Martin Luther King Jr. Day is typically one of the most enjoyable NBA DFS days of the season, but today’s action has already been chaotic and there could be more to come. If you weren’t playing the early slate, the Heat – Pistons game was bumped from the afternoon until 8 p.m. and carries a risk of postponement. For DraftKings NBA contests on the two-game early slate, that could be a disaster. FanDuel NBA contests that started at noon had a few pivots available, though there could be sneaky upside in playing the relevant NBA DFS picks from that game. For the main slate the games are still intact, but we have several significant pieces of news already and probably more to come. As always, this article comes out ahead of lock, and many things will change with our NBA DFS picks. Be sure to follow the @AwesemoNBA Twitter handle for all the latest breaking news (via our NewsGod).
NBA DFS Picks: Optimal Lineup + Leverage Leaders
These picks are made utilizing the boom/bust tool, specifically analyzing the optimal-lineup rate and leverage score, as well as the boom probability. Optimal-lineup rate represents the frequency at which a player appears 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, and we will also be discussing bad chalk and shaky investments in this space, so be sure to read the analysis and not just the headlines.
Eric Gordon – Houston Rockets
DraftKings – $5,200 – PG/SG / FanDuel – $5,200 – SF
Everyone’s least favorite member of the Rockets — for NBA DFS purposes anyway — is hyper-relevant for tonight’s slate. Gordon is as streaky a producer as they come, but he’s been on the upswing in 2020-21, posting 0.91 fantasy points per minute, up from last year’s 0.74. When he has reliable minutes and a real role, Gordon has been known to produce both quality and upside. That appears to be the case tonight, with point guard John Wall sidelined with his lingering knee pain. Gordon will be joined by Rockets newcomer Victor Oladipo in the backcourt tonight, which will be an interesting look.
Awesemo has Gordon projected for 30 minutes of action, and he looks spectacular in DraftKings NBA contests. He will be popular, but his 52.9% optimal-lineup rate is still outpacing his ownership by a significant margin, creating an 11.7 leverage score. For a reasonable low-to-mid-range price, and with eligibility at both guard spots, Gordon and his 31.5% probability of hitting a boom score look like a fundamental building block for tonight’s slate.
Gordon looks very good on FanDuel, but he doesn’t ascend to quite the same heights. He appears in 41.4% of optimal lineups in Awesemo’s FanDuel NBA simulations, with a 34.3% probability of hitting a boom score. His 8.0 leverage looks great on the blue site, and I’ll be happy to get above the field’s current ownership projection.
DraftKings – $4,800 – C / FanDuel – $4,500 – C
Sometimes it’s good to have friends in high places. With his buddies playing both the roles of team superstars and de facto general managers, Jordan landed a cushy contract that was overpaying him to be the backup center in Brooklyn. Now, following the James Harden trade that saw the younger, more dynamic and just better Jarrett Allen shipped out of town, Jordan is going to be asked to do more. While he won’t receive a full workload of 30 or more minutes, Jordan will be the main man in the middle for the Nets and could easily see 26-28 minutes. Working with just a 25-minute projection, Awesemo has Jordan looking like a fine option as a cheap center play on both sites.
In FanDuel NBA contests, we always want to consider the overall opportunity cost with the singular center. On this slate that is barely relevant. The most expensive play at the position is Wendell Carter at $5,900. Jordan easily ranks atop the list of available centers with his 28.7% optimal-lineup rate, but the public is underweight on him and he has a 5.5 leverage score. At a relatively flat position on the slate, I’ll be glad to take advantage of the cost savings and leverage and keep my feet on the path of optimal constructions by rostering more Jordan than the field.
The big center is in a very similar position on DraftKings, where he carries a 25.7% optimal-lineup rate. This comes in a full 12 percentage points higher than the next-closest player at the position, and Jordan is still drawing positive leverage at 2.4. He will be less likely to put up a ceiling score given the higher salary site to site, but his 7.1% boom score probability leads center eligible players on DraftKings.
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LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers
DraftKings – $9,700 – PG/SF / FanDuel – $9,500 – SF
James is underpriced on a night where he’s finally not carrying a questionable tag going into the game. If NBA DFS chaos is any guideline, that of course means he’ll end up scratching two minutes after lock. But assuming normality, James looks like an excellent play on both sites.
