You can buy every preview magazine on the shelf and browse every fantasy website to prepare for your annual fantasy basketball draft, but chances are no matter how strong of a team you draft, you’re going to need a little bit of luck to compete for the title.
That might mean taking a flyer on a guy you have a hunch about or using the final few dollars of your budget to bid on a rookie or a player coming off a weak season who is looking to bounce back. Low-risk acquisitions can pay off big, especially when those players turn in a surprising season. Here are some of those players who have been a pleasant surprise for owners this year at the halfway point.
10 Biggest Surprises From The 1st Half of the Basketball Season
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
Yes, he’s arguably one of the 10 to 15 best players in the league. But that doesn’t always translate to great fantasy production. Griffin has been fantasy gold this year after improving his jump shot range and accuracy and his free throw shooting touch (66 percent last year, 70 percent as of Wednesday). He’s also grabbing about two rebounds more per game versus last season, and his blocks are up slightly as well.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Sacramento Kings
Sacramento brass shipped out last season’s starting point guard Greivis Vasquez because the Kings believed Thomas could run the show. Thomas, the last pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Washington, has proved that to be a wise move. He’s averaging 19 points per game and dishing out six assists per game. He’s also had four double-digit assist games this year, and is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. After being pegged as just a bench player coming into the season, Thomas is now in the thick of the race for the Most Improved Player Award.
Gordon Hayward, SG/SF, Utah Jazz
The Butler alum started turning into a solid pick in the 2010 draft for the Jazz last season, but this year he’s looking like a guy deserving of a fat contract. His point per game average is up by three compared to last season, and he’s dishing out nearly two more assists per game. While his shooting percentage from deep has taken a bit of a hit (perhaps due to playing more minutes), he’s scored 30 or more points in a game twice this year so far.
John Henson, PF/C, Milwuakee Bucks
After starting center Larry Sanders was out six to eight weeks early in the season, Henson stepped in and contributed right away. He stuffed the stat sheet with big games against Washington on Dec. 6 (19 points, 17 rebounds), Chicago on Dec. 10 (25 points, 17 rebounds, six blocks) and New York on Dec. 18 (20 points, 14 rebounds). Although Henson did miss some games with a high ankle sprain recently, he’s currently fifth in the league in blocks per game with 2.27.
Terrence Jones, PF, Houston Rockets
After starting zero games last season, Jones has already started 32 this year as of Thursday. He’s making good use of his playing time, boasting per game averages of 10.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. The Kentucky product poured in a career-high 25 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked six shots on Wednesday against New Orleans — and yet he’s still only owned in 73 percent of ESPN leagues.
Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Philadelphia 76ers
Talk about making a splash. The rookie out of Syracuse didn’t wait long to reward those who took a flyer on him this year, nearly recording an Opening Night quadruple-double (22 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and nine steals) in a win over the Heat. Carter-Williams hasn’t slowed down at all, as he’s second in the league in steals per game (2.59) and 10th in the league in assists per game (7.0) — plus he’s averaging 17 points per game. Owners who drafted him in keeper leagues now have a building block for years to come.
Jordan Hill, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
After being cast off by the Rockets and Knicks, it looks like Hill has found a home with the Lakers. He’s turning into a nice double-double guy who can throw in a big game here and there. Hill is averaging nine points and seven rebounds per game this year, and has logged six double-doubles so far. He’s a bit of a liability at the free throw line (65 percent) but he’s shooting 54 percent from the field— and only owned in 10 percent of ESPN leagues.
Alec Burks, SG, Utah Jazz
When Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward missed time this year, Burks made the most of his bump in minutes. He’s averaged 13 points per game this year, and poured in a career high 34 points Monday against Denver. While he will go back to coming off the bench when Hayward returns, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said he envisions Burks getting around 34 minutes a game going forward. He’s owned in 17 percent of ESPN leagues and can be a good bump for teams looking for points.
Robin Lopez, C, Portland Trailblazers
I was skeptical about Lopez’s prospects when he came to Portland from New Orleans via trade this off-season, but it has worked out well for the former Stanford big man. He’s averaging 10 points and eight rebounds per game this year, and he’s blocking 1.4 shots per game. Lopez has grabbed 15 or more rebounds in a game four times this year, and is shooting 54 percent from the field.
Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons
Free throw shooting aside (an atrocious 37 percent), Drummond, whose just 20 years old, is having a monster season. What’s most surprising perhaps is how fast he’s developed into one of the league’s best rebounders (tied for third in the league with Dwight Howard at 12.7 rpg). He’s also averaging nearly two blocks per game and shooting 59 percent from the field. Drummond is also a double-double machine: he tallied 12 in the month of December alone.