We have reached a strange point in the Fantasy season. Week 16 (Feb. 11-17) will technically count as a full scoring period for the purposes of your standings, despite 26 of the 30 teams in the NBA being done playing by Wednesday due to the All-Star break. With the exception of the Clippers, who play three times, every team in the NBA plays either one or two games this week.
That creates issues for my weekly Start 'Em, Sit 'Em column, as I cannot do much with such a limited schedule. There are simply not many matchups to exploit with five different teams playing just one time. So, while you will still find a limited sidebar featuring start/sit recommendations for the week, I have decided to eschew weekly tradition, just this once.
We're a bit past the halfway mark of the season, with 16 Fantasy scoring periods behind us and 10 ahead, but this is as good a time as any to pause, catch our breath and take stock of the season that has been. Every year, our preseason expectations are blown up pretty much from the moment the first games tip off, whether due to injury, changes in rotations or just unforeseen internal improvement.
With a nice long break staring us in the face after these next few days, here's a look back at the players who have surprised and disappointed, as well as those who might do so down the stretch.
Greivis Vasquez, Guard, Hornets: (Average Draft Position: 103th overall, 47th for guards; 8th in Fantasy points, 6th for guards) Vasquez emerged as a viable Fantasy option last season, especially when asked to run the team's offense as a starter. Anyone who says they saw this kind of season coming from him is either a liar or a soothsayer of the highest order, however, because Vasquez has been one of the top players in all of Fantasy, without qualification. Vasquez leads the league in total assists, and has turned into a fine scorer in his own right as the Hornets' primary ball-handler -- not bad for a player who was drafted as late as the 11th rounds in some leagues. I would be inclined to say he is due to come back to Earth eventually, but he had his best month of the season in January, and is just days removed from the first triple-double of his career. If you were lucky enough to snag Vasquez, there is little doubt that you are in fine shape cruising into the playoffs.
J.J. Redick, Guard, Magic: (Average Draft Position: 145th overall, 69th for guards; 76th in Fantasy points, 38thth for guards) Redick has made incremental improvements to his game throughout his career, finally becoming a consistent double-digit scorer over the previous two seasons. With the Magic in need of some offensive creativity, however, he has emerged as a true playmaker this season. Usually, when role players are asked to take on a bigger load, efficiency takes a hit, but that has not been the case for Redick. He is averaging career-highs across the board, including in shooting percentage. Fantasy owners have remained skeptical about Redick's utility this season, with his ownership still sitting below 90 percent, and unfortunately, there might not be much time to jump on the bandwagon. Redick seems all-but-certain to be moved to a contender down the stretch, which would likely limit the number of touches he can earn. Enjoy this while it lasts.
Amir Johnson, Forward, Raptors: (Average Draft Position: 196th overall,73rd for forwards; 90th in Fantasy points, 42nd for forwards) Johnson has been around for a while now, but he is still just 25 years old. He has taken a step forward hear in his eighth NBA season, putting up career-highs across the board. In the past, he has been intermittently useful in the past, but has really emerged after a somewhat slow start. After averaging just 7.0 points per game in the first month of the season, he is putting up 11.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game since Dec. 1. The Raptors traded the younger Ed Davis to clear a spot for Johnson as the starting power forward moving forward, so they seem to have no plans of limiting his role. Johnson might be here to stay.
Larry Sanders, Forward, Bucks: (Average Draft Position: Undrafted; 101st in Fantasy points, 48th for forwards) Sanders has long had the physical ability to be a defensive standout, but had never been able to stay on the floor consistently prior to this season due to foul trouble. In 2011-12, Sanders averaged 7.4 fouls per-36 minutes, the 38th-highest single-season total since the introduction of the three-point line. He still fouls at an astronomical rate (5.1 per-36 minutes), but Sanders has curtailed the fouls enough to stay on the floor for 25.4 minutes per game so far this season, with predictable increases in his across-the-board production. Sanders remains a work in progress on offense, but is already the league's most dominant rim defender, putting up a league-best 3.2 blocks per game. There is no indication that Sanders will not remain a viable Fantasy option moving forward, a big improvement over preseason expectations -- especially considering his center eligibility.
