Welcome one and all to the inaugural First-Half Branny Awards, where we celebrate (and razz) the best of the first half of Fantasy Basketball play.
While attempts to have Beyonce, Amy Adams, Idris Elba and Marv Albert to present awards failed like an Enes Kanter chair punch, you’re stuck with me, so here goes:
The “My, What Nice Use of a Mid-Round Pick, Grandma” Award: Otto Porter, F, Wizards. With an average draft position of 90.7, Porter has emerged as a steady producer, giving gleeful owners 30.7 Fantasy points per game. He’s a boon in field goal percentage and is on pace for 180 three-pointers, while also pulling down nearly seven boards per game.
The “Olympic Teammate Be Damned, I’ll Still Run You Out of Town” Award: Nikola Jokic, F/C, Nuggets. Jokic’s ADP was 44.7, yet while Jusuf Nurkic’s was 100, the two had such strong performances for Team Bosnia in the Summer Olympics that Nurkic was sitting on sleeper potential. Instead, Jokic seized the starting center job in early December and is now one of the Top 20 Fantasy players in the game. Nurkic, of course, was moved to the Trail Blazers last week and could emerge as a second-half revelation.
At the least, Nurkic’s chances for a cameo on “Portlandia” increased, so there.
The “Started From the Bottom, Now We’re Here” Award: Jrue Holiday, G, Pelicans. The highest-rated player (49th) among those with an ADP of 100 or higher, Holiday missed the start of the season to tend to his wife and newborn and returned to play perhaps the best basketball of his career. Holiday is averaging 16.3 points, 7.5 assists while grabbing 1.6 steals per contest. His play might be just a notch below the bevy of elite point guards dotting the landscape, but Holiday — both on and off the court — is a man to admire.
The “I’ll Just Shut My Eyes and Pretend I Never Made That Pick” Award: Evan Fournier, G, Magic. Yes, injuries have limited him to just 43 games, but Fournier had an ADP of 60 yet entered the break ranked 129th. Fournier is averaging a career-best 16.8 points per game, but offers little else besides putting the ball in the basket, as the 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists attest. Not to worry, Evan: Devin Booker, he of the “breakout star” hype in October, is ranked 132nd after an ADP of 65. Disappointment loves company.
The “Watch Me Work After the Break” Award: Dario Saric, F, 76ers: Currently ranked 223rd overall after an ADP of 131.7, Saric closed out the first half with 20.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals in his last five games. The Sixers will be very cautious with Joel Embiid (who won the “Just Trust the Process” award during the preshow) and Ben Simmons the rest of the way, giving Saric the opportunity to become the go-to man in Philly. The sharp climb in usage rate over the past two weeks is a glowing sign.
Finally, The “In the Beginning, There Was (Fill in name) and the Name was (Fill in Name) Award: Russell Westbrook, G, Thunder: Was there really any question here? Although James Harden, Kawhi Leonard LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas, Karl-Anthony Towns and a pre-injury Chris Paul could make strong cases, Westbrook’s season for the ages all but justified why he was the first player off most boards. Whether he can maintain that pace the rest of the way is subject to debate, but averaging a triple-double while adding more than a steal a game is straight Randy “Macho Man” Savage, circa 1987.
Ooohh, Yeah indeed.
Best Fantasy Friendly Games of the Week
*Celtics at Raptors, Friday: The two highest-scoring teams in the Eastern Conference begin the second half highlighted by a five-star matchup at point between Thomas and Kyle Lowry (more on them later). Boston may have stumbled upon a possible second-half sleeper in Kelly Olynyk, who averaged 31.1 FP per game in his last five and comes into the weekend with five straight outings with at least 16 points and seven rebounds in each. The game also marks the Raptors debut of Serge Ibaka, who was dealt up north by the Magic this past Thursday.
*Spurs at Clippers, Friday: Both teams efficiently fill the bucket, as the Spurs are fourth in field goal percentage while the Clippers are fifth. This might not be a night to plug Leonard into the lineup, though. While his 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two previous games against the Clippers this season is OK, Leonard is shooting just 34.4 percent from the field and has a +/- rating of -16.5. On the other side, Blake Griffin has put the Clips on his back, averaging 52.6 FPPG in the last five and a mammoth 36.4 usage rating in the same span.
*Trail Blazers at Raptors, Sunday: Can’t go wrong when two of the league’s best backcourts square off. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combine for 79.6 FPPG, while Lowry and DeMar DeRozan team up for 84.4 FPPG. The backstory will be how new Portland center Nurkic and Ibaka continue to adjust to their new surroundings. Nurkic had 13 points and seven boards in his Blazers debut last Wednesday and should see more than the 21 minutes he played at the Jazz.
Best Fantasy Matchups to Exploit
*Hapless point guard to be named vs. Kyrie Irving: New York is ranked 25th in points allowed (109.2) and with a strong chance Derrick Rose might have a new address by Thursday afternoon, the task of containing Irving falls to Brandon Jennings. Don’t get me wrong, Jennings isn’t a bad point guard, but trying to corral Irving and 42.6 FP per game in the last five is a task few points in the league are up for. Irving’s usage rate has climbed to 34.3 in the same span, as it has become clear he’ll be the focal point of the Cavs while letting James coast into playoff mode.
*Warriors vs. Nets (Saturday): Fortunately, this is a 10:30 p.m. start out east, making it all the more reason to put the children to bed and save them the horror that will tip off in Oakland. Stack Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson accordingly.
*Anthony Davis vs. Mavericks front court (Saturday): Dallas is last in total rebounds per game, and if Andrew Bogut doesn’t suit up, light a candle and start a #PrayForMavericks trend on Twitter. Davis has averaged 32.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 blocks in two games against Dallas this season and will have few roadblocks from keeping from another monster night.
Best One-on-One Matchups to Watch
*Jokic vs. DeMarcus Cousins (Nuggets at Kings, Thursday): The second half begins with a West Coast clash between elite centers looking to pick up where they left off before the break. Ranked 14th overall, Cousins averaged 52.8 FPPG in his last five and had three straight double-doubles before a relatively quiet performance in the blowout loss to the Warriors prior to vacation. Jokic had a triple-double and three double-doubles in his last six while averaging 55.4 FP per contest.
*Thomas vs. Lowry (Celtics at Raptors, Friday): Thomas’ usage rate of 35.4 in the last five is the fifth-highest and will be at high levels in this showdown between two of the Eastern Conference’s elite point guards. Lowry’s 24.9 usage rate in the same span pales in comparison to Thomas’, yet he was still able to produce a triple-double and four games of at least 20 points in his last six prior to the break.
*Lillard vs. Lowry (Trail Blazers at Raptors, Sunday): The next chapter of Kyle Lowry vs. the Universe will see our hero taking a dastardly scoring machine from the Pacific Northwest, who is also capable of dispersing devastating rounds of assists. The Lillard No. 0 has averaged 42.2 FPPG in his last five and is considered armed and dangerous.
TEAMS PLAYING THREE GAMES
Hornets, Nuggets, Clippers, Pelicans
TEAMS PLAYING TWO GAMES
Hawks, Nets, Celtics, Bulls, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Pistons, Warriors, Rockets, Pacers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Heat, Bucks, Timberwolves, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, 76ers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Raptors, Jazz, Wizards