I like to start by identifying which NBA teams are in the best game environment. Identifying pace-up spots is more than just looking at who plays a faster paced team. I try to quantify pace boost by projecting the pace of each game and then comparing it to the teams’ averages. I will then go tier-by-tier (price-wise), breaking down the plays that stand out to me, and which chalk merits fading (on bigger slates, don’t expect anyone to command fade-worthy ownership unless there is big injury news). I’ll summarize by position at the end.
Games/Teams to Target
All stats in the following chart are from the past 10 games.
Here are my Pace Projections alongside opponent defensive ratings for today’s slate:
I start by multiplying the Pace Factor of each team, then dividing by league average. Thus, a team gets a pace boost anytime they play a team that is faster than the league average. Finally, I make a small adjustment to weight the pace of the home team more, which is a nod to Vegas totals more heavily reflecting the pace of the hosts.
As always, the team playing Atlanta is in the best spot. Tonight, that team is Charlotte. Houston and Orlando will both see sizable pace boosts while CHI, IND, OKC, and TOR should see a boost in their offensive efficiency.
This slate is loaded at the top!
In the six games since Paul returned, Harden’s usage rate has fallen to a still robust 36%. In other words, he’s still in a league of his own and getting a major pace boost tonight.
Giannis is playing incredible basketball lately, with an FPPM ration rivaled only by Harden. However, the minutes haven’t been there in part because Milwaukee is blowing everyone out. Of greater concern, however, is the fact that Budenholzer appears determined to get the most out of his bench in order to preserve his players. On the second night of a back to back, it wouldn’t surprise me to see all the Bucks starters play a max of 30 minutes even in a close game.
Over the last 10 games, Paul George leads the Thunder in usage rate by a count of 30% to Westbrook’s 27%. It’s not all bad for Russ, though, as his assist rate is basically at 50%, the steals, rebounds, and triple-double bonuses keep coming, and Houston’s poor defense could lead to increased efficiency. Most intriguing is Houston’s dead last ranking in points in the paint allowed.
As I just mentioned, George is now the usage king on the fast-paced Thunder. He’s not priced like it, especially when you consider the fact that he also has elite defensive upside. George might be the most underpriced of all the studs due to his reputation as the team’s second option.
After a long drought, Kemba has posted three consecutive monstrous games and now gets the triple-chocolate fudge cake of a matchup versus Atlanta. He’s typically better at home, but that didn’t slow him down in Dallas last time out. I’m a little concerned that picking him tonight feels like point-chasing, but the matchup can’t be denied and his usage rate is still just shy of 30% over the last 10 games.
Conley is the clear-cut lead guy now that Gasol is in Toronto and he was already playing more assertively, posting a 26% usage rate over the last 10. The Pelicans are a disaster defensively right now (and AD will sit), making Conley one of my favorite plays on the slate.
I’m hoping Randle comes in low-owned tonight due to the on-paper matchup. However, without Gasol, the Memphis frontcourt is one that Randle can expose and dominate all night. He looks 100% healthy and I expect a big game in Davis’ absence, particularly if Okafor misses tonight’s game as well.
There are two versions of John Collins. One looks passive and raw, needing another year or two before making the jump to all-star, and the other looks like a man amongst boys. The Charlotte frontcourt has been brutalized all year, making me think this is a man amongst boys type of night for JC.
Markkanen exploded last night, but was most encouraging moving forward was how many minutes he played as the team’s center (cutting into RoLo’s minutes). This gives him an excellent rebounding floor that combats his shooting-dependent scoring. His price has jumped a bit, but with Portis and Parker out of town, I expect it to continue rising for another week or so.
The Clippers are desperate for Lou’s scoring. Boston has been vulnerable to scoring guards all season despite their stout defense, making Lou a prime GPP target (not cash worthy since the Clips have every reason in the world to tank). Over the past ten games, Lou’s usage rate is an insane 32.9% off the bench and it honestly might go up with Tobias Harris out of town. One last point: if Harrell moves to the bench with Zubac in town, I’ll like Williams even more, as the two of them have shown uniquely great chemistry.
Turner is dominating on the defensive end, and his usage is trending upwards once again with Oladipo out. My concern here is that Larry Nance should get the starting nod at center again and is an excellent defender. That said, Turner belongs closer to 8k than his current price.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson is taking the new opportunity in stride and now has a wonderful matchup with the Anthony Davis-less Pels. I expect Memphis to speed up with Gasol out of town, so Jackson’s defensive upside should see a boost here.
I’ll tell you what: Lavine looks like a player on the offensive end. He demonstrates a unique understanding of how to use his athleticism and burst to his advantage and elevates effortlessly to the rim. Like Markkanen, he should see a major boost in usage with Portis and Parker out of town. Over the past ten games, Chicago’s offensive rating has jumped over 8 points to 110, from their season average under 102. Lavine should have gotten a price increase similar to Markkanen’s but instead went down $300. He is the first player I’m locking into my lines tonight.
Dennis Smith Jr
DSJ has a nearly 32% usage rate in his two games as a Knick and is playing enormous minutes. The risk here comes with the matchup against Toronto and the fact that he’s an already efficiency-challenged guard playing on a back-to-back.
Rabb still strikes me as too cheap for 30+ minutes against a weak frontcourt. He’s comfortably over an FPPM on the year. Valanciunas will play, but I’m assuming he’ll be very limited.
Nance was utterly dominant last night and the fact that a majority of his fantasy points comes from peripheral stats and rebounding suggests he’s somewhat immune to the tough matchup that is Indiana.
Porter played 34 minutes in his CHI debut, Washington is defensively challenged and will only get worse as Portis and Parker get run, and there’s the obvious revenge narrative at play. I don’t love this play since I expect Lavine and Markkanen to continue dominating usage, but he will surely be popular.
It remains to be seen whether Portis’ 27 minutes in his Washington debut is the plan going forward or was simply due to his stellar play. My inclination is to say that he will continue to see opportunity, and realistically should be the second option offensively behind Beal. This price tag is way too cheap for him if he’s going to see over 25 minutes, and he would have room for upside even at $7k.
Parker played 23 minutes last game and was excellent offensively. He will be a risky play, as we don’t know Brooks’ plan for the rotations going forward. If Parker starts slow he could end up killing your line while playing ten minutes. This uncertainty goes both ways though, as it’s not impossible that he could play 30+ and break the slate. Great GPP play, potentially too risky for cash.
Williams continues to play huge minutes and produce. DK doesn’t believe it will continue based on his price, but he could see major regression and still pay off this tag. He’s way too cheap.
Keep an eye on Okafor’s status. Diallo could end up starting and playing 30 minutes if Jah is out again. Like Okafor, Diallo is an FPPM monster, and I like his chances to slip under the radar if we don’t get Okafor news before 7 pm ET.
I’ve already taken some heat for this play, but hear me out. Houston’s defensive rating has been terrible all year and it’s no better recently. Shumpert is a good defender who should help in that regard. However, what most people are missing is that Shumpert’s 36.6% 3-point percentage is also higher than that of Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, and Eric Gordon. I don’t think it will be difficult for Shumpert to find 30 minutes per night and obviously, D’Antoni will tell him to chuck early and often. The pace of OKC is just a bonus.