3 NBA FanDuel Tournament Plays to Target on 3/1/21
"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.
Monday's main slate is a mid-sized seven games, but we should still be able to find plenty of options to differentiate off of the night's chalk plays. Let's dig in to see where we can pivot.
Damian Lillard ($10,100) - I strongly feel that a game stack of Damian Lillard and LaMelo Ball at point guard will be what is needed to win a large tournament tonight. We have looked ad nauseam at the defensive shortcomings from Lillard so Ball absolutely has the opportunity to go off tonight. But with Ball and Luka Doncic in such good spots tonight, Lillard may go overlooked with his high salary.
I have a love/hate relationship with the "Op Rank" next to each player in the FanDuel lineup builder page. But I love it for Lillard's purposes tonight. It has a bright red "8th" next to his name, which to the average person may translate to: he has a tough matchup. But it couldn't be further from the truth. The Hornets are bottom-half of the league against point guards, including allowing top five numbers in rebounds, steals, and turnovers forced.
Also, LaMelo Ball may the TopShot moment king, but he currently ranks 73rd among all point guards in real defensive plus-minus. His head coach has talked repeatedly about Ball needing to make strides on the defensive end just as he has done on offense.
Overall, the Hornets are 21st in the league in defensive rating and rank top 12 in pace. Not that Lillard needs any kind of matchup upgrade to smash, but hopefully his 41.5-FanDuel-point average from the past three games will lower his roster percentage. His last four games saw Lillard put up 60.8 FanDuel points per contest, and I am taking a prediction of 50-plus FanDuel points tonight and putting it in ink.
Brandon Ingram ($7,800) - Let's face facts. The Utah Jazz are a tough matchup. They are third in overall defensive rating, first in rebound rate, and hold their opponents to the third-lowest field goal percentage in the league. They are also top 10 against all fantasy positions this year, except one -- small forward.
This aligns well with the fact that Ingram has taken his game to another level lately, scoring 41.3. FanDuel points per game in his last four, including 28 actual points per game. This should mean a heavy dose of Ingram in this game tonight as they seek to exploit any advantage they can from the best team in the league this year.
As has been pointed out recently, there is one key piece that the Jazz is missing throughout their dominant run this year. They have accumulated an outstanding cache of offensive perimeter players, but they sorely lack the athletic perimeter defender who can slow down the Ingrams, Durants, and Leonards of the world. Royce O'Neale is a big body capable of handling some of the top power forwards, but when the Jazz face elite small forwards, they are asking Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles to do things they are not capable of.
If any player on the Pelicans can break out for a big game, it will be Ingram, and he is likely to have a very low roster percentage.
Nikola Vucevic ($9,800) - We have the center studs and the mids back in our lives tonight. Both Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid are ready to smash at salaries over $10,000, and Jarrett Allen and Rudy Gobert look to take advantage of soft matchups and pile up the ancillary stats on their way to reaching value at their mid-range salaries. But then you have Vucevic, who consistently hovers between the two ranges and continues to smash every single night.
If you look at Vucevic's last five games, though, you see a bit of mixed bag. Three games between 55 and 70 FanDuel points and two at 41 FanDuel points. But if you dive into the games where he only scored 41 FanDuel points, he lost four minutes in both contests due to blowouts. Extrapolate his points per minute in those games to his standard 36 minutes, he easily reaches 48 FanDuel points in both.
The Dallas Mavericks allow top 10 numbers to centers in both scoring (24 points per game) and rebounding (15 per game). But we shouldn't overlook that they also allow top 10 numbers to centers in assists (3.94 per game). Among centers who play at least 30 minutes per night, Vucevic ranks behind only Jokic and Bam Adebayo in assist ratio and has taken on an even greater playmaker role with the Magic's top two point guards out with injury.
If you need the extra $1,000 in salary tonight, don't be afraid to roll out Vucevic in an elite matchup.