Fantasy Basketball's most unexpected surprises of the season thus far

Yahoo Sports

By Nick WhalenRotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Last week, we took a look at some of the more disappointing fantasy players through the first month-plus of the NBA season. This time around, we’ll flip that concept and highlight players who have exceeded expectations as we work through Week 8.

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Some of the names below are obvious, while others have made their mark on the fantasy landscape a bit more subtly. Either way, each of these players have outperformed their preseason draft slot and are on course to turn in career seasons.

Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

Probably the most obvious name on the list, Harrell has gone from undersized energy guy to must-own player in leagues of just about any size over the past few months. While he’s yet to start a game, Harrell is averaging 16.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 2.7 combined steals/blocks through 23 games — all while seeing fewer than 26 minutes per contest.

The Louisville product struggled Monday night against New Orleans, but over his previous 14 games he posted averages of 19.1 points and 8.6 boards while shooting better than 66 percent from the floor. Entering Tuesday, Harrell ranks seventh in the league in PER (min. 400 minutes) — a number that becomes increasingly impressive with each passing game.

Not many people could have predicted what Montrezl Harrell has done this season. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Not many people could have predicted what Montrezl Harrell has done this season. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Domantas Sabonis, Pacers

Along with Harrell, Sabonis is the other no-brainer on the list. Like his Western Conference counterpart, Sabonis is coming off of a rough outing in his most recent game — 6 PTS, 7 REB, 5 AST, 7 TO — but nights like that have become major outliers. With virtually the same workload as last season, Sabonis has increased his averages across the board, but the biggest bump has come in efficiency. After shooting just 51.4 percent from the field a year ago, Sabonis is up to 64.4 percent through 22 games. Sabonis ranks fifth in the league in Total Rebound Percentage among qualified players, trailing only Hassan Whiteside, Ed Davis, Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan.

Nikola Vucevic, Magic

It’s not often that a player breaks out in his age-28 season, but that’s exactly what Vucevic has done. In 30.8 minutes per game, Vucevic is averaging career-bests in scoring (21.0 PPG), assists (3.8 APG), and blocks (1.1 BPG), as well as all three shooting percentage categories. Coming into the season, Vucevic was viewed as a potential trade or buyout target — and he still may be — but he’s made a strong case to be a part of Orlando’s longer-term future after battling injuries for much of the previous three seasons. Considering his mid-fifth-round Yahoo ADP, Vucevic has been a key piece for many contending fantasy rosters thus far.

T.J. Warren, Suns

With a Yahoo ADP of 134.8, Warren was a final-round pick in many drafts, and for good reason. Through his first four years in the league, Warren established himself as a reasonably effective scorer, but he was non-factor from three who added little value elsewhere. Not to mention, he missed at least 16 games in each season and did much of his work in meaningless games for a bad team.

That final point hasn’t changed, but Warren has reinvented himself as a modern off-guard this season. Through 20 games, he already has 16 more made threes than he had all of last season, and he’s hitting 45 percent of his career-best-by-a-mile 4.1 attempts per game. He’s also maintained a high overall field goal percentage (51.1 % FG), while upping his free throw efficiency to a career-best 84.6 percent.

Jaren Jackson, Jr., Grizzlies

I don’t know if a fourth overall pick can technically qualify as a breakout, but for our purposes Jackson makes the cut. Thrust into the starting five two games into the season, the rookie has the defensive savvy of a 10-year vet, and his confidence on the other end continues to build. Jackson had 16 points, six rebounds, three assists and seven blocks against the Knicks on Nov. 25. He turned in his best offensive performance of the season over the weekend, dropping 36 points, including three three-pointers, and eight rebounds on the Nets in an overtime win.

Over his last 10 games, Jackson is averaging 16.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, while hitting 59 percent of his field goals and 52 percent of his threes. The lack of production on the glass is somewhat concerning, but it can largely be chalked up to foul trouble, which continues to plague Jackson on a semi-nightly basis. Regardless, his game is as well-rounded as any 19-year-old’s in recent memory. And while the Kevin Garnett comparison may be a bit lofty, it certainly looks as though Memphis has its future centerpiece in place whenever Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are ready to pass the torch.

De’Aaron Fox, Kings

He won’t be an All-Star, but Fox is playing close to that level through 22 games, averaging 17.3 points, 7.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals/blocks and 1.1 made threes per game. I’ll admit I was low on Fox coming out of Kentucky, and I thought his rookie season, for the most part, proved me right. But thus far in Year 2, he’s looked like arguably the most improved guard in the league. Turnovers remain a bit of a concern (3.4 TPG), but Fox has more than made up for that with improved shooting efficiency from the field (45.9% FG), and especially from three, where he’s hitting better than 37 percent of his attempts after hovering around 30 percent as a rookie. Fox has also nearly doubled his free throw rate — .438, up from .245 — while maintaining virtually the same usage rate (24%) as last season.

Brook Lopez, Bucks

Lopez’s breakout really only applies to one category: three-pointers. He’s still a pedestrian scorer overall and well-below-average rebounder for his position, but Lopez is launching a career-high 6.8 threes per game and connecting at a very respectable 36.7 percent clip. That puts him at 2.5 makes per game, which, when combined with his 1.7 blocks, has made him a formidable — if not unconventional — fantasy commodity.

Pascal Siakam, Raptors

Kawhi Leonard (rightfully) gets much of the credit for the Raptors’ hot start, but the emergence of Siakam as a do-it-all, super-role-player has been one of the season’s more underrated developments. After starting just five games a year ago, Siakam has forced his way into the lineup this season, essentially taking over the spot many thought would belong to OG Anunoby for the foreseeable future.

Through 25 games, Siakam holds averages of 14.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He’s shooting 63.6 percent from the field and 78.2 percent from the charity stripe — a massive improvement over last season (62% FT), while nearly tripling his attempts per game. Siakam was mostly an afterthought during draft season, holding an ADP of 143.7 — lower than Willy Hernangomez, Frank Ntilikina, Marco Belinelli and Kyle O’Quinn, among others.

Jeremy Lamb, Hornets

Playing out of the spotlight in Charlotte, it’s easy to miss Lamb enjoying the best start of his seven-year career. He’s averaging career-bests in scoring (15.2 PPG), rebounding (5.4 RPG) and steals (1.3 SPG) and shooting better than 37 percent on 4.0 three-point attempts per game. Lamb still doesn’t offer much in terms of assists, but he rarely turns the ball over and is among the better free throw shooters in the league at his position. With Nic Batum taking a step back this season, Lamb has emerged as the Hornets’ de facto second option after Kemba Walker.

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