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2012 Fantasy Basketball: Players to Watch in Second Half of the NBA Season

This is a companion piece to our Breakout Podcast that we recorded over the weekend. If you were able to listen to that, you’ll find a lot of the same information in the post. If not, then he following is more of less what we discussed in that podcast. Nels’ article on this week also has to do with breakout players, but his take is slightly different than mine and Erik’s and is worth a read as well.

Predicting breakout players is always a tricky process because as much as we think we can predict the future (Dwight Howard will be traded from the Magic… right?) every year the two-to-three week period leading up to the trade deadline provides us with a number of surprise moves. And trades (along with injuries and teams simply giving up on the season) are one of the big catalysts for second half breakout players.

So, as I tried to say on the podcast (but I don’t think I expressed it clearly) a lot of times breakout players are like lottery tickets. And it can be random enough that you simply having to be holding the right player at the right time to hit it big.

But that won’t stop anyone from trying to make their best educated guess on who will be in position for a big second half. And here are some guys that we feel could be this season’s lottery tickets.

Ramon Sessions, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers: A lot of the excitement about Sessions comes from the fact that earlier this month he started three games for an injured Kyrie Irving and averaged 18 points, 12 assists and a three a game. His per-30 minute numbers overall this season are a little less gaudy – 12.5 point and 6.5 assists – but it’s not often a PG guard with the potential to average 6-8 assists a game is hanging out on the waiver wire.

Sessions is a free agent after this season who is very unlikely to return to the Cavs to play backup for Irving again, so the team would be silly not to trade him. However, the question remains, is anyone desperate enough to give the Cavs what they want for Sessions in a trade, which is reportedly a high first round pick? The Lakers are the team most desperate for a PG before the trade deadline, but recent reports have them going after Raymond Felton.

Derrick Williams, F, Minnesota Timberwolves: To say Williams’ minutes this season have been inconsistent is an understatement – he has gotten anywhere from 6 to 30 minutes of run per game this month alone. And as Erik noted on the podcast, Williams’ doesn’t exactly have the trust of Coach Rick Adelman yet. When Beasley was hurt, Adelman often choose to start a guy like Wes Johnson at SF rather than Williams. But with the Lakers reportedly interested in trading for Michael Beasley, it could finally open up minutes for Williams to breakout. Even as a rookie, Williams’ has the type of game that lends itself to fantasy, In games that he’s averaged at least 25 minutes this season, he has averaged 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, a three, a steal and a block a game. Multi-category contribution indeed.

Nels looked at the potential Beasley to the Lakers trade and has a different take, his about Beasley’s role on the Lakers.

Bismack Biyombo, C, Charlotte Bobcats: We’re only halfway through the season and nearly everyone has already had a ride with Biyombo for a few games and was left feeling unimpressed. So why give him another chance? Well, the guy has come a long way in a short period of time, putting in the work to go from a guy who couldn’t catch the ball in camp to the clear starter at center for the Bobcats. Yes, it help also helps that the team really has no other options at the position (witness the Boris Diaw experiment), so Biyombo is as good a bet as any player on this list to get a lot of playing time in the second half.

Since becoming a starter at the beginning of February, Biyombo has averaged 8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks a game. He’s not going to do much offensively for you and will get burned by other talented centers, but my bold prediction is that he averages 2.5-3 blocks a game over the second half as he continues to improve at the position.

Gustavo Ayon, PF, New Orleans Hornets: GUSTAVO! We love Ayon here at GMTR for his willingness to do the dirty work and board, swipe balls and block shots. And during our latest podcast, Erik made the argument for choosing him in the second half over Biyombo. Thanks to injuries to Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry and Jason Smith, Ayon has gotten a chance to start for the Hornets and put up some impressive numbers, including a 17 rebound game against the Cavs right before the break. I worry what his minutes are going to look like if the Hornets ever get healthy, but Ayon may have locked up the starting role by the time that ever happens. Plus, if the Hornets decide to trade Chris Kaman, the path will be cleared for Ayon to start the rest of the season.

Tristan Thompson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers – The Anderson Varejao injury didn’t exactly jump start Thompson like many people expected – thanks to a nagging ankle injury he has still been getting inconsistent minutes off the bench while the Cavs roll with Semih Erden as their starting center. Thompson could be one of those guys who benefits from extra playing time at the end of the season when the Cavs are out of playoff contention. But for him to really breakout this season, Antawn Jamison and his expiring contract will either have to be traded or bought out by the team. If that were to happen and Thompson could find a consistent 25 minutes a game, he’d block close to 2 shots a game, grab boards and score 12-15 points.

Isaiah Thomas, PG, Sacramento Kings: Including Thomas in a breakout player list is a cheat since he already broke out before the All-Star break – averaging 19.5 points, 4.0 boards, 6.5 assists and over 2 threes a game in four starts for the Kings. But as of Sunday when we did the podcast, he was still available in 51% of Yahoo leagues, so clearly we still need to get the word out. I remain the smallest bit skeptical of his ability to maintain long-term – he’s basically been on fire from the floor since becoming a starter – shooting over 50% from the field and 44% from three – as the Kings roll with their three guard lineup. But he plays with a ton of energy (something the Kings desperately needed), the team’s ball movement is much improved with him running the point, and let’s not even get into how much of a disaster the John Salmons signing has been for the Kings. If Thomas is still available in your league, find a way to scoop him up now.

Jordan Crawford, SG, Washington Wizards: Crawford is another guy who already sort of broke out – he finished last season averaging over 16 points a game after being traded from the Hawks to the Wizards. He started this year splitting time off the bench with guys like Roger Mason and Shelvin Mack, but lately he’s moved into a sixth man role on the depth chart. The downside to Crawford’s game is that he’s a shooter who sports a horrible 39.8 FG% this season. Provided you can take the punishment to your FG%, he came into the break on fire, scoring 20+ points in 4 of his last 5 games.

Jerryd Bayless, G, Toronto Raptors: We were already touting Bayless earlier in the season when a reoccurring ankle injury slowed his progress. But with the Raptors reportedly fielding calls about a Jose Calderon trade, it could free up the starting PG spot for Bayless. He’s a completely different type of player than Calderon and is actually more suited to combo guard role than being a true point guard. But even if he’s not going to blow you away with his assist numbers and is a career 41% shooter from the floor, he can still score and hit some threes and is worth a look in deeper leagues.

Stephen Jackson, SG, Milwaukee Bucks: One guy we didn’t mention on the podcast that I know has been getting some attention as a potential guy to stash is Jackson. He’s been a disaster this year, feuding with old school coach Scott Skiles to the point where he’s not even getting into games anymore. He has apparently started a one-man campaign to get traded to where ever his friend Dwight Howard ends up, but it’s a hard sell: Jackson makes $10 million next season and is not exactly doing himself any favors for his trade value. I’d consider him a long-shot and not worth stashing at this point.

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