The 2019 NBA Finals will kick off with an international flare. For the first time in the history of the league, Canada will play host to a contest with the NBA championship up for grabs. I can tell you with certainty this is a big deal north of the border.
While it’s difficult to tell exactly how many of the 5.9 million people that live in the greater Toronto area spilled out onto Front Street and King Street last Saturday night, it felt like everyone and their brother was there. There were high-fives aplenty, an uproar of car horns, and — in true Canadian fashion — zero arrests. It was a good night. I lost my voice, but, fortunately that won’t effect my ability to write up this evening’s Showdown slate on DraftKings, which, by the way, could net you a cool $1,000,000. Not an awful prize. If you’re into that sort of thing.
Let’s dive into Game 1 of Warriors-Raptors:
Note: All salaries will be Flex prices unless noted as Captain’s Pick prices.
FIVE BETTING TRENDS
— The home team has won 13 of the past 14 NBA Finals Game 1s.
— Each of the last four games between the Warriors and Raptors at Scotiabank Arena have gone OVER the total points line.
— The underdogs have won the fourth quarter in eight of the last nine games between the Warriors and Raptors.
— Klay Thompson has scored 20 points or less in 10 of his last 12 appearances in road games.
— Kyle Lowry has recorded nine or more assists in each of his last four appearances against the Warriors.
Stats provided by DraftKings Sportsbook
There’s no talking about the Raptors’ playoff run without mentioning [checks notes] Marc Gasol ($6,000) right off the hop. Sure, I can understand the confusion from a statement like that; however, from a DFS capacity, there might not be a player who’s performance will have bigger impact on the slate. To say Gasol was an inconsistent fantasy asset in the Eastern Conference Finals would be addressing the situation mildly. The Spaniard twice dropped 40-plus DKFP against Milwaukee — including a 55.5-DKFP showing in Game 3 — only to post fewer than 18 fantasy points in three of the other four contests. Still, as a general rule of thumb, an aggressive Gasol usually means pretty good things for Toronto — and Golden State likely will force the veteran into having a bigger role than he might actually endorse.
Let’s use the the Warriors’ series versus the Trail Blazers as a template. Golden State’s main defensive philosophy when playing Portland was to get the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands by trapping him well behind the 3-point line with multiple defenders. It’s a tactic the team also employed with both James Harden and Lou Williams. Conceivably, the Warriors will break it out again with Kawhi Leonard ($11,800). That’s where Gasol and Kyle Lowry ($7,800) enter into the fold. The pair will be tasked with creating offense in these 4-on-3 settings, with Gasol hypothetically tasked with finding an open shooter or a back-cut from above the break, or possibly attempting the open 3 if available. Essentially, he’ll be Meyers Leonard from Game 4 of the Western Conference Final — the man who scored 30 points and was second to Lillard on the Blazers in touches (79).
So, that’s one way Gasol’s evening plays out. The other option is almost diametrically opposed. Golden State has a long, established history of running big, plodding centers like Gasol off of the court. Now, most of those centers don’t possess the intelligence in space on defense Gasol does; but, if Draymond Green ($10,600) is going to log major minutes at the five, Toronto’s obvious counter is also going small with Serge Ibaka ($4,200) and Pascal Siakam ($9,000). While this scenario might seem as likely to occur as the first, my feeling on the matter is coach Nick Nurse will have to have his hand forced into this type of rotation. For as good as Ibaka’s been in spurts during the postseason, he still has managed just 8.7 points per game with an anemic 21.7% field goal rate from beyond the arc. Gasol, meanwhile, is an adept passer who can stretch a defense with his ability to shoot. Lowry is clearly the safer secondary creator on the Raptors’ roster, yet Gasol’s price tag doesn’t match his ceiling for Thursday night. He’s a high-variance option who already has swung a few Showdown slates so far in these playoffs.
The other area in Toronto’s rotation that’s up for debate is shooting guard. Though there is no doubt Danny Green ($3,200) will start this evening’s contest, there is extreme hesitation to suggest the man who hit 27 3-pointers in the 2013 NBA Finals will be able to stay on the court. The issue with script Green faces is two-fold. First and foremost, his shot just hasn’t been falling. Green shot 46.5% on triples during the regular season and bumped that percentage to an even 50.0% on 3-pointers specifically from the corners. He was fantastic. However, in the conference finals, the North Carolina product shot a measly 4-for-23 from distance, including a dismal stretch of 1-for-15 in the final four games of the series. Additionally, Green canned only 27.3% of his wide-open attempts against Milwaukee, leaving the streaky Siakam as the lone Raptors player to shoot a lower rate on 3-point shots with no defender within six feet. The law of averages says Green will start making some shots, but even then, we’re discussing someone who rarely has exceeded 20.0 DKFP throughout the playoffs.
