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NBA DFS Picks: DraftKings + FanDuel Optimal Lineup + Leverage Leaders | 1/7

Terry McBride

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EMac gives his favorite NBA DFS picks for Yahoo + DraftKings + FanDuel daily fantasy basketball lineups Damian Lillard | Saturday 4/3/21

I’m not quite sure what it was, but last night’s NBA DFS slate came up frustrating for me. Perhaps it was the sheer volume of available quality NBA DFS picks on an 11-gamer. Fortunately the site data had plenty of legs to keep it to an OK night, and there were numerous logo accounts at the top of standings in at least FanDuel NBA contests (apologies, DraftKings crowd, I didn’t check tournament results). Tonight’s more manageable five-game slate seems comparable to Tuesday’s action, which bodes well. There are a few standout plays and a few potential sources of late value for swapping purposes. As always, this article comes out earlier in the afternoon, and many things will change. It is imperative that you follow along with our NewsGod’s Live Blog for the latest news and lineup information for DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo and SuperDraft NBA DFS picks.

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NBA DFS Picks: Optimal Lineup + Leverage Leaders | Jan. 7

Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers

DraftKings – $9,300 – PG / FanDuel – $9,200 – PG

It feels like Lillard has come up in NBA DFS discussions frequently early in the season. The star point guard has been slightly below last year’s production so far in 2020-21, posting 1.13 fantasy points per minute on FanDuel, 1.21 on DraftKings. To be clear, those are still quality rates, but they are not up to the 1.3-and-above standard that we expect and pay for when we roster Lillard. Fortunately, the sample size is still quite small, and we have no reason to expect that Lillard will flounder below his usual production for an extended period.

With a limited selection of players at each position, relative value becomes critical with the top-tier players. The natural comparison point for Lillard tonight is Nets point guard Kyrie Irving, who costs $800 more than Lillard on FanDuel but just $300 more on DraftKings. On FanDuel the pricing discrepancy and Awesemo’s boom score push me in Lillard’s favor. At 29.5%, Lillard is higher than Irving at a better price and essentially the same ownership. Lillard provides a slightly higher appearance rate in optimal lineups for FanDuel NBA contests as well, making him the clear choice as a pay-up point guard. This is a player I will definitely look to be ahead of the field with, even at very high ownership numbers.

In DraftKings NBA contests, Lillard again compares well with Irving. However, when looking at appearance rate in the optimal lineup in simulations, Lillard ranks not only behind Irving on this site, but also behind several other players both above and below him in salary at both the point guard and guard-eligible spots. Lillard catches up to that group when we look to boom score, with a second-ranked 21.7%, though with those same other players within three percentage points, I’m not sure he gains enough ground. Overall, the boom scores ranks fourth on the site, but it is again a very tight field. At essentially even ownership expectation (between 20 and 25%) throughout the top guards sorted by either metric, there does not appear to be a significant advantage. This drives one of my top NBA DFS picks on FanDuel back to straightforward salary and positional decision point for DraftKings NBA contests.

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Robert Covington – Portland Trail Blazers

DraftKings – $5,300 – PF / FanDuel – $5,000 – PF

Staying in Portland for a moment, Covington is in play on both sites. Lillard’s teammate has not been a productive NBA DFS player on the whole so far this season, though he has been rostered frequently in NBA DFS contests. Covington, typically around 0.95 fantasy points per minute, has been mired in a slump that has him at around 0.66 points per minute. With a 33-minute projection, we will need him to hit the levels of his previous seasons. Covington has simply not been a heavy-usage player for the Trail Blazers so far, with just a 10.5% usage rate and attempting just 10.7% of the team’s field goals.

Covington is projecting well above his recent trends on both sites. At 25.6%, he ranks ninth overall by optimal lineup appearance rate on FanDuel, where he carries a 32.8% boom rate that ranks fourth overall. Covington will be popular, however, with a -5.7 leverage score. At his low price, for the upside, I think we can get to Covington at least with the field, and ownership changes later could easily push him into a strong value play.

Covington looks like a good play in DraftKings NBA contests tonight. At his low price, Covington carries a 11.7% boom score, which ranks 24th overall on the site. The 16.3% appearance rate in optimal lineups ranks 17th overall but third among eligible power forwards and seventh among all forwards. With ownership projections trending under his optimal lineup appearance rates, Covington and his 3.2 leverage score look like a quality value play among a few strong NBA DFS picks from the Blazers tonight.

