftKings NBA DFS Picks: Andre Drummond ($8,400), Collin Sexton ($7,300)
Top FanDuel NBA DFS Picks: Andre Drummond ($9,200), Collin Sexton ($6,900)
The only player who played more than 30 minutes in a two point loss to the Lakers on Tuesday was Tyus Jones, who played 32.2 minutes. This is concerning, as Memphis players have seen their salaries increase due to the absence of Ja Morant and, if we can’t count on them to play big minutes in competitive games, it’s tough to trust any of them.
Brandon Clarke is still inexpensive as his salary hasn’t increased much despite joining the starting lineup. His move to the starting lineup helps to solidify his minutes, but it hurts his per-minute fantasy production. Almost all of his minutes come alongside Jonas Valanciunas. Clarke has averaged only 0.88 DraftKings points per minute in 250 minutes alongside Valanciunas without Morant on the floor since last season compared to 1.18 DraftKings points per minute in 636 minutes played with both of them on the bench. Clarke’s usage rate is 21.7 percent in the minutes without Valanciunas compared to 14.5 percent alongside him and his rebounding rate decreases from 13.9 to 12.9 percent when Valanciunas is on the floor. He still looks like the best point-per-dollar projection, but keep your expectations in check because of the way that Memphis is using him.
Valanciunas is the highest upside player on Memphis, but it’s tough to trust his playing time. It looked at the beginning of the season like Valanciunas was going to play more this year as he was playing around 30 minutes in competitive games, but his minutes have become more inconsistent as the season has gone on. He only played 25.7 minutes against the Lakers despite not being in foul trouble. We could see a few extra minutes tonight against Andre Drummond, however, so I am interested in Valanciunas. He’s averaged 1.33 DraftKings points per minute with a 25.3 percent usage rate in 605 minutes without Morant on the floor, so we just need him to find the minutes.
Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson and Jones are all reasonable plays as the last piece of a tournament lineup, but they’re all priced where they should be and it’s tough to rely on any of them to outperform their current salaries. I also have concerns about Anderson’s production going forward as he should lose rebounds with Clarke’s move to the starting lineup and De’Anthony Melton has returned from injury so there’s an additional ball-handler on the second unit now that could take assists away from Anderson.
Top DraftKings NBA DFS Picks: Brandon Clarke ($5,300), Jonas Valanciunas ($7,200)
Top FanDuel NBA DFS Picks: Brandon Clarke ($5,100), Jonas Valanciunas ($6,500)
Minnesota Timberwolves at Portland Trail Blazers (-10): 233
Ed Davis was one of the most popular value plays the last time Minnesota played as he started at center for the second straight game, after playing about 24 minutes in the first game. Last game, he only played 13.8 minutes. If he remains in the starting lineup, he could be a cheap bounce-back candidate in tournaments but it’s very difficult to trust his minutes. One of the reasons that it’s difficult to trust his minutes is that Minnesota used a completely different frontcourt rotation in their last game than we had seen them using before. Prior to Tuesday, Davis and Naz Reid were typically combining for about 48 center minutes in Karl-Anthony Towns’ absence. On Tuesday, however, Minnesota used a lot of small lineups despite facing a Nikola Jokic-led frontcourt and they had success. Jarred Vanderbilt played 23.1 minutes off the bench, including the final eight minutes and 13 seconds of the fourth quarter. He was first inserted into the game because Reid was in foul trouble, but he subbed in before Reid in the second half and Reid only finished with 10.2 minutes played. The success of that lineup makes me think that we could see a three center rotation tonight which would make none of them attractive DFS options.
There is still a chance, of course, that Davis and Reid split 48 minutes in which case either one would look like a good value at their respective prices. But I expect that we see Vanderbilt steal some minutes since it worked out well last game and the Timberwolves have no reason not to use him.
D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley remain the primary scoring options for Minnesota and they each played about 38 minutes against Denver on Tuesday. If the Timberwolves stay in this game, there is a good chance that at least one of these two is playing well and they both should get big minutes. Russell has averaged 1.22 DraftKings points per minute with a 28.7 percent usage rate without Towns on the floor since joining Minnesota last season while Beasley has averaged 0.94 DraftKings points per minute with a 22.5 percent usage rate.
Juancho Hernangomez was excellent in 34 minutes against the Nuggets. We can’t expect close to the same production from him tonight, but he has averaged 0.90 DraftKings points per minute in 481 minutes without Towns on the floor since last season. There’s no guarantee he gets 34 minutes again because I expect most of the Minnesota players to gain or lose minutes based on how they’re playing, but the opportunity is at least there for him if he plays well. Even if he plays 26-28 minutes, he projects as a decent value and he obviously has the upside to do more.
