If you’re in it for the basketball, congratulations, you get to go to bed early! Just kidding, but really, this is another Christmas Day game Adam Silver didn’t exactly bank on being irrelevant by now. The New Orleans Pelicans were thought to be a team on the rise, just having drafted Zion Williamson first overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. But an injury to Zion and failure to mesh as a team has the Pelicans at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with the Warriors. The Nuggets on the other hand have won six in a row and are closing in on the Lakers for first place in the West. Nikola Jokic appears to be back after everyone wrote him off as “out of shape” and the Nuggets are beginning to look like a complete team. Let’s take a look at how to go about your lineup for NOLA-DEN.
The two top options are clearly Jokic ($18,300) and Brandon Ingram ($15,000). Jokic is coming off a triple-double vs. the Lakers, and is averaging close to those numbers over his past six games combined. He’s back to stretching the floor as well, shooting 51.9% from outside in those six contests. This is very much a matchup in which Jokic can dominate. New Orleans ranks 27th in defensive rating and 7th overall in pace of play. The pace may wear down Jokic, but I think those concerns are over.
Ingram has really shined on the Pelicans from a fantasy perspective, but obviously the results haven’t been great in the standings. But we don’t really care about that anyway, right? Ingram hasn’t been very efficient with his shots, but that hasn’t mattered, he’s playing around 35 minutes a game and is the focal point of the offense. Denver is a good defensive team however and wings like Will Barton and Jerami Grant should do a decent job defending Ingram.
I think the only other viable Captain’s pick is Jamal Murray ($13,800), who has been shooting the lights out lately. He dropped 28 points on the Suns on Monday night on 12-of-19 shooting from the field. The Pels rank 20th in opponent 3PT% and 22nd in opponent FG%, so I think Murray has the potential to reach his ceiling in this game.
The most obvious strategy in this contest is to stack the hell out of the Nuggets. It shouldn’t be all too hard either. Denver runs a pretty deep rotation and Mike Malone likes to mix things up. That could make things a bit hard to predict, but it also gives us the opportunity to hit on some value plays. I really like guys like Jerami Grant ($4,200), Monte Morris ($2,800) and Malik Beasley ($2,200), three players who would see some extended run in garbage time. Even if the game is close, all three are key role players.
JJ Redick ($5,200) is a guy I wrote up in my value picks and I think he’s not a bad GPP play. The Nuggets can contain him, but he wouldn’t need much to return value and if the Pels are in a hole, they’d need to shoot themselves out. I’d start with a core of Jokic, Murray and Will Barton and work out from there, maybe Ingram and a few value plays.