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NBA Statistical Analyst Eric Wong

41 Games In - A Fantasy Perspective

By Eric Wong

Most NBA teams have played around 41 games, meaning we have reached the halfway point of the season. If you love this game, then you're probably in a fantasy league or two. And if you're a fantasy freak like me, then you've spent a lot of time watching games, scanning box scores, and analyzing your team. Now is a great time to assess the All-NBA performers, the breakout stars, the surprise pickups, and the major disappointments, while looking forward to which rookies may break out and which 1st half duds may turn into studs in the 2nd half.

All-NBA Fantasy Teams

These guys are your top fantasy performers for the 1st half. Of the ten players, seven were surefire 1st round picks, while one may have fallen due to injury concerns and two were later round picks who have shocked the fantasy world by blossoming into studs. Injuries must be taken into consideration, as Yao Ming surely would have been the most valuable fantasy center if he hadn't gotten hurt. But injuries are part of the game, and you will only win if you can overcome them. And your top fantasy players for the first half are...

All-Fantasy 1st team

PG: Gilbert Arenas
Arenas has hit numerous game-winning shots this season and he's giving D. Wade a run for his money as the best player in the Eastern conference. Agent Zero can simply carry your team in points (29.7), threes made (3.1), and steals (2.0), and his FT% (83.9%) and assists (6.3) are pretty darn good as well. No one dominates in 5 different categories quite like that. He hasn't missed a single game and is clearly the fantasy MVP for the 1st half of the season.

SG: Dwyane Wade
With Shaq out for most of the 1st half, Wade has carried the Heat on his back and put up some incredible numbers. He's averaging career highs in points (28.1), assists (8.0), steals (2.0), blocks (1.2), threes made (.5), and FT% (81.5%). His per game stats actually make him the #1 rated fantasy player but he's missed his share of games due to injury (this shouldn't come as a surprise based on his style of play and track record).

SF: Shawn Marion
Last year's fantasy MVP has seen his numbers take a hit with Amare back in the mix. He's seen a drop in points (21.8 to 18.8), boards (11.9 to 9.7), and blocks (1.7 to 1.5), yet he continues to fill up the stat sheet every night. The Matrix rarely misses a game (only 10 total since the ?00-01 season) and it looks like he's going to maintain his throne as the #1 fantasy small forward for the 5th year in a row.

PF: Kevin Garnett
KG has been his usual dominant fantasy self for about the 8th year in a row. His FG% has dropped a bit from last season (52.6% to 47.5%) but he's made up for that with an increase in blocks (1.4 up to 2.0). Last year he sat out the last 6 games of the season so the Wolves could land top draft pick Randy Foye. Hopefully for Garnett owners, Foye won't let that happen again.

C: Carlos Boozer
Boozer has been a monster in the paint this season and his 31 double-doubles are 2nd only to KG. His scoring (22.2) and rebounding (12.0) has been superb, but his FG% (56.1% on 16.2 attempts/game) has been even more impressive. Boozer qualifies at Center in most leagues, so his assists (3.2) and steals (1.0) are actually pretty good for that position. His major weakness is a lack of blocks (Baron Davis and Jamaal Tinsley have more), but since the top centers (Yao, Camby, J. O'Neal) have all missed games due to injury, Boozer is the #1 fantasy center for the first half of the season.

All-Fantasy 2nd team

PG: Steve Nash
What more can you say about Steve Nash? The guy is just amazing. He turns 33 next month, yet he's won back-to-back MVP awards and is having his best season ever. His career high in threes per game is 1.9, but this season he's draining 2.6 per game at a whopping 49.2% clip. And while he's also scoring a career-best 19.4 ppg, he continues to dominate the assist category better than any player has dominated a cat since maybe Dikembe Mutombo dominated blocks in the mid-90s. From '93-96 Mutombo blocked 991 shots, while his nearest competitors blocked only 798 shots (David Robinson), 746 shots (Hakeem Olajuwon), and 709 shots (Shawn Bradley).

SG: Kobe Bryant
Kobe got off to a slow start recovering from offseason knee surgery, but he's been a top fantasy performer ever since. His points, steals, and threes are all significantly lower than last season, but his FG% (47%) and FT% (85.9%) are at career-high levels. The way the Lakers have played without Lamar Odom is truly remarkable so it'll be interesting to see what happens when he comes back.

