This article is part of our NBA DFS Breakdown series.
FanDuel has graciously released its player salaries for opening night so we can speculate on lineup builds for just over a week. Though if you play NFL DFS, that's something you're already used to.
The matchups are Pelicans (-5.0) at Raptors and Lakers (-1.0) "at" Clippers. We don't have the over/unders yet, but I assume both games will be relatively close in pace.
In an effort to make sure Zion Williamson ($8,000) is 100% owned, FanDuel has offered to refund users' first entry fee if the rookie drops at least 20 points. Do this if you're in a cash game. Don't overthink it. Through four preseason games, Zion is averaging 0.9 points and 1.4 fantasy points per minute. That equates to 27 points and 42 fantasy points if he plays exactly 30 minutes. The matchup won't be easy. He'll be going up against some combination of Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and OG Anunoby. But he might just be matchup-proof, and this might be the cheapest price you'll ever get him at.
Is he fade-able in a GPP? Theoretically, yes. Logistically, I'm not so sure. My read of the power forwards on FanDuel is that there are three plays with legitimate upside. Zion, Anthony Davis ($12,100) and Serge Ibaka ($6,000). Some people will play JaMychal Green ($4,600). If I made 100 GPP lineups, he might be in, like, seven of them.
Other core plays include Davis, LeBron James ($11,400), Kawhi Leonard ($9,900), Jrue Holiday ($8,700) and Pascal Siakam ($8,000). Each of these players is expected to see over 30 minutes on opening night and averaged at least 1.2 fantasy points per minute last season – the best mark being Davis' 1.7 FP/min. Davis and Holiday are my favorite plays here. The Clippers' frontcourt defense and the Raptors' backcourt defense are weak points.
Ibaka ($6,000) is my favorite mid-priced option on the slate. He has the highest fantasy-point-per-minute output (1.3) of anyone cheaper than $7,300 (unless you count Nickeil Alexander-Walker's preseason production). Ibaka is a lock to see 25-30 minutes, but I think he could cross the 30-minute threshold if Marc Gasol can't keep up with the Pelicans' pace and/or the Raptors go big to counter New Orleans' length. Unfortunately, Ibaka will not be flying under the DFS radar given the lack of depth at power forward which I alluded to earlier.
I can't quit JaVale McGee ($5,600). He averaged 1.1 fantasy points per minute last season, and he still has an opportunity to see 25-30 minutes given Davis' refusal to play center and Dwight Howard's washed-upness. This preseason, McGee is comically averaging 19.6 points, 16.9 rebounds, 5.5 blocks, 1.6 steals and 1.6 assists (59.8 FP) per 36 minutes. I wonder what his Hall-of-Fame speech will be like.
Fred VanVleet ($5,600) and Patrick Beverley ($5,100) make for a value play off of Kyle Lowry ($7,600) and Lonzo Ball ($7,100). The duo averages at least 1.0 FP/min and should see 25-30 minutes, though I wouldn't be surprised if they crossed the 30-minute mark. VanVleet should blend in with the starters while also running the second unit in Toronto, and Beverely could post a 5/5/5/5 line (which is actually worth 33.5 FP) and it wouldn't shock me.
I'm not really sure what the minutes will look like, but Nickeil Alexander-Walker ($3,600) and Norman Powell ($3,900) are your best sub-$4,000 options. Powell averaged only 0.8 FP/min last season, but given his price and upside for 25-plus minutes, I'm not especially concerned. He's also averaging 1.2 FP/min this preseason. Alexander-Walker might have trouble getting run with Holiday, Ball, and JJ Redick in the fold, but the rookie is averaging a stellar 1.5 FP/min in the preseason and was also excellent in Summer League. That rate suggests he could drop 30 FP in 20 minutes.
Contrarian / Low-Ownership Pivots
A Kyle Lowry ($7,600) plus Fred VanVleet ($5,600) stack. I think both players will be relatively popular, though the deepness of the point-guard market suggests there should be scattered ownership distribution. People will naturally gloss over this stack because it's two players listed at point guard from the same team. However, VanVleet is the Raptors' only reliable backup point guard, and he's a legitimate option at shooting guard, especially if Norman Powell or OG Anunoby are less ready than the team hopes. VanVleet and Lowry should combine for at least 60 minutes.
