• We all seem to view the NBA All-Star break as the “halfway point” of the NBA season, but in reality, it’s two-thirds of the way through the season. There are only seven and a half weeks left in the NBA season, and in many fantasy leagues, there are only two and a half weeks left in the regular season with two or three weeks dedicated to the playoffs beyond that. If you go to the end of the season (which is something we strongly advise you don’t do), you’re looking at a month remaining in your fantasy league, maximum.

    All of this is to say that the end is nigh. We are wrapping this thing up and with only a few weeks remaining, we can start to draw some early conclusions about fantasy studs and duds.

    One of the benefits of doing this content from the beginning of the season is that we get to look back at where we may have been right about players, where we were wrong, and to what degree. It’s all documented, and we’re very into transparency here at SportsEthos. We stand by our processes and take our wins and losses in stride, just like true hoopers.

    Let’s take a look at the break and see which players and teams have been the biggest good surprises.

    The Good Surprises

    Scottie Barnes

    Surprise Level: Low

    The takeoff is here, and it is freaking glorious. He’s sitting on a second-round value for the season and has a real opportunity to finish as a first-round stud the rest of the way if he can avoid a shutdown. The Raptors are a team in flux, but that hasn’t truly affected Barnes in a huge way. Aside from some shooting woes (45/26/85 vs. 48/37/75) and regression in steals (0.8 vs. 1.4), his numbers look virtually the same since the Pascal Siakam trade.

    The biggest development in his game has been the three-point shot which has jumped a whopping 7.1% over last season. That’s a huge improvement, and it’s the kind of thing we like to see with a guy who has a questionable jump shot like Scottie. The Raptors have fully committed to building around him, which bodes well for his future.

    This takes some context, but I traded for Barnes in a 30-team dynasty league, and I traded away Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA is assuredly going to be a top-5 fantasy asset for years to come, but I’m sitting in 14th place, right in the middle of the pack, with a lot of young players on my team. I also snagged Jaden Ivey, who I am high on as a scoring guard, and a future first-round pick way down the line in the swap. Barnes is showing all the signs of developing into a first-round monster and he’s probably going to be a big-time target for us next season as he probably won’t be drafted in the first round in most cases.

    Jalen Johnson

    Surprise Level: Low

    Look, we had Johnson pinned as a breakout candidate well before any other site. So yeah, we’re only mildly surprised with his near-top-40 production. We saw what he did in the playoffs, saw what the Hawks needed, and it wasn’t difficult to come to the conclusion that the kid could become a baller for this club. We didn’t have him quite this high, so of course he’s still surprising us.

    The athleticism is off the charts and the team is slowly coming to the realization building around well-rounded players like Johnson and Dejounte Murray is the way to go. Trae Young is reportedly the one they’re souring on. Whatever happens around him, the ceiling here was evident and it should continue for the rest of the season as the Hawks are in the thick of the race.

    Boards and steals are his calling card now, but he should focus on improving from the free-throw line and that should improve his game further. Getting there more often and hitting them at a better clip will make him a dangerous fantasy player (and real-life player).

    The Oklahoma City Thunder

    Surprise Level: Low

    Look, this isn’t a HUGE surprise to us here at SportsEthos. After all, I was all over their win totals over prop.

    But they’re on track to win 56 games this season, which would be absolute insanity. They’re currently in a battle with the Timberwolves (1.5 games back) for FIRST overall in the Western Conference, with the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets nipping at their heels. That’s beyond our wildest expectations, surely.

    The addition of Chet Holmgren to this squad and the improvement of Jalen Williams from season one to season two have been massive, and the only question marks that remain are depth and Josh Giddey, who has failed to improve on a natural arc for an NBA player.

    The depth issue isn’t a huge one as they have added Gordon Hayward, who’s going to slot in nicely as a third option for this team, and their starting lineup happens to have an average age of 22.6. Young guys can play a boatload of minutes with minimal repercussions, so we are going to expect them to go 6-7 deep in the playoffs and honestly, those top guys should be able to hang with any team. It’s crazy to think they’re a true threat to emerge from the West, but it’s true.

    Alex Caruso

    Surprise Level: Low

    Honestly, this one hinges mostly on his health, but the most surprising aspect of Caruso’s game this season has been his three-point shooting. He’s shooting 40.1% from beyond the arc, identical to his numbers across 20.1 minutes per game in 2020-21 with the Lakers. That, coupled with a career-best 48.2% from the field has led to sixth-round value on the season.

