Tuesday features Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns starting at 9 p.m. ET.
This has the potential to be an exciting series. The Suns are currently listed as -195 favorites to win the series, and they’re 5.5-point favorites at home in Game 1.
The big storyline here involves the health of Giannis Antetokounmpo. He suffered a hyperextended knee during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, and he missed the final two games of that series. It appears as though he’s nearing a return to the court. He was initially listed as doubtful for Tuesday’s Game 1, but he has been upgraded to questionable. I still think the Bucks will ultimately exercise some caution with their star player, but don’t be surprised if he does everything possible to try and get himself on the court. Make sure to monitor his status using the Labs Insiders tool.
Antetokounmpo is a back-to-back league MVP, and he was the Bucks’ best player during the regular season. The team increased its Net Rating by +9.2 points per 100 possessions with Giannis on the court, which was the top mark on the squad. It also put him in the 93rd percentile for all qualified players this season, so his impact cannot be understated.
The Suns don’t have the same big question mark from a health perspective, but this is a young team that hasn’t really been tested. Outside of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, very few players on the roster had even made the postseason before this year, and now they’re playing on the biggest stage in basketball. They were also able to breeze through the Western Conference playoffs without really being threatened, so it will be interesting to see how they handle the pressure.
If Antetokounmpo were at full strength, he would obviously be the top stud in this contest. He’s arguably the best fantasy producer in basketball given his ability to rack up stats in every category across the board. No one on this slate can match him on a per-minute basis.
If he is able to suit up, whether or not you should roster him will be an interesting decision. There’s a chance that he’ll be limited from a minute’s perspective, and he also might be less impactful than usual.
Still, I’m willing to roll the dice if he suits up. He’s approximately -$1,000 cheaper on DraftKings than he was vs. the Hawks, and he could command reduced ownership as well. That’s a nice combination.
If Giannis is unable to suit up, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday become elite stud targets. Both players were excellent in the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals. Middleton racked up at least 52.0 DraftKings points in both contests, while Holiday scored at least 56.0. Middleton’s ceiling is a smidge higher, but I prefer Holiday given the difference in salary.
Unfortunately, both players are a bit overpriced if Antetokounmpo is in the lineup.
On the other side, Chris Paul and Devin Booker are both worthy of stud consideration. Both players will have difficult matchups in this series, but both players have provided excellent value at times during the postseason.
Of the two, Booker owns the superior projections in our NBA Models. Paul is a bit of a more balanced fantasy option, but Booker can outproduce him with his scoring ability. His price has also come way down — he’s seen a price decrease of -$1,400 on DraftKings over his past two games — while Paul’s salary has gone in the opposite direction.
Deandre Ayton has seen his stock skyrocket during the postseason. He’s developed into a hyper-efficient offensive big man who also plays elite defense. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily transition into fantasy success. He contributes in just two categories – points and rebounds – so he needs to dominate in both areas to hit his ceiling. He can clearly do that, evidenced by his 61.0 DraftKings points in Game 4 vs. the Clippers, but it does tend to cap his upside. He’s scored more than 44.0 DraftKings points in just two of 16 playoff games, and he’s scored 37.0 DraftKings points or fewer in 10 of them. That makes him a bit overpriced compared to guys like Paul, Booker, and Holiday.
It feels crazy to say this, but I’m not sure the Bucks would be in the Finals without Brook Lopez. He has scored extremely efficiently during the postseason, and he has managed to hold his own on the defensive end.
However, he’s another member of the Bucks who has been priced up sans Giannis, and he would be tough to justify if Giannis returns in Game 1. He’s posted a negative Plus/Minus in six of his past eight games on DraftKings with Giannis active, and most of those came at a significantly lower salary.
Bobby Portis’s viability is probably the most dependent on Giannis on the team. He’s started the past two games in place of Antetokounmpo, and he provided excellent fantasy value in both. His playing time would be slashed if Antetokounmpo suits up, but he would be a strong option once again if Giannis is inactive.
Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder round out this tier, and both players are very similar. They’re both expected to play around 32 minutes in this contest, and they have similar per-minute averages over the past month. I would lean Crowder just because he’s a bit cheaper, but both players have the potential to pay off their salaries if their jump shots are falling.
Values & Punts
- Pat Connaughton ($4,800 on DraftKings, $8,000 on FanDuel): Connaughton has seen plenty of playing time during the postseason, and he finally delivered a big performance in Game 6 vs. the Hawks. He finished with 30.0 DraftKings points and shot 3-of-6 from 3-point range, which has caused his salary to nearly double. He’s not nearly as appealing at his current price tag.
- Cameron Payne ($4,600 on DraftKings, $10,000 on FanDuel): Payne also stands out as overpriced. He carried a large workload for the Suns with CP3 out of the lineup, but his playing time has decreased drastically since Paul returned to the lineup. He’s still very good on a per-minute basis, but he’s projected for just 14.5 minutes in our NBA Models. That’s probably not enough for him to return value.
- P.J. Tucker ($4,400 on DraftKings, $7,500 on FanDuel): Tucker is basically the anti-Payne. He should see all the minutes he can handle — I would expect him to serve as Booker’s primary defender in this series — but he’s one of the worst producers in the league on a per-minute basis. Still, he’s posted a positive Plus/Minus in seven of his past eight games.
- Torrey Craig ($3,800 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel): Craig is the ultimate winner in this series. He spent time with the Bucks earlier this season, so he gets a ring regardless of who comes out victorious. From a fantasy perspective, he did play more than 30 minutes in the Suns’ last game, but that came with Cameron Johnson out of the lineup. The Suns also won that game by nearly 30 points, so I don’t think that’s indicative of how much he’ll play on Tuesday.
- Cameron Johnson ($2,800 on DraftKings, $8,500 on FanDuel): Speaking of Johnson, he stands out as the best target in this price range. His role was increasing for the Suns prior to missing their last game with an illness, and he’s currently projected for 20.2 minutes in our NBA Models. That should be more than enough for him to return value at his current price tag.
- Bryn Forbes ($2,400 on DraftKings, $6,500 on FanDuel): Forbes can shoot the 3-ball extremely well, but that’s basically all he can do on a basketball court. The Bucks have been drastically worse with Forbes on the court this season, so it wouldn’t shock me if he didn’t play at all in the Finals. He’s extremely risky in Game 1, and he doesn’t provide much upside, either.
- Dario Saric ($2,000 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel): I’d rather go with Saric if I’m looking to go dumpster-diving. He should see around 10 minutes as the Suns’ backup center, and he’s a much better producer than Forbes on a per-minute basis.
Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images
Pictured: Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker