After a scintillating first night of basketball decided by the broken hand of Devin Booker, we’re back on the train for a football-adjusted three game slate with some interesting matchups and our first back-to-back of the season. Oh yeah and we get the regular season debut of some guy named LeBron on his new team in a matchup with another Western Conference squad who loves to get up versus matchups versus the Lakers. It should be a fun trio to break down.
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Follow me on Twitter @ChrisSpags for more and keep your eyes peeled for my football column the Slant And Go coming up later today for a similar look at this week’s NFL slate. But without further adieu, let’s get to our three NBA games.
Chicago Bulls (104.5 implied points) at Philadelphia 76ers (115.5 implied points)
The Bulls will be without Kris Dunn due to personal reasons, kind of a strange bit of news for a team’s opening game but sure why not. That means Cam Payne and his 0.93 FPPM will enter the starting lineup and possibly be somewhat useful in a matchup that should have some decent pace versus the Sixers. The Bulls couldn’t stop an inert object last season and the additions of Jabari Parker and rookie Wendell Carter to the rotation is unlikely to close those gaps for them. Zach LaVine should get a ton of usage in the matchup, albeit versus the team on the slate who had the strongest defensive efficiency last season of the ones on this slate. LaVine, Parker, and Bobby Portis should all see a lot of shots and the ball in their hands often; I think Portis is the best bet to be an exemplary value at his salary but I’m pretty comfortable with LaVine in a matchup that should have some up and down to it. Parker has performed well versus Philly in the past, notching around 30 fantasy points per game his last four times against them, and I’m okay with him too, just a little less enthusiastic about it than Portis or LaVine. Antonio Blakeney was a stellar preseason contributor and may see some increased run with Dunn out, interesting given Blakeney’s ability to bomb from three with the likelihood of the Bulls facing a deficit. Justin Holiday is often a forgotten man on the Bulls and justifiably so given his points dependency for fantasy relevance. Holiday can put up points though and the only caveat here is the Sixers holding team to a worst on the slate 34.2% 3PT accuracy. Wendell Carter is super cheap and if he draws the start versus Joel Embiid, I’d be intrigued to roll some of him out there too on a short slate where value may be at a premium.
The Sixers have the highest total on the slate versus a Bulls team who’s played at a solid pace last season and in the preseason. They’re also the worst team in terms of defensive efficiency on this slate and it seems like a nice spot for the Sixers to get their offense rolling after mostly looking clunky outside of Ben Simmons last time out. Simmons looked like a man possessed versus Boston and even their intelligent defensive spacing couldn’t keep him from getting what he wants despite his lack of a reliable jumpshot. The Bulls will do even less but I wouldn’t mind having less of him given the likelihood of him picking up a ton of ownership after his monster game. Joel Embiid should feast against Wendell Carter or whatever the Bulls trot out at center and there’ll be a ton of opportunity for rebounds on both sides of the court. If I had to choose – and it’s a tough choice – I’d favor Embiid for the game theory reasons even though Simmons is very likely to have another strong one. Embiid put up 70 fantasy points in his most recent game versus Chicago on 11-for-17 shooting and nothing here has changed that should stop him from that again if the offense wants it. Dario Saric seems like a logical place to go back to after foul trouble crushed his opportunity in the Sixers opener. Robert Covington and JJ Redick could get going too given the Bulls’ lax approach to three point defense. And based on the Vegas total this also seems like the perfect kind of Markelle Fultz confidence building game, one where I could imagine the Sixers being in the lead heading into the 4th and they let him ice the game while he fills up the stat sheet. I’m comfortable with all of those Sixers rotation guys to varying degrees but Saric and Fultz for redemptive performances seem like they should be the most interesting ownership positions to leverage.