Nikola Vucevic, Center, Magic: (Average Draft Position: 171st overall, 25th for centers; 44th in Fantasy points, 10th for centers) Despite a solid collegiate career at the University of Southern California, Vucevic has been an afterthought since entering the NBA. Admittedly, I saw little of this season coming from Vucevic, who was barely able to crack the 76ers' rotation as a rookie and was a mere throw-in in the Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynum trade. Vucevic is arguably one of the two biggest surprises in the league so far, averaging a double-double per game, while ranking third in the league in total double-doubles. Despite playing just 32.7 minutes per game, he is putting up 12.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, the latter good for fourth in the league. Vucevic looks like much more than a spare part from that trade, and is making every Fantasy owner who took a late-round flier look like a genius. And don't try to pretend that was you; Vucevic was only grabbed in 43.9 percent of CBSSports.com leagues on Draft Day.
Kyle Lowry, Guard, Raptors: (Average Draft Position: 44th overall, 17th for guards; 88th in Fantasy points,46th for guards) The Raptors gave up a likely lottery-protected pick for Lowry this offseason, with the expectation that he would usurp Jose Calderon as the starter moving forward. Instead, Calderon hung around in the starting lineup until the Raptors finally traded him, officially handing the keys to Lowry just a few weeks ago. Lowry's talent certainly cannot be denied, but he continues to butt heads with coaches, and questions about his likelihood to reach his upside loom large. He has a chance to live up to our hopes over the season's final 30 or so games, but we were expecting much more than 12.9 points and 5.8 assists per game.
Marcus Thornton, Guard, Kings: (Average Draft Position: 78th overall, 34th for guards; 180th in Fantasy points, 89th for guards) I think I am going to get "Never Rely on a Kings player” printed on a banner in big, 96-point Futura font and hang it above my desk for when I am getting ready for next season. Every year, the Kings prove to be one of the most unpredictable teams in the league, with players falling in and out of Fantasy relevancy with little advanced notice. Tyreke Evans has been the poster-child for frustrating Sacramento-based Fantasy options in the past, but Thornton has wrested his crown away this year. After averaging 18.7 points per game last season, Thornton has fallen on his face this season, putting up just 11.0 points per game. He has tripped out of the rotation for the most part, and has gotten worse as the season has gone on. Coach Keith Smart has not been afraid to pull players from the rotation while running the team, and Thornton is the latest to fall victim. Thornton has barely been worth owning in most Fantasy formats this season.
Kris Humphries, Forward, Nets: (Average Draft Position: 82nd overall, 33rd for forwards; 208th in Fantasy points, 110th for forwards) With the Nets' offseason spending spree, it would not have been a surprise to see Humphries fall in value this season. The Nets added a number of high-priced players, and were no longer looking like the cellar-dwelling doormat on which Humphries made his name. The shocking thing about Humphries' season is who he has lost his role in the offense to; veteran Reggie Evans. Evans is making just $1.6 million this season, or roughly 13.5 percent of Humphries' salary, yet has played 275 more minutes already. After being one of just a handful of NBA players to average a double-double over the previous two seasons, Humphries' averages have tumbled to 5.9 points and 6.4 points per game. The Nets' focus on defense has cost Humphries much more than anyone anticipated, and he has dropped more than 50 percent in ownership since Draft Day. He might be the biggest disappointment around.
Pau Gasol, Forward, Lakers: (Average Draft Position: 20th overall, 8th for forwards; 91st in Fantasy points, 43rd for forwards) Extenuating circumstances exist for Gasol, who had been hobbled by injuries for much of the season even before suffering the torn plantar fascia in his right foot last week. Even before the injury that will keep him out for six to eight weeks, however, Gasol was proving to be one of the most disappointing players around. Fantasy owners on average grabbed him with a second-round pick, but like most of his Lakers' teammates, he badly underperformed. Gasol was averaged a career-low 13.0 points per game, and his 8.0 rebounds average was his second lowest in the last eight years. With his experience working with Andrew Bynum, we never expected Gasol to struggle next to Dwight Howard, but he just never found his footing, shooting just 45.3 percent from the field. Gasol may end up sitting out until the Fantasy postseason, capping off one of the worst picks of the season.
