Mike Gallagher

NBA Matchups

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Opening Night NBA Matchups

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics

Team Totals: 76ers 101.75, Celtics 106.75

 

These two squads played each other four times in the regular season and five times in the playoffs as the Celtics coasted to a 4-1 victory, and head into this season with only minor changes on their 2017 opening-night rosters. Last season, the 76ers starters of Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid was among the best in the league with a +21.6 net rating on the year, but the Celtics had their number in the regular season with a -18.3 in just 14 regular-season minutes and a -12.0 net rating in 47 postseason minutes. The biggest change to the 76ers is the team expected to start Markelle Fultz over J.J. Redick. Coach Brett Brown has said he likes Redick off the bench as “lightning in a bottle” and he wasn’t starting Fultz just to up the 2017 No. 1 pick’s confidence after a disastrous rookie season.


Fultz played 253 minutes last regular season and 23 in the playoffs, and none of that time was with this new five-man unit. In the regular season, Fultz only played 51 minutes next to Ben Simmons and that wasn’t effective either at a -6.5 net rating. In that time, Fultz did actually score a decent amount with 16.8 points per 36 minutes, adding just 1.4 boards, 2.8 dimes and 0.7 steals. Fultz also didn’t exactly light it up in the preseason with a +2.9 net rating, and Synergy only had him as a 23rd percentile scorer in the preseason. Interestingly, a whopping 39 percent of his possessions came in transition, but only turned those 19 possessions into 12 points. That’s bad, and worse yet he was terrible as a transition player last year at just third percentile with that play accounting for 28 percent of his possessions. It’s going to be really tough for Brown to lean on Fultz. Expect him to be on a short leash and would be unlikely to close tight games. On the flip side, Redick could be a source of sneaky production off the bench and would almost be a lock to close in a down-to-the-wire game.


Ben Simmons scored one point” was basically trending on Twitter after the Celtics beat the 76ers on May 3, and most of the credit from Ben taking a step back from a monster Miami series was the defense of Al Horford both in the regular season and postseason. For the regular season over per 36 with Al on the floor compared to when he wasn’t, Ben’s points were down 4.9 with a usage rate dip of 3.7. It was worse in the postseason as coach Brad Stevens had Horford out there for 169 of the 183 minutes Ben played vs. Boston. Considering the matchup for Boston, it sure does make a lot of sense to start Aron Baynes again and bring Hayward off the bench (more below). Boston shouldn’t put either Jayson Tatum or Gordon Hayward on Joel Embiid, so if Hayward and Tatum do somehow start, that could be a positive for Ben. For now, he likely is looking at a subpar outing by Ballin’ Ben standards.


Like Ben, Joel Embiid had a bad run against Aron Baynes in the regular season. When Baynes was on the court in the regular season, Embiid’s usage rate dropped 5.4 percent and his true shooting percentage (TS%) dropped 13.6. In the playoffs, it dropped even more with a 6.4 drop. So is Embiid better now after really his first full season? Embiid led the NBA in postups last year, and he’s had a higher frequency in post-up plays in the preseason compared to last regular season. He also put up an NBA-high 36.0 usage rate in the preseason (among qualifiers) along with an increase in TS% compared to last season. His stats per 36 are also way up in the preseason at 33.8 points, 12.5 boards, 1.5 steals, 0.7 boards and 0.7 treys. He also didn’t even have success on treys this month. So trust it? Yes. Baynes is tougher than Bane in the The Dark Knight Rises (do you feel in charge?!), but it’s hard to deny a guy who should have at least a 32 usage rate and even respectable efficiency. Process over results.

 

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As for the rest of the team, The Homie Dario Saric says he’s going to be 110 percent after dealing with back soreness in the preseason. Against Boston, his points per game was just 0.3 points per game down against the Celtics last season compared to his season average while Robert Covington dropped 4.3 points vs. Boston. Both will likely need some unpredictable stats like steals and blocks or red-hot shooting to put up value. After that, it’s kind of a mess. Brett Brown is likely going to get T.J. McConnell in there to offset the frontcourt depth loss of Wilson Chandler (hamstring) and Mike Muscala (ankle). Amir Johnson will back up Embiid while we could see some Landry Shamet, who took over for Chandler earlier in the preseason. 


Coach Brad Stevens said he won’t reveal the starting lineup until tonight. Gordon Hayward is only expected to play 25-30 minutes for the first couple weeks of the season and he could be an option to come off the bench. Gordon didn’t look like a guy ready to make major contributions in the preseason with only a 17.3 usage rate and a 40.1 TS%. Hayward has also said the Celtics will be monitoring his minutes. It could be a bit before he turns into G Time again.


