This article is part of our DraftKings NBA series.
Wednesday's seven-game slate presents us with yet another James Harden ($12,600) lock situation, but the new-look Dallas lineup and a litany of injuries should provide us with enough pivots to make The Beard eminently affordable. Let's begin with those injuries – long-term situations won't be mentioned.
NEW ORLEANS – Anthony Davis (finger) OUT, Julius Randle (ankle) QUESTIONABLE, Nikola Mirotic (calf) DOUBTFUL, Elfrid Payton (ankle) OUT: Barring any late-breaking news, we won't see Davis on the floor tonight, but Wednesday could potentially mark the return of Randle, who could throw a wrench into the frontcourt pivots (Okafor, D. Miller) we've been enjoying up to this point.
This game against the Bulls happens to be one of the earlier games on the slate, so we should be able to get some sort of sense about Randle before roster lock. I think Kenrich Williams ($5,000) remains in play as a Mirotic pivot, but the situation in the backcourt got muddled with a decent night from Ian Clark ($3,300) on Monday. His addition to the mix puts Tim Frazier and Frank Jackson's production in doubt.
THE DALLAS SITUATION – This should be the first night where Dallas produces the fruits of its trade-deadline labor. Our primary challenge will be deducing the starting five, and I'm likely to wait this situation out until the Mavs tell us what's up. It should prove difficult for Dallas to keep Tim Hardaway ($4,900) off the court, and he could garner the start. The Jalen Brunson ($4,300) era has officially begun, and unless Trey Burke can mount a serious challenge for playing time down the road, I think Brunson has played well enough to lock down the starting role at the two. The absence of DeAndre Jordan presents a real head-scratcher. Maxi Kleber ($4,300) appears to be the frontrunner to slide in at the five.
SAN ANTONIO – LaMarcus Aldridge (rest) OUT, DeMar DeRozan (rest) OUT, Derrick White (heel) OUT: Gregg Popovich never ceases to amaze me. Are they just throwing in the towel in this game by resting their two top playmakers? Look for Pau Gasol ($3,200) to find his way back into the starting five, but Davis Bertans ($4,100) and Rudy Gay ($5,900) will likely absorb most of the production in the frontcourt. Bryn Forbes ($4,300) has subbed for both White and DeRozan in recent weeks, so he's a lock for extended playing time. The seat-filler at the two is a risky call, but if I had to make a choice, it'd be Marco Belinelli ($4,000) getting the nod. PUNT PLAY: Jakob Poeltl ($3,200).
DENVER – Jamal Murray (ankle) QUESTIONABLE, Paul Millsap (ankle) QUESTIONABLE: It's anyone's guess if we'll see Murray return from his extended absence tonight, but a cost-prohibitive Monte Morris ($6,100) will start if he can't make it. Even if Millsap suits up, Mason Plumlee ($4,400) should see a bump in usage in a game with some blowout potential against Brooklyn.
Devin Booker (hamstring) – QUESTIONABLE: Booker will be a game-time call. We've had to predict the shoe-filler for Booker several times, and Kelly Oubre ($5,800) would be my choice if Booker sits. The good thing about this pivot is that Oubre can put up a decent total in his usual role, so you won't take much of a hit if Booker plays. Elsewhere on the Suns' lineup, Josh Jackson ($5,500) continues to fill in admirably for T.J. Warren (ankle).
As I give you my picks below, you should keep the pivots mentioned above at the forefront, as they present your best opportunities to make way for Harden. Players with higher salaries are worthy considerations to pair with him, and not to replace him.
Luka Doncic, DAL vs. CHA ($9,500): I imagine most teams have drawn up a strategy for stopping Doncic, but the Mavs will be ushering in a brand new lineup tonight, and it will be up to the high-flying Slovenian to get the ball rolling. I have no problem with him at any of his eligible positions, but I put him here because Curry's recent totals make him a risky pick to hit value. Walker, Holiday and Mitchell are all suitable plays, but I think Doncic's streak provides us with a slightly more stable floor.