    We all knew the steals were at an elite level, but this season has been special on several fronts for Caruso. The NBA has done this wonky thing this year where they have counted some steals as blocks and as a result, he’s seen his steal rate fall a bit but his blocks are a career-high and nearly double last year’s output per game. The Bulls have lucked out as they can now afford to lose their second-best player in Zach LaVine and still maintain a competitive ball club thanks to the emergence of Coby White and the fantastic season from Alex Caruso.

    He’s the heart and soul of the Bulls team, which means he should stick. All we need is good health, and so far he has appeared in 47/55 games (85.4%) this season. That could change any time with the breakneck way he plays, and the Bulls are playing with fire publicly stating they wanted to keep his minutes in check only to roll him out there for 30.7 minutes per night over the past two months. Let’s all cross our collective fingers here.

    Keegan Murray

    Surprise Level: Low

    Murray has all the talent, but with so much other talent on this Kings roster, it was difficult to see him breaking out. The breakout hasn’t been massive, but he’s well within the top 75 with some very big games. Every category is up this season, with the only exception being his three-point percentage. His minutes have only climbed over last season and the Kings didn’t do anything at the deadline to lessen their need for more Uncle Keegz.

    The team on the whole has been mildly disappointing, perhaps, but Murray certainly has not. They gave the Kings a load of crap for taking Murray over Jaden Ivey, but so far that’s looked like the right call. We’re looking forward to watching this young man bud into a bonafide all-star in the not-too-distant future.

    Ausar Thompson

    Surprise Level: Low

    It’s not often we find rookies breaking into the top 150, but that’s where Ausar Thompson has been over the past few weeks after the Pistons cleaned house. He rocketed out of the gate with top-50 value, and we knew that wouldn’t stick but he was the hottest add off the waiver wire in the first few weeks of the season. Ah, we remember it like it was yesterday…

    Then he was inexplicably benched as Monty Williams went with veterans, even while the team continued to drop games. Now that he’s forced to play him, we see what the floor can be. He’s a strong guy to add or try to acquire in dynasty settings, but be wary if the Pistons decide to go add a star in the offseason. He contributes across the board with defensive stats and boards being his calling card when all is going right.

    CJ McCollum

    Surprise Level: Low

    He needed to figure out his free-throw line yips and he has, shooting 79.8% from the stripe. It’s not great, but it’s been enough to lift him several rounds above his draft-day ADP in a vast majority of cases. It has also been helpful that he has tied his career high in three-point percentage thus far and is shooting the second-most volume from beyond the arc in his career. Honestly, not much to add here, but he seems to be rounding back into form in season 11, and hopefully, he has a few good seasons left in him before he sees the inevitable decline that comes with age.

    Victor Wembanyama

    Surprise Level: Mid

    It’s not a surprise he’s very good, but how could we have known he’d lead the NBA in blocks per game by a wide margin in his rookie year? He’s averaging 3.2 swats per game compared to Walker Kessler’s 2.8 per game (with old man Brook Lopez hanging in there with 2.7 per game). Some of this can likely be attributed to team need. The Spurs get beat off the bounce plenty, leading to better-than-average opportunities to block shots at the rim. Still, we can’t take away from Wembanyama’s greatness, and he’s sitting on a first-round valuation thus far and a first-round valuation for the rest of the season according to our own projections.

    I personally have some concerns about a looming shutdown as the Spurs pack it in for next season, but with recent comments from coach Gregg Popovich that they are going to increase his minutes after the break, things are looking good for the young man. He could return historic numbers on the season, and that’s not just for rookies.

    This young man’s future is indeed bright, but we have very minimal shares of Wemby at SportsEthos as we felt it was hard to justify his ADP. We were likely wrong here, though an end-of-season shutdown will certainly derail the season for Wemby owners.

    Kawhi Leonard

    Surprise Level: Mid

    We all know the skill level here, but Leonard has dealt with load management and injuries for the past six seasons. This season? How about Kawhi Leonard playing in 48 of 53 games (90.6%)? That includes seven of eight back-to-backs on the season by the way.

