The time has come for arguably the best (and longest) postseason in sports, the NBA playoffs. While watching the regular season is great fun, nothing compares to viewing the league's 16 best duke it out for the title. All of these teams will be playing at their highest level, and if you plan on playing DFS during the playoffs, you'll need to match that effort.
I'll probably hammer this home in every playoff article I do in the next month – you will not win a tournament contest without utilizing bench players. You might be able to find the right combination to play all starters, and that might be fine for cash games, but you won't win big money without grasping this concept.
Let's assume that on this four-game slate, four of the top-five producers will be in the starting lineup, which is a liberal estimate. To even it out, let's say two teams will have three top producers in their starting lineup and the other two will have four. That leaves us 14 starters and six bench players making up the top plays on the slate. Taking injured players, sixth men and recent results into account, identifying these six bench players will be your hardest task.
Before we tackle that, let's look at who resides at the top with $50-plus salaries Saturday. We see three players in the $50 range and as expected, Anthony Davis ($56), Kevin Durant ($50) and Ben Simmons ($48) top the list. Davis has the best history against his opponent, as he's put together 79 and 54-YFP performances against the Trail Blazers.
Ben Simmons will be the guiding force for the Sixers as long as Joel Embiid remains absent, so he gets an extra bump until they get their big man back. The Warriors begin their playoff march without Steph Curry, and while a lot of the burden will fall to Durant, I have to rank him behind both Simmons and Davis, and will continue to fade most Warriors until I see how the slow-paced Spurs affect their output in playoff mode.
Here's how we'll tackle everyone else Saturday. I will provide one higher-priced player and one low-cost player at each position, with a very small additional list of potential plays. We'll also fade one player at each spot.
DeMar DeRozan, TOR vs. WAS ($29): Out of the guards available, he saw the most consistent correlation between his projected output and actual results against his opponent, and while there isn't a high probability of an explosive number from the off-guard due to the wealth of talent around him, he has a fairly reliable floor and for the price he is one of the best starters with this kind of value.
Dwyane Wade, MIA at PHI ($13): With Goran Dragic playing through a sore knee, the Heat would be wise to showcase a battle-tested veteran who knows how to win, and though Tyler Johnson will also absorb some output, I like Wade as the better tournament play.
Additional guards to consider: Jrue Holiday, NO at POR ($37), Marco Belinelli, PHI vs. MIA ($11), Manu Ginobili, SA at GS ($10).
Guard to Avoid:
J.J. Redick, PHI vs. MIA ($18): While it looks like he'll be ready to go, he's playing through a back injury and despite Redick's consistent output, players like Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova have emerged as deep threats and could compromise Redick until he's at full strength. I think he'll do just fine, but I'll avoid any potential risk when possible.
Nikola Mirotic, NO at POR ($23): Mirotic's excellent play down the stretch is one of the main reasons why the Pelicans have gotten this far. He was just returning from injury when New Orleans last played the Blazers, so we don't have a good sample size for Mirotic against them, but out of all the playoff teams, Portland is one of the weakest defenses against power forwards, which is good news for Mirotic and Anthony Davis.
Justise Winslow, MIA at PHI ($12): Some of the first-round's best values will come from the Heat, but it's just a matter of predicting which value target will have the best opportunity. Although he naturally saw a few more minutes with the first unit in the final regular-season games, I think the Heat liked what they saw when they gave Winslow additional time, and he could easily emerge as one of the bigger surprises for Miami in this series.
Other forwards to consider: LaMarcus Aldridge, SA at GS ($41), Serge Ibaka, TOR vs. WAS ($19), Evan Turner, POR vs. NO ($10).
Forward to Avoid:
Draymond Green, GS vs. POR ($31): This is a bad price for Green in this series. He doesn't match up particularly well against the Spurs defense and while he redeemed himself with a big game against them in late March, he largely struggles against a team that can dominate the boards like San Antonio, and Green's output is heavily dependent on rebounding totals.
Once you get beyond Anthony Davis, the pickings get slim. I think Davis is best in both tournament and cash lineups, but if you went high elsewhere, finding a value center could be a difference-maker.
Hassan Whiteside, MIA at PHI ($28): Things could get interesting under the basket in this game, as the battle between Whiteside and Richaun Holmes ($12) likely will be a fun subplot to watch. While a lot of the fireworks will be out at the perimeter, the heavy lifting will be inside and both of these guys have the stuff to put up big numbers. I won't waste a highlight spot on Holmes, but I like him a lot on Saturday as well.
Jonas Valanciunas, TOR vs. WAS ($20): The Toronto big man will win the battle against Marcin Gortat in the paint as he's done fairly consistently this season. He's averaged close to a double-double over four games against the Wizards.
Center to Avoid:
Pau Gasol, SA at GS ($17): As I've said a million times, I don't like second-guessing Gregg Popovich, but it's fairly obvious that Gasol's been in the doghouse lately as the Spurs opted to go with Aldridge at the five and Kyle Anderson at the four more often than not, which has left him on the outside looking in. At this price, he might be a reasonable tournament play, but I'd probably balk at that idea as well.