SF: Caron Butler
While Arenas gets most of the attention in Washington, Butler is making people take notice with his fine stat-stuffing play. A guy who was probably picked in the 4th or 5th round of most fantasy drafts has played like a 1st round pick, outperforming some guy named LeBron. Butler has put it all together this season, averaging career highs in points (21.0), rebounds (8.1), assists (4.0), steals (2.0), FG% (48.3%), and FT% (88.4%). CB3 modeled his game after Paul Pierce, and it's really starting to show.

PF: Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk has led Dallas to the best record in the NBA and is getting serious MVP consideration, but his numbers look a little different from years past. His FG% (50%) and assists (3.1) are at career-high levels, but he is taking and making a lot less threes as a result. He's averaging 1 three a game on 2.3 attempts, well below his career average of 1.4 threes on 3.7 attempts per game. His .7 blocks are also well below his career average of 1.1, and those are two cats I'm sure his fantasy owners would love to see go up in the second half.

C: Amare Stoudemire
Remember when the Suns got off to a 1-5 start and everyone was concerned about Stoudemire's knee? Well since then, the Suns have gone 31-3 and Stoudemire has really turned it on. If you throw out his stats from those first 6 games, he's averaging 20.0 pts on 60% FG shooting, 9.9 boards, and 1.6 blocks. Amare says he's still not 100%, so those numbers may even go up in the 2nd half.

All-Value Teams

These are the players that win you fantasy titles - guys you draft in the later rounds who perform like 2nd or 3rd rounders. From the above teams, you could put Boozer and Butler on here, but instead of listing them twice, I'll let others get their shine. If you predicted (and drafted) a few of these breakout players, then there's a good chance your team is near the top of the standings.

All-Value 1st team

PG: Deron Williams
Utah received a lot of criticism for drafting Williams over Chris Paul, but their top pick has proven to be a pretty special point guard himself. Deron finished last season strong then spent part of his summer under the tutelage of John Stockton. The results speak for themselves - he has directed Utah to the 4th best record in the league and is tied for 4th in assists per game with 8.7. He's established himself as a top tier fantasy PG, which is really impressive for a guy drafted in round 6 or later.

SG: Kevin Martin
Kev-Mart exploded out of the gates and continues to fill it up. He's a great source of points (20.8), steals (1.2), and threes (1.6) and his shooting percentages are excellent (50.2% FG, 87.7% FT, 40.1% 3P). His offensive repertoire is reminiscent of a young Reggie Miller and his future looks really bright. Kev-Mart probably wasn't drafted until the 9th round or later but he's played like a 2nd or 3rd rounder.

SF: Mike Miller
With Pau Gasol out for the beginning of the season Miller was expected to shoulder most of the scoring load, but the rest of his stats have been exceptional as well. He is currently averaging career-highs in points (17.5), rebounds (6.1), assists (4.5), threes (2.8), and steals (1.0). Ever since Tony Barone took over, his stats have been phenomenal. There was even a 3-game stretch where he made 23-34 three-pointers en route to 107 points. He's 10th in the league in minutes played and will continue to put up huge numbers whether the Grizz win or lose. Miller was probably picked between rounds 7-10, making him one of the biggest steals of the draft.

PF: Zach Randolph
After a disappointing '05-06, Zach Attack has bounced back in a big way. Randolph ranks in the top 12 in both scoring (23.8) and rebounding (10.2) and even though he doesn't block shots, he makes up for it by shooting an impressive 82.3% from the line on 7.6 attempts per game. He probably fell to the 6th round in fantasy drafts, making him a great big man value pick.

C: Emeka Okafor
Okafor missed a large chunk of last season with an ankle injury and at the beginning of training camp he said the ankle still wasn't 100% healed. This was a big concern, and he fell to the 5th round of most drafts as a result. If you were lucky enough to draft him, you've gotten an elite center who ranks 2nd in blocked shots (2.95), 5th in rebounds (11.3), and 16th in FG% (52.7%) without missing a game. His previous high in blocks was 1.9, but he's spent time in the offseason with Hakeem Olajuwon, and it looks like that extra work has paid off.

All-Value 2nd team

PG: Baron Davis
Baron's "injury-prone" label allowed him to fall to the 4th or 5th round in most drafts, and while he has missed a few games this season, he's played like a stud PG worthy of a 2nd round pick. His shooting percentages are still pretty poor (not nearly as atrocious as last year), but he makes up for it elsewhere. Baron ranks 6th in assists (8.6), 6th in steals (2.03), 19th in points (20.9), 45th in threes made (1.4), and his boards and blocks are very good for a PG. Don Nelson's style of play has been a big boost for Baron and the recent trade should result in even more assists the rest of the way (ask Baron how many dimes Dunleavy blew).