Kyrie Irving also didn’t exactly look like Peak Kyrie in the preseason either. In just two of the team’s four games, he had just a 21.0 usage rate (29.7 last season), his assists per minute were down compared to last year, and his efficiency dropped 5.2 TS% points. He did have a minor rib cage injury to keep him out of one game with rest in the other, but Stevens said Irving had a great week of practice leading up to tonight. Irving was above his standard against the 76ers last year with boosts in dimes, usage rate, TS%, rebound rate and even minutes per game, so the matchup won’t be a negative factor. Irving did play 29 minutes in the second preseason and after the Sunday game he said, “You won’t be seeing me [in our preseason game] on Tuesday.”  That could suggest Irving will be under his 32.2 minutes per game from last season to kick things off. He could come out guns blazin’ in 30 minutes tonight.


Al Horford’s offense has also improved against the 76ers with a three-point bump per game. On the year overall, Horford’s numbers had a downward trend (especially in season long), but it may not have been due to Kyrie missing time. Horford’s usage rate dropped after Kyrie’s season-ending injury, and basically every category dropped post-break excluding free throw shooting. He’s seen his scoring and overall usage drop post-break in each of the last four years, so it’s likely more about him being 32. It’s a new day and he’ll get his minutes in likely his best matchup in Stevens’ eyes, so Horford could be in for a strong debut at home.


Jayson Tatum had a rare season for a rookie coming in at 80th percentile among all players on points per possession, and no other qualifying rookie above his 19.1 usage rate comes close to his efficiency (Ben Simmons 2.9 TS% away, but high turnovers made him just 32nd percentile PPP). Unlike Horford, Tatum did see a noticeable bump without Kyrie posting a 23.5 usage rate in the final 13 games (more than 21.5 usage rate when Kyrie was even off the floor before season-ending injury). Although, Tatum’s efficiency was trending down on the whole as he cleared at least 62.7 TS% in each four 10-game set (first 10 games of year, second 10, etc.), and he failed to hit that in his final four 10-game sets. Still, usage rate spikes led him to bigger stat output. Volume is king. Tatum’s usage rate is up to 23.8 in the preseason, the Celtics have suggested they’ll be more open to making him more of a focal point rather than an ancillary piece of the offense, and he worked out with Kobe Bryant to work on his iso game. His regular-season numbers vs. Philly were similar to his normal ones (0.2 fantasy points per game difference), so we should get an early indication of how he’ll perform as he grows into an All-Star.


Postseason Jaylen Brown showed up with his 3.5 more points per game compared to regular season and his postseason usage rate jumped to 24.0 from 20.6. He was fairly efficient overall last year at 56.2 TS%, but is his 39.5 3P% sustainable as a guy who can’t make free throws? We'll see. He did struggle against the 76ers last year in the season, but he did score well in the playoffs thanks to a massive increase in usage. He only had a 22.0 usage rate in the two preseason games with Kyrie and he likely won’t get too much of it tonight.


Terry Rozier turned down an extension reportedly worth $12 million annually, and he’s played with a chip on his shoulder almost to a fault in the preseason. Rozier has almost been looking for tough shots, but still he led all Boston guards in eFG% in the preseason at 55.0. Most importantly, Rozier is getting minutes with Irving in the preseason and that duo even had a +10.6 net rating together in 29 minutes vs. Philly in three games together last year (+2.7 in 535 minutes in regular season). If Irving is only going to be at around 30 minutes, Rozier should be filling in for 18 minutes at backup PG and around 8-10 minutes next to him, so Rozier could be one of the sneakiest fantasy options in DFS and season-long leagues.


Besides these guys, it’ll likely be about matchups with Marcus Smart filling in for some three-guard lineups, Marcus Morris playing some combo forward, and of course Aron Baynes getting some time on The Process. We should see a little of Semi Ojeleye, too.



Score Prediction: Celtics 109, 76ers 104


Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State Warriors

Team Totals: Thunder 106.5, Warriors 117.5

 

Russell Westbrook (knee) is out for the opener following an arthroscopic knee procedure back on Sept. 12. The team has said they won’t rush him back, this is his fourth procedure on his right knee and some of his practice reps have been called controlled contact. He has no target date yet either. Westbrook holds the record for usage rate in a season two years ago and still had a 32.5 last season with more help.


Paul George ranked second in the preseason in usage rate at 33.2 (qualifiers), and he went off last year without Westy and Carmelo Anthony on the floor. Last year in that instance, PG-13 had per-36 stats of 27.8 points, 5.1 boards, 4.0 dimes, 2.0 steals and 3.3 treys on a 498 minutes sample. Yeah, Dennis Schroder is here now, but those stud stats don’t hold a candle to how he fared in the preseason. Over 70 preseason minutes he had per-36 stats of 36.4 points, 7.7 boards, 3.1 dimes, 3.6 steals, 1.0 blocks, and 4.1 treys. He’s about as must-start as it gets for DFS today (was above average vs. GS last year) and he’s a top-10 option in season-long leagues.


