We’ve reached the halfway point of the NBA regular season, so it’s a good time to take a minute to reflect on the fantasy basketball landscape. Let’s dive into five players who have been a pleasant surprise in the first half and discuss if they can continue to remain as productive down the stretch.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Since landing with the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has proven to be a very valuable fantasy option. Entering this season, he had back-to-back campaigns in which he averaged at least 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists. It wasn’t all good news, though, with him being limited to a total of 91 games over those two seasons because of injuries.
Gilgeous-Alexander has been mostly healthy this season, appearing in 38 games already. Not only has he remained on the floor, but he has taken his scoring to an even higher level, averaging a whopping 31.0 points per game. His usage rate has shot 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 shooting 91.3% from the free-throw line, which is more than 10 percentage points higher than his previous career best. As long as he stays healthy and avoids potential rest days down the stretch, there’s no reason to think his production will drop off.
Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz
The Jazz dove headfirst into a rebuild this past offseason, dealing away Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. They shipped Mitchell to the Cavaliers, netting a return that included Lauri Markkanen and draft picks. The Jazz also traded away Royce O’Neale, so they had plenty of minutes and shot attempts to fill.
Markkanen’s best season came way back in 2018-19 when he was a member of the Bulls. He put up 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.3 3-pointers while shooting 43.0% from the field. Now tasked with being one of the leading scorers for the Jazz, he has burst out with averages of 24.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.9 3-pointers. He has become incredibly efficient, shooting 52.4% from the field and 41.1% from behind the arc. This isn’t the first time he’s shown added efficiency, either. In the 2020-21 season, he shot 48.0% from the field and 40.2% from deep. The Jazz are more likely to be sellers than buyers as the trade deadline approaches, so Markkanen’s leading role is likely here to stay for the rest of the season.
Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
Last season was mostly a lost campaign for Lopez, who appeared in just 13 games because of a back injury. He hasn’t averaged more than 12.5 points or 5.0 rebounds in any of the last four seasons, and his block numbers have slowly been declining, bottoming out at 1.2 per game last season. Entering this season, it was fair to wonder if Lopez, who turns 35 years old in April, was winding down as a productive fantasy option.
Not only has Lopez been able to play 41 games this season, but he is logging 30 minutes per game. That has helped rejuvenate his fantasy appeal, leaving him to average 14.5 points. 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.0 3-pointers per game. He hasn’t averaged at least six rebounds since the 2015-16 season, and his 49.9% shooting from the field would be one of his best marks since he began his tenure with the Bucks.
One thing that has worked in Lopez’s favor is that more shot attempts have been available with Khris Middleton (knee) missing so much time. If Middleton can get healthy, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bucks pull back on Lopez’s minutes to give him some rest before what they hope will be a long playoff run.
Thomas Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Injuries have derailed Bryant, who had played in a total of 37 games the last two seasons. He left the Wizards during the offseason, signing a one-year, $2.1 million contract with the Lakers. It’s a prove-it deal that would enable him to hit free agency again next summer and cash in if he can put together a healthy campaign. The problem with that thinking, though, is that he averaged just 15 minutes over his first 14 games this season.
A foot injury to Anthony Davis then changed everything. Bryant has started 14 straight games, averaging 16.5 points and 10.4 rebounds in 29 minutes a night. He has also helped his fantasy value by shooting 63.6% from the field and 76.3% from the free-throw line during that stretch. While he likely won’t remain this productive once Davis returns, he has probably played himself into a larger role than what he had before Davis went down. Given the Lakers’ lack of depth, it wouldn’t even be a surprise to see Bryant start alongside Davis at some point.
Bol Bol, Orlando Magic
Maybe the biggest player to come out of nowhere to become fantasy relevant this season is Bol. He couldn’t find his way onto the floor with a Nuggets team that had their sights set on the playoffs every season. They decided to roll with more established players, giving Bol fewer opportunities to advance his development. They then dealt him to the Celtics last season, where he never appeared in a game. He signed in the offseason with the Magic, another team in which he looked to have limited opportunities to play. Their frontcourt included Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr., Moritz Wagner and Mo Bamba.
Even with so much talent around him, the Magic gave Bol an expanded role. He’s 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 charity stripe. Given his size, his ability to handle the ball as well as he does is unique. The Magic are still in the early stages of rebuilding, so it would make sense for them to continue giving Bol consistent minutes to see if he can become an essential part of their future. However, they have dealt with a staggering amount of injuries, so as they get healthy, Bol could play closer to 20 minutes a game, rather than the 26 minutes that he has been averaging.
Mike started covering fantasy sports in 2007, joining RotoWire in 2010. In 2018, he was a finalist for the 2018 FSWA Basketball Writer of the Year award. In addition to RotoWire, Mike has written for Sportsline, Sports Illustrated, DK Live, RealTime Fantasy Sports, Lineup Lab and KFFL.com.