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Fantasy Basketball 2015: Midseason Awards

Adam Pfeifer hands out XN’s fantasy basketball MVP, most improved player, and best value awards to the top performers of the first half.

Curry Davis Harden

Everyone likes winning stuff.

Seeing as the NBA season is rapidly approaching the halfway mark, I figured now would be as good a time as any to debate which players deserve to be considered the MVP of the 2015 campaign.

Fantasy, that is. I mean, come on. No one cares about real sports.

Anyway, with the season about halfway through, 2015 has been interesting. Rather than guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant dominating the MVP voting, a handful of young stars have emerged. Of course, it also helps that LeBron and KD have missed a combined 30 games, but still, the following players all warrant consideration, regardless. We’ll also tackle some other awards of mine, handing out some early hardware to more than a few players. MVP, Bust, Most Improved, you name it. Heck, we’ll even take a look at some guys I like for the second half of the season.

Yeah. Let’s get wild, folks.

MVP

I recently tweeted out my top-five candidates for the big daddy, and believe me, all are deserving. It’s been really fun to watch some different guys battle it out for the top spot, although, let’s not act like LeBron James won’t be making a case come season’s end. In a “down” year, the dude is still averaging 26 points, 7.4 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game. Not to mention that his team is 1-8 without him on the court, compared to 10 or 11 games above .500 when he’s out there. So, because there are a few guys I’m looking at here, let’s examine some of the campaigns these gifted players are putting together, starting with a not-so-problem in Houston.

James Harden, Houston Rockets

Fear the beard, dang it. Fear it.

The definition of the word “harden” is… make or become hard or harder. That’s a great way to describe defending Harden this year, as he’s averaging a gaudy 27.3 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, two steals, and 2.7 triples per game. According to ESPN’s Player Rater, he’s the number one player in fantasy basketball to this point. No one in basketball is averaging more points per game than Harden, and an insane 43 percent of his games have resulted in him scoring at least 30 points. He’s also getting a ton of good looks at the basket, averaging 7.70 points per game on drives, while also posting a league-leading 9.2 free-throw attempts per game this year, shooting 88 percent from the stripe, good for eighth-best in basketball. And, in the daily side of things, Harden is averaging an insane 45.9 FanDuel points per game. Only Anthony Davis of the Pelicans is sporting more. On the offensive side of the ball, Harden has been the most diabolical player in the league this season, shooting just under 50 percent on pull-up shots, a top-three rank in basketball. He’s also one of the most efficient players in the league this season.

Harden

 

Pretty elite company there, and I’m sure we’ll be discussing a few of those names on that list. But Harden has been the workhorse for a banged-up Houston roster, carrying them to fourth in the Western Conference. He’s sixth in the NBA in usage rate (30.7), and is averaging a healthy 75.1 offensive touches per game this season. Harden has quickly become one of my favorite players in all of fantasy, as well as one of my favorites to watch on any given night.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

I mean, how can you not?

The best player on arguably the NBA’s best team, Curry has been nothing short of spectacular in 2015. He’s averaging 22.8 points, 8.1 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 steals, and three triples per contest to this point, and as you see in the chart above, has been the most efficient shooter in basketball thus far. And during the month of January, Chef Curry has been cooking, averaging 24.4/9.1/4.4, while shooting 53 percent from the field. Curry is the number-two player on ESPN’s Player Rater, despite ranking just 12th in the league in usage rate with 27.8. He freezes defenders with his dribbling, and before they even realize what’s happening, Curry’s quick release has a three-pointer rattling home. He’s crazy efficient, shooting 58 percent on drives, 64 percent on close shots, and 44 percent on pull-up jumpshots this season. Curry has scored at least 20 points in 60 percent of his games this year, and with killer shooters like Klay Thompson around him, Curry has also been a great source of assists, contributing 19 points generated by assists per game on the year, placing him inside the top-seven in that regard. Curry is probably going to be the consensus pick for most people, but Harden is still the number one player in fantasy, and was had a few picks later. Still, you can’t go wrong with either guy, for sure.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

An unstoppable force.

The Brow is reminding everyone that he is emerging as one of the best players in basketball, having himself a career year in 2015. In 39 games this year, Davis is averaging a gaudy 24.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.9 block,s and 1.5 steals per game, making him the number-three player in fantasy basketball to this point. His 2.9 blocks per game lead all of basketball, and the category is such a difference-maker in fantasy basketball. For example, Serge Ibaka, who lacks on the offensive side of the ball a bit, has been a top-12 fantasy option over the last few seasons, largely because of his ability to block plenty of shots. On the season, 58 percent of Davis’ games have resulted in him blocking at least three shots, and especially in daily leagues, blocks are heavily rewarded for fantasy owners. Because of that, he’s averaging a whopping 46.6 FanDuel points per game, the most in the NBA. And, because of his scoring and rebounding, Davis has been a double-double machine for fantasy owners this year.

Double-Doubles

 

All three of these guys are deserving of the award, but if I were to rank the three, it would go Harden, Curry, Davis. Of course, in terms of the real basketball MVP, many would side with Curry, seeing as he’s the best player on the league’s best club. But for me, Harden gets the slight fantasy edge.

Most Improved

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

It’s not even close.

Jimmy Butler has transitioned from a shut-down defender with athleticism to a burgeoning two-way star in this league. Averaging over 20 points, 3.3 assists, six rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game on the year, Butler is currently sitting as the number-11 player in all of fantasy. He’s improved his scoring, three-point percentage, assists, rebounds and field goal percentage rather significantly, making him the clear-cut choice. And fantasy players have loved owning him all year. The dude is always on the court for the Bulls, logging an insane 39.4 minutes per game this year, the most in the league. And while Derrick Rose isn’t always on the court, he still ranks inside the top-10 in the league in usage rate, so Butler’s top-12 fantasy season becomes a bit more impressive, especially with Pau Gasol currently ranking eighth in the NBA in terms of fantasy value thus far. Butler has truly transformed into a borderline elite two-way player, somewhat reminiscent of Paul George‘s leap in Indiana a few years back.

Honorable mentions: Draymond Green, Nikola Vucevic.

Best Value

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Entering the season, the Grizzlies wanted Gasol to focus more on the offensive side of the ball to help them become a more balanced team. He’s done just that– and then some. Averaging 19.1 points per game, Gasol is scoring about five whole points per game more than any other season in his career, and is adding 8.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. Being drafted 30th overall, on average, in drafts, Gasol has easily eclipsed value, currently sitting at the number-nine spot on ESPN’s Player Rater. He’s easily the number one center in fantasy basketball to this point, posting 20 20-point outings on the year. We already know that he’s the best defensive center in the league, but Gasol has quickly emerged into the best overall center in basketball outside of DeMarcus Cousins. He’s averaging an impressive 0.270 points per touch on the season, which is actually one of the better rates in the league thus far.

Honorable mentions: Jimmy Butler (67th), Markieff Morris (75th), Darren Collison (96th).

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