After a seemingly eternal layoff, the NBA returns Thursday from its annual All-Star sabbatical with a solid six-game slate. One of the unique aspects of this time of year is that every team – and by extension, each player – has essentially enjoyed a nice reset physically and mentally, a fact that holds true even for those that saw All-Star game action. That makes all of the usual strong plays even more appealing, leaving us with plenty of options Thursday. With a lot to discuss, let’s dive right into breaking down the beginning of the NBA’s second act:
Ben Simmons, PHI at CHI ($17,400): Both Russell Westbrook ($21,400) and Stephen Curry ($18,900) will undoubtedly be tempting and are worthy of consideration, but Simmons is a highly viable cost-savings option in his own right, especially in a game that features two clubs ranked in the top 10 in possessions per game (Sixers-103.3, Bulls-101.9). The versatile former first overall pick is already averaging a triple-double against the Bulls in two prior meetings this season, posting 19.0 points, 14.0 rebounds, 12.0 assists and 3.0 blocks across 37.0 minutes. Moreover, Chicago resumes post-All-Star-break play giving up the seventh-most fantasy points to point guards (41.3) on the season, and they also sport league-worst or bottom-10 figures in multiple other categories against the position. The Bulls are also ranked in the bottom half of the NBA in points allowed in the paint (44.8), while Simmons has compiled 79.4 percent of his scoring in that area of the floor this season.
Lou Williams, LAC at GS ($12,800): Williams is averaging 30.0 points (on 53.1 percent shooting), 4.3 assists and 1.7 rebounds across 28.3 minutes in three games versus the Warriors this season, while Golden State is playing at a pace that’s generating the third-most possessions per contest (103.7). They also continue to present as a very appealing individual matchup for Williams, as they’re allowing the sixth-most fantasy points (43.2) to shooting guards on the season, including 51.2 over the last 10 games. Additionally, it’s worth noting that despite Avery Bradley’s presence, Williams has continued to see no fewer than 30 minutes per game in a second-unit role, giving him more than enough opportunity to provide a solid return on a price he’s consistently outpaced in varying degrees this season.
T.J. McConnell, PHI at CHI ($8,600): McConnell’s production has been undeniably spotty, but when he’s been good, he’s been very good. The versatile guard posted 34.50 and 53.00 fantasy points, respectively, in two of the three games prior to the All-Star break, with the latter total coming on the strength of a 10-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double. He logged at least 20 minutes in eight of the nine games prior to the layoff as well, and the Bulls’ considerable issues against point guards described previously include allowing the fourth-most assists (7.6) to ones on the season. That figure is especially relevant in the case of a skilled facilitator like McConnell, who plays on a second unit that ranks in the top half of the NBA with a 45.6 percent success rate from the field.
LeBron James, CLE vs. WAS ($21,300): James went into the All-Star break on a torrid streak, perhaps invigorated by the team’s flurry of new additions at the trade deadline. He compiled 54.50 to 79.00 fantasy points in the four games before the layoff, a sample that included a double-double and a pair of triple-doubles. He’ll now come in well-rested to face a Wizards squad that’s been vulnerable to small forwards throughout the campaign. Washington is allowing the ninth-most fantasy points (35.6) to threes on the season, including the seventh most (45.3) over the last 10. They’ve been equally inept defending James, who’s torched them for 38.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 11.0 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals across 42.0 minutes across two prior meetings this season.
Dwight Howard, CHA vs. BKN ($15,400): It’s hard to pass up a refreshed Howard in one of the most tantalizing matchups for centers in the NBA, making him a solid mid-tier selection Thursday. Brooklyn resumes play following the All-Star break allowing the most fantasy points to fives (39.6) on the season, including the most over the last 10 (49.4) and last five (59.6). They’re also yielding league-worst or bottom-10 figures in multiple categories to the position over all three spans, while Howard went into the break having scored 40.25 and 46.25 fantasy points, respectively, over his last two games. He’s been a better-than-average bet for a double-double this season, and unsurprisingly, a force near the basket. That’s a particularly relevant factor Thursday, considering the Nets have allowed the eighth-most points in the paint (45.9) on the season -- including the second most (57.3) over the last three – while Howard has scored 68.6 percent of his points in that area of the floor.
Justin Jackson, SAC vs. OKC ($7,700): Jackson was coming on before the All-Star break, as he’d scored in double digits in four of the last five games before the layoff. He’d also compiled 24.00 and 28.75 fantasy points, respectively, in the last pair of contests during that sample. The rookie has shown notable improvement as a shooter over the last 10 games overall, posting a 54.4 percent success rate during that stretch, a nice boost over his 43.3 percent seasonal figure. His minutes have been between 23 and 34 in the last seven as well, while the Thunder were showing increased vulnerability to small forwards leading up the All-Star break. OKC resumes play Thursday having allowed 40.9 fantasy points to threes over the last 10 games – including 50.0 over the last five – both representing significant increases over the 32.2 they’ve allowed on the season.
Otto Porter, Jr., WAS at CLE ($13,500): Just as James finds himself in a particularly favorable spot against the Wizards, the same is true for Porter against Cleveland. The Cavs had proven even more vulnerable to small forwards than Washington heading into the All-Star break, allowing the fourth-most fantasy points to the position over the last 10 games (50.8), including 52.8 over the last five. They also had allowed bottom-five or bottom-10 figures in multiple categories to the position over both spans, while Porter went into the All-Star break having scored 31.75 to 49.75 fantasy points in eight of last nine games. He also shot 51.9 percent on an average of 13.5 shot attempts over the last 10 contests overall before the layoff -- with both figures representing improvements over his season figures – and sports a 23.7 percent usage rate and average of 1.07 fantasy points per minute in the nine games John Wall (knee) has missed thus far.
Allen Crabbe, BKN at CHA ($10,500): Crabbe remains nicely priced for a player that scored 32.50 to 43.00 fantasy points in the last four games prior to the All-Star break, a span during which he generated a 24.4 percent usage rate while averaging 1.39 points per possession and 1.04 fantasy points per minute. He’ll be in an excellent spot Thursday to continue generating production of that caliber, as the Hornets allowed the third-most fantasy points (55.7) to shooting guards over the last 10 games prior to the All-Star break, including the second most over the last five (68.4). They also allowed the highest shooting percentage (51.0) to the position during the former span, while Crabbe has posted a 48.8 percent success rate from the field in his last five games, including 42.6 percent from three-point range. He generated those figures on an elevated total of 16.4 shot attempts per contest, a considerable bump over the 10.8 he’s averaged on the season.