Dealing with slow-starting stars
Can Rose, Jefferson, Calderon, Miller turn things around after iffy November?
Time flies when you're having fun, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the first month of the NBA season has already passed us by. While great stories like the explosion of rookie sensation Brandon Jennings and the strong starts of teams like the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks have made the early NBA season FANtastic, the fantasy junkie in us likely is dealing with a number of players on our rosters who are not living up to our draft-day expectations. And there's nothing fun about that.
I always stress patience when assessing player values at any point during the season, because you simply can't put too much weight into brief stretches of play, good or bad. Every team and every player has their ups and downs. That's why they play 82 games during the regular season. However, now that most players have about 17 games in the books, it's time to show genuine concern over those players whose only consistency has been underperforming.
Still, showing concern is different from giving up. It's important to assess each player carefully, because there are plenty of players who tank the first month of the season only to turn things around the rest of the way. When evaluating a player, you should consider the following factors to determine the likelihood of that player redeeming himself this season:
• Is his NBA team winning or losing? Good players on good NBA teams often see their statistical production reduced as a byproduct of team play. On the other hand, there's more opportunity for a good player to turn things around on a bad team, because they'll need more production from him to compete.
• Coach/system. The coach and his system play huge roles in fantasy success for his players. Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown's teams focus on ball control and defense. As a result, they don't score much, making it difficult for his best players to max out their fantasy stats and impossible for more than a few players to have fantasy relevance. On the other hand, Indiana Pacers coach Jim O'Brien lets his players run the court freely and score a lot of points. As a result, his best players can be fantasy studs and many other guys have a shot at carving out a fantasy niche.
• Roster depth and rotation. Again we're looking at opportunity for success. Do you have an underachieving combo guard who plays on a team with three other quality options in the backcourt? He'll have less opportunity to improve than a combo guard on a team that is thin at both the point and the two spot. Also, a player who is locked into a solid spot in the rotation is better off than a player whose role is uncertain.
• History. Take a close look at his minutes and shot attempts. If they're the same as the past few years, but his field-goal percentage is way down, you should expect a rebound in production once he finds his shot. On the other hand, if his minutes or shot attempts are down, this could be a sign that his role on the team has changed, which could limit the odds of a rebound in production.
• Injuries. Obviously, dinged up players have a harder time maxing out their stats, but you should look closely at his teammates, too. For example, it's probably not a good sign if your player is underachieving despite getting a bigger opportunity due to a teammate's injury.
With these things in mind, let's take a look a number of players who have stumbled out of the gate this season.
Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls: If you look at his overall stats thus far, Rose isn't that far off the pace of what he did last season. The trouble is that most of us assumed the reigning Rookie of the Year would build on that performance and take a big step forward in his sophomore campaign. Blame the slow start on his preseason ankle injury. He's shown signs of life lately and is far too talented to not turn on the jets soon.
Al Jefferson, C, Minnesota Timberwolves: It's no surprise that Jefferson hasn't exploded out of the gate. Literally or figuratively, a fast start is not something you can expect from a guy who is 6-foot-10, 265 pounds and returning from a torn ACL. Just like Rose, though, Jefferson has picked things up of late, posting four double-doubles and thrice scoring 20 points in his past six games. The only thing standing in the way of Jefferson matching last season's stats is staying healthy. However, history says that's not likely to happen for the long run.
David West, PF, New Orleans Hornets: It's been frustrating night in and night out for those who own West this season. For example, in two recent games, West scored 27 and 24 points, but he totaled only 31 points in the three games between them. He was unsteady even before Chris Paul went down, and without CP3 running the show, he's seen fewer easy buckets. Still, he's been so consistent the past three seasons, I'll be shocked if he doesn't get back to his usual 20 points, 8.5 boards and great percentages sooner than later, especially once Paul resumes orchestrating the offense.
Jose Calderon, PG, Toronto Raptors: In 18 games this season, Calderon's production is nearly identical to what he did last season -- except a glaring drop from 8.9 assists per game to 6.4. It's nice that everything else is in order, but his assist production is the primary reason he was drafted in the early rounds. I really thought he would keep that up, despite the additions of Hedo Turkoglu and Jarrett Jack, but they've clearly chipped away at his dime dealing. I think he'll still have a month or two where he posts close to nine assists per game, but I've seen enough to believe that Calderon's teammates will keep him from maxing out this season.
Andre Miller, PG, Portland Trail Blazers: After being one of the most steady fantasy point guards the past decade, Miller's arrival in Rip City has been a complete disaster. He can't even stay in the starting lineup and has been rendered unusable in most formats. With so much young talent on this team, I didn't see how he could match last season's production, especially since the Trail Blazers' best player, Brandon Roy, is a combo guard who likes to handle the rock. A 33-year-old point playing on a team that's deep at guard, is unlikely to make a big turnaround. I think the 33-year-old will need to be traded or have Roy go down with an injury to have any consistent fantasy relevance this season.
Paul Millsap, PF, Utah Jazz: One man stands between Millsap and becoming a highly productive fantasy big man: Carlos Boozer. When Boozer was out of action with an injury last December, Millsap averaged 18.6 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, while hitting 58.9 percent of his field-goal attempts. The trouble this year is that Boozer is healthy and playing great. Since there remains a decent chance that Boozer will get injured or traded, I'm holding onto Millsap as a lottery ticket in some deep leagues. You probably can't afford to kill a bench spot indefinitely by keeping him in shallower leagues, but if there are any hints at trade rumors or Boozer gets dinged up, don't hesitate to grab him off waivers.
John Salmons, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls: One of the more underrated shooters in the Association, Salmons is hitting a hideous 36.1 percent of his shots this season. It's shocking, considering he averaged better than 47 percent from the field the previous two seasons. The good news is that little else has changed; the Bulls' roster is basically the same (minus Ben Gordon), he's playing the same minutes and taking just as many shots. He's obviously not going to average 36 percent for the season -- not even the worst shooter does. That means when he does find his shot and boost that percentage, we should see his scoring production bump back up toward 18 per game.
Wilson Chandler, SG/SF, New York Knicks: He was viewed as a quality sleeper by most fantasy experts, but Chandler is probably on most waiver wires after averaging 39 percent from the floor and fewer than 12 points so far. I think he's worth keeping an eye on, though. His minutes and shot attempts are about the same as last season, and obviously there's plenty of opportunity on the run-and-gun Knicks. His biggest foe right now seems to be foul trouble -- he's averaging 3.7 per game, up from 3.1 last season. If he can stay on the court and find a shooting rhythm, Chandler has a very nice combination of blocks and 3-point production that can be a big help to fantasy squads.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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