Saturday marks the start of basketball at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and for the first time DraftKings will be running several contests, with prize pools as high as $50,000.
The slate includes five games over two days, beginning with the United States-China matchup on Saturday and concluding with Argentina-Nigeria on Sunday night. Of the initial group play games, only the Group A meeting between Australia and France (Saturday, 1:15 PM ET) is excluded.
Relative to DraftKings NBA contests, the Olympic slate is more challenging, as playing time is often unpredictable and individual statistical totals tend to be much lower. That means two or three players arenít enough to buoy a lineup, so constructing a balanced, bust-free lineup is imperative.
With that in mind, here are a handful of players at three position groups to consider this weekend:
GUARDS TO TARGET
Kyrie Irving, United States ($7,800)
Irving is the United Statesí highest-priced guard for a reason. The MVP of the FIBA World Cup two summers ago, Irving will be Coach Kís primary ball-handler on a roster that features only one other true point guard in Kyle Lowry. Irving will likely have to defer to Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony when it comes to scoring, but the Americans will put up enough points to yield several productive fantasy options each game. In the World Championships, Irving averaged 12.1 points, 3.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game while hitting 61 percent of his three-pointers for a USA squad that was arguably more stacked than this Olympic team.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Croatia ($7,700)
Bogdanovic checks in as the second-highest-priced guard, overall, and for good reason. While heís certainly not at the talent level of Team USAís guards, heíll shoulder a much heavier offensive burden and may be the favorite to lead the Games in scoring. In four Olympic qualifier games, Bogdanovic averaged 17.8 points, five rebounds and six assists, leading Serbia to a 4-0 record and an Olympic berth. If thereís one question mark, itís that this will be the 23-year-oldís first Olympic Games, though with the field as diluted overall as it is, that shouldnít be a massive concern. Bogdanovicís price could actually rise after Game 1, as the Group B play competition wonít get any tougher after facing Spain right off the bat.
Nemanja Nedovic, Serbia ($3,100)
Not too long ago, Nedovic was hailed as the ďEuropean Derrick Rose,Ē packing a combination of athleticism and attacking ability that made him worthy of a first-round pick in 2013. Nedovic quickly flamed out in the NBA, but heís coming off of a strong 2015-16 season overseas, in which he averaged 11.2 points and 2.6 assists in just 18.6 minutes per game. Worth noting: Nedovic sustained a foot injury while celebrating during a recent exhibition game, so be sure to verify his status before deploying him in a lineup.
FORWARDS TO TARGET
Carmelo Anthony, United States ($8,500)
If and when the United States claims the gold medal, it will be Anthonyís third straight, making him one of, if not the, most decorated Olympic basketball player of all-time. Kevin Durant is the United Statesí best player, but this is still Anthonyís team, and he always seems to takes his game to another level on the international stage. Team USAís production will continue to be spread relatively evenly -- as was the case during its exhibition tour -- but Anthony should be a steady source of overall scoring, three-pointers, and rebounding, regardless of opponent -- plus, heís $900 cheaper than Durant.
Andres Nocioni, Argentina ($6,800)
The former Bulls, Kings and 76ers forward hasnít played in the NBA since 2011-12, but heís maintained a solid career overseas and finished last monthís exhibition against the United States with 15 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. While the most talented generation in Argentina basketball history -- headlined by Nocionio, Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Luis Scola -- is nearing the end of the road, it still has enough left in the tank to make the group play round interesting. Nocioni seems like the safest bet in terms of fantasy production, and the Nigerian squad heíll face off against Sunday isnít exactly a defensive stalwart.
Mario Hezonja, Croatia ($5,700)
While Bogdan Bogdanovic and Dario Saric are the two highest-priced Croatians on DraftKings, Hezonja might be the most intriguing of the the three. The Orlando Magic guard is an explosive athlete who can score in a variety of ways, making him a difficult matchup for an aging Spanish team in Game 1. That said, Saric and Bogdanovic shoulder an immense offensive burden for Croatia, so Hezonja will serve mostly as the third option. Still, though, his scoring ability should produce a big game or two during group play -- the difficult part is predicting when, exactly, those games will come.
Michael Gbinije, Nigeria ($3,500)
The good news: Even without Festus Ezeli and Al-Farouq Aminu, this is arguably one of the best African teams in recent memory. The bad news: That still probably wonít be enough to make it out of group play. Nigeria has some NBA-caliber talent, including Gbinije, but it wonít hold a candle to the top European teams or the United States, which toppled Nigeria 110-66 in an exhibition Monday night. Gbinije had his fair share of struggles in that contest, but heís a proven scorer and playmaker at the major college level (Syracuse) and should see big minutes during group play. The swingman -- heís listed as a forward on DraftKings but spends a good chunk of time handling the ball -- is far from a player to build a lineup around, but at $3,500 heís a cheap option who draws a relatively average Argentina team in Game 1.
Domantas Sabonis, Lithuania ($4,600)
This will be Sabonisí first taste of Olympic competition, so heís somewhat of a risky play given his inexperience. Still, heís the second-biggest name behind Jonas Valanciunas on a Lithuanian roster thatís without former NBA-ers Linas Kleiza and Darius Songaila, as well as Donatas Motiejunas. Given his youth, itís fair to question just how many minutes Sabonis will be able to steal away from international veterans, but his 14-point, eight-rebound performance in a recent exhibition against Spain is reason for optimism, especially at a price tag of only $4,600.
CENTERS TO TARGET
DeAndre Jordan, United States ($7,300)
Even if its exhibition shooting struggles continue, the United States is the team to target in these Olympics. Itíll be difficult choosing between a host of NBA stars, but Jordan is an easy selection at center -- heís the only center-eligible American on DraftKings -- even if DeMarcus Cousins and Draymond Green loom as potential minutes vultures. Jordanís advantage as a pure athlete cannot be overstated -- heíll clean the glass and finish around the rim at a wildly efficient rate, even if his minutes totals are relatively low.
Pau Gasol, Spain ($9,000)
Coming off of back-to-back Olympic silvers, Spain has likely missed its window to challenge for the gold medal, but this will still be a respectable squad, headlined by the best Spanish player in history. Gasol isnít the player he was in 2008 or 2012, but he should still put up big numbers as the clear No. 1 option, offensively. $9,000 is a steep price to pay, but he should be able to exploit a Croatia team whose top talents are housed on the wing and in the backcourt.
Nikola Jokic, Serbia ($7,200)
Coming off of an excellent rookie season with the Nuggets, Jokic will be among the headliners for a Serbian team that also features Milos Teodosic, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Nedovic and former Bucks great Miroslav Raduljica. Jokicís cross-category production should make him a valuable commodity, especially against a wildly overmatched Venezuelan team that mustered only 45 points on 23 percent shooting in an exhibition matchup against the United States.