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Fantasy NBA Daily Notes: The biggest surprises of the season

The emergence of T.J. McConnell is one of the most memorable fantasy basketball stories of the season. Getty Images

Welcome to the final weekend of the NBA marathon. Hopefully, you've enjoyed the long and winding season, even if it was a uniquely challenging campaign. While we can't all win our fantasy hoops leagues, we can still appreciate the rewards of the grind -- the intimate knowledge of lineups and rotations, the identification of new rising talents, and the appreciation of value on every NBA roster.

Before we say goodbye, though, let's take a look back at three of the most surprising statistical stories that stood out over the course of the 2020-21 season.

  • He went undrafted in essentially every fantasy league, but is on pace for a top-50 finish. We're talking about T.J. McConnell of the Indiana Pacers, who produced 23 points, seven assists, and three steals in a loss to the Bucks last night. The steals are notable since McConnell leads the NBA in that category and ranks second in steal percentage. It's rare to see a real backup point guard emerge as a worthy fantasy starter, but McConnell's elite defensive value, along with the fact he ranks 10th in total assists, help propel his unique value. A pending free agent this summer, it will be riveting to see what happens with McConnell's market.

  • Chris Boucher of the Toronto Raptors has become a certifiable fantasy star. Boucher ranks fourth in the league in blocks per game and was quite productive when called upon to be a starter this season. An important piece of Toronto's rebuild, Boucher has the potential to become a league-winning fantasy force given his rare blend of blocks, rebounding, and a modern scoring profile.

  • Let's also not forget the revival of Andrew Wiggins with the Golden State Warriors. Given a full season next to Draymond Green and Stephen Curry, Wiggins responded with career-best scoring efficiency and a balanced defensive profile. Currently sitting at No. 49 on the ESPN Player Rater, Wiggins has become a bankable rotation piece for both the Warriors and fantasy investors alike.

Thursday recap

Highlights

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: 40 points (14-18 FG), 15 rebounds, 6 assists

Stanley Johnson, Toronto Raptors: 35 points (12-22 FG), 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals

Lowlights

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: 6 points (3-9 FG), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals

Elfrid Payton, New York Knicks: 0 points (0-4 FG), 1 rebound, 2 assists

Thursday takeaways

  • Toronto's Johnson was stellar in a career-best scoring outing for the Raptors last night. The team is regularly resting its starters down the stretch with an eye on equity in the lottery, offering guys like Johnson and Malachi Flynn plenty of unexpected opportunity. Given recent results, however, Johnson's performance looks to be an outlier, while Flynn's recent stretch of production is more of a trend.

  • The Suns produced a number of good stories this season, but Cameron Payne likely didn't get enough shine for his solid production as their top backup guard. Last night, Payne delivered his first career game with at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. For the season, he has produced a career-high assist rate and efficient scoring results. There isn't much value here for this final weekend of action from a fantasy perspective, but it will be interesting to see what happens to Payne as a free agent this summer.

  • Sacramento's Justin James erupted for a career-high 31 points -- his first career 30-point game. As with Toronto's Johnson, James' big line is an aberration. However, the continued strong play of Terence Davis seems like a real pattern to trust. If for just the next few games, Davis could help fantasy managers in deeper leagues with his scoring pop off the pine.

  • Minnesota's Anthony Edwards turned in a team-high 29 points last night, good for his 18th 25-point game this season. The next-closest rookies are tied with only five such games. Edwards might not win Rookie of the Year honors, given LaMelo Ball's more notable team success, but it's still remarkable that he's averaged 23.6 points in 34 appearances since the All-Star break. For a player with some questions as a shooter coming out of college, Edwards has lofted an incredible 8.1 3-pointers per game in the second half of the season and has the makings of a three-level scorer for years to come.

Injuries of note

  • The Cavaliers won't have Larry Nance Jr., Taurean Prince, or Isaiah Hartenstein available for tonight's game. Given the depleted state of the team's frontcourt, Kevin Love could deliver another strong line.

  • Utah's Mike Conley has been upgraded to questionable, while Donovan Mitchell remains sidelined for the Jazz.

  • It looks like the Warriors could get some rest this evening. Headed for the play-in tournament, the team has listed both Curry and Green as questionable. It's worth tracking updates from the team as the tip approaches.

  • Luguentz Dort won't play for the Thunder this evening. Darius Bazley is the most bankable member of the Oklahoma City Thunder rotation at this stage.

Analytics advantage for Friday

Once again, the Houston Rockets have produced an incredible injury report with a whopping 11 players listed as being out this evening! That leaves a skeleton crew of players to face the Clippers. We know Kelly Olynyk will continue to build big lines, but the team should also turn to Kenyon Martin Jr. and Jae'Sean Tate this evening. Martin has led Houston with 13.7 rebounding chances over the last three games. Tate, meanwhile, has led the team over this same stretch with 10.7 potential assists per game, evidence of his impressive playmaking potential.

Top player to watch on Friday

Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart have all been ruled out for the Pelicans' matchup against the Warriors tonight. Brandon Ingram is questionable to play due to an ankle injury. The depleted rotation for New Orleans could lead to heavy usage for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr., offering up an interesting preview of next season. If the team doesn't retain Ball this summer and/or if Eric Bledsoe is dealt, this young backcourt tandem could make a huge leap.