Pairing Lou Williams ($6,200) with Nikeil Alexander-Walker ($3,600) instead of pairing Jrue Holiday ($8,700) with Norman Powell ($3,900). I think these pairings have similar point-per-dollar upside, but the latter is safer, and it's not close. But Williams will probably be under-owned given the perception that his fantasy stock is falling (it is) with the addition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. However, George won't play on opening night, and the Clippers are pretty thin on scorers as a result. Williams might need to play over 30 minutes to keep this game close, and he's a good play when the workload is there.
A Brandon Ingram ($6,300) plus Maurice Harkless ($4,100) combo instead of a Kawhi Leonard ($9,900) plus Pascal Siakam ($8,000) combo. My keyboard was actually struck by lighting as I was typing that. Pairing Ingram with one of either Leonard or Siakam should be sufficient for curbing some ownership percentage, but that's not really going to be contrarian. Ingram averaged 1.2 FP/min last year – we know he can put up numbers. The real move is rostering Harkless. The absence of George should free up some usage and minutes, and Harkless has proven to be a solid option when given solid run. Specifically, he averaged 0.9 FP/min last year with Portland. If he can somehow land 30 minutes against the Lakers, 27 FP isn't out of the question.
Not playing Zion Williamson ($8,000). Realistically, this leaves you with an Anthony Davis ($12,200) and Serge Ibaka ($6,000) pairing, which you can feel good about. Messing around with some lineup builds, you can create a viable group of players doing this, especially if you have some confidence in the lower-priced guards, or are feeling frisky enough to take a chance on Ivica Zubac ($4,500) at center.
Marc Gasol ($6,500) is sandwiched between Derrick Favors ($6,700), who people expect to be a top-50 fantasy player, and JaVale McGee ($5,600), who is significantly cheaper and a per-minute monster. While the Pelicans have plenty of different bodies at center they can throw at Gasol, no one really equals his stature. Favors is undersized, Jahlil Okafor is undersized and a bad defender, Jaxson Hayes is a skinny rookie, and I don't really think Zion will end up playing as much center as some (including myself) originally anticipated – not that he would be excellent at guarding Gasol anyway. The primary reason Gasol will be low-owned is an unclear workload. I don't think we can be confident in Gasol seeing 30 minutes on a regular basis given how the Raptors treated him last season. On the other hand, it's the first game of the season, so he should be fresh, and Toronto's depth in general is pretty sketchy.
Adjusting for DraftKings Prices
DraftKings awards an extra 0.5 FP for made threes, 1.0 fewer FP for steals/blocks, and includes double-double (1.5 FP) and triple-double (3.0 FP) bonuses. DraftKings also offers multi-position eligibility, but you are allotted $50,000 for eight players instead of $60,000 for nine players.
The following players take up at least 2% more of your salary on DraftKings than FanDuel
Kawhi Leonard ($9,900 FD, $9,600 DK, 2.7%)
Kyle Kuzma ($6,200 FD, $6,300 DK, 2.3%)
Lou Williams ($6,200 FD, $6,500 DK, 2.7%)
Rajon Rondo ($4,900 FD, $5,100 DK, 2.0%)
Danny Green ($4,600 FD, $5,300 DK, 2.9%)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($3,900 FD, $4,300 DK, 2.1%)
All of these players play for a Los Angeles-based franchise. Absolutely sickening big-market bias. I have zero interest in paying up for Kuzma, Rondo, Green or KCP given their floors. The price difference doesn't scare me off of Leonard or Williams much.
No one is 2% cheaper on DraftKings, but…
Lonzo Ball ($7,100 FD, 5,400 DK, 1.0%) is the only player available with a discount of 1% or greater on DraftKings compared to FanDuel. It makes sense given that his three-point shooting is shaky, and a lot of his value comes on the defensive end. But he can stuff the stat sheet, recording a double-double or triple-double in 22.2% of his career games. You get him at a discount because he's no longer part of an LA-based team, which obviously means he's gotten worse since last season.