The menu at the cheap end of salaries tonight is more appetizing than the options up top. It’s been that way for a couple weeks now and will continue through the end of the regular season. With teams resting healthy players habitually and DraftKings relenting on a tight salary structure, sifting through the value is going to be key.

Injury Implications

For injury statuses and updates, check out the NBA Injury Report

1. Charlotte Hornets

I’m not expecting Nicolas Batum (knee) to suit up after the Hornets said they’d play it safe with their stud swingman. Al Jefferson (quad) is also very questionable. These guys combine to take 23.1 field goals per game, so there’s a lot of opportunity to go around. I’ll be very interested to see who starts in place of Batum, but my first instinct is to give Jeremy Lin a big bump. He averaged 36.1 minutes per game in nine Batum missed earlier this season (although those were before the Courtney Lee trade). Even if Lin only ends up with 30 minutes, his strong 22.2 usage rate with Batum off the floor and $4,100 salary means we are very likely to profit. Kemba Walker also deserves a boost as his usage rate goes from 25.3 with Batum off the floor to 29.6 when the Frenchman is on it.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

Kyrie Irving’s (questionable, ankle) status has a massive impact on the slate, as evidenced by the numbers. First of all, Matthew Dellavedova averages 31.1 minutes per game in 13 starts this year and gets .736 DK points per minute. At just $3,300 he’d be difficult to pass on if Irving sits. Then we have Irving’s massive usage impacting the rest of the team. LeBron James’ usage rate goes from 28.0 with Kyrie on the floor to a whopping 35.4 off it. Kevin Love goes from 22.6 to 25.1 and J.R. Smith goes from 16.7 to 18.9. Although the Cavs are virtually assured of the East’s No. 1 seed, it’s not a done deal yet. I’m tentatively expecting normal minutes for James and Love if Kyrie sits.


MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT

1. Damian Lillard against the Kings

Damian Lillard and the Blazers are playoff-bound but still have something to play for, unlike a lot of big-name players on this slate (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry etc.). Portland is currently the No. 6 seed, but are just 1.5 games clear of the Mavericks and Jazz for the 7/8 spots. Of course, avoiding the Warriors and Spurs is a priority. So we should get full minutes for Lillard and all the Blazers in one of the best possible matchups. The Kings give up 4.23 more points than salary-based expectation to point guards, lead the entire league in pace and are T-23rd in defensive efficiency. Maurice Harkless, C.J. McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu are also firmly in play given the game environment and situation. The only Blazers starter I’m not on is Mason Plumlee, who is among the league leaders at 4.4 fouls per-36 minutes and is facing the man who draws the most fouls in the league by a massive margin (DeMarcus Cousins).


SITUATIONS TO CAPITALIZE ON

1. Lakers finally tightening their rotation

It took until April, but coach Byron Scott finally appears to understand the Lakers’ young core should be allowed to play big minutes despite mistakes. Lou Williams, Brandon Bass and Nick Young are healthy yet not expected to get any burn across the final six games. Scott said this move will allow him to get young guards Jordan Clarkson and DeAngelo Russell around 35 minutes a night. The coach was true to his word on Sunday as Clarkson and Russell each played 36 minutes against the Celtics, scoring 30.75 and 25.25 DK points respectively in a game Kobe Bryant took 28 shots. With Kobe sure to regress off his outlier and the minutes of Clarkson/Russell secure, there’s a lot of room for profit on depressed salaries of $5,000 and $5,100.

2. Pelicans likely to play a close game

When Philly and New Orleans are part of a slate, the first question that often comes to mind is, “how long can this game stay competitive?” That’s not an issue tonight as two of the NBA’s doormats are facing each other in what should be a close game. That’s especially interesting for the Pelicans’ side of the ball, as their injury-ravaged rotation is tighter and more concentrated. Note that Jordan Hamilton has sprung from the D-League to impress while playing at least 31 minutes in three straight games — he’s the standout play in this game. Luke Babbitt averages 29.6 minutes as a starter and gets .726 DK points per minute. I’ll be monitoring the starting center situation closely, as Alexis Ajinca moved ahead of Omer Asik mid-game last time out, limiting Asik to just four minutes. If Ajinca starts, note that his .943 DK points per minute are in the Gordon Hayward/Rudy Gay/Robert Covington range — yet he costs just $3,900. Former Sixer Tim Frazier is also an option despite coming off the bench. The Sixers are allowing 108.7 points per game over the last three weeks (29th in league) and rank 26th in defensive efficiency on the season.


UNDERPRICED ASSETS

1. Pau Gasol against a deteriorating Grizzlies front

I expect Pau and DeMarcus Cousins to be the two highest-owned players on the slate. It’s still difficult to shy away from them. With everything on the line for the Bulls, Pau’s minutes have risen back up to 33.4 per night over the last games (despite a back-to-back and three-in-four spot in there). Now Pau gets to face a formerly elite Grizzlies defense that has crumbled without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Over the last three weeks, they’re giving up the 12th-most DK points to centers and 14th-most points overall. With Pau at a truly elite 1.310 DK points per minute, his baseline projection of 43.7 DK points is 5.6x his $7,800 salary. That’s before we adjust for Taj Gibson’s likely absence and the Grizzlies’ struggles against big men.


Cash Game Considerations

Below are the players I’m most considering in head-to-head or 50/50 style games (in no particular order).

PosPlayers
PGDamian Lillard, Matthew Dellavedova, Tim Frazier, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Jeremy Lin (if he starts), Steph Curry
SGJimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Devin Booker, Kobe Bryant, Klay Thompson, C.J. McCollum
SFJordan Hamilton, Luke Babbitt, Marcus Morris, LeBron James (if Kyrie Irving is out), Maurice Harkless, Mirza Teletovic, Giannis Antetokounmpo (if Khris Middleton is out)
PFDeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Julius Randle, Zach Randolph, Jabari Parker
CPau Gasol, Alexis Ajinca (if he starts), Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyson Chandler