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Most of the players comprising the overachiever squad have taken advantage of increased playing time and showcased newfound talent. Another simply took the league by storm a couple years earlier than expected. No matter the case, each player’s standing in Yahoo’s Fantasy Basketball player rankings has significantly outperformed preseason expectations.
Point Guard: Isaiah Thomas, Celtics
Preseason Yahoo ranking: 76th
Current Yahoo ranking: 22nd
Thomas spent the first three-and-a-half years of his pro career on teams that didn’t seem to fully trust him as their starting point guard. At least, that’s what one gathers from both the Kings and Suns trading away the 5-foot-9 Thomas within eight months of each other.
Heck, even the Celtics didn’t give Thomas any starts after they acquired him in a trade deadline deal last February. This season, the final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft has shown all the teams that passed on him what they’re missing – an All-Star-caliber offensive playmaker.
Now fully entrusted with the keys to Boston’s offense, Thomas has lit up opponents for 21.5 points and 6.6 assists per game to go along with 107 three-pointers. All those marks rank within the top 15 of the league. He’s also flirting with a 90 percent conversion rate from the free-throw line, ranking fourth in the NBA behind only Jamal Crawford, Steph Curry and Dirk Nowitzki.
Thomas has gone from being a fringy second-round draft prospect to providing second-round value in fantasy. That’s almost unheard of, especially for someone who’s the shortest guy on the court whenever he plays.
Shooting Guard: C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers
Preseason Yahoo ranking: 91st
Current Yahoo ranking: 46th
McCollum is another undersized guy who likely entered 2015-16 with a chip on his shoulder.
When Wesley Matthews suffered a season-ending injury last season, Portland decided to acquire Arron Afflalo as their new starting shooting guard. This wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence in McCollum, who had registered solid numbers as a backup since being taken 10th overall in the 2013 draft. The Blazers clearly weren’t sure McCollum was ready for a full-time starting assignment.
Well, the former Lehigh standout has had no issues carrying over his impressive scoring rates into a starting role that’s seen him play more minutes than Damian Lillard this season.
McCollum ranks 17th in points per game (20.7) with 125 three-pointers, good for ninth in the league. He’s tallied more fantasy points than Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan and almost every other qualified shooting guard in standard Yahoo leagues, currently sitting at sixth at the position.
He has to be considered the favorite for Most Improved Player at this juncture, which means he’s a shoo-in for the two-guard spot on the All-Overachiever team.
Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari, Nuggets
Preseason Yahoo ranking: 47th
Current Yahoo ranking: 26th
Out of the public consciousness for nearly two years due to an especially troubling torn ACL, Gallinari has burst back into the spotlight with the same varied offensive skill set that once made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.
Gallo was actually quite good for the Nuggets after the All-Star Game last season, averaging 18.6 points on 40.4 percent three-point shooting. His continued success this year has reignited faith in the 6-foot-10 Italian, who frequently causes mismatch problems and draws fouls. He’s third in the NBA with 344 made free throws, and is a threat to pull up from anywhere on the court.
Note: You can hover over different shooting zones to see Gallinari’s statistics in the corresponding area.
Efficiency isn’t exactly Gallinari’s game, but you won’t hear his fantasy owners complaining. Not when he’s averaging a career-high 19.7 points with 1.7 three-pointers per game, justifying those who believed his second-half surge in 2014-15 was no aberration.
If Gallo can once again step up his play after the All-Star break, he’ll solidify his position as a top-15 small forward heading into next season.
Power Forward: Jae Crowder, Celtics
Preseason Yahoo ranking: 132nd
Current Yahoo ranking: 20th
Crowder has been nothing short of a revelation, and would likely be the frontrunner for Most Improved Player if scoring wasn’t such a big factor in winning the award.
That’s not to say Crowder hasn’t improved immensely on offense. He’s posting career-best numbers across the board (14.1 points, 44.8 field goal percentage, 82.5 free-throw percentage), and is now something like Draymond Green Lite.
The key for Crowder has been honing his long-distance shooting to a respectable 35.2 percent while launching nearly five treys per contest. Once just an energy bench player for Dallas, Crowder has worked to become a prototypical stretch four.
I’d be remiss to praise Crowder without mentioning his defensive contributions, which further likens him to Green. With career-bests in steals (1.8, 14th in the NBA) and rebounds (5.8), the 6-foot-6 Crowder is a valuable all-around piece to own in fantasy with SF/PF eligibility. He’s overcome a crowded Celtics frontcourt to start all 55 games, serving as a reminder that tweeners can find a niche in today’s game if they can develop a reliable shot.
Center: Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves
Preseason Yahoo ranking: 64th
Current Yahoo ranking: 7th
Experts knew that Towns would eventually become a dominant force. They just didn’t know it would happen so soon.
The rookie is like a hybrid of Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki. A remarkably consistent double-double machine who’s averaging 1.8 blocks per game (eighth in the NBA), Towns has been praised by Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell as the best pure shooter on his team.
Towns is tied for fourth with Pau Gasol among frontcourt players with 30 double-doubles, behind only Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins. The last rookie to rack up that many double-doubles was Blake Griffin, who amassed 63 in 2010-11.
KAT’s game lends itself extremely well to fantasy, where he’s already a consensus top-10 player. He’s collected the third-most rebounds in the league, tied for the sixth-most blocks and ranks sixth in field goal percentage (54.4).
The 20-year-old is undoubtedly still developing, so it’s scary to think of the havoc he could wreak on overmatched opponents in the years to come. This season will probably be the last time we can qualify Towns as an “overachiever” or “surprising.”
If you foresaw this rapid ascendency and drafted Towns, give yourself a pat on the back. There’s nearly a 50 percent chance you’ve been rewarded with the top spot in your league.
Don’t get too confident, though. There’s still time for other diamonds in the rough to emerge and shake up the fantasy basketball landscape with the playoffs still ahead.
Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that's part of the Graphiq network. PointAfter is a platform for shot charts, scatter plots and other data visualizations about NBA players, NFL teams and dozens of other topics.