Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Of the four major sports, the NBA tends to be most predictable.
Since 1980, only nine franchises -- Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks -- have won NBA championships.
The same is true for fantasy sports. Fantasy basketball top picks usually play like top picks, with little deviation. But that doesn't mean there aren't surprises every year, guys who are drafted late and jump into the top-100 overall.
However, when it comes to surprises, we always have to prepare for the bubble bursting and players regressing to the mean. Let's take a look at 10 surprises from before the All-Star break and how they will fare post-break.
Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Bobcats - Walker's rookie year was dragged down by horrific shooting. He made just 36.6 percent of his shots and averaged 12.1 ppg. He has improved to 42.5 percent this season on 3.2 more attempts per game and averaged 17.2 ppg. Walker slumped into the All-Star break, shooting 35.3 percent and averaging 11.0 ppg in his final six contests.
Outlook: Walker put together 46 games with a .432 shooting percentage so I'm not buying a major regression. Unlike last season, he is in no danger of losing playing time and can still provide fantasy owners with 5.6 assists, 1.9 steals and 3.4 rebounds per game even when he is shooting poorly.
Eric Bledsoe, G, Los Angeles Clippers - Bledsoe has averaged 9.6 points, 3.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds through 56 games. Those don't seem like great totals until you look at his minutes (22 mpg). Bledsoe also puts up 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks per game, tremendous production from a 6-foot-1 backup point guard.
Outlook: If the Clippers want to add a major piece at the trade deadline, they will have to part with Bledsoe, so the young point guard could find himself in a much better fantasy situation. Owners should buy Bledsoe with the potential for 30-plus minutes on the horizon.
J.J. Redick, G, Orlando Magic - Redick averaged a career-high 11.6 ppg last season but nobody expected that he was about to revert to his college form. The sharpshooting guard has posted 15.3 points, 4.4 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 threes per game with an .887 free-throw percentage.
Outlook: Over his last 16 games, Redick is averaging 18.1 points with 3.3 threes in 32.5 minutes. With Glen Davis out for the season, most of Orlando's scoring has to come from its three-guard rotation of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Redick. The only issue is that free-agent-to-be Redick is going to be a popular trade target at the deadline and he might end up on a team that won't use him as freely as the Magic do.
Matt Barnes, SF, Los Angeles Clippers - Barnes' 10.4 ppg is good enough when he also provides 4.7 rpg, 1.1 spg, 0.8 bpg and 1.4 3pt with just 1.2 TO.
Outlook: Barnes closed the first portion of the season with 6.8 ppg on 32.9 percent shooting in 22 mpg over his last 10 games. The presence of veterans Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups and the improved play of Caron Butler (12.6 ppg in 27.5 mpg over last 10) will probably limit Barnes' value.
Chandler Parsons, F, Houston Rockets - Parsons has quietly been a consistent second scoring option for Houston behind James Harden, but 14.5 ppg is not all that he gives to fantasy owners. Parsons is also averaging 5.6 boards, 3.8 dimes, 1.1 steals and 1.8 threes per game with a lofty .471 field-goal percentage.
Outlook: After averaging 15.7 points over his first 21 contests, Parsons slumped to 11.3 ppg in the middle portion of Houston's first-half schedule. However, he turned things around with 15.5 ppg over his last 19 games prior to the All-Star break. Swingman Carlos Delfino plays 25 minutes per game but he hasn't managed to hurt Parsons' value since Parsons takes some minutes at the four when Delfino plays. Playing 36 mpg might catch up to Parsons in the final two months of the season but I don't think it will cause him to decline dramatically from his current averages.
Metta World Peace, F, Los Angeles Lakers - World Peace averaged 7.7 ppg in 27 mpg last season but he showed signs of improvement by posting 15.9 points in the final 10 games. Under coach Mike D'Antoni, World Peace has seen a bump in minutes to 34 per game and threes to 5.9 per game (3.0 last season). He's averaging 12.9 point, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 2.0 threes per game.
Outlook: World Peace went into the All-Star break ice cold with a .325 shooting percentage in his last 14 games. Pau Gasol's foot injury should allow World Peace to continue to get at least 30 minutes and 11 shots per game as a three and four but we have little confidence in his ability to knock down 40 percent of them.
Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic - A throw-in from the Sixers in the Andrew Bynum-Dwight Howard four-team swap, Vucevic has been the most consistent fantasy option from that deal, which also included Andre Iguodala, Arron Afflalo, Earl Clark, Jason Richardson and Moe Harkless, among other lesser names. Vucevic has been a walking double-double, averaging 12.4 points and 11.5 rebounds in 32.5 minutes through 52 games.
Outlook: Going back to Dec. 31, when Vucevic scored 20 points and pulled down 29 rebounds against the Heat, the Magic center has averaged 14.9 points, 13.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 36 minutes over his last 22 games. Vucevic has no competition at the center position and should remain the team's top interior scoring threat with Glen Davis on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
Amir Johnson, PF/C, Toronto Raptors - Johnson was providing his usual mid-level production of 7.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in 22 minutes through 32 games, but injuries to Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani forced the Raptors to give Johnson more minutes. He has posted 12.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks with a .571 field-goal percentage in 34 minutes over his last 20 games (15 starts).
Outlook: It's tough to gauge Johnson's value for the final two months. For one, Bargnani is highly likely to be traded, leaving just Johnson and Valanciunas to play heavy big man minutes. But Toronto has chosen to go small for major portions of the last two games, playing Rudy Gay at the four with DeMar DeRozan, Alan Anderson and Landry Fields handling minutes at the two and three. If that continues, Johnson will have to share center minutes with Valanciunas without having many power forward minutes to take. Plus, he's not going to get many shots with Gay, DeRozan and Kyle Lowry on the perimeter.
Tiago Splitter, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs - The Spurs center averaged 8.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in just 19 minutes over his first 18 games, but San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has found more minutes for the big man as the season has progressed. In the last 36 games, Splitter has started 30 and played 26 minutes per game while averaging 11.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks with .596/.759 shooting percentages.
Outlook: Splitter was succeeding even before Tim Duncan went down with a knee injury, so Duncan's return to the lineup shouldn't spell the end of Splitter's fantasy relevance. Plus, as Popovich rests Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker down the stretch, Splitter will see more usage. Putting up the numbers he has been averaging since early November shouldn't be difficult.
Larry Sanders, PF/C, Milwaukee Bucks - Sanders, a former first-rounder out of VCU, went from an oft-used backup center the last two seasons to the top shot- blocker in the NBA. He's averaging 8.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in just 25 minutes per game.
Outlook: Sanders has missed four straight games with a lower back contusion and Samuel Dalembert has stepped in and put up some eye-popping stats. However, when Sanders was healthy he managed to have massive fantasy value despite playing 25 minutes per game. There's no way the Bucks are going to play Sanders less than that when he returns so fantasy owners can expect more of the same from the big man.
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