Top DraftKings NBA DFS Picks: D’Angelo Russell ($7,700), Malik Beasley ($6,100), Juancho Hernangomez ($4,400)
Top FanDuel NBA DFS Picks: D’Angelo Russell ($7,800), Malik Beasley ($5,600), Juancho Hernangomez ($4,200)
Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are averaging 35.8 and 36.0 minutes per game this season. McCollum has been the more productive of the two so far with 1.32 DraftKings points per minute compared to 1.21 points per minute for Lillard. I expect Lillard to surpass McCollum in point-per-minute production sooner rather than later as his true shooting rate so far is below his career averages and McCollum’s is higher than normal, but I do still like McCollum going forward as well. McCollum has been hurt at times in the past by Terry Stotts’ refusal to always stagger his minutes with Lillard’s, but that hasn’t been the case so far this season as McCollum is running point for the second unit. That increases his usage and assist upside on a game-to-game basis and makes him a much more productive fantasy player.
Jusuf Nurkic has tournament upside based on the way that we’ve seen him produce in the past, but we can’t ignore a couple of things about his start to this season. First, he has only averaged 1.08 DraftKings points per minute over his first 174 minutes with a 20.7 percent usage rate. That is about a two to three point decrease in usage rate and 0.11 fewer fantasy points per minute than last season. The bigger concern for me, though, has been his playing time. Nurkic has only averaged 24.9 minutes per game this season while his back-up, Enes Kanter, has averaged 20.3 minutes. Kanter is a capable NBA rotation player, so I think there is a good chance that we see Nurkic continue to play fewer minutes than he has in the past. Even in Portland’s most recent game where Kanter only played 16 minutes, Nurkic finished with 28 minutes as Harry Giles picked up the extra minutes that Kanter didn’t play. I will always have interest in Nurkic at a cheap price tag, especially on a short slate, but I do have concerns about the way he’s been used and the way that he has produced so far this season. Working in his favor is the fact that he should eat against the ‘Wolves frontcourt sans Karl Anthony-Towns (or with Towns for that matter).
Robert Covington, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Jones are all mildly appealing value options. Covington and Jones are similar in that they both have usage rates of about 10 percent and rely on paying off their salaries by just being on the floor for a bunch of minutes. Covington has averaged 0.67 DraftKings points per minute this season while Jones has averaged 0.54 DraftKings points per minute, so we shouldn’t be expecting too much out of these guys. It is a favorable matchup against Minnesota, however, and we do need to find value somewhere on this slate.
Anthony is a bit more exciting from an upside perspective as he’s clearly the best scorer of the trio. He’s averaged 0.82 DraftKings points per minute with a 19.9 percent usage rate this season. His playing time has been trending upward with 27 and 28 minutes in his last two games.
Top DraftKings NBA DFS Picks: Damian Lillard ($9,200), C.J. McCollum ($8,500), Jusuf Nurkic ($6,200)
Top FanDuel NBA DFS Picks: Damian Lillard ($9,200), Jusuf Nurkic ($6,200), Robert Covington ($5,000)
San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers (-5.5): 222.5
San Antonio Spurs
LaMarcus Aldridge returned to the lineup and played 25.2 minutes on Tuesday against the Clippers. He isn’t on tonight’s injury report, so he should be good to go. He has some upside at a relatively inexpensive salary, but he wasn’t playing as many minutes as we wanted him to prior to his injury. I think we could get 28 to 30 minutes tonight, but that would still make him a secondary option.
Pricing on the rest of the Spurs is expensive since they played several games recently without Aldridge. We can look to DeMar DeRozan or Dejounte Murray in tournaments for their upside, but they’re both secondary options as well since their salaries have increased. Murray does get a bump with Derrick White sidelined and we saw him play 36.7 minutes against the Clippers.
Top DraftKings NBA DFS Picks: DeMar DeRozan ($7,900)
Top FanDuel NBA DFS Picks: DeMar DeRozan ($8,200)
Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both questionable for this game. James has been questionable all season, while Davis is a new addition to the injury report. The Lakers play tomorrow, so there is definitely a possibility that one of them sits. Fortunately, three of the five games tonight start at 10 PM, so we’ll have plenty of late swap options if we get late news. My approach is going to be to treat it as if they are both playing and then swap if and when I need to later in the night.
James has averaged 32.4 minutes per game and 1.49 DraftKings points per minute so far this season. He’s reasonably priced and the matchup against the Spurs is much more appealing than it used to be as they play at a faster pace and are worse defensively. There are a few pay-up options that I prefer in cash games if Davis and James both play, but James is a strong tournament option at, I assume, low ownership. If Davis sits, James become a stronger play as he averaged 1.68 DraftKings points per minute in nine games without James last season.
Davis is similar to James. He’s slightly less expensive and slightly less productive on a per-minute basis but makes sense as a high-upside tournament option if he’s low-owned. If James sits, however, Davis moves up the list of expensive options as he has averaged 1.54 DraftKings points per minute with a 33.9 percent usage rate in 962 minutes without James on the floor since joining the Lakers.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is also questionable and, if he sits again, we should get another 30 minutes of Kyle Kuzma and about 22 minutes of Talen Horton-Tucker. Kuzma has averaged 0.78 DraftKings points per minute this season while Horton-Tucker has averaged 0.93 DraftKings points per minute. Both players are cheap enough that we can consider them if Caldwell-Pope is out. Kuzma would be particularly appealing at his FanDuel salary.
