There are a lot of stars in action Thursday night, with the Cavaliers, Warriors, and Timberwolves all playing at home. All three teams are heavily favored against opponents who appear destined to land in the 2018 lottery. Meanwhile, the latest battle for New York will be held in Brooklyn, where the Nets won their last meeting.
NY at BKN: The Lakers-Cavaliers game is projected to be higher scoring, but also a Cavaliers’ blowout. Close, competitive games are usually better for DFS, and the Knicks-Nets matchup is the only game on the slate between two roughly equal teams. It is also the game with the second-highest projected score.
SAC at MIN: Not only is this game likely to be a blowout, but it looks likely to be a low-scoring blowout, which is even worse. Both teams are in the bottom third of the league in pace.
Jimmy Butler, MIN vs. SAC ($8,700): It appears as though Timberwolves’ coach Tom Thibodeau forgot that the NBA allows substitutions. Butler has played at least 40 minutes in every game this month, averaging 41.8 per game. Whether or not this workload is a good idea for Butler’s health, it’s certainly helping his fantasy value, as he’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.7 threes during this run – all notably higher than his season-long average. The Kings are the third-worst per-possession defense in the league this season, but just because they are bad doesn’t mean that Butler will rest. The Timberwolves have already played the Mavericks and the Grizzlies since this stretch began.
J.J. Barea, DAL at GS ($5,600): With my mid-priced players, I tend to prefer a solid floor to a higher ceiling. In his last eight games, Barea hasn’t scored less than 21 DKFP. His minutes have barely trended upward with Dennis Smith Jr. (hip) sidelined, but they have increased. The extra 3.0 minutes per game won’t necessarily make a huge difference in Barea’s value, but they do help insure his already sturdy floor feel sturdier.
Frank Ntilikina, NY at BKN ($3,800): Ntilikina is averaging 24.8 minutes over his past five games, up 6.1 from his average before that stretch started. He’s got at least 18 DKFP in each of his past four games. Ntilikina is already in the NBA’s top-30 for steals per game, and the Nets are in the top-half of the league in steals allowed. Between the extra minutes, the recent production, and the improved chance of steals, all in addition to this games’ high projected pace and score makes Ntilikina an excellent bargain and a likely fixture on my rosters.
LeBron James, CLE vs. LAL ($11,900): There are a lot of cheap options available Thursday, so managers should have no problem fitting in either James or Kevin Durant ($11,300). On smaller slates, getting a solid 50 DKFP from a single roster spot can be incredibly useful, even if the production-per-dollar ends up being below what we’d usually target. James gets the nod over Durant here because of the James’ consistency and the differences in the opponents. In their last 10 games, James only has one game below 55 DKFP, while Durant failed to reach 40 DKFP four times. While the Lakers play the fastest pace in the league, the Mavericks play at the fifth-slowest.
Tyler Cavanaugh, ATL vs. DET ($4,100): John Collins (shoulder) is likely to return from his two-week absence Thursday, and his presence will severely undercut the total value of Cavanaugh, Ersan Ilyasova, and Miles Plumlee. On the one hand, Cavanaugh could be the player most impacted by Collins’ return, as Cavanaugh has seen the biggest boost in minutes and production in Collins’ absence. But Cavanaugh made the most of his opportunity, and reports are that his play has convinced the Hawks to sign him for the rest of the season (he was on a two-way contract). He’s averaged 24.5 minutes with Collins out, and he was promoted to the starting lineup on Tuesday. With Dewayne Dedmon (leg) still out, there remains a lot of big man minutes available, and Cavanaugh is surging. He has at least 25 DKFP in three of the last four games.
Maxi Kleber, DAL at GS ($3,500): Kleber is averaging 29.3 minutes over his last four games, which is a ton for a player at this price point. He has either four or five rebounds in each of those games, and in two of them he scored at least 13 points and at least 27 DKFP. He’s starting for the Mavericks, and his role seems secure, at least for now. While the blowout potential looms large, the Warriors play at the fifth-fastest pace in the league, improving the value of the minutes Kleber spends on the floor.
Kristaps Porzingis, NY at BKN ($9,600): Relying on narratives can get fantasy managers into trouble, but it’s hard not to notice that Porzingis seems to step it up when he’s playing with more than just the game on the line. For example, he was great in Tuesday’s nationally televised Lakers game. Last season, he only averaged a double-double against four teams: the Kings, Warriors, Lakers, and Nets. Even if there isn’t some intangible psychological factor motivating Porzingis to play better, his track record against the Nets shows a history of improved play. He’s coming off back-to-back games where he scored at least 52 DKFP.
Willie Cauley-Stein, SAC at MIN ($5,100): Joel Embiid took advantage of Karl-Anthony Towns Tuesday, exposing many holes in his defensive development. Cauley-Stein is no Embiid, but Towns’ defensive struggles are real, and the Timberwolves have been a favorable matchup for centers all season. Excluding the game he left early due to injury, Cauley-Stein has at least 23 DKFP in six straight games, and he’s exceeded 30 DKFP in half of his past 10 games.
Jahlil Okafor, BKN vs. NY ($4,000): At some point, the recently acquired Okafor will start playing for the Nets. I don’t know when that will be, but whenever it is, he’s likely to instantly become their most talented center. It’s possible Okafor doesn’t play Thursday, or that if he does play it will only be for limited minutes. But whenever they do start playing him, his production could be impactful right away. The last time he got regular minutes was as a rookie, when he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 30.0 minute per game.