Welcome to NBA opening night for both fans and fantasy basketball players alike. It’s been a long layoff, but the season is finally back and although it’s just a two-game slate, there are plenty of big-time players in the action.
With the return of the season comes the start of regular-season DraftKings basketball, a fan-favorite of many daily fantasy sports players. Tuesday night features two nationally televised games between the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors.
Unfortunately for fans hoping to see another round of Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant, they’ll have to wait for the second matchup to see that. As Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area reported, Westbrook has been ruled out for this game.
Westbrook’s absence impacts quite a few players and also opens up some value as well. I’m going to first lay out the latest on injuries that impact the slate, and proceed to break down the DraftKings optimal lineups. On most nights, I’ll roll out a top lineup as well as a 150-max option (higher risk), but for this two-game slate, I’ll give two optimal options.
DraftKings Opening Night Optimal Lineup
Key players/targets ruled out: Russell Westbrook (OKC), Andre Roberson (OKC), Wilson Chandler (PHI), Mike Muscala (PHI)
Key players/targets questionable: Steven Adams (OKC), Shaun Livingston (GSW)
*Note: I’ll create a lineup both with and without Steven Adams for the top optimal. If Adams is out, Nerlens Noel ($3,600) becomes an exceptional option to add.
– PG: Stephen Curry ($8,600)
– SG: Dennis Schroder ($6,300)
– SF: Ben Simmons ($8,400)
– PF: Paul George ($8,000)
– C: Steven Adams ($5,800)
– G: JJ Redick ($4,900)
– F: Robert Covington ($4,700)
– UTIL: T.J. McConnell ($3,200)
If Steven Adams is out/lineup without him:
– PG: Dennis Schroder ($6,300)
– SG: Markelle Fultz ($5,000)
– SF: Kevin Durant ($9,000)
– PF: Paul George ($8,000)
– C: Joel Embiid ($8,800)
– G: Marcus Smart ($4,400)
– F: Dario Saric ($5,500)
– UTIL: Landry Shamet ($3,000)
You’re counting correctly, that would be four Sixers players in both optimal lineups. Philly is incredibly short on depth tonight without Chandler and Muscala. Along with that, rookie guard Zhaire Smith is sidelined, meaning we could see big minutes from the starters and quite a few reserves given an increase in playing time.
The 76ers had the No. 4 fastest pace of play (100.9) during the 2017-18 season. While we know the Celtics like to slow things down, ranking No. 23 in the category, the mixture of Philly’s interest in pushing the pace and injuries makes them appealing. I also believe that going heavy on the Sixers in a road game with two high-scoring teams in the Thunder and Warriors will be a differentiator on this slate.
One thing that has to be addressed before moving forward, though – I do recommend using some Celtics players. Kyrie Irving ($7,600), Al Horford ($6,100), Jayson Tatum ($5,600) and Jaylen Brown ($5,300) are a few of my favorites. The problem is, Boston has too much depth and until we see how Brad Stevens utilizes it, the ceiling of each player is capped.
If value hadn’t opened up due to Westbrook’s injury and the Sixers’ depth concerns, I’d have used a few of the names above in optimal lineups.
Breaking Down Notable Guard Targets
Westbrook sidelined means Stephen Curry will draw Dennis Schroder defensively, who’s a poor defender. Curry should have his way at home here and he’s one of my favorite targets tonight. If you don’t believe it, look no further than the fact that Schroder ranked as one of the worst point guards in the NBA late last season, as Ben Falk of Cleaning The Glass detailed.
Speaking of Schroder, he’ll have high usage without Westbrook in the lineup and we saw him average 17.6 points, 7.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds over the three preseason games in which he saw extended minutes.
Schroder’s price is too appealing to pass up and we’ll eat the chalk in that spot, but for the rest of my guard choices, I opted to take a different approach. In the top optimal I used JJ Redick and T.J. McConnell, both for two very different reasons.
When it came to Redick, I believe most fantasy players are going to see that Markelle Fultz is starting and pay the extra $100 for him. But Redick is coming off a career year, will be the primary scorer in the first half off the bench and is slated to start in the second half. I believe the veteran sharpshooter is a sneaky low-owned play who could change the slate in a big way.
McConnell’s role remains unknown and to the naked eye, he won’t have appeal. After all, why would a point guard be impacted by injuries to a small forward and power forward? Well, Sixers coach Brett Brown is fully planning on playing small ball. As Noah Levick of NBC Sports revealed, McConnell is a top candidate to take Muscala’s minutes.
I spoke briefly on Markelle Fultz, who does have an appealing price. I’m tempering expectations for the guard, considering we don’t know exactly how many minutes he’ll play. His ownership will be far higher than it should be, but he can rack up stats in a variety of ways. Fultz will also get a fair share of open looks playing alongside his two star teammates.
The reasoning behind using inexpensive plays in Marcus Smart and Landry Shamet is interesting. I’m not using much of Boston in the optimal lines, but Smart will likely draw a matchup with Redick for much of the first half, a player who’s a below average defender. He should pay off his $4,400 price with ease against a Sixers team who was mediocre against shooting guard last season.
Shamet’s ownership on this slate will almost certainly be under 2-3 percent in most games. The rookie out of Wichita State will receive playing time due to his own play and Philly’s injuries. Of the three preseason games Shamet played 17 or more minutes in, he scored at least 12 points in two of them. Fine minutes and low ownership makes him worth the risk.
Breaking Down Notable Forward/Center Targets
Figuring out the guard situation was somewhat loaded, so there was quite a bit to explain. While forward and center is far more straightforward, there are still some names to note.
For starters, if Steven Adams does indeed start, he put together a few great outings against the Warriors last season. As StatMuse shows, the Thunder big man averaged 12.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game over four meetings. He provides great value at $5,800 on this slate.
The bulk of my “star” plays came at the forward/center positions in Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Paul George, and Ben Simmons (can play guard also). I won’t dive too deep into those names, as they’re building blocks for almost every lineup. But one name worth breaking down is George due to Westbrook’s injury.
The Warriors are a fine defensive team but were a middle of the road group from a fantasy perspective against opposing small forwards, allowing 19.72 points per game. Pairing that with the 31 points, 5.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.5 steals George averaged without Westbrook in the lineup, makes this an elite spot.
Finally, Robert Covington ($4,700) and Dario Saric ($5,500) are drastically underpriced. Covington can be hit or miss, but can knock down 3-pointers, plays great defense and Boston allowed the fifth-most points (20.8) and most rebounds (8.37) per game to small forwards. The aforementioned injuries will open the door to even higher minutes than usual for both.