Dennis Schroder looks like a strong option regardless of who plays for the Lakers, though he will benefit if James or Davis sit. Schroder has averaged 31.1 minutes per game this season and he’s averaged 0.93 DraftKings points per minute with a 24 percent usage rate and 21.6 percent assist rate. Like Kuzma, he is more favorably priced on FanDuel but is still a viable option on DraftKings.
Top DraftKings NBA DFS Picks: LeBron James ($10,000), Anthony Davis ($9,500), Dennis Schroder ($6,100)
Top FanDuel NBA DFS Picks: LeBron James ($10,100), Anthony Davis ($10,400), Dennis Schroder ($5,300), Kyle Kuzma ($4,100 if any of the questionable players miss the game)
Dallas Mavericks at Denver Nuggets (-3): 223
Trey Burke is out tonight, which should mean more minutes for Jalen Brunson off the bench. I don’t expect Brunson to play enough to be a great value, but if he gets 20-22 minutes it will at least put him in the conversation on this small slate at a close to minimum salary price tag.
The first place that I’m looking for value on Dallas is Willie Cauley-Stein. He started Dallas’s last game and played 24.1 minutes despite dealing with some fourth quarter foul trouble. I haven’t seen if Rick Carlisle plans to start him again tonight, but the Mavericks won that game and Cauley-Stein played well so I am assuming that he will. Cauley-Stein has always been a productive per-minute fantasy option and he’s averaged 1.09 DraftKings points per minute in 251 minutes with Dallas since last season.
Maxi Kleber also started last game in place of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Hardaway played great off the bench so I expect that to be the case again tonight. Kleber was limited to 18.4 minutes by foul trouble, but I would expect we get 24 to 26 minutes tonight if he can avoid it. Kleber has averaged 0.81 DraftKings points per minute this season and grades out as a decent value. I prefer him in tournaments if he is relatively low owned.
Luka Doncic is obviously the most appealing option from Dallas as he has quickly returned to the fantasy production that we saw from him last season in recent games. Doncic has averaged 32.3 minutes per game this season and we should see a couple more minutes if the game is competitive. He averaged 1.64 DraftKings points per minute without Porzingis active last season and he’s averaged 1.50 DraftKings points per minute so far this season despite a poor start as a shooter.
Josh Richardson and Hardaway both serve as secondary options. Richardson has struggled this season with only 0.72 DraftKings points per minute, but he’s averaged 0.10 to 0.15 DraftKings points per minute more throughout most of his career. If we get 30-33 minutes from Richardson, he’s a little underpriced based on his career numbers. Hardaway played 31 minutes off the bench and scored 30 actual points against Houston. We shouldn’t expect that amount of scoring again, but coming off the bench does increase his ceiling as long as his playing time doesn’t suffer because he is playing fewer minutes with Doncic. Still, Doncic plays so many minutes in competitive games that we can’t rely on Hardaway to consistently pay off his salary.
Top DraftKings NBA DFS Picks: Luka Doncic ($10,500), Willie Cauley-Stein ($3,700)
Top FanDuel NBA DFS Picks: Luka Doncic ($11,100), Willie Cauley-Stein ($4,000), Josh Richardson ($4,800)
Michael Porter Jr. is still out for the Nuggets so Will Barton should get another start. Barton has played 36 minutes in two of the three games that he has started. He isn’t the best per-minute producer, but he’s not bad either with 0.86 DraftKings points per minute this season and 0.95 points per minute since the start of last season.
Jokic continues to be the story for Denver as he once again played between 36 and 37 minutes in a competitive game his last time out. He’s averaged 1.71 DraftKings points per minute this season and leads the Nuggets in usage, rebounding rate and assist rate. He is second in the league with 17.4 potential assists per game and seventh with 19.6 rebound chances per game. I’m not particularly concerned about his rising price tag as I think there is still plenty of upside.
Jamal Murray was awful against Minnesota last game, but we know he has a high ceiling for his salary. Murray is second to Jokic with a 24.4 percent usage rate this season. His upside is also increased because he played with the second unit again last game. That makes two games in a row that Murray has gotten time with the bench and that gives him more opportunities to score and pick up assists since he doesn’t have to share the ball with any other high usage players.
Paul Millsap dealt with foul trouble and then the game went small, so he only played 15.5 minutes against Dallas. His minutes are far from safe now that JaMychal Green has returned to action, but his salary is inexpensive for a player who has averaged 0.91 DraftKings points per minute since last season and has a path to 28-plus minutes if he is playing well.
Top DraftKings NBA DFS Picks: Nikola Jokic ($10,900), Will Barton ($5,900)
Top FanDuel NBA DFS Picks: Nikola Jokic ($11,300)
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