The trade to land Dennis Schroder looks a lot better these days as he’ll be starting to get OKC’s season off the ground. In a decent four-game preseason sample at 24.4 minutes per game, Schroder had a Westy-like usage rate at 29.9, posting per-36 stats of 22.5 points, 6.3 boards, 8.1 dimes, 0.7 steals, 1.8 treys and 4.1 turnovers. He got to the line a bunch and he’s a solid understudy for Westbrook’s offensive style with overall sloppy efficiency. Schroder actually ran more PNR ball-handler possessions per game than Westbrook did last year, and Schroder probably doesn’t get enough credit for being a 90th percentile scorer in isolation off over 200 possessions. He’s mostly fared well against the Warriors and should have every opportunity to showcase himself to coach Billy Donovan.


After those two flirting with a near 65 usage rate most nights, there won’t be much else available. Raymond Felton was third on the team in usage rate in the preseason at 26.1, and he’ll almost be forced into an offensive role when Schroder is on the bench. Although, early signs in the preseason suggest Felton won’t get many minutes (if any) next to Schroder after Ray subbed for only Schroder in the last two first halves and vice versa.


There are still remaining backcourt minutes with Andre Roberson (knee) out for a couple months. Terrance Ferguson was able to practice on Sunday and has cleared the concussion protocol. Before his injury, Donovan threw him out there a lot with 30.5 minutes per game over two outings, averaging just 6.0 points, 2.0 boards, 2.0 dimes, 0.5 steals and 1.0 treys -- one game was without PG, too. He’s almost always going to have to make his money on wide-open shots and scoring off steals. Ferguson did get the start just before his injury and he may get the nod even tonight with missed practice time.

 

If that’s a concern, could second-round pick Hamidou Diallo be the guy? Diallo was a bright spot in Vegas, and his Oct. 9 game shined brighter than most rookies with 19 points, five boards, four dimes, one steal, one block and three 3-pointers over 40 minutes with both PG and Dennis in the lineup. It was a little skewed to the second half, and this also hinges on Ferguson not playing in the second half with two Diallo third quarters at 9.5 minutes per game sans T-Ferg and only 3.5 in the first two games with him. Diallo offers the higher upside of all the non-stud perimeter guys.


Shifting to the PF/C area, Steven Adams (back) is a game-time decision for this one. The lower back injury was a surprise to the injury report after no indication was given following the preseason finale. Before this news, he looked terrific over his 24.4 preseason minutes per game, averaging 11.0 points, 9.8 boards, 1.8 dimes and 1.3 blocks. He would also greatly benefit without Westbrook out there because he won’t have to gift Westbrook defensive rebounds -- his preseason defensive rebounds per 36 are up 2.2. Adams’ usage rate is also up 2.7 in the preseason. His stats vs. GS are about the same and he should offer a high floor most nights without Westbrook. If he’s starting, he’s an option.


If he’s not starting? Well, it might be Nerlens Noel going from the hot-dog stand to the penthouse in a primetime opener game. He certainly looks healthy now over his 22.5 minutes per game in the preseason, averaging 6.3 points, 8.5 boards, 1.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.0 blocks (28.5 DFS points). OKC won’t be playing him next to Adams, and there’s no reason to think Adams at just age 25 will be under his 32.7 minutes per game when healthy. Pat Patterson can be unplayable at times against the Warriors, so Noel is an option with the Adams on the injury report. Even if we don't get news on Adams, Noel will be worth a GPP flier.


Jerami Grant also found extra usage this preseason at 20.8, but he didn’t use it well at just 31.4 percent from the field. Poor shooting aside, Grant still had a good run stuffing the stat sheet with 18.8 DFS points over just 22.6 minutes. With Steven Adams not 100 percent, Donovan should trot out Grant as a five to help the switchability against the Warriors. It's a very favorable spot.


Deonte Burton also flourished at times with a magnificent run in OT last week, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is fitting in behind Paul George, and Alex Abrines is still healing from knee soreness to limit him this month.