Klay Thompson, GS vs. SA ($6,200): Some will probably raise an eyebrow at not mentioning Curry against the depleted Spurs, but Thompson's recent output makes him a great value play at this price. He only mustered 30 DKFP against the Spurs in their last matchup, but without White and DeRozan, there should be a spike in production from the sharpshooter. He's converted 43 percent of this threes over the past few games, which is an encouraging metric to consider.
Shabazz Napier, BKN vs. DEN ($5,300): While not as consistent as D'Angelo Russell, Napier has proven to be a stronger play than Joe Harris. Joe Harris could rejoin the starting five tonight, but Napier may have done enough to stay in the lineup. When Harris is at full strength, I think you could see Harris slide to the three and use a trio of Treveon Graham, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Rodians Korucks at the four. Keep in mind, these are the Nets we're talking about, and low-cost injury pivots abound as alternate options, but Napier is worth a go for at least one more game.
GUARD PUNT: Jordan McRae, WAS at MIL ($3,400): The G-League call-up came out of nowhere and logged 26 minutes on Monday, and if you're one of the few who rostered him, I tip my hat off to you. There's no telling If this showing will earn him more playing time, but it looks like he could be in the second unit behind Tomas Satoransky moving forward. Plus, he's super cheap.
Kevin Durant, GS vs. SA ($9,300): Durant is one of the most attractive options on the slate, given the multiple absences for the Spurs. He's also my favorite player to pair with Harden. He put up 54 DKFP against a completely different lineup, so while that isn't the most reliable metric, it's hard to beat the opportunity. My only concern here is a blowout, as Durant sees the most significant drop-off in production among the Warriors' starting five in those scenarios. That's one reason why I'll diversify my Harden pairing.
Lauri Markkanen, CHI vs. NO ($6,900): Only a few points separate the Bulls from a five-game swing toward the win column, and Markannen's breakout year has been a crucial component in their offense's stock. They're playing much better than a 12-41 team, and I like their chances to notch a win against a slumping Pelicans team that's got the injury bug. A return from Randle might cause some problems for Markkanen, but I still think he's a favorable play at this price.
Josh Jackson, PHO at UTA ($5,500): I realize I'm mentioning him again, but I wanted to highlight him because I think he will carry a more significant load if Devin Booker sits. I also like the way he stacks up against Joe Ingles and Derrick Favors. He possesses a lot of length for his 6-8 frame, and Utah's defense has faltered in a few contests recently.
Nikola Jokic, DEN at BKN ($10,600): Another obvious Harden partner, Jokic's 72 DKFP performance against the Nets back in November is a perfect example of the 'start your centers' credo for any Nets opponent. Jokic's totals have been a bit earthbound recently, and one has to wonder if he's battling some kind of soreness or minor injury, but nothing has been reported despite a four-game downward trend in minutes played. I still have no reservations about this endorsement.
DeMarcus Cousins, GS vs. SA ($6,800): I'm probably losing lots of value due to my own personal biases (which, by the way, you should always ignore), but I can't stop loving Boogie at this price point – and tonight is an extra special reason to show the love. Without LaMarcus Aldridge to harass him, we could see one of DeMarcus best stat lines of the season. His presence in the center list, combined with that interesting Jokic stat is enough to make me slide down here, and it's a move I will likely make among the 6-10 lineups I'll shove out there tonight.
Bobby Portis, CHI vs. NO ($5,900): Whew, I feel like I'm playing too many Bulls, but against the injury-riddled Pelicans frontcourt, you have to give Portis a look along with Markkanen. I wouldn't roster both of them – gotta diversify that risk – but Wendell Carter's (thumb) absence has reaped huge dividends for Portis. It's too bad that he won't have Nikola Mirotic to tangle with, especially if you're a boxing fan.
As you can see, there's plenty of value to allow for one or two more higher-priced guys to go along with Harden. Your most difficult decision will be who to choose from. I would focus on a higher-priced guard as one of those plays, without question. Stacks involving Jokic or maybe Giannis would make that move very difficult, so again, it's a tough call to make. Due to all the variance, I'm going to throw more lineups out there tonight.