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The Numbers Game

Conference Finals Preview

by Ryan Knaus
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET


This playoff edition of the Numbers Game takes a look at both Conference finals, with a view toward DFS value, before quickly recapping recent coaching news for the Pacers, Kings, Magic, Knicks, Nets and Rockets. There's a lot to discuss, so let's begin.


Raptors, Cavs advance to Eastern finals


The headline on Sunday was Toronto's 116-89 Game 7 victory, propelling them to the Conference finals vs. a very well-rested Cavaliers team. The Raptors' offense finally looked fluid, with guys like Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll knocking down open shots, while their star backcourt combined for 63 points, 35 of which came from Kyle Lowry.


Bismack Biyombo racked up 17 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks and was once again a massive factor in a game that was otherwise devoid of true centers. His play in the middle helped the Raptors earn a 50-30 edge in rebounds, including a 20 offensive boards (the first playoff team with 20 OREB since the Lakers in 2012). Miami's defeat signals the start of a momentous offseason with Hassan Whiteside, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson all entering unrestricted free agency. There's also uncertainty about how Chris Bosh's recurring blood clots might impact his future in the NBA, giving Pat Riley plenty to think about this summer.


Miami's defense was impressive all season but it can't be overlooked that they were playing without both Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside -- the Raptors face a more formidable opponent in Cleveland. The Cavs are a perfect 8-0 in the postseason and they boast the highest effective FG% of any playoff team, besting even the Warriors. They're shooting a ridiculous 44.6% from 25 feet and beyond, while the Raptors finished the regular season ranked 29th in 3-point defense -- opponents made 37.3% from deep vs. Toronto, and only the Suns were more lenient. Keep an eye on the 3-point line.


From a DFS standpoint, I'm inclined to avoid most of the Raptors in this series. One of the simplest reasons is how heavily reliant their offense is on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, as shown in the playoff usage data below:


2016 Postseason Usage %
DeMar DeRozan 31.0%
Kyle Lowry 25.9%
Jonas Valanciunas 22.2%
Terrence Ross 20.0%
Cory Joseph 18.3%
Delon Wright 17.8%
Norman Powell 15.3%
Luis Scola 15.0%
DeMarre Carroll 14.1%
Patrick Patterson 12.7%
Bismack Biyombo 12.3%
James Johnson 8.6%
Jason Thompson 8.6%
Lucas Nogueira 7.9%


Those usage rates for DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson help to explain why they've been DFS duds relative to their playing time -- scoring accounts for more than half of total value in nearly all DFS leagues, so guys who don't get shots will always struggle to produce. Jonas Valanciunas (sprained right ankle) was still limping on Sunday and Dwane Casey said he's "nowhere close to being ready," so it sounds quite unlikely that he'll be ready for Game 1. That's good news for Bismack Biyombo's outlook, but I'm still not viewing him favorably. The Heat were defending him with guys like Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson...you get the idea. The Cavs, on the other hand, have enough length and size to give Biyombo difficulty around the rim, and they were singularly brutal against centers in DFS this regular season. That extends to most positions, actually, as seen below:


Cavs' DFS Value vs. Position Rank
PG 15th
SG 25th
SF 26th
PF 27th
C 28th

That amounts to risk atop risk for most Raptors' players, with Kyle Lowry as an exception -- with copious touches and the Cavs' relatively lenient defense vs. PGs, it should be safe to plug K-Low into your lineups this series. Everyone else, beware: “We know who we’re playing,” LeBron said on Sunday. “We’re going to start diving in on their personnel, diving in on what they do best. They were chasing us all year for the No. 1 seed. We look forward to the matchup." 


Let's take a look at how the Raptors fared defensively for DFS purposes this season:


Raptors' DFS Value vs. Position Rank
PG 30th
SG 20th
SF 27th
PF 23rd
C 25th

It's another lousy matchup but that's par for the course in the playoffs, particularly in the East. I've already mentioned one wrinkle that could prove to be a difference-maker, and that's Toronto's surprisingly bad 3-point defense. Cleveland comes in simply scorching from downtown, getting gaudy percentages from Channing Frye (57.1%), Kyrie Irving (53.8%), Richard Jefferson (53.3%), J.R. Smith (50.8%), Kevin Love (44.4%), and even Iman Shumpert (46.2%). It's very unlikely that those numbers will continue in this series, but it gives DFS owners something to think about when considering a fringe guy like J.R., or a straight punt option like Frye. 


In terms of Cleveland's stars, LeBron James should remain a rock-solid play. He's methodically picking teams apart with averages of 23.5 points on 49.7% shooting, 8.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.4 steals, though a slight decline could be coming against DeMarre Carroll and the Raptors' defense. Kyrie Irving is hard to like against the single-worst team for PG value this season, and Kevin Love is similarly limited by the matchup, but both guys are at least in the conversation thanks to reasonable prices on most DFS sites.


Thunder, Warriors advance to Western finals


The Warriors defeated a scrappy Blazers team in a five-game series that felt longer, aided by Stephen Curry's impressive play after returning from a sprained knee -- he sure looked healthy while scoring an NBA-record 17 points during overtime in Game 4. The unanimous MVP now leads his team into a matchup with the surging Thunder, who upset the Spurs with impressive defense and dominant interior play. The Western Conference finals could hinge largely on the style of play, with Golden State trying to force OKC to abandon their big-ball lineups. Will Steven Adams and Enes Kanter be able to stay on the court vs. lineups that feature Draymond Green at center?