SG: Ben Gordon
Gordon was probably drafted in the 7th or 8th round, but his production has been worthy of a 3rd or 4th round pick. He ranks in the top 25 in scoring (21.0), threes made (1.7), and FT% (87.6% on 5.9 attempts), and is starting to contribute in assists (4.0 per game in January) as well. He's also playing 35.4 minutes per game in January (less than 30 prior to that) and if that continues, expect even better stats in the 2nd half. His +7.1 Roland Rating is easily tops among Bulls players, showing just how important he is to their team's success.

SF: Andre Iguodala
Iggy got off to a nice start, but with both Iverson and Webber gone now, this is clearly his team. He is getting as many minutes and shots as he can handle right now, which is hurting his FG% (45.6% down from 50%) but little else. He is one of the league leaders in steals (2.15) and the only swingmen dishing out more assists (5.0) are T-Mac, LeBron, Kobe, and Diaw. He's producing like a 2nd round pick, but probably went around round 5.

PF: Josh Howard
Most people consider Howard a SF, but he plays a lot of PF when Dallas goes small so I'm listing him here. He's having a breakthrough season but I'm not sure why some people are acting so surprised! I guess they didn't watch Howard at Wake Forest when he was ACC player of the year (his senior year stats are nearly identical to this year's stats). There are 4 categories where Howard has really stepped up his production from last season: points (19.8 up from 15.6), FT% (83% up from 73.4%), blocks (1.0 up from .4), and threes (1.5 up from .5). Those improvements have really enhanced his fantasy value, and if he could just be a little more durable, he would be a mini-Marion. In fantasy terms, that's a VERY good thing.

C: Samuel Dalembert
Dalembert has shown flashes of brilliance for several years now, but this season he's finally starting to put it all together. His season stats are a modest 28.7 minutes, 10.4 pts, 8.3 boards, and 2.0 blocks per game, but if you look at his January stats (with Webber out of the picture), they are much nicer: 30.7 minutes, 13.3 points, 9.0 boards, and 2.5 blocks. Factor in his 56.8% shooting from the field, and it looks like Dalembert has proven himself to be a top 10 fantasy center worthy of a 4th or 5th round pick. Given his past inconsistencies, he probably fell to the 8th round in your draft.

Best Last Round Picks/ Free Agent Pickups

These 5 guys have surprised almost everyone with their stellar play. Almost all of them were available in the last round of your draft, and if you managed to pick up 1 or 2 of them, you should be very happy with the production you've gotten.

1. Andris Biedrins
At only 20 years old, Biedrins has already established himself as a top 10 fantasy center. He leads the league in FG% (61.9%), and ranks near the top 10 in both rebounds (9.7) and blocked shots (1.9). We all know how hard it is to find reliable centers, so how in the world did this guy go undrafted in most fantasy leagues?

Well, if you remember back to the preseason, there was a lot of hype around Don Nelson starting Troy Murphy at center. Some fantasy sites even predicted a breakout season for Murphy (since he would gain center eligibility, making him one of the few centers who can knock down threes). While Murphy struggled, got hurt, then got traded, the Latvian gained confidence, excelled, and improved. He's extremely long, very active, eager to learn, and simply has fun playing the game. Congrats if you took a last round flier on him or picked him up early in the season.

2. David Lee
Lee has quickly become a fan favorite not only in New York, but all around the league. Despite going undrafted in most leagues, Lee has been a top 50 fantasy player, mainly because of his dominance on the boards (10.5) and his excellent shooting from the field (61.1% on 7.1 attempts/ game). I'm not sure how, but his FT% has also jumped from 57.7% last season to 79% this season!

D. Lee hustles for steals and blocks and is one of the most efficient players in the NBA. He does all the little things to help his team win, as evidenced by his +8.3 Roland Rating, easily the best among Knick regulars. His tip-in game winner with .1 on the clock in Double OT is the buzzer beater of the year thus far and during the Knicks/ Nuggets brawl he was one of the few guys trying to keep the peace. What's not to love about him? Well, Isiah must have something in mind, because Lee still doesn't get the minutes he deserves.

