Pace Yourself (Center Edition): NBA 2-21-19

Center is an interesting position across the DFS landscape. Primarily it has to do with site-specific scoring combined with what centers traditionally do on a basketball court. Since I am about to recommend three centers for tonight’s back-from-the-break slate, I thought it prudent to dive into why these might be more relevant choices for a site like FanDuel or Yahoo, but not as much for a site like DraftKings.

FanDuel and Yahoo have an identical scoring system:

Point – 1
Rebound – 1.2
Assist – 1.5
Steal – 3
Block – 3
Turnover – (-1)

DraftKings, on the other hand, scores NBA differently:

Point – 1
3 pt. made – .5
Rebound – 1.25
Assist – 1.5
Steal – 2
Block – 2
Turnover – (-.5)
Double-double – 1.5
Triple-Double – 3

It’s no surprise that we are looking for points, rebounds, and blocks from our centers (typically) and we are not as concerned with assists, three pointers, and steals from the position (again, typically). The turnover scoring on DraftKings also favors centers as FanDuel and Yahoo penalize all players twice as much for a turnover on their sites.

A simple analysis would tell us that points being equal, rebounds slightly in DK’s favor, blocks strongly in FD’s favor, turnovers strongly in DK’s favor, and the double-double bonus in DK’s favor – we should expect larger scores for centers on DK.

HOWEVER

What this broad generalization does not take into account is the type of center we may wish to deploy based on slate options and roster construction. Take, for example, the past five games from a couple of centers on the slate tonight:

In Cousins, we get to almost look at two centers in one. On one hand we have a historically dominant, high-usage big man who has been the focal point of offenses and displays an inside-out game that is tough to beat. On the other, Cousins so far this season is minutes-restricted, lower-usage, and less dominant as he recovers from an Achilles injury and adapts to life on a team of superstars.

In his games on Feb. 12 and Feb. 2, we saw flashes of the pre-injury Cousins, as he put up a combined 32 shots, double-doubled in both games with points and rebounds, and even hit one three pointer in each game. In throwback games like this, he will score higher on DraftKings, as the chart above shows.

For the other three games, we have what was seemingly a more timid Cousins on the floor. In these contests, he put up a combined 23 shots, 14 rebounds, and one three pointer made. Not surprisingly, he scores better on FD and Yahoo those nights. Also contributing are his stocks (steals+blocks). He averaged two stocks per game on Feb. 2 and 12, but averaged 3.67 his other three, lending his performances to better FD/Yahoo scores where those count for three points each.

This quick and dirty analysis begins to introduce for us a pattern that we will see from other mid- to low-priced centers.

Lopez is priced at $5,300 on FD and $4,500 on DK today, so we are talking about another cheap center play, but it’s clear that how he accumulates stats plays more into being rostered on FanDuel than DraftKings. Bro-Lo is a player who rarely double-doubles, his only one this season coming on Jan. 21, and is adept at piling up the steals and blocks – 22 total in his last seven games. This type of player is ideal for prioritizing FD over DK. Even the 2.4 three pointers Lopez makes per game this season are not enough to push him towards higher DK scoring in most cases. In fact, Lopez typically scores higher in DK only when he has low “Stock” numbers. Case in point is Feb. 8 when he had a total of one.

The scoring system flips in favor of DK when we start moving up the pricing list to the stud centers. Players like Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Nikola Vucevic consistently score better on DK because of regular double-doubles and a less punishing turnover score. These high-usage post players have reliably higher turnover numbers, but are not penalized as harshly as they are on FD/Yahoo.

Why does this matter? In the grand scheme of things we are sometimes talking about a couple points or fractions of points. In DFS, while information is more readily available and the edge that once existed among grinders is shrinking, any small advantage we can identify should be prepared to use in our favor. Especially on FanDuel where you are locked into one center, knowing the right plays at the right time can be the difference between a cash line and bust.

The cheap chalk tonight is clearly going to be Boban the Great, but if you are looking to differentiate, the following deserve a look:

DeMarcus Cousins ($7,600) – A recently got a news alert that read “Cousins no longer has a minutes limit.” Music to my ears. As long as the price stays under $9K with no minutes restriction, we should be jumping on Cousins as often as we can. The Warriors, despite being the 10th fastest team in Pace this season, get the biggest Pace bump of the night against Sacramento and are projected to score 3.3 more points per 100 possessions. Combine that with matchup against a team ranked 24th in defensive efficiency against centers and I am running to grab Cousins tonight. On a team with Curry, Thompson, Durant et al, Cousins is still demanding a 25.5% usage rate and is averaging 1.4 fantasy points per minute.

Al Horford ($8,000) – I would certainly want to pay $400 less for Cousins tonight in a track meet game, but if you really want to go YOLO tonight, Horford might be your man. The Celtics are projected for a 2.6 point pace bump tonight, despite the match-up against a stout Bucks defense. But the one vulnerable spot on Milwaukee is against centers, where they rank 29th of 30 teams. Horford has played in one of the two games against the Bucks this year, netting 36 FD points back in November. I wish the price was back in the mid-7K range we saw before the break, but the potential is still there for Horford to 5x his price tonight.

Jusuf Nurkic ($8,100) – Keeping with the theme, I would also want to pay just $100 more for Nurkic than I would for Horford, but there is one substantial question in Portland we need to solve to have full confidence in Nurkic. Obviously, we know what centers do to Brooklyn. They allow the third most FD points and real-life points to the position and have routinely been destroyed by players a lot less talented than Nurkic (i.e. 14 points, 11 rebounds, and six block for Al Horford). But with Enes Kanter joining the team post-break there is a wrinkle here that deserves monitoring. Will Kanter get traditional backup big-man minutes? Will the Blazers try to keep Nurkic fresh for the playoffs? His minutes are slightly down to only 27.3 per game, and while that’s plenty of time to destroy the Nets, if we start seeing a more 25-23 split in minutes among the two centers, I may have to rethink my usage.

But on the positive side, the Nets are 30th in the defense vs. archetype tool against players similar to Nurkic and with Embiid sitting tonight, Nurkic does project to have the highest point total for the position. On a fantasy points per minute basis, we have no worries about the Blazers big man tonight, but it’s the minutes we must watch. Tread carefully.

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