When I was a kid, before recycling was required by law, my mother insisted that we pack up all of our cans, bottles, newspapers and magazines and drive them 30 minutes to the nearest recycling facility. Back in the '80s, you couldn't just throw everything into one receptacle and walk it down to the bottom of the driveway. Fast forward five years later and you couldn't drive down my hometown street without seeing a never-ending line of yellow recycling cans ready for Tuesday morning pickup.
The same thing happened when she bought my younger sister a pair of Uggs for her birthday about two years before anyone had ever heard of them. Now if you try walking around in NYC in the winter, you'd be hard-pressed to find a woman who's not wearing Uggs.
Congrats, Mom, not only are you consistently well ahead of the curve, but you typically beat it by around five years.
In fantasy hoops and in life, we get a certain feeling of satisfaction when we are ahead of the curve. And when we're right about something, we become attached, almost like it's a part of our very being. I feel this way about players like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. I liked them before it was cool to do so, and so I claim them as mine. All mine. And we all have "our" players like this, don't we? The guys whom we tell our friends about a few years before they blow up, then beam with pride when they become household names. But in fantasy hoops, being ahead of the curve is so much more than just that feeling of pride that we get. Finding a player before they break out and getting rid of a player before they decline is the key to all things fantasy.
This isn't groundbreaking analysis or anything. I think we all know the merits of buy low/sell high already. But here's the thing. Fantasy owners are far too reactive and less proactive when it comes to making the type of speculative moves that can keep us ahead of the curve. Most players don't get picked up until after they start playing well, and rightfully so. Balancing the need for production now versus the need for production later is one of the biggest challenges fantasy owners face. But when owners are too reactive to current trends, they often miss the boat on a bunch of players who are primed to break out. And with only a few months of the season left, it's time for certain owners (notably those that are in the middle of the pack) to take a page out of my mother's book and try to get ahead of the curve by identifying and acquiring second-half breakout candidates before the rest of the fantasy world finds out about them.
A few weeks ago, I listed DeMarcus Cousins, Amir Johnson, J.J. Hickson, Darren Collison and Greg Monroe as my top 5 second-half breakout candidates. I still stand by those selections 100 percent, but let's dig a little deeper to find some more diamonds in the rough for the second half.
The Top 130
Note: Brian McKitish's top 130 players are ranked for their fantasy value from this point forward in the 2010-11 NBA season. Previous rank is indicated in parentheses.
1. Kevin Durant, SF, OKC (1)
2. Chris Paul, PG, NO (2)
3. Deron Williams, PG, UTA (3)
4. LeBron James, SF, MIA (5)
5. Amare Stoudemire, C/PF, NY (4)
6. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (6)
7. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (7)
8. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (8)
9. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (9)
10. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (10)
11. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (11)
12. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (12)
13. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (14)
14. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (13)
15. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (15)
16. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (16)
17. Carmelo Anthony, SF, DEN (18)
18. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (19)
19. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (22)
20. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (23)
21. Blake Griffin, PF, LAC (20)
22. Raymond Felton, PG, NY (17)
23. Danny Granger, SF, IND (21)
24. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C, POR (25)
25. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (24)
26. Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, SAC (33)
27. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (28)
28. John Wall, PG, WAS (26)
29. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (27)
30. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (29)
31. Carlos Boozer, PF, CHI (30)
32. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (31)
33. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, CHA (32)