    He has top-5 value in 2023-24 despite slipping to the third round on draft day. There’s no doubt that the Clippers need to start to look seriously at keeping their key guys healthy for the playoffs, but he should still continue to roll out there for a majority of the games. The Clippers are going to be a very dangerous team come playoff time.

    Leonard owners are laughing to the bank this season and likely cruising to wins with potentially two first-rounders on their squad.

    Coby White

    Surprise Level: Mid

    I’m almost tempted to call this “high,” but I did take some shots on him in best ball-type settings this past draft season because it’s clear as day that the Bulls needed him to take a step forward (or move him in a trade for a guy like a Jordan Clarkson) if they wanted to have any semblance of success. Of course, that theory isn’t entirely what happened as Zach LaVine’s lackluster play to start the season and eventual surgery opened up the runway for long-term Coby White goodness. He’s slotted right into that LaVine role.

    He’s looked infinitely more comfortable in getting to his spots and taking his shots, and he’s nearly doubled his production in points, assists, and rebounds over last season. Of course, he’s also seeing more minutes. His efficiency has also been better though, with a career-best FG% and 3PT%. The Bulls are jockeying for position in the Play-In bracket, so he should continue to see nice usage and minutes for the remainder of the season.

    Isaiah Hartenstein

    Surprise Level: Mid

    This should only be a “low” surprise, but I was all but certain that I had to be out on Hartenstein this season. So of course, it’s the season he has taken off. Hartenstein entered the fold of fantasy analyst “toutdom” in 2020-21 with a strong stretch with the Cavs at the end of the season. His numbers won’t jump off the page from a raw sense, but the per-minute production was elite and we were all holding our breath to see what happened next. A strong 2021-22 campaign with the Clippers solidified Hartenstein as a fantasy darling as he finished in the top 150 on just 17.9 minutes per game.

    When he wound up on the Knicks last season, we couldn’t contain our excitement. The mercurial Mitchell Robinson has never been a favorite of Coach Thibodeau and Hartenstein profiled as the exact kind of center Thibs loves to trot out there for 35+ minutes to get his guards open looks. His profile is actually strikingly similar to former Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah’s. But ultimately he didn’t get his chance in 2022-23, even when Mitchell Robinson missed games. It was quite a puzzling situation.

    In year two with the Knicks, he’s finally taken off.

    On offense, he’s s strong screen setter (17th in screen assists this season), a guy who loves to attack the rim off the dribble from the top of the key (84th percentile in points per shot attempt, according to Cleaning the Glass), and a very serviceable passing center (82nd percentile in assists compared to usage, according to Cleaning the Glass). On defense, he has active hands and a fantastic feel for rebounds. He’s in the 90th percentile for offensive rebounding rate, 97th (!) for offensive rebounding rates off free throw, and 90th percentile for steal rate, all according to Cleaning the Glass.

    All of this has led to a top-75 valuation for Hartentstein on the season for fantasy, and that could very well rise. The team looks better with him out there than Mitchell Robinson as well, but we’ll see what happens when Robinson returns at the end of this season.

    Chet Holmgren

    Surprise Level: Mid

    We are quite pleased with Mr. Holmgren over here at SportsEthos as we had him several rounds before his ADP and ended up with him in many spots. He’s lived up to his big-fantasy-game billing, and then some. Holmgren has been a bit underwhelming of late, but still rests on a second-round valuation despite being drafted in the middle rounds in most leagues.

    We have him projected for a strong finish, but he should wind up as an easy second-round guy. The kicker here is that his team has been winning basketball games left and right, which just adds fuel to the fire when people start to discuss whether a player is playing “winning” basketball. He should be locked in for his current role for the foreseeable future.

    Tyrese Maxey

    Surprise Level: Mid

    We all know that Tyrese Maxey is a baller, but we didn’t know it was quite to this level. Has he struggled to be the primary offensive weapon at times? Absolutely. Does that matter to us in fantasy hoops? Not at all. He’s been a solid second-round player and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change down the stretch here, especially with Joel Embiid being out. If you drafted Maxey, you’re likely doing very well in your leagues.

    Taking away James Harden has opened things considerably, and that much was obvious, but we figured he’d struggle with efficiency. That’s certainly been the case with drops of 3.2% in field goal percentage and 5.6% in three-point percentage, but he’s managed to get to the line two more times per game and his assists per game have nearly doubled compared to last season. He’s achieved career highs in steals per game and blocks per game as well. The tradeoff of efficiency for counting stats has worked in his favor in a big way.

