A DFS Guide to the NBA Restart in Orlando
We are approximately a month away from the NBA restarting its 2019-20 season. I can’t believe it has already been three and a half months from that infamous night in which Rudy Gobert went from not playing, to maybe playing, to having COVID-19 (which caused the NBA to put the whole season on hiatus), all within the span of a few hours. We went from trying to figure out whether we should roster Tony Bradley or Boban Marjanovic (or both), to wondering if we would even see the 2019-20 NBA season have a champion crowned.
Fast forward to present day, and my how things have changed! The NBA is bringing 22 teams down to the Disney ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida to restart the season, where there will be 88 games to close out the (now condensed) regular season and get teams seeded for the playoffs (in fact, the NBA is specifically calling these “seeding games”). Heck, there is even the added intrigue of some possible play-in games!
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In this article, I plan to lay out the groundwork for the coming days/weeks/months in regards to what we know, what we don’t know, which teams are coming to Orlando, which players on those teams are or are not coming to Orlando, etc. I will try to keep this as DFS-centric as possible. So if you are coming here for my thoughts on doubles ping-pong being banned or which NBA player is going to lead the league in mani/pedi’s, you have come to the wrong place. Nor do I plan on diving into all of the complexities surrounding the virus, the testing, who is coming in and out of the bubble, etc. There is no point in speculating on what happens if Superstar X comes down with the virus, as there are just far too many unknowns with varying ripple effects.
Before I dive in to what the next several months will look like, let’s first lay out which teams are headed to Orlando.
Based on the NBA’s desire to conclude the entire 2019-20 season no later than a specific date while still having their traditional playoff format (e.g. best-of-seven series for every round), they are only bringing teams to Orlando that had a realistic shot of making the playoffs in the now shortened regular season of eight games. So if you aren’t the Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, or Charlotte Hornets, you are among the 22 teams invited to Orlando.
Here are those 22 teams (9 from the East and 13 from the West), divided up by conference and listed in order of their record.
Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)
Toronto Raptors (46-18)
Boston Celtics (43-21)
Miami Heat (41-24)
Indiana Pacers (39-26)
Philadelphia 76ers (39-26)
Brooklyn Nets (30-34)
Orlando Magic (30-35)
Washington Wizards (24-40)
Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)
Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)
Denver Nuggets (43-22)
Utah Jazz (41-23)
Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)
Houston Rockets (40-24)
Dallas Mavericks (40-27)
Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)
Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)
New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)
Sacramento Kings (28-36)
San Antonio Spurs (27-36)
Phoenix Suns (26-39)
Okay, so now we know which teams are heading to Orlando. Next, let’s zoom out a bit and look at what the next month will look like for these teams, as there are certain phases the NBA has laid out as a runway to the start of real games.
June 30 – Training Camps in Local Markets
Players have already been at the team facilities for a few weeks now getting in their individual work, in addition to whatever they had been doing on their own during the quarantine. That is all in preparation for June 30th, in which training camps open for all 22 teams in their local market (with the exception of Toronto, who has already made their way to Florida where you can read about here and here).
July 7-9 – Teams Travel To Orlando
The 22 teams will stagger their arrivals to the Disney complex in Orlando over the course of these three days.
July 7: Wizards, Suns, Nuggets, Jazz, Nets, Magic
July 8: Pelicans, Grizzlies, Kings, Thunder, Celtics, Clippers, Mavs, Heat
July 9: Pacers, Spurs, 76ers, Trail Blazers, Bucks, Lakers, Rockets, Raptors
July 9-29 – Team Training Camps and Scrimmages
The initial part of this window is still a little unclear to me, as it is almost certain that all individuals arriving to the bubble in Orlando will have to undergo some sort of quarantine. Things will ramp up with each passing day though, with another training camp taking place in Orlando and each team getting three inter-squad scrimmages with actual NBA referees.
The Season Officially Restarts!
July 30-August 14 – The Seeding Games
The Seeding Games aka NBA DFS heaven! The NBA officially released the schedule on Friday, June 26th. Here is the schedule via the official NBA website, but I would suggest this handy dandy little pocket schedule that may or may not be the background now on all of my devices.
