The NBA Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each day’s slate using the FantasyLabs Tools and metrics to highlight notable players.
Thursday features a four-game slate starting at 7:00 p.m. ET.
The most important decision you’ll make tonight is what narrative you expect out of Russell Westbrook’s return to Oklahoma City. That game has the highest point total of the night, and your decision about what that game looks like will control what you do with the rest of the slate.
Will Russ come out guns blazing and put up a vintage stat line? If so, he’s a must start, and James Harden might be a name to fade with lower than usual usage. Maybe you think Westbrook comes out quiet, and then that goes the other way. Or perhaps you think this is actually Chris Paul’s revenge game, in which case you should load up on Thunder players.
Our models don’t understand human emotion, but they absolutely love Westbrook either way. Westbrook sat out last night to rest for this one, so he should be ready to go. We project him at 38.2 minutes and 33.6% usage, and I’m personally expecting the guns blazin’ model of Russ that could push more toward 35 or even 40% usage. Bottom line, I want a motivated Russ, especially since he’s over +9.0 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites even without factoring in the emotion.
Damian Lillard actually costs more at DraftKings, so we should mention him too. Lillard is a strong stud pivot if you are fading Russ. He’s in a great spot against Minnesota and should be an excellent option. He’s over +5.4 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites and is an especially strong FanDuel play at his 77% Bargain Rating.
There are a lot of big name options at point guard tonight, so you’ve got plenty of options, but Shabazz Napier looks like the best bargain guy. Napier has been a huge value with all the Minnesota injuries, averaging a +8.53 over his past 10 games, and he benefits from a +2.56 Opponent Plus/Minus against Portland. He’s over +5.2 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites, a strong play if you need a bargain point guard option.
With no Joel Embiid tonight, Ben Simmons could be in for a big Thursday. Simmons has been a fantasy stud of late with a real uptick in assists, averaging a +10.53 over his last 10 games. He has a 91% Bargain Rating at FanDuel and is a far better play there with a huge +8.21 Projected Plus/Minus. With a light small forward slate, be sure to take advantage of Simmons’s positional flexibility at DraftKings as he’s a top option there.
If you think Westbrook doesn’t have a great night, maybe that’s because Chris Paul shows Westbrook’s team what they gave away. CP3 continues to be a strong fantasy play all season, and he’ll benefit from a +5.6 pace differential tonight. He’s over +3.0 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites.
Your James Harden decision should reflect heavily upon what you expect from Westbrook tonight. This is a tougher matchup for Harden, and our model is fading him hard at DraftKings with a -3.45 Projected Plus/Minus at a monster $12,200 salary.
He’s a much stronger play for $1,000 less at FanDuel, and his +3.74 Projected Plus/Minus there could make him a sneaky play if you don’t believe in a big Russ night since you have to believe a lot of folks will skip Harden tonight and it’s not often you get to pivot to a guy averaging almost 40 points a game.
Josh Richardson is another Sixers player who should see an uptick in usage with Embiid out. JRich has exceeded expectations in seven of his last 10 and still comes at a very moderate salary at under $6,000. He lacks big time upside without much scoring prowess, but looks like an excellent option in cash games. He’s over +6.7 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites.
You’ve seen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in this column a lot this season, and he ain’t going anywhere. SGA’s salary is creeping up at DraftKings, but at only $6,500 on FanDuel, Gilgeous-Alexander has a whopping 14 Pro Trends and a 94% Bargain Rating. He leads all shooting guards with a +8.04 Projected Plus/Minus there.
Andrew Wiggins is back healthy again and his price is still rebounding, giving him some nice margin for error. Wiggins is in a good spot against Portland. He’s over +4.4 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites.
It’s slim pickings at small forward tonight, so Tobias Harris is the top stud available, and tonight looks like a great night for him. Harris has an excellent chance to lead the 76ers in shots and scoring with Embiid out, and he could pick up some more minutes if Matisse Thybulle is sidelined too.
