3 NBA FanDuel Tournament Plays to Target on 2/25/21
"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.
Thursday's main slate is a manageable six 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.
Jamal Murray ($8,300) - To say there is some sticker shock with Murray's salary tonight is a bit of an understatement. Considering he was only $6,500 just one week ago, a $1,800 jump in salary in less than seven days is not common, but in Murray's case, it's absolutely warranted.
Among point guards, only teammate Facundo Campazzo -- who has been gifted extra minutes recently -- has been playing at a higher level above his seasonal average of late. In fact, by our metrics, Murray has outperformed his season numbers by 48% in his last five games. Murray has been electric during that span, averaging 51.2 FanDuel points per game, and now he gets the Washington Wizards. The Wiz, despite their win streak, have a defense that is #notgood.
The Wizards allow 50 FanDuel points per game to opposing point guards, including 27 real-world points per contest. They also continue to lead the NBA in pace and rank 27th in overall defensive rating. Likely due to the Wizards' recent success, however, the spread in this game is a reasonable 7.0 points, so oddsmakers are not predicting one of these blowouts where the starters don't play the fourth quarter.
With Nikola Jokic in an equally appealing matchup, it might serve to keep Murray's roster percentage down except in game stacks. Don't be afraid to deploy him in your tournament and single-entry lineups.
Zion Williamson ($8,500) - Considering his role in the high-flying New Orleans Pelicans' offense, Williamson should simply not have a cheaper salary than Julius Randle or be only $500 more than Tobias Harris. Until Zion crosses the $9,000 threshold, there is still plenty of meat left on this bone, and with a national TV matchup against Giannis Antetokounmpo on tap, Zion is hovering near lock-button status for me.
In Zion's last five games (when he averaged more than 46 FanDuel points per game), he has raised his true shooting percentage by six percentage points over his season-long numbers and his FanDuel points per minute by 0.17. One of the reasons? The Pelicans have been experimenting with point-Zion, where he brings the ball up a few times per game and runs the offense himself from the top of the key. This allows him to get his standard 20 points and 10 rebounds, but it also increases his assist numbers. On the season, Zion averages a 16.1% assist rate. In his last 10 games? It's jumped to 21.3%.
The game environment tonight is simply fantastic, with a 242.5-implied total and both teams in the top half of the league in pace their last five. Buckle up, because this matchup is going to be fun.
Nikola Vucevic ($9,900) - Is it possible Vucevic will go overlooked on this slate despite the stellar matchup? I really think it is. As has been noted in this space many times, Vucevic may not have 80-FanDuel-point upside of Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid -- who are both on the slate -- but he has reached at least 60 FanDuel points six times in his last 20 games, including three times in his last six.
Tonight he gets to line up against the Brooklyn Nets, a squad he torched for 67.5 FanDuel points just five weeks ago, as the Nets continue to be the spark that lights the fire for massive fantasy games for centers. Brooklyn allows the third-most FanDuel points to centers on the year at over 57 per game. Both Jokic and Embiid are also in elite matchups, but Vucevic has been right with those two lately in terms of offensive production.
On the season, Vucevic ranks fourth among all centers in usage rate (28.9%), but in the last 10 games, as the Orlando Magic have battled injuries up and down the roster, those numbers have been even better. Vucevic has bumped up his usage rate to 31.6% over that time. Considering that usage is combined with career-high marks in defensive rebound rate and assist rate, we are talking about one of the most heavily utilized players in the league this year.