Green equally is impacted by the presence and recent play of Fred VanVleet ($5,400) and Norman Powell ($3,600). The former is honestly someone I expect to have a massive impact on these Finals. It’s not even so much about VanVleet shooting 14-for-17 from 3 in Toronto’s past three wins. Remember the aforementioned 4-on-3 scenarios? Well, it’s far more advantageous for the Raptors to be in those offensive situations with a guard who can create alongside Lowry. Green is a stationary shooter. VanVleet is a point guard who shoots well enough from distance to dabble as an off-ball threat. Plus, he’s had some success guarding Stephen Curry ($11,400) in 2018-19. VanVleet was Curry’s primary defender when Toronto defeated Golden State at Oracle Arena earlier this season without the services of Leonard. Curry shot just 3-for-12 in that loss. I expect to see a lot of the new father.
Golden State Warriors
With Kevin Durant already ruled out for Game 1 of this series with his calf strain, the Warriors’ offensive hierarchy is simplified. Stephen Curry ($11,400) is the squad’s primary scorer, as evidenced by a huge 33.4% usage rate in Golden State’s sweep of Portland. Klay Thompson ($8,400), meanwhile, will see the biggest bump in utilization, especially in the stretches he’s asked to lead the second unit with Curry and Draymond Green ($10,600) riding the bench. In fact, in the 59 possessions Thompson was on the floor minus his two All-Star teammates against the Blazers, he posted an extremely aggressive 38.1% usage rate. Then there’s Draymond. Tasked with doing literally almost everything else. Green only once broke the 20-point plateau during the Western Finals, yet still managed to score 1.41 DKFP per minute played. These three men will be taking part in their fifth straight NBA Finals on Thursday, and it’s not difficult to see why. What is a bit of a head-scratcher is which will have their fantasy impact negated by being in the unenviable position of being guarded by Kawhi Leonard?
My personal guess is Green. Now, considering most of the Michigan State product’s fantasy prowess comes from rebounding, ball distribution and defensive statistics; this isn’t necessarily a death sentence. There’s also the fact the Warriors’ uptempo attack and the Raptors’ highly switchable defensive nature likely will lessen the importance and propensity of particular one-on-one matchups. Additionally, Leonard manning up on Green in the half-court setting frees up Curry to continue dominating the NBA one shot at a time. Though Toronto possesses a bevy of capable perimeter defenders in Lowry, Danny Green and even Siakam; Curry’s viability on this slate seems like a lock. Heck, with Golden State’s inclination to go smaller since the loss of Durant, Curry even has averaged 14.8 rebounding chances per contest across the Warriors’ past four games. Not only is that number second on the team to Green’s output during the conference finals, it was the fourth-highest mark between all four teams still alive at that point of the season. If Curry’s going to get on the glass like a forward while scoring 36.5 points per night, I’m not sure how you fade him.
The two other key pieces of Golden State’s expected rotation are Andre Iguodala ($6,600) and Kevon Looney ($4,800). Iguodala’s return from his own calf injury is anticipated ahead of Game 1, and his presence all but would negate the immense value Alfonzo McKinnie ($2,800) has provided the DFS world in the veteran’s stead. However, the true value here is Looney. Despite not starting a single game in the Portland series, Looney logged 110 minutes of action across the four contests; a distinction that would place him behind only the likes of Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green. Looney hasn’t been highly involved in play calls — as a lowly 10.8% usage rate in the West Finals would suggest — but he has been incredibly efficient in his few opportunities. The 23-year-old owns a .750 true shooting percentage so far in the playoffs. It’s the highest mark of any qualified player. These are the types of things that happen when 18 of your 50 made field goals are dunks. In any case, Looney is the type of high-floor option in the mid-tier who makes getting both Curry and Leonard into the same lineup possible. He’s also not a player highly susceptible to chaos theory and variance. Which is good, because…
DeMarcus Cousins ($7,000) might actually play in tonight’s game. Steve Kerr has been cautious about divulging too much about what Cousins’ role might be if and when he does return; yet it widely has been reported Cousins has recovered from the quad injury he suffered April 15. The lone hurdle remaining is conditioning. That fact, paired with Kerr’s possible hesitance to screw up his team’s established chemistry, likely means Boogie in small doses if we get Boogie at all. Really, it would make the most sense to parse out Cousins in small minutes, mostly in an effort to stabilize bench units that lack Curry and Green. Whatever the case, if Cousins is active this evening, you’d be foolish to use him at his salary.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Cousins will be active for tonight’s game.
Without Durant, I think this series is closer than some people might realize. Toronto’s roster is littered with experienced, smart and decorated defenders, and the squad has produced a net rating of +12.4 points per 100 possessions at home so far in the NBA Playoffs. With this in mind, I think you’ll see Kerr approach this game with a less liberal rotation than he was deploying during the Warriors’ series against the Blazers.
That means the value on this slate truly can be unlocked by trusting mid-tier options like Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet and Kevon Looney ($7,200 CP) — the latter possibly even coming into play as a Captain’s Pick if you really want to attempt a stars-and-scrubs build. Kyle Lowry ($11,700 CP) is a slightly higher-end version of the same pursuit. However, there’s also no harm in going with the complete safety of Kawhi Leonard ($17,700 CP) or Stephen Curry ($17,100 CP).
Final Score: Toronto 108, Golden State 103
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.