3. Luke Walton
If Walton went undrafted in your league, he surely got picked up right away because he started the season red hot. The injury to Odom has helped keep his minutes up high and he has complemented Kobe very nicely. He ranks in the top 40 in assists (4.2) and FG% (48.6%), in the top 50 in steals (1.05), and is solid in almost every other category. Not bad for a guy who you probably could have picked in the last round of your draft.

4. Matt Barnes
Barnes barely played the first 12 games of the season, and then suddenly he turned into a top 50 fantasy player. The journeyman forward has finally found a home playing for Don Nelson, and he's made the most of his opportunity. Over the past 2 months, Barnes has averaged 14.5 points, 6.3 boards, 2.8 dimes, 1.3 steals, .8 blocks, and a whopping 2.3 threes per game (including a 6-game stretch where he nailed 26-56 from beyond the arc). The Jackson & Harrington acquisitions are going to hurt his value, but congratulations if you hopped on the Matt Barnes train!

5. Monta Ellis
Yep, Ellis makes it 3 Warriors on this list. In the preseason, who knew that Ellis, Barnes, and Biedrins were going to outperform J-Rich, Dunleavy, and Murphy? If you were lucky enough to pick Ellis in the last round, he has paid dividends for your fantasy team. Ellis ranks in the top 20 in steals (1.36), the top 40 in points (17.7) and assists (4.2), and the top 50 in FG% (47.4%) and FT made (3.6). This kid (he just turned 21 a few months ago) can score from anywhere: beyond the arc, mid-range jumpers, floaters in the lane, or dunks in transition. His dunk on Barbosa was bananas!

Biggest Disappointments

I'll go ahead and tell you who's on this list: if your first 5 picks were LeBron, AK47, R-Jeff, Brad Miller, and Jameer Nelson, then your team is probably in last place. In the preseason, that starting 5 would have looked pretty nice actually. But we're 41 games in, and they have all been disappointments.

1. Richard Jefferson
R-Jeff was a fantasy stud last season (19.5 points, 6.8 boards, 3.8 dimes, 49.3% FG, and 81.2% FT). Those numbers made him worthy of being a 3rd round pick in many leagues this season. If you took him that early you must feel like you've been burned. Four games into the season, Jefferson severely sprained his left ankle on Shaq's foot and was expected to miss 4-8 weeks. Instead, he only missed 10 days and declared his left ankle ok. Unfortunately, R-Jeff was already playing through a right ankle injury that has bothered the high-flyer all season. He decided to finally have surgery on it on Jan. 22nd. His fantasy owners wish he had done it sooner, because his stats have been way down this season. Now he won't be back until March.

2. Brad Miller
In each of the past 3 seasons, Miller has been an elite center and one of the top 30 fantasy players. His ability to dish out assists and hit free throws (and even make threes every now and then) like a guard has long fancied fantasy owners. Never a very durable player, Miller has missed 8 games due to a foot injury, 2 games due to personal reasons, and 1 game due to the flu. But even when he's played, Miller has been a huge disappointment. His minutes (27.6), points (9.8), boards (6.2), steals (.5), FG% (44.6%), and FT% (75.6%) are his lowest averages since the '00-01 season (when the Bulls had a frontline of Artest, Brand, and Miller). If you picked him in the 3rd round your team is probably hurting, because he's played more like a 13th rounder.

3. Andrei Kirilenko
Once considered a fantasy stud, AK47 has been a huge disappointment this season. If you were to take his career highs in each category his stat line would be ridiculous: 16.5 pts, 8.1 boards, 4.3 assists, 1.9 steals, 3.3 blocks, .9 threes, 49.3% FG, 80% FT. Now compare that to this year's line: 9.1 pts, 5.2 boards, 3.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.1 blocks, .3 threes, 44.9% FG, and 75.9% FT. OUCH! Most of his teammates have played great this season, so it will be interesting to see what Utah can do in the 2nd half if AK47 can turn it around.

4. Jameer Nelson
After watching last season and the FIBA World Championships, I think almost everyone envisioned Dwight Howard blossoming into the man-beast that he currently is. But a lot of people (myself included) thought Nelson was going to evolve along with him. His post All-Star stats from last season were terrific (29.7 minutes, 15.8 points, 5.6 assists, 1.1 threes, 50% FG, 80% FT), a sign that he might breakout in his 3rd season. Instead, those numbers have regressed to 29.4 minutes, 13.2 points, 4.1 assists, .9 threes, 45.9% FG, and 76.8% FT. The former St. Joseph's star received a lot of preseason ?sleeper? hype, and went as high as the 4th round in some drafts as a result. His owners have to be disappointed, because his fantasy ranking has hovered around 100 this season.

