3 NBA FanDuel Tournament Plays to Target on 1/15/21
"One cannot be betrayed if one has no people."
- Kobayashi (The Usual Suspects)
How many times have we been burned by the chalk in NBA DFS?
When it's time to start building GPP lineups, especially for NBA tournaments, the fundamental choice to make is whether or not to buy into the chalk plays of the slate. More than any other sport, the popular plays in the NBA are popular for a reason. Where we often get into trouble in tournaments, however, is when we begin to blindly trust a slate's chalk.
This regular piece will focus on tournaments looking through the lens of the projected chalk plays -- the usual suspects -- of that night's games. In an attempt to understand the context of the slate, this column will look at lower-owned plays that help you gain ownership leverage against the competition.
Friday's slate is down to eight games (the NBA has postponed two games on the schedule as of Friday morning), but we should still have plenty of opportunities to differentiate off of the chalk plays of the night. Let's dig in to see where we can pivot.
Donovan Mitchell ($7,800) - As has been the case most of the week, the stars and scrubs build is going to be extremely popular tonight. There has been so much value opening up with players out or questionable from the Celtics, Pelicans, and potentially the Clippers that it is quite simple to jam in a few studs and then the best point-per-dollar plays and call it a day. That's why most of my leverage tonight will come from players in the mid-range like Mitchell.
After a relatively slow start to the season, Mitchell has exploded in five of his last six games with more than 34 FanDuel points and an average of over 37 points per contest. We need at least that number to hit 5x his salary tonight, but that should be a number he can easily cross in his matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.
Mitchell comes in with the highest usage rate among all shooting guards on this slate (31%). He has a usage rate below 28% once in his last six games and generally acts as the offensive facilitator, which is ideal considering the Hawks are the third-worst team in the league against points guards this year.
With a fast pace -- the Atlanta rank 11th to Utah's 23rd -- and a high implied total for the Jazz (114.5), that usage should allow us to capture a ceiling game from Mitchell at his second-lowest salary of the season.
Zion Williamson ($7,900) - Anytime the New Orleans Pelicans are without their two primary ball-handlers and playmakers -- Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball -- it is going to fall squarely on Zion and Brandon Ingram to pick up the offensive slack.
In a 154-minute sample without Ball and Bledsoe in the game, Zion's usage rate jumps to 30.4% (27% total on the year), and his fantasy points per minute jump to 1.16. Combine more shots tonight with the fact that the Pelicans rank first in the league in rebound rate and this game environment sets up perfectly for Zion to assert his dominance all over the court. He hasn't scored fewer than 21 points in a game since the calendar flipped to 2021, and I see no reason why that won't continue in the best game of the night.
While this should never be an analytical motivation to select a player for DFS, I think Zion and Ingram want to bring a little something extra into their nationally televised game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Ingram has the revenge narrative working for him, and Zion wants to prove he can go toe-to-toe with the best in the game. This is one game I am hyped to watch, and the battle between Zion and Anthony Davis should be legendary.
Jonas Valanciunas ($7,000) - Box scores like we typically see with J-Val dictate he simply must be a tournament-only play except in the rarest of circumstances. Just in his past four games, Valanciunas has scored above 41 FanDuel points twice and under 25 points twice. It's the very definition of a boom-or-bust player.
With Ja Morant potentially returning to the lineup tonight, I predict the roster percentage on the Grizzlies' center will be criminally low considering his most recent play.
He matches up against the same Minnesota Timberwolves team he destroyed two nights ago with 24 points, 16 rebounds, and two blocks. The Timberwolves are laughably bad against centers this year (and seemingly every year), allowing almost 62 FanDuel points to the position per game, three more points than the team ranked behind them. That includes allowing the most points and assists to centers and the 10th-most rebounds.
Karl-Anthony Towns, already hobbled by a sore wrist, is no match for the large Lithuanian. Last season, Towns ranked last among 72 NBA centers in defensive real plus-minus and the Minnesota defense has traditionally been much better when he is not in the lineup.