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Cleveland Cavaliers

One of the more regularly relevant bad teams in the NBA, the Cavaliers are all over the board on the boom/bust tool tonight. When it comes to NBA DFS picks, rather than their actual talent level, the Cavs typically have quite a bit to offer. Presenting a wide swath of the available value on a five-game slate renders this a popular and interesting spot heading into crunch time. This is likely to be a big inflection point on tonight’s slate.

The big matzo ball in the Cleveland soup is always-productive center Andre Drummond. The big man has long been a relevant part of NBA DFS discussions. His 1.53 FanDuel and 1.49 DraftKings points per minute this year tell us what we need to know about the value of the player at just $9,200 on FanDuel and a ridiculous $8,400 on DraftKings.

The misprice has Drummond appearing in the optimal DraftKings lineup in 31.9% of our simulations early in the day to go with the center’s 39.2% boom score. Sorting the entire slate by boom rate, Drummond lands a full 16 percentage points higher than the next-best player at any position. Drummond will be owned in DraftKings NBA contests tonight, but not nearly enough at just -2.3 leverage.

On FanDuel Drummond’s higher price has his boom score at 40.8%, again slate-leading at any position, but not by nearly as wide a margin as on the other site. That several of the next-closest options are less expensive centers on the singular center site also renders Drummond slightly less shiny. Still, his 22.7% appearance rate in optimal lineups is strong, and he is not horribly over-owned on FanDuel either, with just a -2.4 leverage score.

Every other relevant player on the Cleveland roster appears to be a quality play at some level on both sites. When you read that, please understand that by “relevant” I mean players carrying a projection above the low teens, which is where you will find all of the very low-end Cleveland options. Damyean Dotson is not out of play for me on FanDuel at $3,500 if we’re talking about a GPP dart throw mix-in option, but his 0.6% rate in the optimal lineup and 1.3% boom score tells us what we need to know about the quality (all of those numbers are unplayable lower at a $4,800 salary on DraftKings). He’s the best of the bottom of the barrel.

Among the relevant players, Collin Sexton leads the way with a 29.7% optimal-lineup rate on FanDuel and a 20.4% mark on DraftKings. At mid-range reasonable salary on both sites, Sexton should be drawing slightly more ownership than he is. The point guard offers a 2.0 leverage score on the blue site, 1.1 on the green.

Cedi Osman slots in as a small forward on FanDuel and adds power forward eligibility on DraftKings, where he is $500 more expensive at $5,700. We’ve seen Osman return ceiling scores already this season; when his shot is falling he is able to rack up fantasy points at a decent rate. The overall average is around 0.85 per minute this season, however. Osman is landing in the DraftKings optimal lineup 19.2% of the time, with a slightly negative leverage score at -0.7. On FanDuel his $5,200 price has his boom score pushed up to 29.6% and his optimal lineup appearance rate at 28.9%, which the public is under-valuing. At a lower price and with a positive leverage score of 2.6, I like Osman much better as a play for FanDuel NBA contests tonight.

Larry Nance Jr. is the Cavaliers power forward on FanDuel, and he adds center eligibility on DraftKings. On DraftKings Nance has a 2.9 leverage score to go with his 11.5% optimal lineup appearance rate at $7,000. His ownership trending below the optimal lineup rate keeps Nance in play, but his 8.2% boom score leaves something to be desired; it ranks just 21st among eligible forwards and centers on DraftKings.

On FanDuel Nance picks up traction toward his ceiling score goals. The lower price helps at $6,800, and his boom comes in at 20.8% with a 24.4% appearance rate in optimal lineups in our simulations. The issue on FanDuel is Nance’s ownership, which creates a -3.9 leverage score. With a number of players at the position coming in around the same optimal-lineup rate carrying higher boom scores, I think it makes sense to explore a pivot from Nance despite his 24.4% optimal lineup rate.

The final potentially relevant Cavs player is JaVale McGee, who has less than a 20-minute projection. On FanDuel McGee costs $4,700, and he comes up at only $4,200 on DraftKings. As a center on DraftKings, McGee comes up at a 17.7% optimal lineup appearance rate with a slate-leading 12.4 leverage score and a 21.4% boom rate. On FanDuel the power forward lands in the optimal lineup in 23% of simulations, has a 25.6% boom score and a massive 16 leverage score. It may never be comfortable, but McGee is one of the leading NBA DFS picks on both sites tonight.


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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 Awesemo.com. 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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