The great thing about fantasy basketball is that championships are very rarely won in the first round. Sure, James Harden and Russell Westbrook have had monster seasons and made a huge impact for their fantasy owners, but finding gems in later rounds that turn into top producers is critical to bringing home the gold.
The problem is that it’s impossible to know with any certainty exactly who will make such a leap. Sure, you can project and make educated guesses, but still, figuring out who will be a breakout star is an inexact science.
Now that the season is just about over, however, we can take a look back and identify those players that went from being solid selections on draft day to leading their teams to victory this season.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics: The diminutive Celtics point guard has shocked everyone this season with his insane fourth quarter scoring binges that provide hope for little guys everywhere. He’s averaging an incredible 29.2 points per game to go along with 5.9 assists per game, 3.2 threes, and 91 percent from the line with 8.7 attempts. All of this has led to Thomas landing in the 10th spot on ESPN’s Player Rater, causing owners who picked him up with the 24th selection on average to celebrate their good fortune.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers: Most fantasy owners assumed that Damian Lillard would put up the lion’s share of the stats in Portland’s backcourt, but running mate McCollum has proved them wrong. With averages of 23.3 points and 2.4 threes per game, McCollum has been neck-and-neck with Lillard all season, and currently is the 15th most valuable player in fantasy basketball. After being selected 28th overall on average, McCollum’s rise has helped a number of teams cross the finish line first.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz: I was high on Gobert heading into the season, but even I couldn’t imagine just how dominant he would be this year. He has been the top shot blocker in the league this season, and while his free throw shooting is a tough pill to swallow, the Stifle Tower has been so good everywhere else that he is still the 14th best player in fantasy basketball. It’s a bounce-back campaign after a down year, and Gobert is putting up career-highs nearly across the board. The Jazz are looking to make a lot of noise in the playoffs this year, and a big reason why has been the play of their man in the middle. If you snagged him around his average draft spot of 43, you got a heck of a deal.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: Like Gobert, Turner was one of my favorites on draft day. Even so, few could have imagined that he’d have the kind of value that he does now. He was selected 73rd overall on average, but as of this writing, Turner is sitting at 20th on the ESPN Player Rater. He just recently turned 21, and with his combination of blocks, rebounds, and the ability to contribute positively in BOTH percentage categories (rare for a big man), Turner is on the short list for the most exciting prospects in the league.
Otto Porter Jr, Washington Wizards: Ok, this is a bit of stretch because, at 27th overall, Porter isn’t really one of the top players in fantasy basketball this season. However, his ascension has been a major surprise and a huge boon for the Washington Wizards. Porter has become the quintessential 3-and-D player and thanks to his efficiency contributes positively across the board in eight category fantasy basketball leagues. He wasn’t selected until 102nd on average, so if you drafted him, congratulations.