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Biggest Early-Season Fantasy Basketball Surprises

Steve Nurenberg/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Fantasy basketball surprises and disappointments happen every year. We’ve seen enough from the 2015-16 NBA season to analyze which players fall in either category.

Today, we’ll take a look at the early-season surprises while we’ll soon examine the disappointments.

To qualify as a “surprise” in this article, the player has to rank in the top 50 on ESPN’s Player Rater. There are surely surprises extending outside of the top 50, but the players featured here are the ones who have raised eyebrows the most.


Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Stats: 15.8 PPG, 50.3 % FG, 90.2 % FT, 0.1 3PM, 10.7 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.5 SPG, 2.4 BPG

He was the No. 1 overall pick, so should we really be surprised that he’s already a fantasy asset? No, we shouldn’t be shocked that he’s already an asset, but we should be amazed that he’s already an absolute fantasy stud. He currently ranks No. 12 on Player Rater, and it appears that Special K will be an interior force for many years. He has such superb value not only because of his scoring, rebounding, and shot-blocking, but also his efficiency, particularly from the free-throw line. This is what elevates him above other rebound and block machines such as Hassan Whiteside, Andre Drummond, and DeAndre Jordan. Those bigs struggle mightily at the charity stripe, but Towns is that unique big who racks up boards and blocks in heaps while also supplying a stellar free-throw clip. I didn’t think I’d say this so soon, but KAT is fantasy gold.


Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic

Stats: 19.4 PPG, 46.5 % FG, 80.0 & FT, 2.4 3PM, 4.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG

Fournier has been perhaps the biggest surprise considering his increase in production from last year to this year. He averaged a mere 12.0 PPG during 2014-15, and he’s now pouring in nearly 20 PPG. He’s a potent scorer on the perimeter, and you have to respect his percentages. He’s also chipping in a few assists and over a steal per outing, enabling him to land in the top 25 on Player Rater. It’s quite possible that his efficiency could dip as the season progresses, but the biggest positive to his value right now is his minutes. He’s second in the league in minutes per game at 38.4. So long as this continues, Fournier will have excellent worth at the shooting guard position.

April 11, 2015 - CJ MCCOLLUM (3) drives to the hoop. The Portland Trail Blazers play the Utah Jazz at the Moda Center on April 11, 2015

April 11, 2015 – CJ MCCOLLUM (3) drives to the hoop. The Portland Trail Blazers play the Utah Jazz at the Moda Center on April 11, 2015

C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

Stats: 20.3 PPG, 44.4 % FG, 88.9 % FT, 2.0 3PM, 3.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 0.8 SPG

McCollum was definitely a potential breakout candidate before the season, but not many envisioned him exploding like this. ESPN projected him to average just 13.2 PPG. His 20-plus PPG mark with two threes has helped vault him to the 20th spot on Player Rater. His percentages are also satisfying for a high-volume wing scorer, and he also generates over three dimes an outing. Plus, it’s doubtful McCollum is just going through a hot stretch. He and Damian Lillard control much of the offense for Portland, and this should remain throughout the season. Those who targeted McCollum are being rewarded beyond their expectations.


Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics

Stats: 11.3 PPG, 40.4 % FG, 84.2 % FT, 1.1 3PM, 5.2 RPG, 1.7 APG, 2.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG

Crowder had some games last year with eye-popping lines, but he lacked consistency. He has found more consistency this year as a central plug in Boston’s rotation (30.7 MPG). He’s currently leading the league in SPG, which is enough to give him unique steal-specialist value like Tony Allen. But Crowder, unlike Allen, knocks in over a three per game, while also shooting a quality mark from the free-throw line. Crowder’s numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, but there’s enough there to situate him at No. 44 on Player Rater, which is higher than other notably versatile wings such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Klay Thompson, and Tobias Harris.


Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns

Stats: 20.5 PPG, 44.3 % FG, 84.8 % FT, 2.5 3PM, 4.2 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG

Knight’s production dipped last season after a trade from Milwaukee to Phoenix, and there was reason to be concerned about his value entering 2015-16. Well, after not cracking the top 50 last year, he now finds himself slotted at No. 17. Needless to say, any concerns have already been erased, as both he and backcourt mate Eric Bledsoe are putting up big-time figures. Knight does a bit of everything. He’s mainly a scorer and a threat from behind the arc, but he’s also a sneaky source of assists and steals. He even produced arguably the best fantasy performance of the young season with a recent 30-point, 15-assist, 10-rebound, 4-steal explosion. At the age of 23, Knight appears to be entering his prime and settling into an ideal role in the Suns’ backcourt.

Honorable Mention: Danilo Gallinari (Denver Nuggets), Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets), Kent Bazemore (Atlanta Hawks), Will Barton (Denver Nuggets), Eric Gordon (New Orleans Pelicans)

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