The NBA is ruined. You can stop reading now. It was only the preseason, but Stephen Curry had a ridiculous 77.6 TS% on a 29.0 usage rate over his 81 minutes in this preseason thanks to 6.2 made treys per 36. It’s easy to focus on his ankle issues, but Curry was unbelievably efficient last season at a 67.5 TS% on a 28.9 usage rate. That was even better than his unanimous MVP season at 66.9 TS%, and he was even better at home last season at a 68.9 TS%. He also had a nice 69.2 TS% in his 27 regular-season games during 2018 as he gets even better as the most efficient high-volume player of all time. For the matchup, he was a little below average against OKC last season, he had an OK ring night game last year, but he went nuclear in his first right night with a 40/6/7 against the Pelicans. Last season, he is also unfair in PNR (96th percentile last year), off-screen (91) and spot-up (97) plays, and Dennis Schroder was bad at defending PNR (25th percentile), spot-up (21) and off-screen (28).  Just about all signs point to Curry having tremendous efficiency, so really the main thing that could hold him down is if the Warriors are up by 25 at half.



Kevin Durant was basically in the same category as Steph as an ultra-efficient player last year 64.0 TS% on a 29.3 usage rate, and his preseason hasn’t dropped off too much at 62.8 TS% on a 28.8 usage rate. There’s little need to breakdown KD as he enters a near-identical offensive situation until DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles) gets back. Somewhat surprisingly, KD’s DFS points took a slight hit against OKC last season, but he torched them two years ago, including the two home games at 58.7 DFS points per outing. It’s a better matchup for Chef Curry, but KD could obviously go off vs. his old team off back-to-back Finals MVPs.


Klay Thompson did see an increase to his usage rate in the preseason with a star-like 29.6, but the Warriors rotated in their studs for rest days -- he went off for 30 when Curry rested and blew up for 21 in 18 minutes the night KD sat. Klay was able to do a little extra damage on offense as Steph recovered from ankle issues, which led to Klay posting a 26.1 usage rate in minutes without Steph compared to just 19.2 with him -- it’s 30.2 without both Steph and KD. His shots when he held the ball for under two seconds last season accounted for 73.7 percent of his shot total, and he’ll continue to thrive in that role this season. Klay could be in a different spot tonight because he may not have to exert as much energy to defend Russell Westbrook, and that could’ve been why his DFS points dropped almost seven points per contest in matchups vs. OKC.


Draymond Green was limited in the preseason to just 41 minutes over two games due to a knee issue. In that time, he couldn’t have been much worse with only 1.5 points per game on a 21.8 TS% and a 10.1 usage rate. Dray will never get into the 20s for usage rate on this team and he might even fail to hit the teens when Boogie shows up. While Dray won’t have a hard minutes cap, the Warriors have been talking about playing Kevin Durant more at center as Dray recovers and coach Steve Kerr said on Monday he’s trying to get Dray’s conditioning up. It might take until Halloween before Dray hands out the fantasy treats.


With Dray limited, that could open up minutes for the bigs, and Andre Iguodala may not be 100 percent all season after he said he’s dealt with his neck and back going out a lot, including in the preseason. Jordan Bell is already familiar with playing next to the four All-Stars with 21 minutes in the regular season and a whopping 59 in the postseason as GSW’s fourth-most used combo on their title run. He’ll see time at center tonight, and he’s started at power forward in the last preseason game sans Dray. Kerr does seem to like him with Kevon Looney and those two will lock down basically all of the backup minutes at the four and five. Bell’s preseason numbers could be a decent indicator of the regular season, averaging 5.2 points, 5.6 boards, 2.0 dimes, 1.4 blocks and 0.4 steals. He’ll offer much more upside in season-long fantasy leagues for blocks while he could be a punt option most nights, including this one tonight.


Damian Jones will be getting the start tonight after he answered the call from Kerr in the preseason. His preseason 9.0 points per game may have been a little skewed from the All-Stars rest, but he rebounded well and dished out two dimes per game to get him to 22.8 DFS points per game. He also received high praise from Kevin Durant as he compared Jones to Steven Adams, and again he could see a bump in minutes tonight because the Hamptons Five may not see any time tonight. DFS wise, he offers a higher floor than Bell mixed with dash of ceiling as a possible garbage-time beneficiary. As for Kevon Looney, he doesn’t quite offer the floor like Jones does while he doesn’t have the upside of Bell.


Shaun Livingston should be available as he an Quinn Cook will fill in some of the bench guard minutes.


Score Prediction: Warriors 124, Thunder 105


Well, that’ll do it for my first crack at this edition. I’ve found a new appreciation for Evan Silva’s NFL Matchups column and I’ll appreciate any feedback from you guys on what to do for my Tuesday column going forward.


This was a pretty stat-heavy column, so let’s end on a lighter side with the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. NBA BACK!


 


All stats used are from Synergy or NBA.com.



Mike Gallagher has covered fantasy hoops for eight years and this season is his second with Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter talking about a player's shots at the rim.
Email :Mike Gallagher



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