If Sunday was defined by surging bench players on tanking teams earning valuable minutes and usage, Monday saw superstars on contenders thrive in what was a riveting preview of playoff basketball.
Using DFS results as a proxy for value, we find Russell Westbrook, Nikola Jokic and Eric Bledsoe atop the fantasy leaderboard last night, with each player producing a triple-double en route to pivotal wins for their respective teams.
Led by Westbrook's transcendent performance, the Oklahoma City Thunder clinched their eighth playoff berth in 10 seasons since moving from Seattle. Westbrook tallied his 25th triple-double of the season, grabbing a season-high 18 rebounds. Even as his team has secured a berth, it will be interesting to see how Westbrook performs on the glass on Wednesday against the Grizzlies, as he needs 16 boards to average a triple-double for a second straight season.
There was undoubtedly a playoff atmosphere in Denver on Monday, as the Jokic-led Nuggets won a tight battle with the Portland Trail Blazers to stay alive in the race for the final spot in the Western Conference, setting up a win-or-go-home matchup with Minnesota on Wednesday night.
During the past decade, there have been five performances with at least 15 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists -- and, including last night, Jokic claims two of them.
Denver's Gary Harris surprisingly returned to action -- which we all learned via another "Woj bomb" on Monday afternoon -- despite local reports suggesting his season was over. The Nuggets desperately need his defensive prowess and perimeter scoring efficiency on Wednesday night, so we can expect Harris to earn more than the 18 minutes and nine shots he had on Monday.
The value of high-end starters on contenders still playing for seeding will prove atypically high over the next two nights in both seasonal and DFS formats. The 76ers and Cavaliers are still jockeying for the third seed in the East while seven Western teams with mobility in seeding outcomes are truly incentivized to win their final game.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 23 points (8-21 FG), 18 rebounds, 13 assists, 6 TO
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: 15 points (5-14 FG), 20 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 2 TO
Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee Bucks: 20 points (7-17 FG), 12 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 steals, 3 TO
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers: 20 points (9-15 FG), 19 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 TO
Alonzo Mourning is more than just a meme legend, in fact he's one of just 10 players to ever score as many 40 points with 15 or fewer field goal attempts. This proves relevant, since the Brooklyn Nets' Crabbe joined this unique club on Monday against the Bulls. Crabbe missed just three shots from the field and sank all nine free throw attempts, leading to a ridiculous true shooting rate of 1.08 (true shooting percentage is a measure of shooting efficiency at all three levels). For some context, the truly elite true shooting rates hover around .600. Crabbe will likely prove affordable in drafts next season and could provide Korver-like value as a shooting specialist in weekly category and roto leagues.
Denver's Will Barton posted the team's second-best net rating on Monday, behind just Jokic. Barton is quietly concluding an awesome fantasy campaign, as he's 34th on the Player Rater by totals. During the broadcast of last night's game, it was cool to hear Damian Lillard discuss how Barton regularly flashed starting-caliber skills in practice when with Portland, where he averaged just 13.2 MPG his first three NBA seasons. Barton is an unrestricted free agent this summer in a free-agent class that proves shallow at the wing. Barton could really ascend fantasy-wise if he lands in a favorable spot for usage and opportunities.
The Spurs clinched their 21st straight playoff berth. Coach Gregg Popovich passed Phil Jackson for the longest streak of playoff appearances by a coach in NBA history. Imagine even making the fantasy playoffs for 21 straight years.
Luke Kennard of the Detroit Pistons is finally starting to get real burn of late, with 33.1 MPG and 12.5 shots per game during the past two outings. Kennard claims some upside as a shooting specialist next season on a team that is cap-strapped and likely won't be able to bring in much meaningful competition for shots and touches at the wing.
I'll repeat this useful refrain: check out our DFS NBA coverage as a tool for managing your season-long roster. The daily fantasy market is built to sift through the innumerous rotation shifts sure to hit just hours before tipoff tonight and tomorrow.
Injuries of note
Giannis Antetokounmpo missed Monday's game with the Orlando Magic due to a lingering ankle injury. It will be interesting to see his status for a tilt against the 76ers in South Philly on Wednesday that will likely prove important for Philadelphia's pursuit of the 3-seed and for the Bucks' own seeding.
The Timberwolves' Taj Gibson left last night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies with neck soreness. Keep an eye on his status for Wednesday, as he'll almost surely play heavy minutes if deemed active. If he's out, Gorgui Dieng becomes an intriguing spot starter.
The Suns list Marquese Chriss, TJ Warren, Devin Booker, Elfrid Payton and Josh Jackson as questionable for Tuesday's matchup with the Mavericks. Now that the Suns have secured the league's worst record, it will be interesting to see how they handle what can be considered minor injuries in most cases.
The Rockets have ruled out Ryan Anderson ruled out (ankle) ahead of tonight's game with the Lakers.
Andre Drummond sat out Monday's game against the Raptors with what was listed as an Achilles ailment. I'm willing to guess it's normal maintenance, but his managers will want to consider referencing this list of top rebounding opportunities around the league for some help in fantasy free agency. Widely available names include Kyle O'Quinn, Alex Len, Dragan Bender and Ersan Ilyasova.
Analytics advantage for Tuesday
Fantasy championships can often come down to a few rebounds or points or even a single steal. The minutia matters more than ever with so few minutes left in the fantasy playoffs in ESPN leagues. Managers must seek out shrewd streaming options with an eye on maximizing matchups.
Using a recent sample, we can identify the weakest rebounding teams by sorting the lowest rebounding percentages in April. Lottery-bound teams such as the Nets, Mavericks, Grizzlies and Magic are the weakest four on the glass during this sample.
We can also identify the sloppiest squads in regards to turnover rate, with the Grizzlies, Hawks, Nets, Hornets and Lakers surfacing as choice matchups. It's not that these rates always prove predictive, but I think matching up the top rebounding and steal rates available in free agency with ideal matchups is a savvy way to target such statistical needs.
The main point is to grind for the best matchups, as these final few decisions of the season could sway fantasy titles.
Top players to watch tonight
With so much uncertainty surrounding lineups tonight, it could prove difficult to find cost certainty from otherwise elite fantasy options in DFS. Which is to say, it might be tough to determine which of the expensive players to pay up for.
With this in mind, I'm focusing on the 76ers' Ben Simmons in the five-figure club, as his team must win out to stave of the Cavs for the third seed in the conference. Simmons is second only to Westbrook this season in touches per game and paces the league in passes per game. During the team's 14-game winning streak, the prodigious point forward is averaging 14.7 PPG, 10.9 APG, 10.1 RPG on 61 percent shooting from the field. No NBA team has ever ended the season on a 16-game winning streak.