5. LeBron James
LeBron was only the 4th best fantasy player last year, but he was the consensus #1 pick by almost everyone heading into this season. It's not hard to see why: the guy can seemingly do anything he wants on the court and the ceiling to his stat potential is unknown. People expected him to improve on last year's stats, but the Cavs have really slowed down the tempo this season, resulting in fewer points (26.8 down from 31.4), threes made (1.3 down from 1.6), rebounds (6.7 down from 7.0), and assists (6.1 down from 6.6). Even if those stats hadn't declined, LeBron would not be a top 5 fantasy player right now because of his poor FT%. After shooting 75%, 75%, and 74% from the charity stripe his first 3 seasons, he's down to 70% this year. That percentage really hurts your fantasy team when you get to the line as much as LeBron does. In fact, he'll never be worthy of a #1 overall pick with that FT%, no matter what his other stats look like. Outside of his FT% however, it's tough to get mad at LeBron, because he's not getting much help from his teammates and coach (see below).

Best Fantasy Teams

1. Phoenix Suns
For the 3rd year in a row, the Suns are the best fantasy team in the NBA. They have bona fide superstars at 3 positions and even their 6th man Barbosa produces like a top 50 fantasy player. They lead the league in scoring (111.5 points), threes made (9.7 per game), FG% (49.87%), and FT% (81.58%). Those shooting percentages are ridiculous! Of course, having Steve Nash run your team helps out a lot, but I think Coach D'Antoni deserves a lot of credit as well. Fantasy owners should love D'Antoni because even when the Suns have a big lead at the end of games (often), he likes to leave his starters in usually, allowing them to rack up more stats.

2. Denver Nuggets
The Nugz are the 4th highest scoring team right now (105.4), but they might give Phoenix a run for their money in the 2nd half as the highest scoring team in the league. Landing Iverson was a major coup and the trade for pass-first PG Steve Blake is looking brilliant. Like the Suns, Denver has bona fide fantasy superstars at 3 different positions (Iverson, Anthony, and Camby) and a 6th man who can really light it up (JR Smith). Denver gives up a lot of points and will continue to do so now that they feel they can outscore anyone. If Camby can stay healthy, I expect Denver to do some serious damage in the 2nd half.

3A. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are 3rd in the league in scoring (105.5) and 3-pointers made & attempted (8.3-23.4). Baron Davis is back to playing like an elite PG and Biedrins & Ellis have emerged as young studs. Barnes & Pietrus have both put up nice stats as well, but their values will be hurt by the additions of Jackson & Harrington. The scary thing about their offense is that their best player from last season (Jason Richardson) has yet to play a game where he was healthy. If J-Rich can come back close to 100% after the All-Star break, the Warriors will have plenty of weapons to run and gun. Of course, this style of play has also resulted in plenty of big stats by opposing teams. They give up league highs in points (106.8) and rebounds (47.1), and are probably the best team for your fantasy players to go against.

3B. Washington Wizards
The Wizards are the 2nd highest scoring team in the league at 107.5 points per game and their treacherous trio of Arenas, Butler, and Jamison are averaging a combined 69.9 ppg (the last trio to average 70 ppg for a season was Run-TMC in the ?90-91 season). They are also fun to play against because they allow the 2nd highest scoring average (105.9) and give up a league high 7.8 three-pointers made per game. I may as well make them 3B since they also like to run and gun and give up points, and have former Warriors Arenas and Jamison.

