The NBA returns Thursday with a six-game slate. The All-Star break means all teams will be well-rested, and it is likely to be one of the healthiest slates in months. On the other hand, the All-Star break is often a turning point for struggling franchises – it marks the time when many teams, let’s say “lean in” to their losing ways. So stay on the lookout for unexpected changes to starting lineups (the Bulls have already announced that they’re making some permanent changes).
LAC at GS: The projected combined score from this game is a full 15 points higher than the slate’s second-highest game (Wizards-Cavaliers).
BKN at CHA: Four games on this slate have projected combined scores between 211 and 214. Of those four, the Nets-Hornets matchup is the only one where both teams rank in the bottom third of the league in pace.
Ben Simmons, PHI at CHI ($9,000): Among guards on this slate, only Russell Westbrook is averaging more DKFP over the last five games than Simmons. While the Bull’s backcourt improves defensively with David Nwaba’s promotion to the starting lineup, the move is simultaneously an indication that the Bulls are no longer prioritizing winning. While Nwaba is a defensive improvement, the Bulls also named Christiano Felicio a starter, and Felicio is the Bulls’ second-worst defender, according to on/off defensive rating. As Simmons accumulates almost all of his points inside (he still does not have a made three-pointer), the presence of a weak defensive center is more important to him than to most guards.
Tomas Satoransky, WAS at CLE ($5,500): The New Cavs’ enthusiasm and George Hill’s defensive potential make me pause, but there is a ton to like about Satoransky Thursday. He averaged 34.7 minutes over the last three games before the break, making a bit of a leap over his performance in the Wizards’ first six games without John Wall (knee). Over those last three games, he averaged 10.0 more minutes, helping him accrue an extra 6.8 points, 1.7 assists, and 1.7 threes. Satoransky has turned a corner, but his price has not yet adjusted.
David Nwaba, CHI vs. PHI ($3,500): Over the break the Bulls named Nwaba their starter moving forward. Nwaba played 21 minutes in the Bulls’ final game before the break, and 27 minutes in their third-to-last game. He played under 20 minutes in the other seven of their last nine games, averaging only 16.4 minutes per game during that span. The promotion to the starting unit is likely to come with a huge boost in workload, and at this near-minimum salary, he’s one of the best values on the slate. He’ll probably be widely owned, but the flexibility of a productive discount this big is tough to ignore.
Paul George, OKC at SAC ($8,800): George has scored at least 42 DKFP in his last five games, and in eight of his last 10. That’s a really high floor. Add to that the Kings’ second-worst per possession defense and third-worst rebounding percentage, and there are a lot of ways that George can continue padding his stats Thursday.
Michael Beasley, NY at ORL ($7,100): Beasley (ear) is probable Thursday. Assuming he plays, look for him to continue his incredibly hot play with Kristaps Porzingis (knee) out. In the four games since Porzingis’ injury, Beasley is averaging 18.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 34.8 minutes. He’s arguably become the Knicks’ best player. The Magic defense is fourth-worst per possession, and they have the second-worst rebound percentage this season.
Skal Labissiere, SAC vs. OKC ($4,500): The Kings’ youth movement stalled somewhat when Labissiere hurt his shoulder and had to miss nine games. In those nine games, Kosta Koufos broke 20 minutes five times and broke 30 minutes twice. Between the announcement of the Kings’ “rest two veterans” policy and Labissiere’s injury, Koufos only saw action every other game. Labissiere is probable to return Thursday, and if the Kings pick up where they left off, he’d benefit from increased playing time, most likely at Koufos’ expense. Labissiere averaged 27.3 minutes between the announcement of the new rotation strategy and his injury, far above his season average of 18.0. Bogdan Bogdanovic ($5,600) is another young King in a good spot Thursday, but I didn’t want to do multiple forward blurbs on a pair of teammates.
Joel Embiid, PHI at CHI ($9,700): Over the weekend, Embiid made his mark on the All-Star game. In a game that features the very best players in league, Embiid was noticeable, making impact plays throughout the tightly contested fourth quarter. The point I’m getting at here is that Embiid is better than new Bulls’ starting center Christiano Felicio, in the same way that getting offered your favorite candy is better than falling down a well and breaking all your bones. The difference between the two experiences is so significant that you’re not even sure why they go together in the first place. I’m not trying to pick on Felicio, who is not a terrible player. Felicio is what he is – a decent young-ish backup big man, a little short and a little heavy for his position, and better at offense than defense. Embiid is four inches taller, which will help him crush Felicio on the glass. Embiid has the shooting range to pull Felicio out of the paint, where Embiid can take advantage of the mismatch in any of a half-dozen ways. Embiid is going to eat Felicio alive.
Enes Kanter, NY at OKC ($7,600): Kanter is riding a streak of nine straight double-doubles, a streak that began several games before Kristaps Porzingis (knee) suffered his season-ending ACL tear. His production has altered slightly since Porzingis’s injury, but generally for the better. His rebounds have decreased slightly, but his minutes and points have increased significantly. Without Porzingis (including the game in which he was injured), Kanter is averaging 39.5 DKFP.
Larry Nance, CLE vs. WAS ($4,800): In his first two games as a member of the Cavaliers, Nance averaged 23.0 minutes. That’s a solid workload, and it is especially important that he surpassed Cedi Osman in workload in the latter of the two games. Nance is a great fit for the Cavaliers, and as they continue to incorporate their new players into their system I expect Nance’s court time to increase (at least until Kevin Love gets healthy). Nance’s fantasy totals can vary wildly from game to game, so he’s probably not a great play for cash games. That said, for GPPs, he’s still priced for the smaller and less consistent workload he was seeing as a Laker, so there is a lot of upside here.