This article is part of our FantasyDraft NBA series.
Friday's abundant nine-game slate has plenty of intrigue, considering that several stars are facing off against former teammates. That includes Blake Griffin tangling with his former Clippers squad for the first time, and Jimmy Butler making his return to the Windy City after his offseason departure. Then there's Dwyane Wade's Heat re-debut, a development that was completely unexpected a mere 24 hours ago. Moreover, there's a potential shootout between the Pelicans and Sixers, as well as several other possible high-scoring matchups. With so much to analyze and a plethora of options at each price level, let's dive right in:
Chris Paul, HOU vs. DEN ($17,500): Paul is a nice consolation prize at the top guard tier for those that can't afford his teammate James Harden ($20,800), and his individual matchup is also far more favorable. While Harden may often have to deal with Gary Harris' stingy defense, Paul will likely see plenty of Jamal Murray, who's had a big hand in the Nuggets allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to point guards over the last 10 (48.9) and the second most (61.2) over the last five. They're also yielding the most assists over the former (10.5) and latter spans (12.0), particularly relevant numbers in the case of an elite facilitator such as Paul. Moreover, Houston's sixth-fastest pace of play at home (102.6 possessions per game) should work in favor of the star point guard, who's scored 45.75 to 55.00 fantasy points in his last three and who posted 23 points, 12 assists, two rebounds and three steals across 28 minutes in his one prior meeting against Denver this season.
Kyrie Irving, BOS vs. IND ($14,500): After logging a modest 21 minutes against the Raptors on Tuesday in his first game back from a thigh injury, Irving was apparently back at full strength Thursday versus the Wizards, compiling 28 points, six assists, five rebounds, one steal and one block across 33 minutes in the overtime victory. The All-Star point guard also racked up 38.25 fantasy points over 29 minutes when he last saw the Pacers on Dec. 18, and he'd scored over 40 fantasy points on six occasions and over 60 in another instance in the seven games prior to getting hurt. Additionally, Indiana has been increasingly vulnerable to point guards recently, as the 47.5 fantasy points they've allowed to the position over the last five is a notable increase over the 36.4 they've yielded on the season.
Will Barton, DEN at HOU ($12,700): Barton is attractively priced for a player that's scored 33.50 to 42.25 fantasy points in four of the last five contests while holding down the starting small forward spot. The veteran swingman is shooting an impressive 49.3 percent on an average of 13.8 shot attempts during that span, with both numbers representing tangible improvements over his season figures. The Rockets have also been more porous against threes in Trevor Ariza's five-game absence due to a hamstring injury, as the 42.8 fantasy points they're yielding to the position ranks seventh most during that span, while the 4.3 made three-pointers per contest is the most allowed. Barton also racked up 20 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals across 36 minutes in his one prior matchup against Houston this season, furthering his case in what should be an uptempo contest.
Joel Embiid, PHI vs. NO ($17,200): With none of the Cavaliers' multiple trade acquisitions expected to suit up for Friday's contest, LeBron James ($22,300) naturally makes for an excellent option on what should be a tight rotation and in a tantalizing individual matchup. However, for those looking for similar upside at a significant discount, Embiid walks into one of the best individual matchups of the night if he can suit up, as he's currently listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Moreover, the Sixers also have the second-highest implied point total at 221.5 as of this writing, furthering his case against a Pelicans squad that's allowed 42.4 fantasy points, 17.3 points (on 62.0 percent shooting) and 14.0 rebounds over the last five games to fives. Embiid has taken his already impressive game up a notch recently, scoring 41.25 to 55.00 fantasy points in six straight contests, a span during which he's sporting a 36.9 percent usage rate and averaging 1.34 fantasy points per minute. If Embiid were unable to go, Andre Drummond ($18,300) and Karl-Anthony Towns ($17,100) both make for viable pivots at this price.
Blake Griffin, DET vs. LAC ($16,200): Griffin faces off with his former teammates for the first time, a matchup that should help give him that extra boost and that already works in his favor on paper anyhow. The Clippers have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points (46.6) to power forwards over the last 10, including 49.9 over the last five (with four of those games coming after Griffin's trade). They're also allowing the most rebounds (15.8) over the latter span, and despite Andre Drummond's recent tear, Griffin is sporting a 29.0 percent usage rate and averaging 1.26 fantasy points per minute in his four contests in a Pistons uniform. Those numbers have helped lead to fantasy-point tallies of 38.75 to 50.00, a range that he's certainly capable of reaching again Friday.
Al-Farouq Aminu, POR at SAC ($10,800): Aminu has quietly generated no fewer than 27.50 fantasy points in six of his last eight contests, a span during which he's racked up double-digit rebounds on four occasions, which has helped make up for some struggles from the field. The Kings' frontcourt deficiencies dovetail nicely with his recent dominance on the glass, as Sacramento has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points (40.3) to power forwards on the season, including 44.8 over the last five. They're also yielding a robust 11.5 rebounds per contest over the latter span, and the 2.0 made three-pointers they're allowing to fours on the season – the most in the NBA – also suits Aminu's long-range prowess well for fantasy purposes, considering he's draining a career-best 39.5 percent of his career-high 4.9 three-point attempts.
Jimmy Butler, MIN at CHI ($17,600): Butler is yet another superstar facing former teammates Friday, and in his case, he'll be making his first return to the Windy City since departing this offseason. The individual matchup could hardly be better, considering the Bulls have been a sieve against two-guards all season and have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points (57.0) to the position over the last five, along with the highest shooting percentage (46.0) and fourth-most made three-pointers (3.4) on the campaign. Butler has exceeded 50 fantasy points in each of his last two contests, and he's tallied no fewer than 41.25 in five of his last six overall. He's been both aggressive and sharp from the field during that span as well, shooting 51.5 percent – including 52.2 percent from distance – on an average of 17.2 attempts.
Danilo Gallinari, LAC at DET ($12,200): Similar to Barton, Gallinari has also been outpacing his current price recently, scoring 41.25 and 38.75 fantasy points, respectively, in his last two games. He's already back up to minutes in the mid-30s despite having played just three games following an extended layoff due to a glute injury, and with Blake Griffin now out of town, he's expected to continue seeing an uptick in usage. The veteran sharpshooter appears to be meshing well with new acquisition Tobias Harris and faces off against a Pistons squad that's been unable to slow down the small forward position all season. Detroit has allowed the second-most fantasy points (37.7) to threes on the season, including the second most (45.3) over the last 10. They've also yielded league-worst or bottom-five figures in several other categories to the position on the campaign -- including the most made three-pointers (2.5) -- while Gallinari has shot a blistering 57.1 percent from distance in his three games since returning.