The NBA wraps up All-Star Weekend on Sunday with the main event at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.
This game has been played for close to 70 years but got an overhaul in 2018. Instead of using the traditional East vs. West format, the top vote-getter from each conference was made a team captain and then drafted their team from the pool of remaining All-Stars.
The first year using that format saw a huge decline in scoring. The numbers of points scored has historically risen in each season – the teams combined for 321 points in 2015, 369 points in 2016 and 374 points in 2018 – before shrinking in 2018. The two teams combined for just 293 points, leaving many to wonder if the new format would result in harder-fought, more defensive All-Star games moving forward.
Turns out, it was just a one year blip. Scoring returned to normal in last year’s game, with Team LeBron beating Team Giannis by a final score of 178-164.
That said, this year’s format offers a few new wrinkles. There are still a lot of questions about how those changes will impact the game, but sportsbooks are preparing for a lower scoring game than usual. The total is currently sitting at around 308 points, which puts the implied team totals much closer to 2018’s final score than 2019’s.
There is obviously a bunch of uncertainty in this contest, but there are a few key takeaways to keep in mind.
- Target the starters
The playing time in this game is pretty evenly distributed, but the starters still tend to play more than the reserves. The four players with the most minutes on each team last season were all starters, and only three reserves saw more than 19.8 minutes off the bench.
- Guards reign supreme
The number of 3-point attempts that we see in the All-Star game continues to rise on a yearly basis. The two teams combined to shoot 167 3-pointers in last year’s contest, which is an absolutely mind boggling number. Five players scored at least 20 points in that contest, and four of them made six 3-pointers. The only exception was Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is an absolute freak of nature. If you’re going to lean on one attribute in this contest, the ability to make the 3-ball should be it.
The rebounding numbers are also more evenly distributed that in a typical NBA game, and blocked shots are pretty much nonexistent. The majority of fantasy scoring in this game is going to come from points, assists, and steals, all of which favor the guard position.
Both DraftKings and FanDuel offer guaranteed prize pools (GPPs) for this game, but each site features a slightly different format.
DraftKings features its Showdown format, where you select one captain and five utility players. Your captain will score 1.5x fantasy points, but his salary will also be 1.5x more expensive.
FanDuel’s format is a little more complicated. You have to choose only five players, but you have to select one captain (2x scoring), one star (1.5x scoring), one pro (1.2x scoring) and two utilities. Most players will likely choose to put their highest-salaried players in the premium roster positions, so fading some of the big names at captain should increase your chances for a unique lineup.
Starters: LeBron James (captain), Luka Dončić, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Anthony Davis
From a DFS perspective, LeBron clearly drafted the superior side. Harden and Dončić have been two of the highest-priced DFS options for most of the season, and LeBron, AD, and Kawhi are definitely superstars. Overall, each of the Team LeBron starters is priced in the top seven on FanDuel and top eight on DraftKings. That kind of talent discrepancy — real or imagined — is why Team LeBron is currently favored by at least six points in the betting market.
Let’s start with LeBron. He’s led his team in minutes in each of the past two All-Star games, although his playing time dropped from 31.3 minutes in 2018 to 26.5 minutes last year. He ultimately disappointed a bit last season, but he shot just 1-8 from 3-point range. He can definitely improve on his shooting numbers this year, and he currently owns the shortest MVP odds on his squad.
Harden is priced identically to LeBron on FanDuel, but he’s slightly cheaper on FanDuel. On the surface, his playing style seems to fit the All-Star game perfectly. He loves to jack up triples and attack the paint, which is what the All-Star game is all about. He has disappointed in back-to-back years, but he’s attempted 13 3-pointers in each contest. He’s only made six of them, but he obviously has upside if his jumper is falling.
Davis is next up on the pricing spectrum, and I’m fine with fading him in this contest. He barely played last year — he was dealing with an injury — and he played just 16.8 minutes in the year prior. He will have some chemistry playing with LeBron, but this format suits the guards much more than it suits the big men. With that in mind, I don’t really want to pay up for a center.
Dončić is the X-Factor. He’s making his All-Star game debut, and he obviously has the talent to put up a monster performance. That said, he did recently miss significant time with an injury, and he only returned to the lineup for his team’s final game before the All-Star break. He wasn’t particularly limited during the Rising Stars game, but he may not see as many minutes as some of the other options.
Leonard rounds out the starting lineup, and he just doesn’t seem like the type of guy who cares about the All-Star game. He finished with just 18.5 minutes last year — the lowest among the Team LeBron starters — and it’s hard to do much damage in such a limited time frame. That wasn’t an isolated incident for him either: He finished with just 14.8 minutes in 2017 as well.
