By Eric Romoff
Under normal circumstances, 11 games in the NBA would feel like a big slate. Coming off a stretch of three games, 13 games and another three games preceding tonight’s action; this week in the NBA has been anything other than normal. Because of the tiny slate last night, we don’t have to contend with anyone playing in back-to-back nights and instead will be looking to exploit the upside of elite players in plus matchups. Most of the games tonight carry solid totals, ranging from 214.5 to 225, with the outlier being a Pistons/Cavaliers game that features a pitiful 200.5 over/under. On the night there are several games that feature fast-paced teams who are allowing certain positions to exceed their average fantasy output and there is where I’ll be focusing my investment for the Friday slate.
Nikola Jokic | C | Denver Nuggets
Jock MKT Projection – 57.33 (1st)
Max IPO Bid -$14.95
Break-Even Rank – 5.05
Clearly, I’m taking a huge risk tonight by recommending you invest in the highest-projected player on the board. As is the case in a real portfolio, your Blue Chips are the holdings that carry a significant price tag but can be relied upon to deliver steady returns and Nikola Jokic fits that mold to a tee. On the season, Jokic has broken the 40-point threshold in all nine of his games and his lowest-scoring output was a 44-point effort against the Jazz where Rudy Gobert’s length found Jokic with his lowest rebounding total of the season (six). A mid-40’s output is generally flirting with a top-five finish on Jock MKT and gives Jokic one of the best floors of the players available tonight. What I like most about this play is the broader dynamics of the market and how it affects IPO bidding. Despite finishing as the top-scorer three times, with a second-place effort of 66.75 on his ledger as well, Jokic is often not the most expensive player on the board when IPO strikes. I feel like the name recognition and scoring prowess of players like Giannis and Durant will draw some attention away from Jokic and create a situation we can exploit. He is facing Atlanta tonight who is middle-of-the-road in points allowed to opposing centers but Jokic and his 30lb size advantage over Clint Capela should be able to stay plenty active on the boards and contend for the top spot on tonight’s slate.
Russell Westbrook | PG/SG | Los Angeles Lakers
Jock MKT Projection – 43.84 (11th)
Max IPO Bid -$9.25
Break-Even Rank – 13.5
Sometimes these plays just boil down to simple math. LeBron James is once again ruled out for the Lakers and in the six games Russell Westbrook has played without LeBron, he is averaging 21.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 10 assists and 1.7 steals. Westbrook isn’t the most efficient player out there and the way Jock MKT scores missed shots drives his scoring average down to 48.04 over that span of games. Even still, he’d simply need to have an average game by his standards to bring a return of nearly 50% on the $9.35 IPO bid I’m recommending. Tonight’s game against Minnesota pits together the fastest and eighth fastest teams in pace of play and should provide the platform for Westbrook to stuff the stat sheet yet again. The Timberwolves do an effective job of stymieing opposing point guards but the positionless nature of the Lakers’ rotation should provide Westbrook considerable minutes in more favorable matchups that he can exploit. On such a star-studded slate, Westbrook’s fair market value is likely to be considerably depressed. I’m willing to bid aggressively to tap into Westbrook’s top-10 upside but fully expect his strike price to settle in below $9.00 when the market opens tonight.
Tony Bradley | C | Chicago Bulls
Jock MKT Projection – 21.87 (99th)
Max IPO Bid -$3.15
Break-Even Rank – 50.5
News broke late yesterday that Nikola Vucevic, the starting center for the Chicago Bulls, had tested positive for COVID-19 and would enter the NBA’s protocol for the next 10 days. In their very busy offseason acquiring top-flight players for their starting rotation, Chicago left themselves very thin on their bench and with very few options to step up in Vucevic’s absence. Looking at their depth chart, Tony Bradley and Alize Johnson appear to be the most likely candidates. Of the two, Bradley has out-paced Johnson in playing time 78/59 and has been getting run in relief of Vucevic more often since the start of November. There isn’t a ton to love about Bradley’s game, but he does fit the role of a traditional big man more naturally and has shown an ability to be an effective rebounder in his limited run this season. If Bradley can flirt with upper-20’s minutes as the backfill to Vucevic, who is playing 34.2 minutes on average, a 10/10 performance is pretty well-represented on his range of outcomes, which means Bradley can bring considerable returns relative to his bargain-basement IPO price. I’d imagine we see his projection adjusted once the starters are announced but I don’t think that will influence his price tag much as acquiring a journeyman backup is typically a proposition that most investors will shy away from.