We are approaching the magical 41 game mark as the NBA season reaches the midway point. Unfortunately, NBA fans now have to share time on Sportscenter with NHL fans, less highlights from the hardwood to make time for the ice. Lets make the rounds in the Association and check in on each Division. What veteran players have emerged? Grading the acquisitions and evaluating draft picks. Most importantly, the fantasy winners and losers across the Association. We begin in the Atlantic Division.
New York Knicks- The Knicks looked unstoppable early on, but have struggled since Raymond Felton was hurt. By most accounts, Felton has taken the Knicks to levels that they didn't reach even during the run of Jeremy Lin. Felton's finger was expected to sideline him about a month and he is on target to return the last week of January. Jason Kidd continues to surpass expectations, but he is best served in a support role off the bench. Carmelo has thrived playing power forward averaging nearly 30 points per game. Anthony has abused opposing four's on the perimeter and has benefitted playing along side Tyson Chandler. Chandler continues to improve and remains one of the best rebounding, shot blocking bigs in the Association. The return of Amare Stoudamire adds incrdible depth in the post, along with stretch four Steve Novak. Shooting guard J.R. Smith is having a breakout season as well, averaging almost 17 points per game, five boards and three assists. Look for the Knicks to push Miami for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Brooklyn Nets- Did Avery Johnson deserve to be fired? I think not, but such is the NBA. After losing out in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, the Nets opted for Joe Johnson from Atlanta to go along with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Johnson is about as low key as you can get in an NBA All-star, he just quietly goes about his business. Williams appears weary of year round basketball and says he hasn't been the same since "the trade". Lopez has overcome injury and is a solid pivot man, certainly good enough to contend in the Eastern Conference. The hardest positions to fill in the NBA are point guard and center and the Nets have good, young talent there to build around. The Nets took a chance with Andray Blatche and he has surpassed their highest expectations. Blatche not only filled in for Lopez when he was out, he has surpassed Kris Humphies as the team's best four. Did the Nets overpay for an aging Gerald Wallace? The first round pick sent to Portland was definitely too steep for the mercurial Wallace is in decline. Down the stretch we may see more and more of MarShon Brooks at the three. The Nets figure to be playing in the four-five first round matchup beginning in April.
Boston Celtics- The Celtics don't seem the same without Ray Allen... and now they are talking about moving Paul Pierce? Actually, it's time for Doc Rivers to rebuild around Rajon Rondo. Rondo is one of the top point guards in the NBA and an absolute fantasy gem. Jason Terry has been getting much of the action Allen used to get, but with the return of Avery Bradley we may see a shift of focus in the backcourt. After a season away with injury Jeff Green is back and getting better by the day. An athletic combo forward, Green is another building block for the Celts of the future. Kevin Garnett keeps plugging along and must stay healthy for Boston to make another run. Jared Sullinger has emerged of late, dominating on the boards and scoring enough, despite the team not having any plays designed for him. General Manager Danny Ainge said Sullinger has been a winner his entire life, except on draft day, when he slipped down, late into the first round. Fellow rookie first round big Fab Melo has been swatting shots at a record clip in the D-League, he just needs resemblance of an offensive game. Brandon Bass continues to contribute off the bench, arguably the best shooting power forward at the elbow in the league. Only nine teams realistically have a shot at the eight playoff spots in the East, expect Boston and Philadelphia to outlast Milwaukee.
Philadelphia 76ers- The Sixers got the absolute best of news this week when center Andrew Bynum announced he would attempt to return after the All-Star break. Philly gave up Andre Iguodola to get Bynum and coach Doug Collins would be thrilled to get Bynum for the season's second half. Jrue Holiday continues to emerge as one of the top young point guards in the league and is a fantasy "must have" as well. With Iguodola gone, Evan Turner has the biggest opportunity, but continues to struggle scoring the basketball. Turner remains a top talent and fills a stat sheet as well as any swing man league wide. Thadeus Young was hoping to settle in at the three this season, but has been forced to play heavy minutes at the four, especially with Bynum sidelined. Young is an effective combo forward and should benefit greatly when Bynum returns. Spencer Hawes has enjoyed a bounce back season holding down the middle until big Bynum returns. Hawes has consistently scored and rebounded like he did during his breakout season of 2010-'11. Jason Richardson is enjoying a bounce back season of sorts, but is sharing more and more time with Nick Young. Dorell Young has had flashes of late and is an important piece on the perimeter, but far more valuable in real life, than in fantasy. As we approach the All-Star break, the Sixers stand in ninth in the Eastern Conference on the outside looking in. We know Boston will improve on their current seventh slot and expect Philly to bump Milwaukee out of the eighth and final playoff position.
Toronto Raptors- Have the Raptors already mailed it in for this season? Injuries to big men Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas have certainly set Toronto back. Bargnani had been on the trade block, most notably rumored to be heading west to LA in a package for Pau Gasol. Point guard Jose Calderon was also rumored to be in that package, the Raptors not needing such a pricy backup in their current rebuild anyway. If the Lakers fall out from the playoff hunt and Bargnani returns, don't be surprised to see this deal rekindled. Kyle Lowry had a breakout season in Houston and was brought in to lead the Raptors back to the playoffs. (the Raptors have been in the playoffs before, right?) Injuries have plagued Lowry and he has been a fantasy disappointment. DeMar DeRozan is the bright spot for the Raptors, both on the court and in fantasy land. DeRozan is averaging nearly 18 points per game and has filled the stat sheet across the board. A pair of youngsters are beginning to emerge north of the border in big man Ed Davis and swing man Terrence Ross. Davis has played exceptionally well filling in for the injured bigs, while Ross has provided firepower along side DeRozan on the perimeter. The rebuilding continues in Toronto and it appears the franchise remains a long ways away from being a playoff participant.
Tom Blaz is a writer for Fantasy Alarm and co-owner of The Recruiting Eagle a website focusing on Auburn University Athletics.
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