By Andrew Brand
on Wednesday, February 13th
It is time to look back at those sleeper picks you made to start the season. The mid way point of the season allows for time of reflection and analysis of those players who perhaps flew under the radar to start the season but are now flying high on everyone’s draft boards.
Now as nice as it is to look back and pat yourself on the back for having done your research in snagging a sweet sleeper pick for your fantasy roster we must look forward to the second half of the season. We start our analysis with the Western Conference sleeper picks who might have gone unnoticed to start the season but who are poised for big things in the second half.
Amir Johnson – Toronto Raptors
The addition of Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors has helped Johnson immensely. Not only has the trade opened up the lineup for Johnson to flourish, but Gay attracts so much defensive attention that Johnson goes unnoticed around the basket for easy hoops. The five games since Gay was acquired, Johnson has averaged 13 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.4 blk and 1.6 steals per game. Johnson finds himself in and out of the starting lineup depending on injuries and matchups. The trade talk around Andrea Bargnani continues and should Bryan Colangelo finally pull the trigger on trading the Italian cream puff then Johnson’s fantasy stock will rise considerably. Despite the playing role on the team, Johnson has ten double-doubles on the season and is coming on strong as the second half of the season approaches.
Nate Robinson – Chicago Bulls
Word out of Chicago is that Joakim Noah’s foot injury could sideline him for a while longer and that the Bulls are not interested in rushing him back to action for the sake of a few extra regular season wins. Throw in the fact that Derrick Rose won’t be hurried back to game action either and Kirk Hinrich is still out with injury and this equates to Nate Robinson continuing to see significant minutes for the Bulls. The last two weeks of action for Robinson has seen him produce with averages of 17.8 ppg, 7.3 apg, 3.4 rpg and 2.0 stls per game. Even with the return of Rose, Robinson has proved his worth and will still be called upon to provide that spark off the bench.
Marreese Speights – Cleveland Cavaliers
This fourth year power forward out of Florida is making the most of his opportunity this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the wake of Anderson Varejao’s season ending medical condition it has been Speights who has stepped up and filled the void. The last two weeks have seen Speights chip in with 13.4 ppg and 6.3 rpg while shooting over .900 from the free throw line. Given the emergence of Speights and should his production continue through the second half of the season, it is easy to imagine Varejao on the trading block come the off season.
Paul George – Indiana Pacers
George may not be a sleeper pick in the true sense of the word as he did start in 66 games last season for the Indiana Pacers and did average over 12 ppg during that time. This season however has been a coming out party for George as he is averaging 17.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.8 apg and 1.8 stls per game. George’s play has impressed everyone to the point where trading away Danny Granger has become a very real possibility for the Pacers. The Pacers have emerged as a potential threat to the Miami Heat come playoff time due in large part to George’s play. George would make an excellent fantasy pick for the second half of the season.
Larry Sanders – Milwaukee Bucks
Before a sore back slowed him down a little bit, Larry Sanders had worked his way into the Milwaukee Bucks starting lineup. Sanders is proving to be a valuable commodity as his in-the-paint toughness and ability to rebound the basketball are much needed traits for the Bucks. Even with the sore back issue, this month saw Sanders average 10.3 ppg and 10.0 rpg while adding 4.3 blks per game. With the myriad of injuries for the Bucks big-men, Sanders has slipped into the rotation and has performed well; his fantasy stock gets a huge boast thanks in large part to the tremendous blocked shot totals.
Byron Mullens – Charlotte Bobcats
A very pleasant surprise for the Charlotte Bobcats was the emergence of Mullen this season. The sweet-shooting 7’0” centerman is certainly making the most of his opportunity as this past month has Mullens averaging 17.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg and shooting over .430 from the field and beyond the arc. The Bobcats are having another tough season as they hit the midway point ranked near the bottom of the league in every offensive and defensive category and having lost 40 games thus far. Mullens has been one of the bright spots for Bobcat fans and he should continue to get his opportunity to shine for your fantasy roster too.
Arron Afflalo – Orlando Magic
The trade involving Andre Iguodala brought Afflalo from Denver to the Orlando Magic this off season. Many people anticipated Afflalo to improve on his production considerably given consistent playing time in Orlando. The opportunity hasn’t been wasted as Afflalo heads into the break averaging 18.5 ppg, 3.0 apg and 3 rpg for the month of February. The magic have little to play for the rest of the way as they are in full fledge rebuilding mode; however, one thing is for certain they have found a building block for future success in Arron Afflalo.