Daily Fantasy NBA Playoff Picks for FanDuel and DraftKings - Round 1 4/15/18
The regular season is in the books and now the real basketball begins. We have a fresh slate of NBA playoff games, and a lot of speculating to do as to how each team is going to manage their rotations. Let's dive in and try and make sense of it all.
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Milwaukee Bucks (+4) at the Boston Celtics (-4)
We'll start with the series with the lowest overall implied total, because why not? Both of these teams come to this game from somewhat different angles. The Celtics have been locked into their playoff seeding for what feels like forever, and had basically abandoned playing their real players 30+ minutes once they decided to slow things down. As for Milwaukee, they never seemed to be able to figure out whether they wanted to push for better seeding or rest their important pieces, but they were certainly playing meaningful games more recently than the Celtics were.
We'll start there. Unfortunately, we have a situation with the Bucks where their players seem to be priced to their full run of minutes in a very tough match-up. The low total here comes largely from the Celtics' league best defensive efficiency and 6th slowest overall PACE. The only potential value I see on the Bucks' side comes if you think their rotations shrink down even further, leaving guys like Giannis and Khris Middleton with 42+ minutes per game. If there is a potential card they might be holding up their sleeve it could be Jabari Parker ($5,800 FD, $5,500 DK). We've seen him flash 37 minutes at times, but he's priced like a guy playing 29-30 minutes per game. What we don't know as of now is whether that was because the Bucks were managing his minutes post injury or because they think that's just the right number, even in games that matter. I love him early on in his series as a big tournament play.
On the Celtics side, things get a little bit more interesting. Since the Celtics were, to a man, playing less than a full rotation as the season ended we see some potentially cheap pricing on players like Terry Rozier ($7,200 on FD and DK), Jaylen Brown ($5,900 FD, $5,600 DK), and Al Horford ($7,400 FD, $6,000 DK). If these guys move from the 29 minutes they've been playing to the mid-high 30s minutes that we project, they are excellent plays against a Milwaukee team that was a league average match-up during the regular season. One important note there - as we've moved into the playoffs most of the truly terrible defenses like Brooklyn and Phoenix are long gone, so what were league average match-ups become great spots instead.
I'll be watching closely to see what the plan is for Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris. I could see either moving into 30+ minute roles, but don't feel quite confident enough yet to call them cash game musts.
Indiana Pacers (+6.5) at the Cleveland Cavaliers (-6.5)
We move to Cleveland, where the roller-coaster Cavs take on the better-than-you-realize Pacers. This game has the 2nd highest total on the slate, and features a Cleveland team that has the worst defensive efficiency of any team in the playoffs right now. But how much do we really trust those numbers?
Here's what we know. Cleveland is going to play 3 players (Hood, Nance, Hill) for significant minutes that weren't on the team for a lot of the season. The Cavs have also historically turned up the defense for the playoffs (on the back of increased effort from LeBron, who can turn it on to be a top tier shut down defender) and have also greatly shortened their rotation. It's hard to believe they'll have anything like the 109.5 defensive efficiency that they had during the year.
But where does that leave us? Trying to decide between players on an Indiana team that only barely seems to know what they are planning to do. Unlike a lot of playoff teams, Indiana seems like a pretty strong candidate to keep a slightly longer rotation. Stephenson, Joseph, and Sabonis all provide a change of pace from their respective starting counterparts, and Indiana is prone to leaving them in for longer stretches when things seem to be breaking well for the second group. In the last game they played that featured a normal game script and a full starting unit, only Victor Oladipo ($9,500 FD, $8,600 DK) and Myles Turner ($5,400 FD, $5,300 DK) topped 35 minutes. Both carry their own risk - Oladipo on price, and Turner on the fact that Indiana sometimes seems to get impatient with him. I think Bojan and Thad are also somewhat interesting options, but I'm not counting them getting extended rotations here.