Yes, my friends, you are seeing that right. 88 games across 16 days, with start times staggered throughout the day. It is like Christmas Day for two straight weeks, except you don’t have to feel guilty about not spending time with your family because you have been doing that for three months straight.
With the exception of the two games on (re)opening night, every day has between 4-7 games. It will be a miracle if I exercise even one day out of the 16.
August 15-16 – Possible Play-In Game(s)
To inject some extra drama into the seeding games, the NBA has added the possibility of a play-in game(s) surrounding the eighth seed. So as not to confuse anyone (including myself) or mess up the verbiage, I am copying and pasting this directly from the NBA’s website:
“If the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage (regular season games and Seeding Games) in a conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined winning percentage in that conference, then the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage will be the eighth seed in the playoffs, and no Play-In Game(s) would be played, for that conference.”
That, of course, is what needs to happen for there to be no play-in game. But what if the criteria is met? Then the “8th seed” would play the “9th seed” on August 15th. If the “8th seed” wins, then they are officially in the playoffs as the 8th seed. If the “9th seed” wins though, the teams will then face off again on August 16th, with the winner officially going into the playoffs as the 8th seed.
August 17 – Playoffs Begin
Once the field is set, a playoff format like we are historically used to seeing will start on August 17th. Although it is not official, the league has said that they are leaving open the possibility of moving the games up a day or two if no play-in games take place on August 15-16.
What to Watch For
This is obviously an unprecedented situation we are looking at here, so let’s look at some things that are going to affect how we look at these teams/players once the games start back up.
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Are there any players from the 22 teams not going to Orlando?
Despite rampant speculation to the contrary in late March and early April, it has already been announced that both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will not be playing for the Nets in the restart. The same goes for John Wall with the Wizards. But what about healthy players? Well, we already have a small list of some guys that, for a variety of reasons, are choosing not to accompany their teams to Orlando. Those players are:
Davis Bertans (Wizards)
Avery Bradley (Lakers)
Trevor Ariza (Portland)
Wilson Chandler (Nets)
Willie Cauley-Stein (Mavs)
(NOTE: After this article was published, it was announced that DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie contracted the COVID virus. Jordan already announced he would not be going to Orlando, which gives an obvious bump to Jarrett Allen. It was then announced on July 7th that Dinwiddie would not be heading to Orlando either. Caris LeVert and Chris Chiozza probably get the biggest bumps here with Dinwiddie being out. And last but not least, it was announced that Taurean Prince would not be going to Orlando either due to contracting COVID. We’ll see how all of these Nets get priced, but it is likely there are going to be several viable cheap plays, especially in the early going.)
(NOTE #2: The Wizards also announced that Bradley Beal will not be making the trip to Orlando due to a shoulder injury. Here is the CourtIQ query with Beal/Bertans/McRae OFF. As you can see, Troy Brown is tops among plenty of big winners here.)
WCS probably is the least relevant of the bunch, as he found it difficult to crack the Mavs rotation once coming over via trade from the Warriors.
The other four players are fairly important rotation pieces though (less so for Chandler). Ariza started at small forward in all 21 of his games with Portland once coming over via trade from Sacramento. Bradley started in 44 of his 49 games this season with the Lakers. And despite coming off the bench for most of the season, Bertans averaged 29.3 minutes per game for the Wizards and is easily the highest per-minute contributor of the trio (0.94 DK points per minute this season).
Now is as good of a time as ever to get reacquainted with our CourtIQ tool. In this query (with Bertans and Jordan McRae, who was traded, OFF), you can see guys like Admiral Schofield and Rui Hachimura get decent per-minute bumps.
And I think Shabazz Napier (acquired at the trade deadline) makes for an interesting Wizard to target as well. Even though his per-minute production slightly dips in that CourtIQ query, he played 36 minutes in the most recent game that Bertans missed on February 24th (Thomas Bryant missed that game too). He has always been good per-minute, is likely to be cheap in the early going, and could easily run into a bunch of minutes if the Wizards lose their first few games.
How many players can each team bring? Are we worried about teams that quickly fall out of contention (or quickly lock in their seed)?
