This article is part of our FantasyDraft NBA series.
Short-slate strategy is back in play Thursday, as there are only a quartet of games on the night's ledger. A pair of suspension-related absences bring up some interesting considerations, while a James Harden return is also a possibility. Without further delay, let's break down how each salary tier shakes out:
Chris Paul, HOU vs. MIN ($17,600): Paul is sporting a 26.4 percent usage rate and is averaging an impressive 1.48 fantasy points per minute with both Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green off the floor this season, and both will miss Thursday's contest due to suspension. Those numbers see dramatic upticks to 35.4 percent and a jaw-dropping 2.01, respectively, when James Harden is also on the bench. Although the latter apparently has a 50/50 chance of returning from a hamstring injury against the T-Wolves, he'll reportedly be limited to approximately 25 minutes if he does play. Meanwhile, Minnesota has allowed a robust 47.0 fantasy points to point guards over the last five contests, along with the fourth-most assists (8.9) and highest shooting percentage (46.0) to the position on the season.
Evan Fournier, ORL at CLE ($11,500): Fournier emerged from an inconsistent stretch in a big way against the Timberwolves on Tuesday, posting 41.50 fantasy points in 35 minutes on the strength of season highs in points (32) and made three-pointers (six). The 25-year-old will be in a favorable spot to make it two consecutive fantasy-friendly efforts, as the Cavaliers have been among the most porous defenses against two-guards all season. Cleveland comes in allowing the second-most fantasy points (50.2) to shooting guards on the campaign, along with the most made three-pointers (4.2). It's also worth noting that Fournier just posted a solid 26.25 fantasy points against Cleveland on Jan. 6.
T.J. McConnell, PHI at BOS ($8,600): McConnell has significantly outpaced his current price in the last two contests, compiling 30.00 and 45.00 fantasy points in those games. The former tally came at the expense of this same Celtics squad in London last Thursday, and with J.J. Redick now out with a leg injury, he should continue to see a healthy helping of minutes off the bench. Boston certainly doesn't shape up as a favorable matchup in the backcourt – although they have allowed 51.8 fantasy points to point guards over the last five contests – but McConnell's price provides him with an excellent opportunity to offer another strong return.
LeBron James, CLE vs. ORL ($21,200): James is averaging 27.5 points (on 52.6 percent shooting, including 50.0 percent from three-point range), 7.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 3.5 steals and 1.0 block in two games against the Magic this season, with his most recent effort against them on Jan. 6 yielding a whopping 75.00 fantasy points. Orlando remains as vulnerable as ever to small forwards as well, as they've allowed the second-most fantasy points (58.8) to the position over the last 10 games, including 64.3 over the last five. James has scored 61.50 and 61.00 fantasy points in the last two contests, and as usual, he's arguably one of the safest plays on the slate.
Al Horford, BOS vs. PHI ($13,400): Horford posted 35.50 fantasy points in 34 minutes against this same Sixers squad last Thursday in London, and he's eclipsed the 30-mark in five of the last eight contests overall. The floor-spacing big man is averaging a fantasy point per minute over that span, while Philadelphia's season-long struggles against centers have been even greater over the last 10 contests. The Sixers are allowing the third-most fantasy points (43.9) to the position during the latter stretch, along with the second-most rebounds (13.7) and assists (3.5).
Ryan Anderson, HOU vs. MIN ($8,500): Anderson's teammates Luc Mbah a Moute ($6,200) and P.J. Tucker ($7,200) are both worthy of consideration for those who need to save even further, considering they should both see extended run at small forward with Ariza and Green both out of action with suspensions Thursday. However, Anderson carries the most tournament upside of the three and has scored 21.50 to 34.25 fantasy points in the last three contests. His usage should see a nice uptick as well with his aforementioned pair of teammates off the floor, and with James Harden expected to be on a minutes limit if he does play. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves have allowed 42.5 fantasy points per game to power forwards on the season and the second-most made three-pointers (2.0), with the latter figure particularly noteworthy considering Anderson's proficiency from distance.
Jimmy Butler, MIN at HOU ($17,000): Butler has been on a tear since late December, scoring 39.25 to 57.75 fantasy points in 12 of the last 14 games. Jimmy Buckets is sporting team highs in usage rate (28.3 percent) and fantasy points per minute (1.24) over that stretch, and he's been particularly hot over the last five contests. The All-Star is shooting 53.5 percent in that sample, including 52.9 percent from behind the arc. The Rockets shape up as facilitators for more of the same, considering they've allowed the sixth-most fantasy points (58.5) to shooting guards over the last 10 games, including the third-most (65.4) over the last five and most made three-pointers (5.6) over the latter span.
Aaron Gordon, ORL at CLE ($13,700):Clint Capela ($12,500) is also very worthy of consideration for those that need the discount, considering he should have increased scoring responsibility with Ariza, Green and potentially Harden out. However, Gordon shapes up as a potentially lower-owned tournament play in one of the most favorable fantasy matchups in the NBA for power forwards. Cleveland comes in tied with the Kings for most fantasy points allowed to fours (47.7) on the season, including 65.1 over the last five. They're also allowing the fourth-most points (21.8), most rebounds (12.4), most assists (3.9) and second-most steals (1.6) to the position, while Gordon just lit up the Cavs for 44.00 fantasy points over 31 minutes on Jan. 6, one of five occasions over the last eight games in which he's eclipsed the 30-mark.