As for the Cavs, they're their own ball of wax. I'd rather not speculate on the shooting guard situation. Hood and Korver both have injury question marks, and Smith doesn't exactly light the world on fire when he is in there. I'm going to wait a game and see what the plan is there. George Hill is somewhat interesting, but I'm a little concerned that the Cavs decide to just go full Bron on us here. LeBron James ($12,100 FD, $11,500 DK) looks like an excellent big money payoff given the slightly reduced price and what we're forecasting as a slightly increased role. I'm also pretty into Kevin Love ($8,100 FD, $7,600 DK) given that I think he'll see 35+ minutes against a Pacers team that allowed the 11th most fantasy points to opposing power forwards this season.
Utah Jazz (+3.5) at the Oklahoma City Thunder (-3.5)
A great series for playoff basketball, but a weird one for fantasy purposes. In one corner we've got Utah, who managed the 2nd best defensive efficiency of any team in the NBA this season in spite of dealing with a rotating cast of injury issues. They also played the 5th slowest pace, and the 2nd slowest of any team that made the playoffs. The Jazz defense is naturally going to limit the upside of the Thunder.
That being said, there is still a bit of value to be had here. One of the big question marks for the Thunder is the play time of Carmelo Anthony ($5,000 FD, $5,300 DK). At prices like these he really only needs to play 30 minutes to be an excellent play even in a fairly tough match-up. I'd consider the other "big three" for the Thunder in play as well - Westbrook, Adams, and Paul George all seem like fine values given that they have slightly reduced prices on account of a tough match-up.
And then you have the Jazz. I think I'd prefer to not go there in general. The Jazz players are priced based on a max-effort run at the end of the regular season, and the only guy that's really coming up in our system right now is Donovan Mitchell ($7,800 FD, $7,400 DK). The Thunder haven't been the same against opposing shooting guards since Roberson went down, and the Jazz really rely on Mitchell's offense. There's also a reasonable case to be made for Derrick Favors ($5,700 FD, $5,100 DK), but that once again comes down to the Jazz's finalized plan. They've been holding Favors' minutes down to a 32 minute maximum by and large, but will they extend that against a team that has two sizable offensive threats that can bang down low? You could see a significant price increase there.
Minnesota Timberwolves (+11) at the Houston Rockets (-11)
The game with the highest total on the day, but also the highest spread. I will say that, in general, we're going to be a lot less concerned about teams resting their players in the playoff than the regular season. Houston is rightfully favored by a country mile here, but both they and the Wolves have a distinguished track record of playing their starters minutes almost regardless of the game script. For that reason I'm going to be ignoring the spread and focusing on the match-up.
On the Minnesota side, you pretty much know what you're getting. They've been going all out for 2 weeks (I mean really, the whole season), and they're seeing a bump in prices on account of a fast match-up. Our system isn't calling out any Timberwolves as a particular value, and I'd be hesitant to run any of them out there as anything other than medium-floor filler in cash games. Houston is an under-appreciated defense, posting the 6th best defensive efficiency on a league average pace this season.
Things look a little more interesting on the Houston side of things. You have a handful of guys whose minutes have been managed, and we don't know what Houston's plans are for playoff minutes at this point. If Clint Capela ($7,700 FD, $6,400 DK), Trevor Ariza ($4,700 FD, $4,600 DK), and Chris Paul ($9,000 FD, $8,100 DK) add minutes in this series they could be a tremendous value, and even if they don't they seem like very high floor options against a Minnesota team with the 2nd worst defensive efficiency of any team in the playoffs. I also like James Harden ($11,700 FD, $11,100 DK) if you find that getting your payoff at SG makes more sense than taking it elsewhere.
The power forward spot on the Rockets is pretty interesting here, because it's not totally clear to me where the minutes and production (such as it is) from this position go. PJ Tucker has gotten some extra minutes, but it's not clear that the production will follow. He still makes a high impact big tournament option on minutes alone, though.