34. Al Jefferson, C/PF, UTA (39)
35. Dorell Wright, SF, GS (40)
36. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, PHI (42)
37. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (38)
38. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (36)
39. David Lee, PF/C, GS (37)
40. Andrea Bargnani, C/PF, TOR (35)
41. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (43)
42. Tim Duncan, C/PF, SA (44)
43. Luis Scola, PF/C, HOU (45)
44. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, CHA (34)
45. David West, PF, NO (46)
46. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (49)
47. Nene Hilario, C/PF, DEN (47)
48. Wilson Chandler, SF/SG, NY (41)
49. Kevin Martin, SG, HOU (50)
50. Chris Bosh, PF/C, MIA (48)
51. D.J. Augustin, PG, CHA (51)
52. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (53)
53. Michael Beasley, SF/PF, MIN (52)
54. Paul Millsap, PF, UTA (57)
55. Devin Harris, PG, NJ (55)
56. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (56)
57. Andray Blatche, PF/C, WAS (58)
58. Wesley Matthews, SG/SF, POR (59)
59. Lamar Odom, PF/SF, LAL (60)
60. Jrue Holiday, PG, PHI (54)
61. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (62)
62. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (61)
63. Chauncey Billups, PG, DEN (65)
64. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (66)
65. Antawn Jamison, PF, CLE (67)
66. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (68)
67. Andre Miller, PG, POR (63)
68. Baron Davis, PG, LAC (64)
69. Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, NY (70)
70. Jose Calderon, PG, TOR (71)
71. DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, SAC (75)
72. Jeff Green, PF/SF, OKC (78)
73. Tony Parker, PG, SA (73)
74. Darren Collison, PG, IND (74)
75. Eric Gordon, SG, LAC (76)
76. Jason Richardson, SG, ORL (72)
77. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, ATL (80)
78. Tyson Chandler, C, DAL (82)
79. Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, DET (81)
80. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (83)
81. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (69)
82. Mike Conley, PG, MEM (87)
83. J.J. Hickson, PF/C, CLE (85)
84. JaVale McGee, C/PF, WAS (77)
85. Jason Terry, SG, DAL (86)
86. Amir Johnson, PF, TOR (93)
87. Hedo Turkoglu, SF/PF, ORL (79)
88. Rashard Lewis, PF/SF, WAS (84)
89. Vince Carter, SG/SF, PHO (89)
90. Channing Frye, PF/C, PHO (90)
91. Beno Udrih, PG, SAC (88)
92. Serge Ibaka, C/PF, OKC (92)
93. Nick Young, SG, WAS (94)
94. Marcus Camby, C/PF, POR (95)
95. Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, UTA (91)
96. Marcin Gortat, C, PHO (119)
97. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (108)
98. Boris Diaw, PF/SF, CHA (96)
99. Mo Williams, PG, CLE (97)
100. Landry Fields, SG, NY (98)
101. DeMar DeRozan, SG, TOR (99)
102. Arron Afflalo, SG, DEN (100)
103. Ryan Anderson, PF, ORL (110)
104. Greg Monroe, PF/C, DET (107)
105. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (102)
106. Nicolas Batum, SF, POR (106)
107. Daniel Gibson, PG/SG, CLE (103)
108. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, DAL (104)
109. Kyle Lowry, PG, HOU (109)
110. John Salmons, SG/SF, MIL (105)
111. DeJuan Blair, PF, SA (NR)
112. Ramon Sessions, PG, CLE (120)
113. C.J. Miles, SF, UTA (111)
114. Tayshaun Prince, SF, DET (113)
115. DeAndre Jordan, C, LAC (112)
116. Aaron Brooks, PG, HOU (114)
117. Trevor Ariza, SF/SG, NO (101)
118. Darko Milicic, C, MIN (115)
119. Corey Maggette, SF, MIL (121)
120. Chris Kaman, C, LAC (116)
121. J.R. Smith, SG, DEN (117)
122. George Hill, PG/SG, SA (NR)
123. Carlos Delfino, SF/SG, MIL (130)
124. Anthony Morrow, SG/SF, NJ (NR)
125. Chuck Hayes, SF/PF, HOU (126)
126. Tracy McGrady, SG/PG, DET (124)
127. Shane Battier, SF, HOU (127)
128. Ben Gordon, SG, DET (NR)
129. Ersan Ilyasova, SF/PF, MIL (NR)
130. Kris Humphries, PF, NJ (128)
Second-half breakouts, Part II
DeJuan Blair, PF, San Antonio Spurs: When I dropped Tim Duncan in the rankings last week on the assumption that head coach Gregg Popovich would limit his minutes down the stretch, I completely forgot to move the most likely beneficiary, DeJuan Blair, into the Top 130. Blair might be a little inconsistent right now, but he's playing well enough to be owned, particularly when considering his upside potential after Pops starts giving him some of Duncan's minutes. Not only is he averaging 9.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals over his past five games, but he also averages 15.7 rebounds per 48 minutes (good for seventh in the league) and 2.8 steals per 48 minutes (good for fifth in the league) on the year. With per-minute numbers like those, if Blair is available in my league (owned in just 20.6 percent), I'm running, not walking, to pick him up.