Harris has a 94% Bargain Rating at FanDuel with a crazy 15 Pro Trends. He’s the top Projected Plus/Minus among small forwards there at +6.46.
Rookie Darius Bazley is one of the best bargains on the slate tonight. The Thunder are missing both Danilo Gallinari and Nerlens Noel, so Bazley should get the start and a heap of minutes. We project him at 28.
Bazley has ticked up to 0.78 fantasy points per minute over the past month, and a price barely above the minimum, you only need 15 fantasy points tonight to beat projections. Bazley is a great set-it-and-forget-it small forward option if you want to spend elsewhere. He’s over +6.1 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites.
A pair of Blazers look like good options in a positive matchup against the Timberwolves. The Wolves offer a +1.88 Opponent Plus/Minus at the position along with a +1.6 pace differential. Kent Bazemore’s production has faded of late and he doesn’t have much of a ceiling, but he’s over +4.6 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites and looks like a good spot filler.
His teammate Carmelo Anthony has more of a ceiling, but you’ll pay for it of course. Melo hit the game winner his last time out, so if you think he’ll stay hot, he could be a strong play. He’s a much better option at FanDuel with his 91% Bargain Rating.
We haven’t even mentioned the Cleveland and Detroit game yet, but Kevin Love is your stud power forward option tonight. Love apologize recently for his pouting and whining, but we’ll see how that translates to on-court production.
He’s in a nice spot to bounce back against Detroit with Blake Griffin and Markieff Morris sidelined. Love leads all power forwards with 10 Pro Trends. He’s a plus play at both sites with a 91% Bargain Rating at FanDuel.
Robert Covington looks like the top power forward play at both sites with over +7.2 Projected Plus/Minus at each. RoCo has been one of the major beneficiaries of the extra usage in Minnesota, and with Karl-Anthony Towns questionable and expected out again, you can keep riding the wave. Covington has exceeded expectations in seven straight.
Westbrook and CP3 aren’t the only big names in a revenge spot tonight. Al Horford gets a chance against his old Celtics, and he should see increased usage with Embiid out. This isn’t a great matchup for Horford, but the chance at increased minutes and usage makes him a strong play at what has become a very moderate salary. That’s especially true at FanDuel, where Horford has a 94% Bargain Rating and a +7.65 Projected Plus/Minus.
Christian Wood continues to be an excellent bargain option for Detroit with Griffin and Morris out. He’s over +4.4 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites and is in a nice spot against Cleveland. He’s gone under expectations in four straight at DraftKings, but his salary is back in a more reasonable range now.
Wood’s teammate Andre Drummond continues to be among the season’s top fantasy centers. Drummond is in a great spot against Cleveland, with a +2.23 Opponent Plus/Minus, but be careful.
His immense salary implies at least 50 fantasy points, so there’s not a lot of room for upside unless he has one of his monster 20-20 type games. Our models are somewhat tepid on Drummond, especially with a bunch of other good center options available.
One such option is Gorgui Dieng, the most direct beneficiary of KAT’s continued absence. Dieng has seen a career renaissance this season, and he’s averaging +10.93 over the last 10 games.
If that’s not enough for you, remember that Portland is abysmal against centers, offering a crazy +5.93 Opponent Plus/Minus. Dieng is a strong play at both sites but might be the best FanDuel play of the night at +10.56 Projected Plus/Minus.
Steven Adams continues to be a strong option, and tonight is a great spot for him with a +2.3 Opponent Plus/Minus and a +5.6 pace differential against Houston. He’s over +5.6 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites.
Perhaps you prefer his opponent, Clint Capela. Capela benefits from a +3.67 Opponent Plus/Minus against Oklahoma City. Be careful if you think Westbrook could steal some of Capela’s rebounding opportunities, but at over +3.3 Projected Plus/Minus at both sites, he looks like a good option.
Pictured: Russell Westbrook (0) of the Houston Rockets
Photo credit: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images