We’re back to an abbreviated slate Thursday, with a couple of potential mismatches populating the three-game schedule. However, there’s no shortage of star power, with the likes of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and DeMar DeRozan in action early. The West Coast game promises plenty of fast-paced action and brings the highly-anticipated regular-season debut of Lonzo Ball, as well.
Without further ado, here’s where some of the best value at each price tier resides Thursday:
Russell Westbrook, OKC vs. NY ($19,600): Westbrook is essentially a must-play on such a small slate, even with the risk of a blowout in the Thunder’s favor. Westbrook should have the clear advantage, whether he’s matching up against journeyman Ramon Sessions or rookie Frank Ntilikina on a frequent basis, although there isn’t a particular defensive matchup that poses much of an issue for him anyhow. Westbrook averaged 32.5 points, 15.5 rebounds and 13.0 assists in two games versus New York last year, and despite facing different personnel this time around, the result is very likely to be along the same lines.
DeMar DeRozan, TOR vs. CHI ($15,300): DeRozan and the Raptors are heavy favorites themselves against another team with very thin talent in the Bulls. With Dwyane Wade now in Cleveland, Chicago’s ranking as the fourth-stingiest defense versus shooting guards from last season is out the window, clearing a path for what should be plentiful fantasy production for DeRozan. He actually thrived in this matchup last season (32.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals over three games), and with the Raptors returning much of the same personnel, he could well approximate last season’s team-high 34.8 percent usage rate.
Lou Williams, LAC at LAL ($9,800): Williams will be deployed in his customary bench role to open the season, but that slotting on the depth chart has still equated to plenty of minutes at his various stops. It shouldn’t be any different with the Clippers, and he’ll get a crack at the questionable defense of one of his old squads right from the jump. The Lakers allowed averages of 21.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.9 made three-pointers to two-guards last season, making them a target for Williams’ sharpshooting skills in the opener.
Blake Griffin, LAC at LAL ($17,700): The Lakers’ frontcourt presents perhaps an even more inviting matchup, as Los Angeles allowed 21.0 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals per contest to power forwards last season, and 24.0 points (on 58.3 percent shooting), 6.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds to Griffin in two contests. Griffin also sported a team-best 28.0 percent usage rate last season without Chris Paul on the floor, providing a glimpse of what type of involvement he’ll have with the latter now in Houston.
Kristaps Porzingis, NY at OKC ($14,300): Another player who’ll find himself with a lot more on his shoulders due to a high-profile offseason departure is Porzingis, who boasted a 26.7 percent usage rate last season with Carmelo Anthony off the floor. With the latter on the opposite bench and likely to often be matched up one-on-one against him for Thursday’s opener, Porzingis should be heavily involved while trying to keep a relatively talent-starved Knicks unit in the game. He’ll have a seven-inch height advantage on Anthony as well, which should certainly help him pile up some numbers across the stat sheet.
Brook Lopez, LAL vs. LAC ($12,300): Lopez may not offer much on the defensive end, but the fast-paced Lakers offensive attack will be right in his wheelhouse. The veteran big man is coming off a season in which he averaged 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks over 75 games in Brooklyn and draws a matchup versus a Clippers squad that he lit up for 27 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block over 43 minutes in his one game against them last season. The Clippers also allowed 21.5 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals to centers overall in the 2016-17 campaign.
DeAndre Jordan, LAC at LAL ($13,800): Jordan should also have abundant opportunity to return value on his reasonable price while matched up against Lopez, who played a large part in his Nets squad of last season allowing 22.1 points, 14.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.4 steals per game to centers. Jordan went for 21 points and 22 rebounds while often matched up against Lopez in the one Clippers-Nets meeting last season in which the latter played, and beyond him, he’ll also face some of the same players that have contributed to the Lakers’ frontcourt’s issues against big men over the last couple of seasons.
Carmelo Anthony, OKC vs. NY ($13,600): After an impressive preseason, the motivation levels should be sky-high for Anthony in the opener against his old squad. Even though his days as the focal point of an offense are in the past now that he’s playing alongside Westbrook and Paul George, Anthony will undoubtedly see plenty of looks while potentially playing closer to the basket as the starting power forward. Additionally, even with the 7-foot-3 Porzingis often residing in the post, the Knicks still gave up the second-most points (21.8) to fours last season, along with 10.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per contest.