3 NBA FanDuel Tournament Plays to Target on Thursday 5/13/21
"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.
Thursday'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.
Damian Lillard ($9,700) - There is perhaps no team in the NBA with more to play for -- and also no team with a tougher road ahead than -- then the Portland Trail Blazers. At 41-29, they are hanging on to the slimmest of leads for the 5th/6th spot in the West playoff picture, hoping to avoid the 7th seed and the play-in tournament. The Blazers close their season with two rough matchups against the Phoenix Suns (tonight) and the Denver Nuggets (Sunday), but Lillard has been doing everything he possibly can to keep his team above that play-in line.
The Blazers have won 9 of their last 10 games, primarily due to Lillard's 48.4 FanDuel points per game in that span. He is consistently playing mid-30s in minutes every game, so I have zero concerns about this being the second game of a back to back considering the magnitude of these last two matchups. Lillard can rest while the play-in tournament is happening -- at least I'm sure that's how the Blazers view it.
Normally, a matchup against the defensive powerhouse Suns wouldn't be the best recommendation. They rank as the fourth-best team in the league against point guards, and they have the sixth-best defensive rating this season. But this is clearly playoff-Dame we are witnessing lately, as he is averaging 51 FanDuel points against his last six opponents who are headed to the postseason. I have no concerns tonight about a tough defensive matchup.
Kawhi Leonard ($8,200) - I expect DFS managers to keep flocking to Michael Porter Jr. ($7,400) on FanDuel, who seemingly never gets a salary bump despite scoring at least 39 FanDuel points in 9 of his last 11 games and facing the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves tonight. But just a couple ticks above Porter sits Kawhi, who is finally healthy, motivated, and faces a team that is letting small forwards run right over them recently.
The Los Angeles Clippers have an outside shot of overtaking the number two seed in the West with two more wins, meaning they would get a play-in tournament team instead of Lillard or Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Rounding into playoff form, Leonard has increased his FanDuel output in each of his last four games and now faces the Charlotte Hornets, who should pose very little resistance to a dominant performance from Leonard.
The Hornets have looked shaky against small forwards all season, allowing the fourth-most FanDuel points per game to the position (43.86), but it's been even worse in their last 30 games when the number has moved up to 44.25 per game. Part of that decline has been the insertion of Jalen McDaniels into the starting lineup recently. McDaniels ranks 356th overall in defensive plus-minus this season and just 66th at his position.
Like Lillard, Kawhi is one of those "put it on my back" players who find a way to get it done. With plenty to play for and now consistently playing more than 30 minutes per game, look for Leonard to take over tonight.
Clint Capela ($7,800) - Keeping with the theme of teams who have plenty to play for, the Atlanta Hawks are a mere half game ahead of the fifth seed in the East, perilously holding onto home-court advantage in the first round. They need to win their last two games against the Orlando Magic (tonight) and Houston Rockets (Sunday) to hold that spot. And while that task likely won't prove to be too difficult (I mean, have you seen the rosters for the Rockets and Magic right now?), this first game provides the perfect opportunity to roster Capela who has seen a large salary drop recently.
I guess I understand the dip; Capela has underperformed in two of his last three games in absolutely elite spots for centers. But a $7,800 salary for a player who was routinely putting up 50-60 FanDuel points in April (including 50 three nights ago) just seems like an overreaction.
The Magic certainly shouldn't give him any trouble tonight, as they allow the second-most FanDuel points to centers over the last 15 games (60.19). In that same span, the Magic rank 27th in defensive rating, allow the sixth-most points in the paint, and allow the second-most rebounds to their opponents. All of the pieces are there tonight for Capela. If he can just get 30 minutes, he should explode with fantasy points.