George Hill, PG/SG, San Antonio Spurs: With the Spurs sitting at 42-8 and seven games ahead of the Dallas Mavericks for the top spot in the West, George Hill falls into the same category as DeJuan Blair. When (not if) Pops decides to cut around five minutes per game from Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, Blair and Hill are going to be there to gobble up the minutes. Fantasy owners know Hill well from his time spent filling in for the injured Parker last season, and he should have a big second half as a scorer, 3-point shooter and steal artist as the Spurs look to prepare for the playoff push.
Marcin Gortat, C, Phoenix Suns: Gortat doesn't quite fit into today's theme of "staying ahead of the curve" because he's already producing more than enough to be owned in all fantasy leagues, but I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight if I left him off this list. Gortat is averaging 17.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in just 29.0 minutes over his past five games, so I don't think there is any doubt that he has arrived on the fantasy scene. There is absolutely no reason that this guy should still be available in 25 percent of fantasy leagues. Get him now.
Paul George, SF/SG, Indiana Pacers: My colleague Josh Whitling highlighted George in this week's Working the Wire, and I'd like to join him on that bandwagon. George is an incredibly athletic talent, and although he's fairly raw, new head coach Frank Vogel seems to want to get him more involved in the offense. Since Vogel took the reins, George has averaged a productive 12.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.0 3-pointers in 24.0 minutes per game. Look for George to continue to impress under Vogel, and look out once his minutes creep closer to 30 per game.
Ed Davis, PF, Toronto Raptors: The Raptors are easily one of the worst teams in the league, but they actually have some decent young talent in Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson. Let's go ahead and add the rookie Davis to the list of young and talented in Toronto. The forward out of North Carolina has shown flashes of brilliance on the court, and is averaging a highly productive 6.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks despite seeing only 21.5 minutes per game. He's not quite getting enough minutes to be trusted just yet, but that should change sometime shortly after the All-Star break as the Raptors look to evaluate their needs for next season. Davis is a risky investment for sure, but he could pay huge dividends in rebounds and blocks down the stretch.
Ty Lawson, PG, Denver Nuggets: We've discussed this before, but with the Feb. 24 trade deadline quickly approaching, now might be the time to grab Lawson before Carmelo Anthony (and perhaps Chauncey Billups) are shipped out of Denver. Lawson is a dynamic talent when on the court, averaging 17.0 points, 6.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.6 3-pointers as a starter this season. All he needs are the minutes, and he'll get them if (when) a trade goes down.
News and Notes
• Deron Williams returned to action Friday and showed no ill effects of a wrist injury that forced him out of action for four games. Williams ranks sixth on our Player Rater when sorted by averages, but I have him slightly higher at No. 3 overall thanks to his versatile averages of 21.9 points, 9.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 3-pointers with fantastic percentages.
• I couldn't be happier that Joe Johnson has been able to right the ship this year, but where in the world have his steals gone? JJ has averaged at least a steal per game for seven straight seasons, but has managed just 0.7 per contest this year. Still, I won't complain much when he's given us 27.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.8 3-pointers over his past five games.
• Chris Paul has had himself a great fantasy season thus far, but am I the only one who can't help but feel slightly disappointed in his numbers? Looking at his averages, Paul has three-year lows in points (16.7), rebounds (4.0) and assists (9.7). Those are still amazing numbers and I still consider him a top-2 player, but I guess I expect a little more from a guy who averaged 18-22 points and 10-11 assists for three straight years prior to this season.
• We discussed the impact that Frank Vogel may have on Paul George in Indiana, but the biggest winners of the Jim O'Brien firing have to be Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison. Hibbert may still be inconsistent from time to time but looks to be back on track under Vogel with 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks over his past five games, while Collison has looked phenomenal with 14.0 points, 6.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 3-pointers during the same span. Meanwhile, a sinus infection might help explain why Danny Granger has been somewhat sluggish as of late.
• I've given Gerald Wallace a long enough leash this year, and it's now time to drop him out of the top 40 and into an area that more reflects his play this season. Wallace just hasn't been able to recreate the magic that made him a top-25 player last year, and it doesn't look like he'll be able to anytime soon.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.