Rookies often struggle to find their footing early in their careers. These first-year players need time to adjust to the hectic schedules, new schemes, and improved competition, but once these young, talented players become accustomed to the NBA game, the production (and fantasy value) is soon to follow.
Last year, we saw second-half breakouts from Kenneth Faired and Klay Thompson. In 2010-11, Greg Monroe was a walking double-double after the All-Star break, and now there appears to be a few candidates from the 2012-13 rookie class looking to finish the season strong.
As we discussed last week, Bradley Beal has turned up his play of late. The Wizards' rookie has gelled perfectly with John Wall, averaging 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.2 treys, and 1.2 steals over the past six games. Those pre-draft Ray Allen comparisons don't look too crazy now.
Dion Waiters is another rookie shooting guard who is starting to pick up his game. In his past five games, Waiters has averaged 19.8 points. He's been a streaky shooter all season, but Waiters has cut back on his three-point attempts this month and is shooting over 50 percent from the floor as a result.
Down in Orlando, Maurice Harkless has more than doubled his production since the All-Star break. In five second-half contests, Harkless is averaging 15.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.0 steal, 0.8 blocks, and 0.8 three-pointers. The Magic are in complete rebuilding mode, so Harkless will continue to see heavy run.
Despite the recent surges from Beal (69 percent owned), Waiters (64) and Harkless (18), each player remains available in many leagues. As we saw with Faried, Thompson, and Monroe in the past, fantasy championships can be won by owning a rookie who breaks out in the second half of the season. Go grab one of these three rookies before they become household names in the fantasy community.
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 game every now and then - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time, rotation role, or performance.
Derrick Williams, F, MIN - Williams' production has been hit-or-miss in his first season and a half in the NBA, but the second overall pick of the 2011 draft is finally starting to flash some of his pedigree. Over the past nine games, Williams has averaged 16.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.0 trey. Andrei Kirilenko suffered a calf injury Tuesday night, so the Timberwolves will continue to rely heavily on Williams in the short term. Still widely available in Yahoo! leagues, owners to need rush out an add Williams to their squads.
Donatas Motiejunas, F, HOU - The Rockets traded away Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson last week, moving the two players who spent time as their starting power forward this season. The team landed rookie power forward Thomas Robinson in return, but Robinson is expected to need some time acclimating with his new squad before joining the rotation. That has left a gaping hole at the four, which has opened the door for Motiejunas to get a look with the starting five. Motiejunas has seen limited run this season, but he was considered a decent prospect when selected with the 20th overall pick in 2011. The seven-footer is a stretch four, who fits in perfectly with Houston's fast-paced offense. There could be some ups and downs here, but Motiejunas has the opportunity to be one of the breakout fantasy options to surface from moves made at last week's trade deadline.
Tobias Harris, F, ORL - It looks like a change of scenery was all Harris needed to become fantasy relevant. The young but talented forward was traded to Orlando at the deadline last week as part of the J.J. Redick deal. Harris was stuck near the end of the rotation in Milwaukee, but the rebuilding Magic appear set to give him a prolonged look on the court. Through his first two games in Orlando, Harris has averaged 15.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in 28 mpg. He has the skills to average over one three-pointer, steal, and block, which would make him a solid multi-category contributor in nearly any format. Orlando is lottery-bound, so the team has nothing to lose by handing Harris extended minutes down the stretch.
Gordon Hayward, G/F, UTA - Hayward has been on an absolute tear since returning from a shoulder injury. In his three appearances since returning to the Jazz's rotation, Hayward is averaging 22.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 three-pointers, 1.0 block, and 0.7 steals in 32 mpg. His shooting over that stretch is right in line with his season averages, but Hayward has been getting to the free-throw line with much more frequency, attempting 29 freebies over that three-game stretch. While his free-throw attempts will likely start to trend back toward his 4.6 attempts per game, Hayward should continue to be a solid fantasy option as the Jazz's offensive spark off the bench.
Jameer Nelson, G, ORL - Nelson will miss his fourth consecutive game Wednesday, as he continues to nurse a left knee contusion. He continues to be listed as day-to-day, so the injury is not considered too serious. E'Twaun Moore and Beno Udrih will continue to fill in at point guard until Nelson is ready to return.
Danny Granger, F, IND - Granger made his season debut last week, returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the first 55 games of the season. He's looked extremely rusty in his first two games back, shooting just 2-of-17 from the floor in 19 mpg off the bench. The former All-Star is expected to eventually rejoin the Pacers' starting five, but the team will bring him along slowly to work him back into game shape. Fantasy owners should take the same approach and keep Granger on the bench until he starts posting productive lines.
Kevin Love, F/C, MIN - Love (hand) said earlier this week that he hopes to play in 15-20 games before the end of the season. That timetable would put him at a mid-March return, or about the same time playoffs start in head-to-head leagues. If Love is available in your H2H league and you've already secured a spot in the playoffs, go grab and stash him for your championship run.
Anthony Davis, F/C, NOR - Davis is slated to miss Wednesday's game against the Thunder with a sprained left shoulder. He originally suffered the injury Tuesday night against the Nets and could have returned to the game, but the Hornets opted to err on the side of caution. The injury doesn't appear too serious, but New Orleans will continue to handle Davis with kid's gloves. Monitor the situation closely before committing Davis back into your lineup.
DeAndre Jordan, C, LAC - Jordan continues to perform at Dwight Howard-lite levels. The Clippers center is a solid source of field-goal percentage (60.7), rebounding (7.2), and blocks (1.4), but he's an absolute drain on free-throw percentage (42.0). His struggles from the charity stripe have only worsened in the past two weeks, dipping down to 29.4 percent. Howard's struggles at the free-throw line are frustrating, but at least he's among the league leaders in other categories. Jordan, on the other hand, offers production that is easy to replace, which doesn't make it worth dealing with the headache of his porous shooting from the line. Find a better, more efficient option.
Patrick Patterson, F, SAC - Patterson was traded from Houston to Sacramento last week, leaving behind a starting gig for what appears to be a bench role. Through his first two games with the Kings, Patterson has averaged just six mpg. His role will increase as he becomes more familiar with his new team's sets, but it remains to be seen if he'll be given a chance to supplant Jason Thompson as the starting power forward.
J.J. Redick, G, MIL - Redick is another player who saw his fantasy value take a dip after being traded last week. The Bucks will deploy Redick as the team's top scoring option off the bench, which is the exact same role he had in Orlando. The difference is Redick is now playing behind two All-Star caliber guards in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Jennings and Ellis both see over 37 mpg, leaving little wiggle room for Redick to play as much as he did in Orlando. Milwaukee will deploy Redick at small forward at times to free up more minutes, but the drop in playing time is unavoidable.
Nick Young, G, PHI - While still in the starting lineup, Young has seen a significant drop in his playing time over the past two games. After logging 31 or more minutes in 11 of 12 games, Young has managed to see just 31 minutes total over the past two contests. Young can be an asset in the three-point shooting category when seeing extensive run, but his production will be inconsistent if he doesn't start playing 30-plus mpg soon.