You might already be aware of this, but the year 2020 ends this evening at midnight. That means two things: A lot of weird, drunken Zoom calls and a really odd slate of matchups for basketball. Tonight’s five-game featured contests will lock at 6:30 p.m. ET and they’ll do so around halftime of this afternoon’s Bulls-Wizards tilt. Just make sure you’re keeping a close eye on the clock — for a couple different reasons.
Let’s break it all down position-by-position.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors vs. New York Knicks, $7,700 - Toronto is below .500 for the first time in seven years, but you can blame Lowry for the losses. Not only does the six-time All-Star come into Thursday averaging 19.7 points and 9.7 assists per game, but he’s done so while sitting 10th in the NBA in minutes (37.1) and fifth in the league in potential assists per contest (16.7). Basically, he’s the exact same guy he’s been for the better part of the last decade, and if he’s going to be asked to carry this type of burden nightly, he shouldn’t be priced below $8K.
Elfrid Payton, New York Knicks at Toronto Raptors, $5,900 - Payton’s averaged 38.1 DKFP across the Knicks’ past two games, yet this is a play that’s about much more than just the point guard’s personal accolades. To be frank, Payton’s about the only lead guard on New York’s roster that doesn’t enter this slate with some sort of injury designation. Frank Ntilikina (knee) and Dennis Smith Jr. (quad) have already been ruled out, while both Austin Rivers ($3,900; groin) and Immanuel Quickley ($3,100; hip) are considered questionable. How ever that shakes out, Payton’s going to be asked to play a lot of minutes out of necessity.
James Harden, Houston Rockets vs. Sacramento Kings, $11,000 - Reinforcements are on the way for the Rockets, but unless LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo is suddenly a member of Houston by tip-off, I don’t really think that’s going to effect Harden’s upside. Heck, Harden’s 34.1% usage rate in his first two starts of the season isn’t even as high as his figure from playing next to Russell Westbrook in 2019-20 — there’s still room to grow and he’s managed to average 67.0 DKFP. John Wall ($7,100) and simple regression are looming for a 61.9% assist rate, but other than that? I’m not too concerned. Keep getting Harden into as many lineups as possible.
George Hill, Oklahoma City Thunder vs. New Orleans Pelicans, $4,700 - The Pelicans aren’t exactly an ideal opponent — as they rank eighth in defesive rating and dead-last in pace — yet there’s no denying that Hill is a different man in 2020-21. Unlike the past couple of seasons where the veteran’s role was nothing more than standing in the corner for Milwaukee, Hill is now a clear secondary creator behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ($8,100), sitting second on the Thunder is usage rate (22.4%) and third in touches per contest (50.5) when the team is in its usual rotations. I’ll keep going back to this well until he’s priced above $5K.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers at Orlando Magic, $9,200 - If we’re being completely honest with ourselves, Simmons might be more of a cash play than a GPP target at this price point, but that only further illustrates the former No. 1 pick’s massive floor. He’s just able to stuff a stat sheet like few can, coming into Thursday’s slate averaging 9.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.5 steals per contest. Maybe a matchup with an Orlando squad that currently sits fourth in the NBA in pace can help out Simmons’ ceiling, as the Australian tends to thrive in transition.
Reggie Bullock, New York Knicks at Toronto Raptors, $4,600 - As I mentioned above, if there’s a positional grouping that needs to be exploited on this slate, it’s Knicks guards. Depending on the fate of guys like the aforementioned Rivers and Alec Burks ($5,500; ankle), there might be a lot of opportunity for those actually active on Thursday. To wit, with both those men on the sideline this past Tuesday, Bullock logged 41 minutes and scored 30.75 DKFP. That’s not a guarantee to happen again, but in a matchup against a Raptors team operating at the league’s sixth-highest pace, minutes volume is crucial.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder, $7,900 - I’m willing to ignore Williamson’s game log from Tuesday. Not only did the sophomore play only 29 minutes in a blowout loss to the Suns, but Zion somehow managed to grab just two rebounds in that stretch of time. That’s an outlier, to be sure. However, that performance has Williamson’s price point below $8K, which is pretty enticing considering his two contests prior to Phoenix. Against Miami and San Antonio, the hulking forward played over 38 minutes for the first two times in his career, averaging 48.9 DKFP. The ceiling with Zion is obvious if he’s getting that type of run.
OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors vs. New York Knicks, $5,800 - Speaking of extremely athletic bigs, let’s dive into the early returns of Anunoby. With Nick Nurse once again content to run a shortened regular season rotation, Anunoby and the rest of Toronto’s starters have been asked to shoulder huge workloads. That’s translated to the fourth-year forward having yet to log fewer than 35 minutes in a game, which is how someone with a microscopic 13.3% usage rate can average 33.0 DKFP. I guess registering 10 steals across three contests doesn’t hurt the scoring output, either.
Christian Wood, Houston Rockets vs. Sacramento Kings, $7,300 - Wood’s in a similar spot to Harden. Will the free agent acquisition be asked to play upwards of 40 minutes at a usage rate of 26.2% with DeMarcus Cousins ($5,000) back in the mix? Probably not. However, I think it’s fair to question Boogie’s conditioning and it’s not like the two can’t be on the court simultaneously. On top of that, Wood’s not priced like a guy who’s averaged 46.0 DKFP so far this season. I’ll keep rolling with the 25-year-old in what projects to be this slate’s highest-scoring matchup.
Richaun Holmes, Sacramento Kings at Houston Rockets, $5,200 - There was some concern coming into 2020-21 that Holmes’ role could be in jeopardy with the Kings signing Hassan Whiteside ($3,500) in the offseason. Well, we’re a week in, and Holmes’ minutes are going up, while Whiteside’s minutes are going down. That doesn’t mean things can’t change in a hurry, but Sacramento is outscoring opponents by 7.8 points per 100 possessions with Holmes on the court and being outscored by 10.3 points per 100 possessions with him off it so far this season. He should play a lot in a high-scoring script on Thursday.
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