    Grayson Allen

    Surprise Level: Mid

    I think everyone is comfortable with equating Allen to the “wart that just won’t go away.” The man with the most punchable face in the entire league has been playing good (mostly clean) basketball for the past three seasons, and if you haven’t been paying attention since he took off in Memphis then you are letting your hatred blind you to one of the most useful fantasy players you could have snagged off the wire.

    His offensive game is made for the NBA with his ability to quickly rise up with a jump shot from anywhere on the floor, and he has become quite excellent at picking his spots next to better players. He was the perfect offensive addition for this championship-hopeful Suns squad that features Devin Booker and Kevin Durant heavily. Allen is seeing some of the most open looks of his life on nights when those two are drawing all the attention, and he’s capitalizing with a league-leading 48.2% from beyond the arc. Why wasn’t this man in the three-point contest again? Because no one cares about the all-star festivities? Oh yeah.

    I would expect his shooting to regress a bit down the stretch, but not by much. We all put these guys who go 50/40/90 in their shooting splits on a pedestal and Allen is sitting at 51/48/89. It’s just pure insanity. The other developments have been equally nice as he’s become a true playmaker and achieved a career-high in assists per game. His blocks per game have doubled over his previous career high, but that can be attributed to the NBA changing how they define a block versus a steal.

    The only thing he’ll have to avoid is injuring someone seriously (again).

    Daniel Gafford

    Surprise Level: Mid

    Daniel Gafford has had some bad luck with injuries in his six-season career, but even when he has played his minutes have historically been held in check. He’s been able to go max speed with the Wizards, and what we have seen is comfortable early-round value. His value does become quite skewed by his insane field-goal percentage and block rate, which most ranking systems tend to weigh more heavily, but even without that, it has been very good.

    Now the kid gloves are off though and I’m very excited to see what Gafford looks like on a Mavs team that’s trying to win a championship, with a young rookie who has been very solid thus far in his career in tow. Can he win the position battle, or will this devolve into a timeshare? So far, the minutes have been down, but there’s always an adjustment period for a player joining a new team. If Gafford can continue to see this kind of production after joining the Mavs, it’s time to get very excited about him long-term.

    Dereck Lively

    Surprise Level: Mid

    Lively was a big question mark for many analysts heading into this season, with most landing on him being a decent last-round or late-round flyer. So far that has been paid off with top-100 returns. Now things have gotten murky with the addition of Daniel Gafford.

    Lively profiles as a great fit alongside Luka Doncic with his ability to create more possessions for the superstar. His activity on the offensive glass is his greatest asset, but he hasn’t been too shabby with 1.5 blocks per game as well. Perhaps he can still squeak by with top-150 value, but we’re almost certain to see a dip in production here. Gafford is an established veteran who brings a similar skillset to the table.

    Duncan Robinson (and Honorable Mention Jaime Jaquez Jr.)

    Surprise Level: Mid

    Duncan Robinson was a guy who had seemed to get his bag and fallen off the side of a cliff. This season he’s recovered in a big way, working his way back toward his ridiculous 44.6% from beyond the arc in 2019-20 (41.2% this season). He’s been forced into a bigger role due to Tyler Herro missing some time and Jimmy Butler yet again missing a large chunk of the season. He’s been hitting his shots, but perhaps the biggest development has been his improved assist rate. It’s still not great, but it’s actually on the radar now. His role is still bound to fluctuate on this Heat team that has a “next guy up” mentality every single game, but on the whole, he’s been worth rostering.

    Much of the above applies to Jaime Jaquez Jr., but he’s a rookie so it’s somewhat even more notable. He has seen his role shrink with the addition of Terry Rozier and Jimmy Butler getting healthy though, so we’re not super bullish on him for the rest of the season.

    Miles Bridges

    Surprise Level: Mid

    This one’s a tricky one because the talent is obviously there from a basketball standpoint. Right before most fantasy leagues drafted, he fell face-first into another legal situation involving billiard balls and child endangerment. Those charges have just recently been dropped, but it was hard to tell if he was going to play this season or not. It was a risky play, but knowing the risk we still went in and tried to snag him late in drafts.