Miami Heat (104 implied points) at Washington Wizards (109 implied points)
The Heat will get the first back-to-back of the season as they head to Washington for a matchup with a Wizards team who seems like they should have Dwight Howard back:
Dwight Howard is still working well after shootaround ended in contact drills with Thomas Bryant. pic.twitter.com/hcQXatRVCT
— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) October 18, 2018
He’s questionable right now but keep your eyes peeled there since he affects a lot of parts of this game for both sides. Normally Hassan Whiteside on a back-to-back is a bad place to be but I think if Howard is playing that should give Whiteside a bit of a boost from a spacing and style of play perspective. Whiteside performed well against Dwight in Charlotte last season, an outlier amidst mostly disappointing efforts, and if Dwight is active I’d definitely give Whiteside a more serious look after he had his only mediocre preseason game versus this Wizards squad. Josh Richardson put up a ton of shots in the Heat’s opener and he does seem like a guy in for a bigger role across the board this year. Kelly Olynyk got hardly any run and had an awful night yesterday so that could make him a low-owned GPP play tonight because that’s what Kelly Olynyk does. Rodney McGruder saw 31 minutes in the opener and he’s certainly going to keep getting run even if the opportunity for him isn’t the biggest. He’s another guy I’d be comfortable with in the value pile for this slate. I’m not as crazy about Goran Dragic just knowing what he does and with a matchup versus John Wall that will tax him on the other side of the floor. Maybe it’s a new Dragic this year who’ll be less up and down than in the past but I’ll limit my exposure to him given my fear of him getting blown up.
As mentioned above, the availability of Dwight Howard is the key here. If he’s out, this team will likely play with more pace than expected and fundamentally change the matchup. But if Howard is active, he’s going to slow the game down a bit, get his on pick and rolls with John Wall, and cut into some usage for all of the guys. If Howard’s in, I’m okay with Wall and Bradley Beal while a little less interested in Otto Porter with his rebounding upside gone to Dwight. If Howard is out, Wall would be even more appealing, as would Beal, and I could see going Porter or Ian Mahinmi to soak up some of the rebounds left on the table. I never know what to do with Kelly Oubre but this sort of seems like an Oubre game where he could maybe get you a bit more than 5x because of the similar, rangey players on the other side’s second unit.
Los Angeles Lakers (109.5 implied points) at Portland Trailblazers (112.5 implied points)
One thing the Lakers have made clear this year and last is their intent to run up and down the court and the big question is how that affects LeBron James. Does he play less minutes? Is he somehow even more effective with the offense and defense flowing a little more freely? I’m inclined to think the latter. I want to see how our ownership projections shake out but if LeBron feels even a little bit underowned as a pivot to say Ben Simmons, I would load up on him in a debut game in this particular matchup. LeBron put up 70 fantasy points the last time he played the Blazers and it’s not crazy to see that in range if he gets around 35 minutes at the Lakers’ pace. More pace = more rebounds, more assists, more defensive peripherals, and these are all things LeBron has been able to do as second nature playing in much slower offenses. Luke Walton may try to conserve him a bit but if LeBron wants to go, he’s going to go full bore for as long as he wants. I’m not as crazy about Brandon Ingram in games where he doesn’t get to serve as the primary ball handler and with Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, and LeBron all likely taking on some of that role, I don’t trust Ingram enough off the ball to get what he needs. Kyle Kuzma could and his price is more appealing, ditto Josh Hart who’s super cheap and can do a variety of things if he sees the court time. JaVale McGee has been good for his usual 1-1.2 FPPM versus Portland in his recent outings and he does seem like a good foil for Jusuf Nurkic as well as the small and blockable guards on Portland’s side. I can’t see Lonzo getting the minutes he needs to hit value off the bench while Rondo will have a better shot at doing so. Rondo carved up the Trailblazers last year in the Pelicans’ playoff sweep of the team and even if he doesn’t quite reach those highs, he can be a nice moderately priced play.
Portland gets the best pace-up of the day versus Los Angeles and that was a place last season where Damian Lillard thrived. Given some floating trade rumors about Lillard getting sent to Los Angeles for some package centered around Lonzo Ball, I’m curious to see if Lillard comes out with a little more oomph in a matchup that already plays into his hands. As Lillard goes, Jusuf Nurkic tends to follow and this also seems like a great spot for Nurk to establish himself to start the year. CJ McCollum will likely get to 5x value but I prefer to play him only in spots where I’m not paying for Lillard since they do tend to eat into each other’s usage in a more-than-average way. Al-Farouq Aminu seems underpriced as a starter in this matchup but he’s hard to predict given his runs of games where he smashes value and games where he barely shows up. As a GPP flyer I like him but I would have a hard time trusting him across the board. Evan Turner or Seth Curry may be able to get something going off the bench, maybe Zach Collins too, but I don’t think this is a game I’m terribly interested in going to those guys given some of the higher caliber value we’ve discussed.
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