Roy Hibbert, Center, Pacers: (Average Draft Position: 45th overall, 9th for centers; 87th in Fantasy points, 7th for guards) Hibbert's regression this year has been very difficult to watch, as he seems incapable of making even the easiest shots. A career 48.1 percent shooter from the field entering the season, Hibbert has gotten just 41.6 percent of his shots to fall this season. The big man takes 80.3 percent of his shots from within 10 feet of the basket, but is shooting just 42.1 percent from those spots; he shot 53.5 percent on those shots a year ago. The rest of Hibbert's stats are largely in line with what we have come to expect, so there is still hope for a turnaround. Unlike some of the other players listed above, I would still recommend trying to buy low on Hibbert down the stretch.
Three players who could surprise, and three who could disappoint down the stretch:
Jeremy Lin, Guard, Rockets: I expected Lin to struggle with his efficiency in his first full season, and that has mostly come true. Fortunately, there are signs that he is starting to figure things out, as he is shooting 49.0 percent from the field and averaging 14.0 points per game over the last 10, on just 9.8 field-goal attempts. He is always going to play second fiddle in Houston's backcourt with James Harden around, but he has not been limited in his attempts. Lin has impressed with his play-making for others already this season, and he should continue to benefit from the attention Harden draws as the two continue to get comfortable.
Michael Beasley, Forward, Suns: He has been one of the bigger disappointments so far, as we expected the Suns to lean heavily on him after bestowing a three-year contract on him in the offseason. Things are looking up, though; in nine games since Alvin Gentry left the team, Beasley is averaging 15.8 points per game on 46.5 percent shooting. They could continue to feature the perplexing former No. 2 pick as their season continues to slip away.
Jonas Valanciunas, Center, Raptors Valanciunas has been passable at times, but is obviously showing the issues that we know to expect from most 20 year olds. Still, the Raptors have cleared room in the rotation for their 2011 No. 4 overall pick, and he should see 25-plus minutes moving forward now that he is healed from a hand injury. With Lowry as his pick-and-roll partner, Valanciunas could breakout.
Metta World Peace, Forward, Lakers: World Peace shocked the world (pardon the awful pun) when he began the season by looking like an actual NBA player on the offensive side of the ball. After averaging just 8.2 points per game on 39.5 percent shooting over his first two seasons in Los Angeles, the man formerly known as Ron Artest came out red hot to begin the season. World Peace shot 42.7 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three-point range over the first two months of the season, leading to a 13.5 points per game average. World Peace is still chucking the ball up a tone, but has been unable to find the hoop recently, shooting just 36.2 percent over the last 20 games. World Peace is a drain on the Lakers' offense, and they have to tell him to dial it back before long. Don't be shocked when World Peace is no longer attempting a dozen shots per game.
J.R. Smith, Guard, Knicks: In some ways, Smith has had a similar season to World Peace; though he is a much more accomplished offensive player, Smith opened the season with a torrent of hot shooting, by his standards. Like World Peace, he has fallen back to earth since the first few months, though the Knicks are still relying on him in a big way. The team is finally healthy, and may choose to lean a little less on a player who is attempting 6.7 threes per game and making just 30.8 percent since Jan. 1.
Ramon Sessions, Guard, Bobcats: Sessions is playing at a much higher level than we have grown accustomed, as the Bobcats are featuring him as one of their main scoring options. Sessions is averaging 15.1 points per game over the last 25 games; in what is probably a coincidence, the Bobcats have won just 20 percent of their games in that span. Sessions is just 26 years old and signed to a reasonable contract, but he does not really fit into the team's long-term plans. A trade or reduced role would not come as a surprise in the second half, and either would obviously change his Fantasy outlook.
Start 'Em and Sit 'Em options
Randy Foye, Jazz
Vince Carter, Mavericks
Will Bynum, Pistons
Charlie Villanueva, Pistons
Jeff Green, Celtics
Earl Clark, Lakers
DeAndre Jordan, Clippers
Robin Lopez, Hornets
Jarrett Jack, Warriors
J.J. Redick, Magic
J.R. Smith, Knicks
Tayshaun Prince, Grizzlies
Jared Dudley, Suns
Matt Barnes, Cippers
Andrew Bogut, Warriors
Chris Kaman, Mavericks