In DraftKings NBA contests, James costs less than $10,000 and provides the flexibility of an razor sharp Swiss Army knife, with his eligibility at the point guard and small forward spot. He appears in 27.6% of optimal lineups in simulations and is carrying a 28.9% boom probability. With those numbers and a salary discount, James should not be coming in with a 2.4 leverage score, but the public is not getting to him enough; take advantage.
On FanDuel, James looks even better. His salary drops to an absurd $9,500 and he appears as one of the optimal small forwards in 36.4% of simulations. With a 38.1% boom score probability and a 4.1 leverage score, James will pair with Gordon at the small forward spot in a fair share of my FanDuel NBA DFS lineups tonight.
Jrue Holiday – Milwaukee Bucks
DraftKings – $7,200 – PG / FanDuel – $7,600 – PG
Holiday has been productive in spots this year, but overall his per-minute fantasy production is down slightly, and he is playing third banana to better players in the Bucks offense. Holiday has posted 1.10 fantasy points per minute this season, which puts his salary on tonight’s slate in the range of fair to high, while he looks over-owned on both sites.
On FanDuel Holiday is priced up and comes in with just a 12.5% probability of landing you a boom score, and he appears in just 16.9% of optimal lineups. This makes him the third-highest-priced point guard but only the sixth-most likely to be in the optimal lineup on the blue site. With a -1.4 leverage score and several options looking better both above and below him in salary, I can get under the field on Holiday without completely avoiding the play.
In DraftKings NBA contests, Holiday lands in fewer optimal lineups and has a lower boom score probability despite carrying a lower price tag. With just a 10.5% optimal-lineup rate and a 7.5% boom rate, I can get even further away from Holiday and his -6.6 leverage score on the site. There are several better point guards, and when we consider all guard-eligible players, Holiday’s 10.5% optimal-lineup rate ranks just 14th overall, yet he will be the seventh-highest-owned player at the guard spot.
The NBA is celebrating MLK Day in style, with a block of superstar-caliber players lined up for the nightcap. We have four players priced over $10,000 on both sites, with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic cracking the $11,000 mark on FanDuel and only Doncic reaching that height on DraftKings. The Brooklyn Nets Kevin Durant-Harden duo rounds out that block of players, which does not include LeBron, Stephen Curry or Anthony Davis.
We have a wealth of pay-up options available. Among the five-figure players, who all play different positions on FanDuel, Doncic looks like the top option when judging by optimal-lineup rate on that site, coming in at 28.8%. By comparison, the other three are almost half as likely to land in the optimal lineup. Harden stands out in terms of his boom score and for having the best leverage score in the group at 1.4, but he appears in just 16.1% of optimal lineups. This still outstrips his teammate, Durant, who lands in just 9.7% at the small forward spot. Each of the positions has interesting options at lower prices, however, making the stars-and-scrubs or balanced lineup construction question interesting tonight despite all the star quality. And again, we have Curry, James, Davis and more in the next tier of salary.
On DraftKings, the five-figure players break down differently. Giannis adds center eligibility on the site, making his optimal-lineup rate soar to 25.1% at a price $900 lower site to site. He stands out as by far the best pay-up option on DraftKings when we consider his 28.9% boom score probability and positive leverage at 2.6. The public isn’t going to Giannis enough, making me want to get over the top on him. Doncic appears over-exposed with a -6.0 leverage score against his 14.2% optimal-lineup rate. I would look to roster him with or slightly below the field.
The comparatively low ownership on Harden seems interesting on the surface, but the star guard is landing in just 4.8% of optimal lineups in DraftKings NBA simulations, pushing him largely out of play at his lofty $10,800 price tag. In this spot, the $10,100 for Durant looks better. He also adds center eligibility, along with slotting in at the power forward spot on this site, and he drops into 10.7% of optimal lineups. While not explosive, that’s a reasonable number for the pivot to his 2.2 leverage score and under 10% overall slate ownership. We can leverage up on Durant without taking on much risk, which is a play I will make every time.
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