This article is part of our FanDuel NBA series.
The majority of the NBA takes a bit of a breather on Thursday with a five-game slate. Let's get to the action, beginning with betting data from FanDuel Sportsbook.
PHI @ BKN (+2.5) O/U: 225
CLE @ MEM (-4) O/U: 210.5
DAL @ DEN (-3) O/U: 225
SAS @ LAL (-7.5) O/U: 224.5
MIN @ POR (-10) O/U: 233
*Games/Teams to Target in BOLD
*Games/Teams to fade in ITALICS
BACK-TO-BACK TEAMS: 76ers, Cavaliers
It's no surprise that we found a lot to like in the Wolves-Blazers game, which has the highest pace of the night. There isn't really a game I would fade on such a small slate, but my exposure was very light with the Sixers, despite Kevin Durant's absence on the other side of the ball.
I also didn't get much of Denver, outside of some Jokic exposure. The head-scratcher game is the Cavs-Grizzlies contest. The Cavs are on a back-to-back, and the Grizzlies are going nowhere fast without Ja Morant. I saw a bit of opportunity here, but not much.
Ja Morant, MEM (ankle): OUT
This is an ongoing injury, but there's no harm in revisiting the lineup to see who's reaped the most benefit. Tyus Jones ($5,400) has started and is doing well relative to his salary, and Desmond Bane ($3,800) has also pitched in at the position.
Anthony Davis (adductor): QUESTIONABLE
LeBron James has played with a questionable designation for what seems like the entire season, but this is a new injury for Davis. The situation warrants some caution. There may be some excellent value for Montrezl Harrell ($5,300) if Davis sits.
Kevin Durant (COVID-19 Protocol): OUT
Durant will enter seven-day quarantine and will be out tonight and likely two more games. Caris LeVert ($6,500) sees a whopping 24.3 percent increase in usage rate with Durant off the floor, so he will be the guy to target during Durant's absence.
We won't make a habit of discussing injuries that have been in the pool for an extended period but refer to past starting lineups for pivots off of players like Kevin Love, Darius Garland and Kristaps Porzingis.
ELITE PLAYERS ($9.000-plus)
As we look at the top of the slate, I really like a Luka Doncic ($11,100) – Kyrie Irving ($10,000) combo in a stars-and-scrubs approach tonight. You're left with only $5,500 per position after that, but I think we can find value at that level. I can also justify Nikola Jokic ($11,300) with Irving, especially because the center position can get slim on thinner slates.
There's merit to paying up for Joel Embiid ($9,800) due to a potential lack of popularity on a back-to-back, but barring a huge explosion against the Durant-less Nets, I think there are cheaper centers we can find without a huge sacrifice if we are gliding past Jokic. Of course, Damian Lillard ($9,200) and CJ McCollum ($9,000) are in plum scenarios against the Timberwolves, but it's a different tactic altogether by going this route. Obviously, you won't stack these guys, but one of them could prove to be a nice tandem to Doncic/Jokic, which could save a bit more coin.
Before we begin, I need to just reiterate Caris LeVert's situation. He will be extremely popular while Durant is out and will rival elites in roster usage, Keep that in mind in tournaments, where uniqueness is paramount. Due to the small slate, the chalk section will dip a little beyond the typical $6,667 cutoff today.
D'Angelo Russell, MIN ($7,800) @ POR
Russell was brilliant in the two-game series against the Nuggets. Although the T-Wolves lost both games, Russell beat value with 55-and-40-FDFP performances. If we look at the data, Portland's defense is pretty generous to opposing point guards. They're allowing 31.2 points per game to the position, which is one of the league's highest totals. Although the Trail Blazers have surrendered fewer assists, they've left the perimeter wide open for three-point shooting, allowing four attempts per game to opposing floor generals, which is second in the league. I'd roster Russell with confidence.
