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As we approach the midpoint of the season, I thought we'd take a look back at the first-half breakout performers before identifying some players who have the potential to do some serious damage in the second half. The following list will not include Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love or Blake Griffin because they are fairly self-explanatory, so let's take a look at some other players who are in the midst of breakout seasons.
Note: Brian McKitish's top 130 players are ranked for their fantasy value from this point forward in the 2010-11 NBA season. Previous rank is indicated in parentheses.1. Kevin Durant, SF, OKC (1)
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Portland Trail Blazers: I'll admit, I wasn't the biggest Aldridge fan heading into the season. Coming off a year that saw him average 17.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 0.6 blocks, I considered him somewhat of a poor man's David West, which isn't terrible, but I don't typically like to reach for big men that don't rebound or block shots as well as their counterparts. Turns out, Aldridge's dismal block totals in 2009-10 were the exception, not the rule. I'd still like to see him rebound more (8.7 per game), but who am I to complain when he's also giving us 20.7 points, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals while shooting 48.2 percent from the floor and 77.3 percent from the line? Aldridge has stepped up his game in every aspect this season, including in the leadership department as the Blazers have looked to him to fill the void left by Brandon Roy. There's no reason to think that this type of production won't continue for the balance of the season and beyond.
Eric Gordon, SG, Los Angeles Clippers: Somewhat overshadowed by the Blake Griffin Show, only Gordon owners can truly appreciate the brilliance of the first half turned in by the 22-year-old guard. Gordon is averaging 23.9 points, 4.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.8 3-pointers while shooting 46.6 percent from the floor and 80.7 percent from the line (with 7.4 free throw attempts per game!), making him the classic "year after the hype" breakout player. After taking a slight step back in 2009-10 due to nagging injuries, Gordon gained confidence playing for Team USA during the summer and hasn't looked back since. Given his age and upside, there are not many shooting guards that I'd rather have in a keeper league.
Wilson Chandler, SF/SG, New York Knicks: Those who have followed my work in previous years know that I've always had a bit of a man-crush on the Knicks swingman, so it's fitting that the one year he decides to put it all together happens to be the same year that I didn't draft him in any leagues. Sigh. Since he's averaging 17.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.4 blocks and 1.7 3-pointers while shooting 48.0 percent from the floor and 81.1 percent from the line, it's hard to imagine that Chandler will be able to continue this level of production, particularly in the 3-point shooting and shot-blocking categories. Of course, he's come back down to earth slightly in January (1.3 3-pointers and 0.6 blocks), but that doesn't mean you should go out and sell high on the 23-year-old. Chandler seems to play better with Danilo Gallinari in the lineup (Gallo returned to action on Monday), and still does a lot of things well in the fantasy game, so he'll have plenty of value even if his 3s and blocks slip slightly in the second half.
Dorell Wright, SF, Golden State Warriors: Wright showed up on many sleeper lists during preseason action, but not even his biggest fans would have thought that he'd be averaging 16.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.7 3-pointers after 39 games. And, after struggling with inconsistency early in the season, Wright has become more reliable of late, scoring in double figures in 12 consecutive games. I'm still somewhat wary of his injury history, but I'm 99 percent confident in saying that Wright is here to stay (barring an injury, of course).
D.J. Augustin, PG, Charlotte Bobcats: After starting the season on fire, Augustin hit a mini-slump in December before turning it up a notch under new head coach Paul Silas. And by turning it up a notch, I mean to the tune of 17.6 points, 7.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 2.1 3-pointers while shooting 93.0 percent from the line on 6.1 attempts since the New Year. Those are some big-time numbers, folks, and anyone who has seen the Bobcats play under Silas should know that Augustin is going to continue to put up monster lines in this offensive system.
Michael Beasley, SF/PF, Minnesota Timberwolves: Beasley may never become the big rebounder (5.8 rebounds per game) many thought he'd be when he first came out of Kansas State, but that doesn't mean that he can't become one of the league's better scorers while providing fantasy owners with a versatile array of statistics. Aside from the scoring (20.9 points per game), Beasley's 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.9 3-pointers puts him just outside of the elusive 1/1/1 club that fantasy owners dream of. It's obvious that he's found his way in Minnesota alongside Kevin Love, and his owners should look for him to pick up right where he left off once he's fully recovered from his recent ankle injury.
Wesley Matthews, SG/SF, Portland Trail Blazers: Since joining the starting lineup (28 games), Matthews has shocked the fantasy world with 18.5 points, 1.5 steals and 2.2 3-pointers while shooting 82.9 percent from the free throw line on 4.4 attempts per game. Now fully entrenched as one of the Blazers' leaders with Brandon Roy shelved, Matthews shouldn't have a problem retaining his value for the duration of the season, even if Roy somehow returns to the court this season.
DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Sacramento Kings: Though he still has a lot of holes in his fantasy game (notably his inconsistency and poor shooting percentages), Cousins is almost ready to take his game to the next level in the second half of his rookie season. He has averaged 17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks in nine games this month and has the upside of a top-50 player if he can figure out how to become more consistent on a night-to-night basis.
J.J. Hickson, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers: Hickson started the season ranked 90th in my top-130 rankings, but he lost his starting job after a rough first month and fell almost completely off the fantasy map until an Anderson Varejao injury opened the door to additional playing time last week. All Hickson has done since then is average 15.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks in 31.2 minutes per game. Now that he's finally validating his preseason sleeper status, there is no reason that Hickson shouldn't continue to earn heavy minutes for the duration of the season, as the 8-32 Cavaliers go into full rebuilding mode. Whether or not he continues at this pace is another question, but the opportunity to shine will certainly be there.
Greg Monroe, PF/C, Detroit Pistons: I am kicking myself for not moving the Pistons rookie into the top 130 last week. Averaging 12.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game in his past five, Monroe should be owned in all fantasy formats, particularly since he figures to log heavy minutes going forward as the 14-26 Pistons need to start thinking about their future.
Darren Collison, PG, Indiana Pacers: Don't look now, but Collison is beginning to produce the way we thought he might when he first signed with the Pacers during the summer. With 18.2 points, 6.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.6 3-pointers in his past five games, Collison appears to be ready to put his dismal first half behind him. You may still be able get a buy-low offer in as his current owner might still be reeling from his brutal start of the season.
Amir Johnson, PF, Toronto Raptors: It took him half a season, but Johnson is finally starting to bring a little consistency to his game. He's not quite the player that his per-minute numbers suggested he might be, but the 23-year-old still has a ton of upside and is averaging 10.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.2 blocks in his past five games.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.