The Miami Heat's victory against the surging Suns in Phoenix on Thursday evening was likely a little sweeter for combo guard Goran Dragic, who was traded from Phoenix to Miami at the deadline in 2015.
Dragic delivered 25 points and 10 combined rebounds and dimes in the victory over his former club last night, marking his third game of the season with at least 21 points. The quality effort would have been good for Dragic's sixth-best game score of last season -- a linear version of player efficiency rating that rewards offensive efficiency.
Last season was marred by injuries and inconsistent play from Dragic, which is likely why the fantasy market largely overlooked him in drafts this fall. Even now, Dragic can be added for the price of a roster spot in more than half of ESPN leagues despite enjoying career-highs in 3-point volume and efficiency.
My favorite indicator of Dragic's revival is that he's getting to the line an impressive five times per game this season, his highest rate since his last full season in Phoenix. Another strong advanced metric for Dragic is that he's making 64.7% shots at the rim after hitting just 57.5% last season. Thriving as Miami's sixth man, Dragic could even gain value if an eventual trade lands him in a starting role later this season.
Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat: 34 points (11-16 FG), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 TO
Aldridge netted a season-high in scoring, good for his 11th career 35-point game with Spurs and the 29th such performance of his career. Aldridge's 82.6 shooting percentage marks the highest in a game in his career (min. 15 FGA) and is also the highest shooting percentage from the floor in a game by a Spurs player since David Robinson in April 1995.
Aldridge's teammate Dejounte Murray produced a career-high 10 assists, good for his 10th career double-double (a measure of a what a special rebounding force the guard has become). Murray has been brought along somewhat slowly this season with just 23 MPG, but there is real potential for a breakout from Murray midseason given how special his defensive (2.2 stocks per game), rebounding (8.0 RPG) and distribution rates (5.4 APG) prove in limited exposure this season. You can still find Murray in free agency in more than a third of ESPN leagues.
Dragic's new teammate Butler produced a season-high 34 points, including 30 in the first half on just 11 shots to become the first Heat player with a 30-point half since LeBron James on March 18, 2014 against the Cavaliers. After missing the first week due to paternity leave, Butler has been brilliant as a relatively low-usage superstar for Miami. It would be nice from a fantasy perspective if Butler could take more than 12.8 shots per game, but I'm assuming some heavier lifting in the scoring department is inevitable for Butler as the season matures.
The Clippers' Lou Williams continues to be the ultimate sixth man; his 26 points in a win over Portland last night marked the 76th game of his career with at least 25 points off the pine in an NBA game, tying Ricky Pierce for the most games since starters were first denoted in box scores in 1970-71.
The Celtics won in Charlotte last night and are now 6-1 atop the Eastern Conference standings, good for the best seven-game start to a season since going 6-1 to start 2010-11. The main story remains Gordon Hayward's revival, as he delivered his ninth career game on Thursday night with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, but only his second since joining the Celtics -- the other came against the Bucks last week. Congratulations are in order to those who invested in Hayward this season, as all signs point to this being a legitimate return to All-Star-caliber production for the forward.
For the Hornets, PJ Washington became just the fifth rookie in franchise history to record at least five blocks in a game, something Alonzo Mourning somehow did 27 times in 1993. Washington, currently slashing for 13.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.0 BPG and 1.0 SPG on the season to go with 1.8 3PG on a likely unsustainable 45.2% from 3-point range. The sample is decidedly small thus far, but if Washington sustains his defensive rates along with respectable shooting prowess, he could become just the second rookie ever to average at least one steal, one block, and 1.8 3PG, joining Paul Pierce's stellar 1998-99 campaign with Boston.
The Hornets' Devonte' Graham nearly posted a double-double in points and dimes Thursday, and while these daily endorsements might get tiresome, it's time to go acquire the breakout guard, as he can still be found in free agency in 57 percent of ESPN leagues as of Friday morning.
Injuries of note
The Warriors get back at least one of their All-Stars tonight with D'Angelo Russell listed as probable after missing several games with an ankle ailment. Likely to consume an awesome usage rate as a key offensive force on such a young and patchworked roster, Russell could be a sneaky-strong DFS play if he's afforded lots of minutes tonight against Minnesota.
Analytics advantage for Friday
For those seeking some differentiation when sifting for the best games to target for DFS purposes during Friday's somewhat massive 11-game slate, we can turn to the desert to identify some underrated fantasy climates. For instance, the Cavaliers are in Washington tonight to face the Wizards in a game likely to fly under the radar despite claiming the third-highest point total of the slate. The Wizards are 27th in defensive rating (112.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) and the Cavs sit at 23rd (110.4), thus Vegas recognizes these generous defenses.
This matchup opened at 227 points on Thursday and has been pushed to 229.5 across most books by Friday morning, suggesting there is an expectation for this contest to prove fun for offensive production. Streaming the likes of Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, Davis Bertans and Isaiah Thomas appears reasonable given the statistical promise this game offers.
The same can be said for the Blazers in Brooklyn tonight in a game with a slate-best total of 233. The third game with atypical promise tonight is found in New Orleans, with the up-tempo Pelicans likely to increase the pace against the Raptors at home. It's not just about sifting through the player pool on such deep NBA slates, but also working to identify the ideal matchup metrics, as well.
Top players to watch tonight
This one is a bit unique, but I'm most intrigued by OG Anunoby for the aforementioned Raptors. The young wing is a free agent in 60 percent of ESPN leagues, even as he joins Karl-Anthony Towns as the only players this season averaging at least 1.7 BPG, 1.4 SPG, and 1.9 3PG. Truly the epitome of "3-and-D" value, Anunoby will likely directly guard Brandon Ingram often tonight in an awesome matchup of talented forwards.