Worst Fantasy Teams

1. San Antonio Spurs
For the 10th season in a row, the Spurs are locking opponents down on defense and winning about 70% of their games. But from a fantasy perspective, the Spurs are the worst team in the league. They don't have any top 30 fantasy players because they have 9 guys who average 18 minutes or more per game, but none who play more than 35. Duncan is consistent but he doesn't have many huge scoring games anymore (only ONE 30-point game this season). Ginobili's fantasy value continues to be limited by his minutes (27.8). How good could his stats be if he played more? Well, if you calculate per minute stats, Ginobili would be a top 3 fantasy player! The Spurs are also the best defensive team in the league and you almost always have to expect an off-night when your fantasy players go against them.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs are the 7th lowest scoring team in the league and almost all of their players have been disappointments. Larry Hughes has played poorly and looks listless at times. Gooden doesn't do enough to keep Varejao on the bench, and his minutes and stats suffer as a result. Basically, the Cavs only have two top 100 fantasy players, which is pretty pathetic. Big Z has seen his numbers take a hit across the board, and he's no longer a top tier fantasy center. Which brings us to LeBron James. LeBron is still LeBron, but with all of his teammates underachieving, he is as well. The Cavs look horrible right now and 'Bron can't be very happy. It seems like their team strategy is to play at a really slow tempo so they can stay in the game and then let LeBron take over in the 4th quarter, or if they fall behind, to bring in Jones, Marshall, Gibson, and Pavlovic to jack up threes. From a concerned LeBron James owner, I think the Cavs desperately need to make a trade and/or fire Mike Brown.

3. Portland Trail Blazers
I have to applaud coach Nate McMillan because his squad's 17-25 record is better than most people expected. But his rotation has given fantasy owners fits: 9 guys play 18 or more minutes, and that doesn't include starting center Joel Przybilla and rookie sensation Sergio Rodriguez. Randolph, Jack, and Roy are the only reliable starters right now. Przybilla, Aldridge, and Magloire could all have value if given 30 minutes, but instead they're a 3-headed center. Udoka's a solid role player, but he's also taking minutes away from the development of Outlaw and Webster. They play at a slow tempo and don't give up a lot of points or rebounds, so they're not the greatest team to play against either. Hopefully McMillan will give his young talent more minutes in the 2nd half so they can put up better fantasy numbers.

Rookie Watch

Brandon Roy & Adam Morrison have played the most minutes thus far. Roy has looked great at times and should be an even better fantasy player in the 2nd half. Morrison has struggled and is a horrible fantasy player, and I don't see that changing in the 2nd half. Rudy Gay has been inconsistent, but is worth hanging onto if Gasol does indeed get traded. Bargnani and Garbajosa have both played well at times for Toronto, and should continue to get solid minutes in the 2nd half. I'm guessing all of those rookies are already owned in your league, but these guys may not be?yet.

1. LaMarcus Aldridge
The #2 pick from Texas (How scary would he and Kevin Durant have been together?) has played well when given the opportunity. If you focus on the 18 games in which he's played 20+ minutes, his averages are: 26.4 minutes, 10.1 points on 54.7% FG shooting, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks. With Magloire likely to be traded soon, Aldridge should see a spike in minutes in the 2nd half. If you project those numbers over 30 minutes, they come out to: 11.5 points, 6.5 boards, and 1.6 blocks, making him a solid #2 fantasy center if that happens.

2. Randy Foye
Obviously it's unfair to compare any rookie to Dwyane Wade right now, but Foye has shown enough glimpses of talent to see why those comparisons are made. He's incredibly strong for a 23-year old guard and is great at attacking the basket. He's been given a lot of playing time in 4th quarters and overtime games and has made several clutch plays. Of course he still makes plenty of rookie mistakes, but you can tell that KG believes in him and that Foye is eager to learn and improve. With the firing of Dwayne Casey, it will be interesting to see what happens to Foye's minutes from here on out.

3. Rajon Rondo
The former Kentucky star has seen his minutes fluctuate this season, but he's deservedly passed Telfair on the depth chart (Rondo's Roland Rating is +2.0 vs. Telfair's -5.9). Over the past 6 games, he's averaging 28 minutes, 9.2 points, 5.2 boards, 5.5 assists, and 2.0 steals. Rondo is super quick and he may have the longest wingspan and largest hands of anyone in the league 6'2 or shorter. This helps his game out a lot, especially in getting steals. He leads the league in steals per 48 minutes (3.2) and already has 8 games with 3+ steals. If you need steals, keep an eye on Rondo.

4. Sergio Rodriguez
Rodriguez is only averaging 11.1 minutes per game right now, but he has shown a lot of ability and has already won many Portland fans over. During his last 5 games, he has totaled 34 dimes in only 99 minutes. Sure enough, The Spanish Magician is 2nd only to Steve Nash in Assists per 48 minutes and his Assist/ turnover ratio trails only veterans Antonio Daniels, Jason Williams, Billups, and Duhon. His +2.8 Roland Rating is 2nd on the team behind Zach Randolph, but I think his defense and outside shot are too suspect for McMillan to give him serious minutes. However, if Jarrett Jack gets hurt and you need assists, be ready to pounce on this kid.

