NBA Core Plays

THE CORE

1 PM UPDATE – Adding Ish Smith with Isaiah Thomas OUT for Washington. Smith remains dirt cheap on all DFS sites and filled in admirably last night with a 30+ fantasy point game. He is an obvious value on this slate. This does worry me a little with all three core plays coming from the same game in Smith, Butler, and Hachimura, but all should be fine barring a blowout. I would likely avoid going with more than these three players from this game in cash to be safe, though.

5 PM UPDATE Kevin Love is out with an illness, and Tristan Thompson is questionable as well. Obviously, scratch Love as a GPP pivot play. If Thompson ends up being out as well, Larry Nance could be looking at huge minutes and would be a fine play despite a tough matchup.

1) Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

FanDuel: $9,100, SF DraftKings: $8,100, SG/SF Yahoo: $38, SF FantasyDraft: $15,200, G

Now that he is healthy, the Miami Heat are leaning on Jimmy Butler. He has played 35, 41, and 37 minutes over the last three games, and he has taken 17, 16, and 18 shot attempts in those games. All three of them have been road contests, and he put up mid-to-upper 50 fantasy point totals in games against the Raptors and Celtics. Those are definitely impressive performances given the quality of those two opponents.

Butler’s usage continues to hover in the high-20% ranges, and he will be a do everything player for this team. Goran Dragic is out. Justise Winslow continues to be banged up (and he is questionable tonight), so even more of the offense will fall on Butler’s shoulders.

Everything is trending positively here, and now we can throw in a matchup against the Washington Wizards. This Washington team is extremely banged up right now, they are playing on the second leg of a back-to-back set, and they are a haven for allowing fantasy production to opposing players. The Wizards are tied for the league lead in pace, and they rank last in defensive efficiency by a wide margin. For reference, Atlanta is allowing 111.7 points per 100 possessions. They rank 29th. There are six other teams allowing between 111.0 and 111.7 points per 100 possessions.

Washington is allowing 114.3 points per 100 opposing possessions. That would be the second worst mark in NBA history — ahead of only last year’s Cleveland Cavaliers, who didn’t play at the same pace that the Wizards do.

You absolutely need to get exposure to Miami tonight, and Butler is the logical starting point for cash game builds. He is really popping in our early projections and will be the first player on my rosters.

(Tournament pivot: You could certainly shoot for upside with other members of this Miami team, particularly if Winslow ends up sitting. That would give some upside Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, and they are cost controlled options. Bam Adebayo could feast on the glass in this game, as well. He is in play regardless of WInslow’s status. This game is very stackable in GPP settings, and I’ll touch on Washington next.)

2) Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards

FanDuel: $5,800, PF DraftKings: $5,700, PF/C Yahoo: $23, PF FantasyDraft: $11,000, F/C

I just had some fun going into the way back machine with defensive efficiency. Just take a look at how things have changed over the years with regard to points allowed per 100 possessions:

2019-2020 = Fewest points allowed – Lakers 99.6 / Most points allowed – Wizards 114.3

2015-2016 = Fewest points allowed – Spurs 96.6 / Most points allowed – Lakers 109.3

2011-2012 = Fewest points allowed – Bulls 95.3 / Most points allowed – Hornets 107.8

2007-2008 = Fewest points allowed – Celtics 82.2 / Most points allowed – Knicks 96.6

2003-2004 = Fewest points allowed – Spurs 78.5 / Most points allowed – Magic 94.0

Those are what you call some trends. We only need to go back twelve years to see that the WORST defense in that year allowed fewer points per 100 possessions than the BEST defense this year. It’s a remarkable thing to note to show just how the offensive game has evolved over the last two decades. These stats have nothing to do with pace, as everything is normalized to 100 possessions.

Those nuggets I threw out have absolutely nothing to do with core DFS plays today, but I found it interesting, and I started diving in after seeing just how bad the Wizards have been defensively this year. Now, we’ve come full circle. It’s time to go back to the Wizards.

Thanks to their awful defense, the Wizards are playing at an absurd pace and are being forced to score tons of points to keep up with their opponents. Each of their last six games have gone over 220 total points. They are also very much banged up right now, particularly in the frontcourt. Thomas Bryant is sidelined, while it is possible that Moe Wagner might be somewhat limited on the second end of a back-to-back after playing 26 minutes in his return from injury last night.

The Wizards basically have just two big men on their bench as it stands, and Ian Mahinmi is not going to play massive minutes. That leaves a ton of playing time available for Rui Hachimura and sixth man Davis Bertans, who combined to play a whopping 80 minutes on Thursday against the Sixers. Hachimura continues to thrive, as he took 18 shots last night on his way to a 27/7 line over his 43 minutes. He is getting more rebounding opportunities thanks to the depleted frontcourt, and he remains priced under $6,000 on both FanDuel and DraftKings.

Even though this isn’t an elite matchup against the Heat, it’s difficult to ignore the Wizards given their pace of play and short rotations. Hachimura is a priority play for me here, and he would become a 100% must start in the event that Wagner sits.

(Tournament pivot: This is a change away from Kevin Love, who has been ruled out due to illness. It’s not a similar salary or position, but I will highlight Damian Lillard here. He has a tough matchup against a Lakers team that leads the league in defensive efficiency, but we all know that Lillard tends to shine brightest in big matchups. His ownership is currently projected in the single digits, and he is coming off a 50 fantasy point outing his last time out. I like the tournament upside at modest ownership and will be overweight in GPP builds.)

GENERAL SLATE THOUGHTS

This has been a wacky week. On Wednesday, we had a ten or eleven game slate that featured virtually no news drops throughout the day. On Thursday, we had a four game slate which felt like a full slate, as there was constant news throughout the afternoon that shaped the optimal builds for the day.

Today is shaping up to be another potentially wild day. Here are the spots I am monitoring:

LaMarcus Aldridge – Questionable – Poeltl, DeRozan, and Gay get upgrades if he is out.

Andrew Wiggins – Questionable – Given his offensive usage, Towns, Covington, and Teague get nice bumps if he sits.

Justise Winslow – Questionable – This would increase the appeal of Miami’s other options in a great matchup.

Bogdan Bogdanovic and Cory Joseph – Questionable – This would make the Sacramento rotation very short tonight. Trevor Ariza enters the value conversation if Bogdanovic is out, while Yogi Ferrell would benefit from a Joseph absence.

There are other secondary injuries to keep an eye on, too, so expect changes to the core as we get to the afternoon hours.

Good luck tonight!

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