While injury uncertainty has started to define the NBA Playoffs as a whole, we at least know who’s playing in tonight’s contest between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets. James Harden (hamstring) remains out after logging just 43 seconds of action in Saturday’s Game 1 victory, while Jeff Green (foot) will also be unavailable for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.
How do these absences effect Monday’s Showdown slate? Let’s dive in and break it all down.
Giannis Antetokounmpo ($18,300 CP) - This isn’t exactly a shocking development, right? With Brooklyn choosing to start small in Game 1, Antetokounmpo could essentially get whatever he wanted in the paint all day long, as the reigning MVP finished 16-for-24 from the field with 34 points and 57.75 DKFP. In theory, the Greek Freak could have done even more damage, yet Antetokounmpo wound up shooting 0-for-3 from the charity stripe — just the second time all season that the forward failed to register a made free throw in a game. I’d expect some normalization in that regard on Monday, along with the possibility of a few extra minutes as the Bucks look to avoid an 0-2 series hole. In any case, Antetokounmpo has exceeded 60.0 DKFP in three of his five playoff starts in 2021 and few assets in the league can match his ceiling in a competitive script.
Kyrie Irving ($15,900 CP) - With Harden off the floor this season, both Irving and Kevin Durant ($11,800) posted usage rates of above 30%. When the “Big 3” becomes the “Big 2” each is obviously asked to shoulder more of the burden, and that’s exactly what we saw in Game 1. In fact, Irving ended up logging an eye-popping 44.6 minutes in the victory — easily the most run he’s received in a regulation contest so far this season. So, what separates Irving and Durant in terms of viability? What is it that makes me lean towards the guard? Honestly, it mostly comes down to the $1,200 difference in salary. However, I do also like how Irving’s skill-set contrasts the Bucks’ preferred defensive profile. Milwaukee has always packed the paint and protected the rim under Mike Budenholzer, as the team allowed 37.4 opponent three-point attempts per 100 possessions during the regular season — the fourth-most in the NBA. In Game 1, Irving led all players with 11 tried from distance. He made only three. I guarantee that figure will improve going forward.
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Blake Griffin ($4,400) - It’s very easy to point out that Griffin is vastly underpriced for someone coming off a 46.0 DKFP performance in Game 1, but the real storyline with the veteran is sustainability. Griffin logged fewer than 21 minutes in four of his five starts versus the Celtics, and the former All-Star failed to make a single three-pointer in the series. Can we trust that what we saw on Saturday is real? Well, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that 35 minutes and 18 points will be the new baseline, I do think Griffin is going to play a huge role this evening. Harden’s injury opens up a lot of minutes, and though the forward and the former MVP are incredibly different archetypes, Griffin’s play-making abilities do give the Nets a third creator on the floor with Irving and Durant. I don’t think we’ve reached Captain’s Pick territory with Griffin, but he slides into a UTIL spot with ease.
Mike James ($2,600) - James is another Brooklyn asset that should justifiably receive a lot of attention on this slate. The guard barely saw the floor against Boston in the first round; however, after Harden’s exit less than a minute in Game 1, James played 30.2 minutes, finishing with 12 points, seven assists and 26.25 DKFP. His 15.6% usage rate within that run was pretty modest, but James is averaging 0.96 DKFP per minute for the season as a whole. He’s proven he doesn’t need to be the offensive focal point to produce, especially at a price point this far down the board. In fact, with James a candidate to exceed 10x value this evening, there’s a case to be made for the 30-year-old at Captain.
Khris Middleton ($9,600) - Believe me when I say that this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to Middleton’s awful shooting performance in Game 1. Instead, let’s discuss the fact that the All-Star has failed to register even 40.0 DKFP in a non-OT game so far in these playoffs. Simply put, Jrue Holiday ($9,200) has been the Bucks’ second-best fantasy asset since the beginning of the first round, as Holiday has played more minutes (181) than Middleton and has averaged more DKFP per minute in that opportunity (1.12). With Middleton, Holiday and Antetokounmpo accounting for 65.3% of Milwaukee’s shot attempts on Saturday, the Bucks’ game plan is pretty top-heavy. Still, you’ll have to fade one of the team’s best players, and right now, the clear choice is Middleton.
Game 1 wasn’t nearly as close as the final score suggests — the Nets were up 19 when the Bucks finally pulled their starters — but I do think Milwaukee has a chance to bounce-back in Game 2. In 2021, you’re just not going to win many contests when you shoot 20.0% from three-point range and 57.9% from the free throw line. When the Bucks stop bricking shots like an overmatched college team, they should be able to keep up with Brooklyn. In fact, I think they’ll be able to steal home court advantage.
Final Score: Milwaukee 121, Brooklyn 117
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