Dejounte Murray, SAS ($7,200) @ LAL
The Spurs have already faced the Lakers twice and lost both times, but Muray had an excellent 46.9 FDFP performance in one of those games. We only need to get in the neighborhood of 40 FDFP to make Murray worth our while, and unless Anthony Davis is out, the Spurs' best chance for production is in the backcourt.
Larry Nance, CLE ($6,800) @ MEM
Any hesitation about Nance is understandable, and his usage rate was downright terrible in the tilt against Orlando. With Andre Drummond handling the interior, Nance has about 30 pounds on Brandon Clarke, and the Grizzlies will probably move Kyle Anderson over to deal with him. Although Anderson's numbers have looked great given his enhanced role, don't let the boost fool you. He's no defensive powerhouse, and Nance should enjoy enough success to meet value.
Jonas Valanciunas, MEM ($6,500) vs. CLE
The Cavs are middle-of-the-pack in terms of defending centers, but they've allowed one of the highest field-goal percentages in the league against big men (61 percent). Barring an AD injury pivot, Valanciunas is the best value center of the night, and a slight dip in salary makes him a bit more attractive. His slide is due to a tepid string of games against the Lakers, but I expect a rebound from him tonight. He may lose some rebounds to Andre Drummond, but I predict he'll outscore his opponent.
Keldon Johnson, SAS ($6,500) @ LAL
Johnson's two-game run against the Lakers was a tale of opposites. He logged a mind-blowing 7.7x value in one game and scored a season-low seven points in the other matchup. At $6,500, something in-between those numbers should be just fine, and at least we know there's an upside. That seven-point game was the only game this season where Johnson didn't beat his salary value, so it's more likely than not that he'll get 5x or more tonight.
Jusuf Nurkic, POR ($6,200) vs. MIN
Nurkic is disappointing league managers all over the world in the early going. Although he rebounded a bit in the recent loss to Chicago, Nurkic has been the portrait of inconsistency. He now has three double-doubles, but the numbers within them aren't great, and he's completely disappeared from some games due to foul trouble.
If there's any team Nurkic can excel against, it's against the Timberwolves tonight. With Karl-Anthony Towns out, the T-Wolves are a mess defensively. They're allowing league-highs in points-per-game (24.0) and field-goal percentage (69 percent) to opposing centers and are also allowing 13.3 rebounds to the position. The Wolves also have the league's worst defensive rating entering Thursday night. Until Towns is back, a good rule of thumb is to play the opposing center – tonight it's Nurkic, who could certainly use a breakout game.
Dennis Schroder, LAL ($5,300) vs SAS
I like Schroder even more with a potential Anthony Davis absence because it will ramp up Schroder's usage, and he'll become more of a scoring option instead of a ball facilitator. His numbers haven't been there since the new year, but I think he will bounce back against the Spurs. His salary has dropped $900 in the past two weeks, so it will be a lot easier for Schroder to realize his value at this salary point.
Robert Covington, POR ($5,000) vs. MIN
A cursory look at Covington over the past week shows some encouraging signs of improvement in both usage and production. It's taken some time for him to realize his role with the team, and it will take even more time for him to realize his full potential with this group. It's hard to get a shot in edgewise with guys like Lillard and McCollum on the floor, but he's burst through a couple of times over the past week or so, with 14 points against the Bulls and 11 rebounds against the Warriors. If he can replicate just one of those, it should be easy for him to beat 25 FDFP, his 5x number.
Juancho Hernangomez, MIN ($4,000) @ POR
It's as if Minnesota suddenly realized he was available, as he put up 46 FDFP in his last game, which was good enough for a whopping 13x-value performance. Obviously, it's KAT's absence that's translating into success, but the T-Wolves have started Hernangomez at the four in their last two games, and it seems to be a better fit. Most notably, Naz Reid was a no-show in Hernangomez's huge game against Denver, logging only 10 minutes. The Timberwolves are in desperate need of something to go right at the moment, and this could be the spark they need.