    Another lost season for LaMelo Ball and a trade veto have since solidified his rest-of-season value. He’s going to stay in Charlotte and they’re unlikely to bring back Ball unless they go on a historic tear and threaten to get in the mix for the Play-In. The new veterans the Hornets have brought in are playing well though and they have started to string together some wins, but we would be hard-pressed to tag this ragtag crew with the ability to go on a historic run. The future should be a bit brighter if nothing else.

    The Hornets are on pace to win just 20ish games this season, which is obviously horrid. If they can finish this season strong though, they should be able to build some goodwill heading into next season.

    Minnesota Timberwolves

    Surprise Level: High

    You all told me the big was dead and I have a bone to pick with you. Honestly, this took me by surprise in a big way as well. There’s just no way this Twin Tower concept should have worked on paper, but after watching this team all season it’s clear that the bigs they have actually possess some major guard skills. Whether that’s Rudy Gobert’s ability to stick with guards on the perimeter, Karl-Anthony Towns stepping out to the three-point line, or Naz Reid beating folks off the dribble with regularity, these bigs can play and they can play together while winning games. We have a big enough sample size to know now that this team is an absolute force on the defensive end due to their size advantage over most opponents.

    Of course, there is the development of Anthony Edwards into a bonafide star to talk about. This kid is an absolute delight to watch. My favorite player by far, and his attitude off the court certainly matches the way he plays. He’s fun, if perhaps a little misguided at times.

    The Kryptonite for this team? Their lead guard depth. They added Monte Morris, but we’ve seen what the team looks like without Mike Conley down the stretch of close basketball games. Hopefully, Morris can help them stabilize, but that’s something to watch in the playoffs. It could be their undoing. Beyond this year, it’s very clear what they have to figure out.

    Jonathan Kuminga

    Surprise Level: High

    They say necessity is the mother of invention, and without Draymond Green, Steve Kerr had to mix and match his lineups. He grew to trust guys he hadn’t trusted before, and Kuminga was certainly one of them. He’s posted value in the top 125 dating back to Green’s suspension and has easily been in the top 100 over the past month.

    He’s also shooting a blistering 56.6% from the field in that time span, which is a tad bit ridiculous until you consider his shot selection.

    Shot chart via Cleaning the Glass

    Kuminga has abandoned the mid-range and has used his athleticism to get into the paint and finish at the rim. He also has shot very well from the corner-three spot on the left side of the court.

    The most notable thing though is that Green’s return hasn’t cut into Kuminga’s production one bit, and to add a cherry on top the Warriors are winning basketball games again. He’s likely to stick in this role the rest of the way, barring any kind of injury or disaster.

    Aaron Nesmith

    Surprise Level: High

    I don’t truly think Aaron Nesmith was on anyone’s radar before he burst onto the scene pretty quickly with a 26-point outburst in Indiana’s second game of the season. I was skeptical, but by November 6th, I was coming around and by the middle to end of November I was on board the Nesmith train.

    I have him everywhere and I was rarely getting beat to him. He’s putting up eighth-round value on the season, but there was about a month where he was putting up enough stats to be a few rounds higher than that. He’s still putting up ninth-round stats over the past month, so he deserves to be on rosters even with Tyrese Haliburton and Pascal Siakam healthy.

    He’s the perfect two-way player for this team to have some semblance of defense while not sacrificing too much on the offensive end, and he’s showcased an ability to explode in the points department too. I must admit I did not have him circled as a guy who would be worth rostering in any way this season.

    Mike Conley

    Surprise Level: High

    Mike Conley will be finishing out his 17th NBA season in style as he has played exceedingly well for the Timberwolves and has proven to be absolutely essential to what they want to do. At 36 years old, many believed there wouldn’t be much left in the tank, as reflected in his ADP being around the 10th round.

    On the season, he’s putting up sixth-round value.

    Yeah, the missed game on back-to-backs could be a bummer, and his scoring is certainly down compared to earlier in his career, but the assists and steals are there as always. Plus, he’s shooting a career-best 44.2% from beyond the arc as well as a career-best 92.3% from the charity stripe. Combine that with the lowest turnovers per game of his entire career and you have a recipe for a veteran point guard’s swan song that is absolute fantasy gold. His numbers won’t be eye-popping, but they’ll be reliable and they will help you win.

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