Easy Breezy: Chalk Stack
The Houston Rockets featured one of the best offenses in the NBA last season, and that’s unlikely to change this season. They get a matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans, who led the NBA in pace during the preseason, while also leading the league in pace last year. New Orleans also featured an average defense last season before struggling to find their footing in the preseason. Their defense won’t necessarily matter, though, as Houston is a -7.5 point favorite in a game set at 229 points, giving them the highest implied total on the slate at 118.3 points.
The Rockets made a few moves this offseason, most notably adding Carmelo Anthony, while losing Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson. James Harden will once again be the focal point of the Houston offense. Last season, Harden posted a ridiculous 36.1% usage rating, turning that into 30.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 1.8 steals in 35.4 minutes per game. Chris Paul looked fully healthy during the preseason, and he ranked third in usage rating (24.5%) last season. While Paul didn’t always have the ball in his hands, he was able to manage 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.9 assists, and 1.7 steals in 31.8 minutes per game. Clint Capela took a major leap forward in his progression last season, and he could do that once again this year. He only posted a 19.4% usage rating in 2017, but he lead the team with a 22.2% total rebound percentage and a 5.6% block percentage. Capela is a way to get part of this team without needing a major part of the offense.
Important Odds: Vegas Stack
The Toronto Raptors quietly ranked second in the NBA in offensive rating ahead of the Golden State Warriors last season. While they have made some changes this offseason, they get a matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are expected to feature one of the worst defenses in the NBA once again. Cleveland was slowing the pace down in preseason, but after ranking ninth in the NBA in pace last season, it’s difficult to believe they run significantly slower than that with a younger roster this season. The Raptors are -12 point favorites in a game set at 215.5 points, and they feature an implied total of 113.8 points.
The Raptors big splash this season was trading away DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard. There were suggestions that Kyle Lowry could see an uptick in usage without DeRozan on the court, but that simply hasn’t been the case. Last season, Lowry recorded a 21.7% usage rating on the season, and he posted a 21.9% usage rating through three preseason games. As a versatile guard, he turned that usage into 16.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 1.1 steals in 32.2 minutes per game last season. Kawhi Leonard is expected to take over DeRozan’s workload. Surprisingly, Leonard only posted a 26.2% usage rating in preseason, but that could jump over 30% this season. The Raptors have proven time and time again that they are willing to play their stars for big minutes, and Leonard is averaging 25.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks on a per-36 minute basis over his last three seasons. Jonas Valanciunas has always been an elite fantasy option, but he rarely plays big minutes. Last season, Valanciunas averaged 1.26 DK points per minute, while averaging 12.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.0 block in only 22.4 minutes per game. Most importantly, Valanciunas is expected to come off the bench, and his usage rating jumped from 22.7% last season to 27.6% in the preseason. He adds tremendous upside for a low price tag tonight.
Wildcard GPP: Low Owned Stack
The Memphis Grizzlies were one of the slowest paced teams in the NBA last season, and that should continue once again this season. They’ll see a slight uptick in pace against the Indiana Pacers, but this game won’t be one of the faster paced games on the slate. The Grizzlies are sizeable underdogs in a game set at only 206 points, but their players are simply too cheap to be ignored. Overall, they own an implied total of only 99.8 points tonight.
The Grizzlies made a few splashes this offseason, adding players like Kyle Anderson and Jaren Jackson, who will both be used in this stack. Anderson saw a small spike in usage during the preseason, as it sat at 15.9%, which would be a career high for Anderson. He’s a versatile player, averaging 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks on a per-36 minute basis last season. He’ll likely see a bigger role with Memphis than he saw with the San Antonio Spurs last season, adding to his upside. Marc Gasol was a focal point of the Memphis offense last season, posting a 25.6% usage rating. He has been a consistent option over his last few seasons, and there’s no reason to believe that will change this year. In 2017, Gasol averaged 1.16 DK points per game, and he’s expected to play minutes in the mid-30s tonight. Jackson looked outstanding during the Summer League, averaging 12.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks in 24.9 minutes per game. He also averaged 13.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game, while sporting a 24.5% usage rating during the preseason. Jackson comes with quite a bit of risk because of potential foul troubles, but his block potential for his price tag is second to none tonight.
Hidden Gem: Value Guard
Jeremy Lin is coming off of a lost season, only playing one game for the Brooklyn Nets before losing his season to an injury. He looks fully healthy for the Atlanta Hawks, averaging 10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in only 18.6 minutes per game during the preseason. He has always flashed tremendous potential in the NBA, as well, as he owns per-36 minute averages of 16.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.6 steals.
Lin will play a major role as the Hawks sixth man, meaning he could see minutes in the mid- to high-20s tonight off of the bench. He should also lead the second unit, and potentially team, in usage rating when on the court. Lin also gets a matchup against the New York Knicks, who were an average team against guards last season. They have pushed the pace more in preseason, as well, and Lin is arguably the most mispriced option on the slate.
Hidden Gem: Value Big
Cedi Osman flashed at times last season, but there simply were not enough minutes or shots to go around to see his full potential. With limited opportunities, he posted 12.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.2 steals on a per-36 minute basis. He was given a bigger opportunity during the Summer League, averaging 20.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and 1.0 block in 31.5 minutes per game. He saw his usage rating spike to nearly 28% before averaging only 15.1 minutes per game during the preseason.
Osman has been named a starter for Cleveland, and he should be locked into big minutes as one of their pieces for the future. His preseason usage rating suggests it will sit around 21% this season, which is significantly higher than his 15.7% usage rating from a year ago. Osman is a sneaky player that has proven he can score fantasy points in a hurry when given the opportunity. He gets a tough matchup against the Toronto Raptors, who added Kawhi Leonard this offseason, but Osman is far too cheap to simply avoid.