5 surprises in the first half of the NBA season

We will look at five players who have done well and see if they can keep it up down the stretch. 

5 surprises in the first half of the NBA season


We're halfway through the NBA regular season, so now is a good time to think about how fantasy basketball is going. Let's look at five players who have surprised us in the first half and talk about whether they can keep up their good work down the stretch. 


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1. The Oklahoma City Thunder's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 



Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a very good fantasy option since he joined the Thunder. He had two seasons in a row in which he averaged at least 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists before this season. But it wasn't all good news. Because of injuries, he was only able to play in 91 games over those two seasons.


This season, Gilgeous-Alexander has been mostly healthy and has already played in 38 games. He has not only stayed on the court, but his scoring has gotten even better. He now averages a whopping 31.0 points per game. 


His usage rate has gone up to 32.8%, and he has shot 50.4% from the field, which is more than five percentage points higher than last season. 


He is also making 91.3% of his free throws, which is more than 10 points better than his previous career best. 


As long as he stays healthy and doesn't take any rest days near the end of the season, there's no reason to think that his output will go down.




2. Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz



The Jazz got rid of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert during the offseason to start a rebuild. They gave Mitchell to the Cavaliers in exchange for Lauri Markkanen and picks in the draught. 


The Jazz also got rid of Royce O'Neale, so they needed to fill a lot of minutes and shot attempts. 


Markkanen's best season was when he played for the Bulls in 2018-19. He shot 43.0% from the field and had 18.7 points, 9.0 boards, and 2.3 3-pointers. 


Now that he has to be one of the Jazz's top scorers, he has exploded by averaging 24.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.9 3-pointers per game. He has gotten so good that he now makes 52.4% of his shots from the field and 41.1% from behind the arc. 


This isn't the first time he's gotten better at what he does. During the 2020-21 season, he shot 48.0% overall and 40.2% from long range. As the trade deadline nears, the Jazz are more likely to sell than buy, so Markkanen is likely to keep his leading role for the rest of the season. 




3. Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks



Lopez's season was mostly a waste because he hurt his back and could only play in 13 games. He hasn't averaged more than 12.5 points or 5 rebounds in any of the last four seasons, and the number of blocks he gets per game has been slowly going down, reaching a low of 1.2 per game last year. 


Before this season, it was reasonable to wonder if Lopez, who will be 35 in April, would still be a good fantasy player. 


Lopez has played in 41 games this season and has averaged 30 minutes per game. This has made him more interesting again in fantasy leagues, giving him an average of 14.5 points. per game: 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and 2.0 3-pointers. 


He hasn't averaged at least six rebounds since the 2015–16 season, and his 49.9% field goal percentage would be one of his best since joining the Bucks. 


Khris Middleton's (knee) injury has given Lopez more chances to shoot because Middleton has been out for so long. If Middleton can get healthy, it wouldn't be surprising if the Bucks cut Lopez's minutes to give him some rest before what they hope will be a long playoff run.

 

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4. The Los Angeles Lakers' Thomas Bryant 



Bryant hasn't been able to play as much because of injuries. He had played in 37 games over the last two seasons. During the offseason, he left the Wizards and signed a one-year, $2.1 million deal with the Lakers. 


It's a "prove-it" deal that lets him go back to free agency next summer if he has a good season. 


If he does, he can make more money. The problem with that idea, though, is that in his first 14 games this season, he only played an average of 15 minutes per game. 


Then, Anthony Davis hurt his foot, which changed everything. Bryant has started 14 straight games, and each night he averages 16.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 29 minutes on the court. 


During that time, he has also helped his fantasy value by making 63.6% of his field goals and 76.3% of his free throws. 


Even though he probably won't be as useful once Davis comes back, he probably has a bigger role now than he did before Davis got hurt. Because the Lakers don't have a lot of players, it wouldn't be surprising if Bryant started with Davis at some point. 



5. Bol Bol, Orlando Magic 



Bol might be the player who has come out of nowhere the most this season to become important in fantasy sports. He couldn't get on the court with a Nuggets team that was always trying to make the playoffs. 


They decided to go with more experienced players, which gave Bol fewer chances to grow as a player. Then, last season, they sent him to the Celtics, where he never played. 


He joined the Magic during the off-season, which was another team where he seemed to have few chances to play. They had Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr., Moritz Wagner, and Mo Bamba in their frontcourt. 


Even though he had a lot of talented people around him, the Magic gave Bol a bigger role. He has responded by averaging 12.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks while shooting 58.8% from the field and 73.9% from the free throw line. Given how big he is, it is unusual that he can handle the ball as well as he does. 


The Magic are still in the early stages of rebuilding, so it would make sense for them to keep giving Bol consistent minutes to see if he can become an important part of their future. 


But they have had a crazy number of injuries, so once everyone is healthy again, Bol might only play 20 minutes a game instead of the 26 minutes he has been averaging.





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