3 NBA FanDuel Tournament Plays to Target on Wednesday 5/5/21
"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 contrarian plays that help you gain leverage against the competition.
Wednesday's slate is a large nine games, so we should 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.
Chris Paul ($8,000) - I guess I can stomach paying more than $11,000 in salary for Russell Westbrook tonight considering his recent play, but I just can't justify paying more than $9,000 for De'Aaron Fox in his first game back from a long COVID protocols absence or Damian Lillard with a slight foot injury. But with so many studs on the slate tonight, there may be positions where you want high-salary production in the mid-range. Enter Chris Paul.
Paul has had such a consistent, strong, Hall of Fame career, so it's easy to overlook what he is doing in his age-35 season (his 15th season). But Paul now has the second-best field goal percentage of his career (49.4%), second-highest effective field goal percentage (55.2%), his highest free throw percentage ever (93.5%), and a higher true shooting percentage than the year he placed second in MVP voting.
All of these stats also don't tell the story of how he has turned the Phoenix Suns into NBA Finals contenders after they were draft lottery residents for years. Much of that is due to how elite his production has been here in the last third of the season. He has scored at least 30 FanDuel points in 9 of 11 games, including a season-high 72.2 points in his last game. Despite this, his salary is $500 less than it was 10 days ago, and he now faces an Atlanta Hawks defense that is 25th in defensive rating over their last five games.
Christian Wood ($9,300) - Season-long defensive numbers at this point are one side of a coin this late in the season. With how many players are being rested, benched, or rotated out, it's best to view seasonal numbers with the lens of how they compare to recent performances from the same team. That's why when I see that the Philadelphia 76ers are a top-10 defensive unit against power forwards in 2020-2021, I'm still rolling with Wood because of the more recent performances.
I'm not sure what the reasoning is -- perhaps resting players, injuries, or different defensive rotations -- but the Philly defense against power forwards has fallen off a cliff in the last month. In that span, they have allowed the fifth-most FanDuel points to the position, including allowing 24.25 actual points per game (second-most). They have faced both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson in their last 15 games, but other than that, there has been no one that gives the impression the defensive presence should have been this compromised.
Wood has been about the only consistent presence for the Houston Rockets. He has scored at least 35 FanDuel points in 10 of his last 14 games, including 5 games north of 45 points. But perhaps the best endorsement of Wood for tonight is that despite all of the blowouts the Rockets find themselves in, Wood keeps finding his way onto the court. He averages 34.5 minutes per night over his last eight games, so even if this one gets out of hand (13.5-point spread) he should still see a healthy dose of court time.
Jonas Valanciunas ($8,000) - I was looking really hard at J-Val's teammate Ja Morant in this great matchup the Memphis Grizzlies have tonight, but he has been so maddening to roster lately, even from a tournament perspective. Valanciunas, on the other hand, has been perhaps the most consistent producer for the Grizzles in the last few weeks and actually has the best individual matchup on the squad.
You're certainly not hurting for high-salary center options tonight, especially after we had zero in that category yesterday. But if a toe injury for Nikola Jokic or a 13.5-point spread (and climbing) for Joel Embiid scares you off tonight, the Lithuanian Lightning is a smart pivot in the best game environment tonight. Only Wizards-Bucks can top the 238 implied total of Grizzlies-Timberwolves, and this one has an added bonus of a small three-point spread. Add in two teams that are top-eight in pace this year and an opponent ranked 28th in defensive rating and this looks like a smash spot for Valanciunas.
The defensive shortcomings of Karl-Anthony Towns have been discussed ad nauseam in this space over the past few months, but to revisit, he is down to 49th among all centers in defensive plus-minus. J-Val has already double-doubled in his two games against the Timberwolves this year, averaging 40 FanDuel points in those matchups. I think a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double is the floor for Valanciunas tonight, and I wouldn't be surprised with much, much more than that.