5. Tyrus Thomas
The 20-year old out of LSU spent a lot of time on the pine in the 1st half of the season. In the 10 games where he's played 15+ minutes, his averages are: 20.3 minutes, 8.5 points, 5.9 boards, 1.2 steals, and 2.2 blocks. That's some serious stat stuffing. His 4.5 blocks per 48 minutes is 2nd behind only Alonzo Mourning and his +1.4 Roland Rating (behind only Gordon and Deng among Bulls) shows he's making a difference on the court. Former fantasy stud Scottie Pippen has been working with Thomas and says he sees a lot of himself in Tyrus. Don't expect much right now, but if the Bulls decide to shake things up with a trade, Thomas might have value in the 2nd half.

2nd Half Studs

These top players from last season were all high draft picks who have yet to perform up to their expectations. They have all had to deal with injuries to start the season and their stats have suffered as a result. But it looks like all of them are close to being 100% now and are ready to play like 2nd half studs. Hopefully you didn't drop any of them from your roster.

1. Josh Smith
J-Smoov has been a bit of a disappointment in the 1st half. He got off to a slow start, he had hernia surgery and missed 8 games, and his shooting has been horrendous both from the line (66.7% FT) and behind the arc (26.3% 3-PT). Not what I hoped for when I drafted him with the 1st pick in the 3rd round, #25 overall. But his 1st half was even worse last season and he bounced back in a big way after the All-Star break, averaging 15 points, 7.8 boards, 4 assists, 1 steal, 3.1 blocks, and 1.1 threes per game. I'm predicting a similar 2nd half stat line for the Smoov one this season.

2. David West
West got off to a decent start then had elbow surgery and missed 31 straight games. In his first 3 games back, he's averaged 22.7 points, 11.3 boards, and 2 steals per game. Congrats if you hung onto him. He has an excellent all-around fantasy game and is a deadeye shooter. His percentages are down a bit this season, but last year he was one of only 6 guys to shoot better than 50% from the field and 80% from the line. The other five were: Garnett, Marion, Nash, Yao, and Bosh. That's pretty exclusive company. He really clicked with Chris Paul last year, and when CP3 comes back, they'll be ready to roll.

3. Chris Bosh
Bosh started the season with a heel injury, then hurt his knee and missed 12 games. At the time he went down, he was only shooting 46% from the field and 73% from the line, hurting his value quite a bit. In the 11 games since his return, Bosh has shot 54.4% from the field and 80% from the line, and his fantasy value has soared. The Raptors are currently hanging onto the 8th and final playoff spot in the East, and you better believe that Bosh is going to do everything in his power to keep them there. Expect Bosh to put up top 20 fantasy stats in the 2nd half.

4. Sam Cassell
Cassell was a top 60 fantasy player last year but struggled with a heel injury to start this season and eventually had to sit out 8 straight games. In the 7 games since his return, he's averaged 33.1 minutes, 17.9 points, 8.4 assists, 1.6 threes, .9 steals, and 88% shooting from the line. The team has struggled with Livingston running the show (-4.7 Roland Rating), so if Cassell (+5.8 Roland Rating) can stay healthy and get his cardio back up, he should continue to start and put up solid numbers. If the playoffs started today the Clippers would be out, but Cassell is a proven winner and he simply won't let that happen.

5. Chris Kaman
Kaman had a breakout '05-06 season, averaging 11.9 points, 9.6 boards, and 1.4 blocks with 52.3% FG shooting and 77% FT shooting. Those stats made him a top fantasy center and prompted owners to draft him in rounds 5-6 in most leagues this year. Kaman signed a big contract extension in the preseason, then struggled mightily to start the season, then missed several games with an ankle sprain. All of his stats are down from last year and he has yet to play like a 5th round pick. But he's slowly starting to turn things around and I'm predicting a big 2nd half from the Kavman as the Clippers club their way back into the playoffs.


Eric Wong grew up in the Bay Area, where he got to see Run-TMC light it up, Manute Bol launch three-pointers, and Christopher Cohan teach how NOT to run a sports franchise. The U.C. Santa Cruz Banana Slug alumni has won over $10,000 playing fantasy hoops the past 2 seasons alone, and looks forward to the day he can make a living predicting the next Caron Butleresque breakout season.

Editor's Note: Eric currently leads his league in the "National Fantasy Basketball Championship" while 82games' team ranks a respectable, um, third...

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