Saturday features Game 1 of the Milwaukee Bucks vs. the Brooklyn Nets starting at 7:30 p.m. ET.
This should be a fun series. The Nets are currently the betting favorites to win the NBA title this season, so they are unsurprisingly favored in this series. They’re currently listed at -200 to beat the Bucks, and they’re four-point home favorites in Game 1. The total also sits at 240.0 points, so there is expected to be plenty of offense.
That said, the Bucks looked very impressive during the first round of the playoffs. They were able to exact some revenge with a sweep of the Heat, who were the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year. They’ve made some nice changes to their roster for this season, but it remains to be seen if they can actually compete with the Nets’ “Big Three.”
From an injury perspective, the Bucks did sustain a big blow in their opening series. They lost Donte DiVincenzo for the rest of the season, which is a big deal. The team increased their Net Rating by +4.7 points per 100 possessions with DiVincenzo on the court this season, which is the fourth-highest mark on the squad.
Ultimately, I think the Nets will probably win this series, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it went seven games.
There is no shortage of star power in this series. James Harden is the most expensive player across the industry, and he put together some huge performances in the Nets’ first-round series vs. the Celtics. He was particularly impressive over the final three games, scoring at least 65.75 DraftKings points in all three contests. He ranked second on the team in usage rate during the first round, but he was an absolute monster in the peripheral categories. Harden averaged 10.6 assists, 7.2 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks vs. the Celtics, so he has the potential to contribute in every category across the board.
As good as Harden is, Giannis Antetokounmpo stands out as the better fantasy option in Game 1. He’s slightly cheaper across the industry, but he leads all players in our NBA Models in terms of median, ceiling and floor projections. He has the same ability as Harden to rack up peripheral stats, but he should command a significantly higher usage rate. He scored at least 61.0 DraftKings points in three of four games vs. the Heat, and he should have no problem hitting that threshold again on Saturday.
Next up is Kevin Durant, and he’s been the Nets’ top scoring option during the playoffs. He’s posted a usage rate of 31.8%, which is nearly six percent higher than Harden’s mark (26.0%). He continues to combine some of the best volume and efficiency numbers in the league, and he averaged 32.6 points while shooting 54.6% from the field, 50.0% from 3-point range, and 91.5% from the free throw line vs. the Celtics. That is super impressive. His ceiling may not be as high as Harden’s, but he may be a better bet to return value at his current salary.
Kyrie Irving rounds out the Nets’ stud trio, and he’s the toughest member to trust. He had one monster game vs. the Celtics, finishing with 63.75 DraftKings points in Game 4, but he had three performances with 36.75 DraftKings points or fewer. His usage rate is slightly lower than Harden’s, and he doesn’t have nearly the same ability to contribute in the peripheral categories. That said, Irving will possess the lowest ownership among the studs, which does make him somewhat interesting.
Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday could very easily be considered studs, but I’m putting them in this group just to space things out a bit. I hope they’ll understand.
Middleton carries a large offensive burden for the Bucks. When their offense stalls out, he is typically asked to bail them out late in the possession. As good as Giannis is, he still lacks the ability to make a contested jump shot. Middleton took plenty of those vs. the Heat, and he even nailed a game-winner in Game 1 of that series. He’s going to have to have a big series if the Bucks are going to pull off the upset. Middleton is slightly underpriced on FanDuel, where his $12,000 salary comes with a Bargain Rating of 91%.
Holiday was also fantastic in the first round. He posted a positive Plus/Minus on DraftKings in all four games, despite posting an average usage rate of just 19.8%. That ranked just sixth on the squad among their regular players. He made up for it by leading the team in assist rate, and he also pulled down an average of 6.8 rebounds per game. Holiday has the potential to shoot the ball better in this series – he shot just 20.0% from 3-point range vs. the Heat – which makes him a nice option at his current price tag.
After that, there’s a big drop-off to the next tier. Joe Harris is the next most expensive option on DraftKings, and his production is tied directly to his 3-point shooting. He’s one of the best in the business in that department, so expect him to knock down open 3-pointers if the Bucks’ defense is giving them to him. The Bucks did a decent job of defending the 3-point vs. the Heat – Miami shot just 35.2% from downtown – but they did allow the Heat to shoot 44.8% on corner 3-pointers. I don’t love Harris at this price tag, but he could have a big day if the Bucks forget about him.
Brook Lopez is very underpriced at just $6,400 on DraftKings given his Bargain Rating of 94%. He played more than 36 minutes in Game 1 vs. the Heat, which was the last time the Bucks played a competitive contest, and he’s capable of averaging more than 1.00 fantasy points per minute. The Nets’ biggest flaw is their lack of center depth, so Lopez has an excellent matchup, as well. I like the idea of using him at Captain on DraftKings and jamming as many studs as possible into my lineups, but he should be used as a utility at a minimum.
The injury to DiVincezo means Bryn Forbes will have a chance to shine in this series. He’s on the court for one reason, which is to provide elite 3-point shooting production. He did just that vs. the Heat, knocking down 48.5% of his 3-point attempts, and he should have plenty of opportunities vs. the Nets. Most teams elect to pack the paint to try to slow down Giannis, which leaves guys like Forbes available to do damage on the perimeter. He’s a strong value at just $9,000 on FanDuel.
Punts & Values
This is where these contests are often won. Everyone knows you need to play guys like Harden and Giannis, which is why those players typically command astronomical ownership. That means finding the right value plays is what’s going to separate the winning lineups from the losing lineups.
Let’s break down some of my favorite players in this range, rapid-fire style:
- Bobby Portis ($5,000 on DraftKings, $8,500 on FanDuel): Portis has emerged as a vital part of the Bucks’ bench this season. He doesn’t typically see a ton of minutes, but expect him to be extremely active when on the court. He can definitely pay off his $8,500 salary on FanDuel.
- Bruce Brown ($4,400 on DraftKings, $9,500 on FanDuel): Brown is essentially the Nets’ version of Portis. He racks up fantasy points when on the court, but he’s only projected for 18.1 minutes in our NBA Models. He makes more sense than Portis on DraftKings considering the difference in price.
- Blake Griffin ($4,000 on DraftKings, $8,000 on FanDuel): Griffin turned back the clock with some impressive displays of athleticism vs. the Celtics, but he’s not much of a fantasy factor.
- Pat Connaughton ($3,600 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel): Like Forbes, Connaughton is another player who stands to benefit from the injury to DiVincenzo. He’s not as offensive-minded as Forbes, but he’s better on the defensive end. He’s currently projected for 25.9 minutes in Game 1, which is a lot for a player in this price range.
- P.J. Tucker ($2,400 on DraftKings, $7,500 on FanDuel): Speaking of defensive-minded players, Tucker has the potential to see a lot of playing time in this series. He has the reputation for being a defensive stopper, so expect him to see plenty of minutes against Durant. That said, Tucker is one of the worst fantasy producers in the league given his average of 0.43 DraftKings points per minute.
- Landry Shamet ($1,800 on DraftKings, $7,500 on FanDuel): Shamet has some appeal as a pure punt play on DraftKings. He has the ability to get hot from 3-point range, and he only needs to make three or four of them to potentially return value.
- DeAndre Jordan ($1,000 on DraftKings, $6,500 on FanDuel): Jordan is my preferred punt on this slate. He’s only projected for 12 minutes in our NBA Models, but Jordan has averaged 0.96 DraftKings points per minute this season. There’s also a chance the Nets lean on him a bit more than expected if Lopez is having a big game.