Let’s stick with the Wizards as an example here to answer both of these pertinent questions. In regards to the first one, NBA teams will be allowed to bring 17 players to Orlando. That means they can have their normal 14 or 15-man roster, as well as their two-way guys (in case, for example, a player has to be sidelined due to getting the virus). Since John Wall already said he isn’t going, that means the Wizards will presumably be bringing 16 players. You have Bradley Beal, then…ya know what, I am not going to list all of those guys.
But speaking of Beal, how many minutes can we expect him to play in Orlando? He averaged 36 minutes per game this season, which was the fifth highest in the league. Are we to expect he comes out of the gate playing that many minutes again? What about if the Wizards lose their first two games, and the Magic win their first two? That makes it even more unlikely that the Wizards would qualify for the play-in game.
We could come up with a similar example for each of the 22 teams I’m sure, even amongst the best teams. The Bucks, for example, had the best record in the league when the season got halted while still being able to keep the minutes of their stars in check. Giannis Antetokounmpo only averaged 30.9 minutes per game this season, while LeBron James averaged 34.9 minutes per game.
How are the minutes going to be deployed for these two stars? Their teams are almost certainly not going to be caught for the #1 seed in their respective conferences, and now homecourt advantage is suddenly not a thing.
(Sidenote: Chalk all of this up as a big loss for Milwaukee. They were on pace to get homecourt advantage for the entire playoffs while easing the load on their best players all season. Now, homecourt advantage is gone, and every player in the league has been able to get three months off to use how they see fit (whether that be resting some to get healthy or staying in tiptop shape).
So are we going to see those games from Giannis where he only plays low 20’s minutes so the Bucks don’t risk any injury before the playoffs start? Or are they going to be borderline forced to ramp his minutes up for most of the seeding games so he can get his body in condition to play upper 30’s minutes in every meaningful playoff game?
We know minutes = money in NBA DFS, but projecting those minutes (especially in the first few games) is going to be even harder than it is in a normal regular season.
What will the reporting be like in the Orlando bubble?
Oh boy, this one has me worried a bit. I will preface this by saying this is probably the least of the NBA’s worries. It will be addressed, to be sure, but it falls down the priority list quite a bit.
As it stands now, we don’t know much about how many reporters will be allowed in the bubble, nor who they will be. Will they limit it as much as possible to prominent national writers like Woj and Shams? Will any team beat writers be allowed in?
I could see this going one of two ways. The optimistic viewpoint is that everybody is in one central location, so news should theoretically be easy to get, and thus, report.
The pessimistic viewpoint, especially if beat writers for specific teams aren’t in Orlando, is that the news cycle gets stifled a little bit. I’d have to imagine there is going to be no more media access for shootarounds (I’d suspect shootarounds get limited to walk-throughs in the hotel now anyways), not to mention the coveted pre-game media scrum for the head coach 90 minutes prior to games. Throw in the staggered starts to games for all of the seeding games, and we have the potential for a massive headache due to lack of news (and also, a possible huge edge).
Which way is it going to go? I don’t have a clue, but we will learn more and more about everything with each passing day.
Since we probably won’t have any DFS slates out for a few weeks, let’s close thing out by looking at some possible bets. On PointsBet.com they have odds up for the first two games on July 30th. New Orleans at -1 immediately stands out to me, as Utah saw a key player lost for the season when it was announced that Bojan Bogdanovic had wrist surgery. The Pelicans need to start off the seeding games right if they are going to make a run at the playoffs, and they had been playing pretty good ball post-Christmas.
As far as futures to win the title, I have a hard time believing that anyone outside of the Bucks/Lakers/Clippers trio has a legitimate shot to take this thing down. But could there be a better time to fire off some longshots? Not only do you have the uncertainty of how all of these teams/players will look coming back from this long layoff, but you also have the real possibility that some big names could be lost for several weeks if they contract the virus.
If I am looking to take some fliers, I would most likely be taking someone from the East since there is really only one dominant team standing in the way. If teams like the Raptors (+2000) or Celtics (+1600) can get by the Bucks, they have suddenly found themselves in the Finals.
If I were to take anybody out of the West, it would probably be the Rockets (+1200). A team that already thrived on driving up the variance in every game, that is now exacerbated by 1) their switch to extreme small-ball, and 2) the league finishing the season in a freakin’ bubble in Orlando.
Image Credit: Imagn