Reserves: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Nikola Jokic, Domantas Sabonis
LeBron also appeared to drafted Giannis under the table during the reserve section. Among the seven cheapest options on DraftKings, only two play for Team LeBron. With that in mind, it’s tough to see a bunch of these guys returning value. There’s only one ball, and these guys are not accustomed to being low-usage players.
Westbrook stands out as the premier reserve option for Team LeBron. He is going to get his, regardless of whether or not he’s starting or coming off the bench. He finished third amongst all players with 20 shot attempts last year despite playing just 19.3 minutes, and you can count on him piling up some peripherals as well.
Booker is a pretty appealing option at $5,800 on DraftKings. He may not see a ton of minutes in his first All-Star game, but he’s definitely going to have the green light from downtown. If he can get hot from behind the arc, he can pile up points quickly.
Tatum is another reserve option that I’m interested in. He’s had a breakout year for the Celtics, averaging 22.4 points per game, and he’s a career 39.3% shooter from 3-point range. This is his first All-Star game, but he dominated in the Rising Stars game last season. He’s overpriced on FanDuel, but he’s the fifth-cheapest player in this contest on DraftKings.
The rest of the roster is full of risky investments. Paul is an aging veteran, so it seems unlikely that he’s going to play much in this contest. Sabonis and Simmons are both limited as shooters, and it’s hard to provide too much value in this contest solely on dunks. Jokic is a bit more well-rounded offensively, but he scored just six points over 13.2 minutes in last year’s contest. I’m comfortable fading all of these guys.
Starters: Giannis Antetokounmpo (captain), Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam, Kemba Walker, Trae Young
Team LeBron may have more star power, but I think that actually works in the favor of Team Giannis from a DFS perspective. Their options are much more reasonably priced across the industry, but both teams should see roughly the same amount of possessions and shot attempts. Those shot attempts could also be more concentrated between a smaller group of players.
Team Giannis was also an underdog last season, and Giannis and Steph Curry both attempted 23 shots. They also played more minutes than anyone on Team LeBron.
With that in mind, Giannis has to be considered one of the best plays in this game. I normally don’t like to target guys who can’t make a bunch of 3-pointers in exhibition contests, but Giannis is the exception. He dominated in this contest last season, scoring 38 points with 11 rebounds and five assists. His ceiling is pretty drastically higher than most players, but his price tag is only slightly more expensive than the other top player’s in this game. I’m very interested in locking him in at Captain on DraftKings or MVP on FanDuel.
Curry is obviously not available for this year’s game, so look for either Young or Walker to fill that role. It may end up being a combination of both, but both players have positive outlooks in this contest. Both guys can fill it up from behind the arc, and they should rank among the assist leaders as well. Walker is comically underpriced on FanDuel, where he’s the sixth-cheapest option.
Siakam is another potential value target on FanDuel despite playing in his first All-Star game. He may not see as many minutes as some of the other starters on this squad, but being a starter still gives him a chance to make an impact.
Last but not least is Embiid, who has had a disappointing year by his standards. He’s missed a bunch of time due to injury, and he’s been limited in a number of games recently. He ranked just sixth in field goal attempts on Team Giannis last season, and he played the second-fewest minutes among their five starters.
Reserves: Donovan Mitchell, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Khris Middleton, Brandon Ingram, Bam Adebayo, Rudy Gobert
I like the idea of grabbing at least one reserve member for team Giannis. They’re all very cheap, and there are plenty of shot attempts available. The way the pricing is set up, I probably want four members from Team Giannis and two members of Team LeBron on DraftKings.
Middleton owns the cheapest salary on the team on DraftKings, and he’s the cheapest player in the entire game on FanDuel. That doesn’t seem right. He led all reserves on Team Giannis last season, and he finished with 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists. He’s a lethal 3-point shooter — he’s making 43.8% of his 3-point attempts this season — and he should get plenty of clean looks from behind the arc tonight. Rostering Middleton makes it pretty easy to pair Giannis with another superstar or two.
Lowry is a pretty easy fade in this contest after playing just 12.7 minutes last year, which leaves Mitchell and Butler as the other two options in the backcourt. Mitchell is significantly cheaper than Butler on DraftKings, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see both guys finish with comparable stat lines.
Ingram is another interesting option. He’s put together a wonderful season in his first year in New Orleans, and the guy is a bonafide scorer. His workload may not be somewhat limited, but I’m expecting him to be productive when on the court.
Adebayo and Gobert round out the roster. Gobert is one of the easiest fades on the slate — it’s simply not possible to post a big performance in the All-Star game through rebounds and blocked shots — and Adebayo doesn’t offer much more value. I’m comfortable building a roster solely around guards and wings, especially when those players are cheaper.