Las Vegas' over/under for Game 1 of this series is 224 points, which is 22 points higher than the Cavs vs. Raptors. That inherently provides more opportunities for players on OKC and Golden State, and there's no lack of intriguing DFS players in the matchup.


The only prominent injury concern is Andrew Bogut, who is questionable for Game 1 due to a strained right adductor. The thigh injury didn't prevent Bogut from practicing on Sunday, however, and Stephen Curry said that the big man "looked pretty springy ... He was moving around and did pretty much everything in practice." If Bogut can't suit up it will be Festus Ezeli getting the start at center, in which case he and Marreese Speights would be intriguing punt options.


Draymond Green's ankle injury isn't threatening his status, and Stephen Curry's right knee is a matter of "pain tolerance", so those ailments are worth monitoring. The matchups are more favorable than they are in the East, giving Green, Curry and Klay a strong series outlook in what should be a very up-tempo postseason series. Even Draymond, who should see plenty of Serge Ibaka's defense, has enough speed and versatility to negate an otherwise poor positional matchup.


The battle between Steph and Russell Westbrook should be epic and you don't need a rooting DFS interest to be excited about the matchup, though it wouldn't be surprising to see a lot of defensive cross-matches at PG. Westbrook and Curry look bullet-proof for fantasy purposes, but you'll need to have a scrub-laden lineup to afford them both.


Golden State's defense is often overshadowed by their monumental offensive performances, but they ranked fourth in defensive efficiency this regular season and OKC will need their role-players to step up if they hope to advance to the Finals. That said, it's never a great decision to gamble on Dion Waiters or Andre Roberson for production, and even Steven Adams will face more resistance than he did vs. the Spurs -- Golden State is holding opponents to just 49.2% shooting inside six feet this postseason, a whopping -10.8% differential compared to their opponents' normal average from that range. They're also allowing shots within six feet on just 28.8% of their defensive possessions, the lowest rate in the postseason. In short, it's very hard to score near the rim vs. the Warriors.


This isn't a pure DFS column, however, so before I go further down that rabbit-hole, let's quickly recap a few coaching searches around the league.


Coaching Carousel


Pacers – The Pacers have finalized a three-year deal promoting assistant Nate McMillan to the head coach position. Larry Bird said he fired Frank Vogel because he wanted to "score more" with a faster pace, and he also felt that Vogel was too lax and his voice was being tuned out by players. As a panacea for these problems, he's installing McMillan -- a coach whose 'voice' has been heard by the Pacers since 2013, and whose most recent stint as a head coach perennially resulted in some of the league's slowest-paced teams. McMillan isn't a bad coach by any means, but given the Pacers' recent success and Vogel's sturdy reputation around the league, it's a curious decision by Indiana. Fantasy-wise, I don't see this having a huge impact unless Paul George suddenly warms to the idea of being a full-time PF, but any uptick in tempo should benefit under-contract shooters like Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles.


KingsDave Joerger has agreed to become the Kings' next head coach, a pairing that was apparently in the works the moment he asked to leave the Grizzlies. The personnel Joerger had in Memphis forced him to play at a plodding pace, but a slowed-down approach still seems inevitable for the Kings -- George Karl is gone, for one thing, and Rajon Rondo could soon follow suit. It's fruitless to get invested in the fantasy ramifications in May, with the draft and free agency still to come, but we should get a clear sense of Joerger's direction for the team during training camp.


MagicScott Skiles suddenly resigned after one season as Orlando's head coach, after apparently clashing with GM Rob Hennigan, and few tears will be shed in the fantasy community. Skiles was reticent to turn Aaron Gordon loose this season, he didn't view Elfrid Payton as the team's 'point guard of the future', and even Nikola Vucevic saw his minutes drop from 34.2 per game in 2014-15 to just 31.3 last season. As part of his resignation, Skiles reportedly signed a non-compete agreement that precludes him from serving as head coach of another NBA team for an undisclosed amount of time. Whoever takes over as Orlando's next head coach, they'll likely be very clear on the fact that Hennigan's long-term view will take precedence -- "Too often, [Skiles] felt, team officials had emphasized players' individual growth instead of the players’ growth as a team." Fantasy owners will be more than happy to watch guys like AG, Payton and Vuc experience 'individual growth' in 2016-17.


Knicks Phil Jackson met with Frank Vogel recently to discuss New York's vacant position, which should have Knicks fans (and Carmelo Anthony) palpitating with joy. Prior to Vogel's emergence, the Zen Master was being questioned for taking a vacation in the thick of a competitive head-coach search, contacting Luke Walton (the Lakers' new coach) without getting the Warriors' permission, and for only considering coaches "he knows - is in sympatico with." Kurt Rambis, Jeff Hornacek and David Blatt have also been discussed as potential hires for New York.


Nets – Brooklyn hired Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson as their new head coach, with Jacque Vaughn as his lead assistant. Player development will be central to his first season as a head coach in the NBA, and at the moment there’s not much information available on his offensive or defensive philosophies. Dynasty owners interested in how Atkinson might impact someone like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should keep an eye out for Monday’s introductory press conference, where the Nets’ coach ought to discuss his vision for the team.


Rockets – J.B. Bickerstaff withdrew his name from consideration for Houston's head coaching job, reportedly preferring a senior assistant position elsewhere. Interpret that as you will. The Rockets are casting a wide net in their search for a long-term replacement for Kevin McHale, including some very interesting names like Jeff Van Gundy and Kenny Smith. Check back next week for another playoff-themed Numbers Game!

Ryan Knaus
Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.