- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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In an effort to stay patient and avoid the mass panic that typically ensues early in the season, I was somewhat reluctant to make any big changes to my preseason rankings over the first couple of weeks. But now that we are getting a little deeper into the season and starting to pick up on some developing trends, it's time to start making some major changes to the rankings based on what we've seen so far.
Before we take a look at some of the big movers both up and down, I should note again that these rankings are intended to be a long-term look at future values over the balance of the season rather than a snapshot of values at this moment in time. You'll notice that Darren Collison did not make the cut for the top 130 for exactly this reason. Collison has some nice short-term potential while Chris Paul sits out with an ankle injury and certainly is pickup worthy, but his long-term value is fairly limited.
Josh Smith, PF/SF, Atlanta Hawks (13): He still can't hit his free throws, but I'm completely buying what Smith is selling early in the season. Not only has he returned to his 2007-08 form on the defensive end (1.7 steals, 2.6 blocks), but it looks like he's finally figured out how to play within himself on the offensive side of the ball. He's deferring to teammates when his shot isn't there (4.1 assists), and he has learned he's not a 3-point shooter (no attempts in 10 games), which has pumped up his efficiency from the floor (58.8 percent). Smith looks like he's back to his old ways, so go ahead and buy high if his owner tries to get cute with sell-high deals.
Andrea Bargnani, PF/C, Toronto Raptors (25): He is one of only a handful of players who can contribute in points (19.6), blocks (1.1), 3-pointers (2.3) and free throw percentage (93.1 percent). This has post-hype breakout written all over it, and this is exactly why "Il Mago" was such a coveted sleeper last season.
Jason Richardson, SG/SF, Phoenix Suns (32): Forget about the past two games, in which he underperformed; his minutes were out of whack as one was a blowout win against the New Orleans Hornets and the other was a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Richardson is going to be an absolute beast this season with the Suns returning to the up-tempo offense. Get used to seeing lots of crooked numbers for both Steve Nash and Richardson this season.
Andrew Bynum, C, Los Angeles Lakers (40): With 20.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, Bynum easily would be in the top 20 if it weren't for his injury history and the impending return of Pau Gasol. Enjoy the production for now, and pray that he stays healthy.
Trevor Ariza, SF, Houston Rockets (43): I don't really care much that he is shooting only 41.9 percent from the floor. Ariza is playing like a stud with points, steals and 3-pointers in bunches, and there's no reason to think it won't continue. That said, this ranking probably is still too low.
Al Horford, C/PF, Atlanta Hawks (52): Horford is playing inspired basketball, particularly on the defensive end, with 0.9 steals and 1.9 blocks per game. Oh, and he's a lock to average a double-double for the season.
Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee Bucks (54): Some will want to sell high on Jennings after his 55-point outburst Saturday, and that might not be such a bad idea if you can get a king's ransom for him. Don't get me wrong: Jennings is great, and he will be the fantasy rookie of the year, but his value is super high right now, and there is no possible way that he will continue to shoot 49.6 percent from the floor and 56.7 percent on 3s. Also, keep in mind that his scoring likely will dip with a corresponding bump in assists once Michael Redd returns to the lineup.
Tyreke Evans, PG, Sacramento Kings (67): Somewhat lost in the Jennings hype, Evans quietly has averaged 22.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.6 steals and a 3-pointer over his past five games. He will be a beast while Kevin Martin mends and should be able to hold most (but not all) of his value even after Martin returns.
Jason Thompson, PF, Sacramento Kings (71): Evans isn't the only one benefiting from Kevin Martin's injury. Thompson has averaged 20.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over his past five games, and the only thing holding him back from a higher ranking is his surprisingly poor play when Martin was in the lineup.
Luol Deng, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls (80): After two injury-plagued seasons, Deng finally looks like he is back to where he was during his breakout campaign in 2006-07. I still have some concerns about his ability to stay healthy over the long haul; otherwise, he'd be ranked much higher than this.
Joakim Noah (60)/Andrew Bogut (86)/Roy Hibbert (88)/Brendan Haywood (101): You should know this by now, but I love big men who get boards and blocks. All four of these players, coincidentally, have the potential to average nine-plus rebounds and 1.5-plus blocks per game.
Danilo Gallinari, SF, New York Knicks (93): He'll be fairly inconsistent depending on whether his shot is falling, but there's only one number you need to know in regards to Gallinari: 7.2. That's the number of 3-point attempts he's taking per game so far this season. Even if he's off, he's bound to hit a couple per game due to the sheer number of attempts.
Kevin Love, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves (108): Love will continue to move up the rankings as he gets closer and closer to his return. The latest reports, by the way, have him coming back within the next two weeks.
Corey Maggette, SF, Golden State Warriors (114): Kelenna Azubuike's knee injury looked pretty bad, potentially season-ending bad, and I'm betting that Maggette is first in line for increased minutes in Azubuike's absence. Of course, this is reliant upon Don Nelson, so it also could be Anthony Morrow, Stephen Curry or Anthony Randolph as well. Stay tuned; anything is possible in Golden State.
Caron Butler, SF, Washington Wizards (41): It's awfully concerning that Butler hasn't been able to produce despite the fact that Antawn Jamison has been out of the lineup. Part of the blame goes to a shooting slump (39.7 percent from the floor), but Butler also is attempting fewer shots (15.8 attempts) and 3-pointers (2.1 attempts) with a healthy Gilbert Arenas in the lineup. I fear there will be even less ball to go around once Jamison returns.
David West, PF, New Orleans Hornets (44): West appears to be having difficulties finding his way on the offensive end with Emeka Okafor in town. Last season, West attempted 17.0 shots per game. Through 11 games this season, he's attempting only 13.2. To make matters worse, he's grabbing only 6.9 rebounds per game. That said, West is a solid buy-low candidate. He's too good to be held down like this all season, and he should start to figure out how to get his shots as he becomes more comfortable playing alongside Okafor in the frontcourt.
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Portland Trail Blazers (79): Aldridge looks a lot better now that Andre Miller is in the starting lineup, but where are the blocks? They're going to Greg Oden. As long as Oden is healthy and patrolling the paint, Aldridge's shot-blocking ability is in serious doubt, and he doesn't rebound enough (7.9 per game) to block only 0.4 shots per game.
Raymond Felton, PG, Charlotte Bobcats (95): You'll notice all the Bobcats in the top 130 have dropped a few spots in the rankings. That's what happens when your team is scoring just 82.4 points per game. Fantasy values tend to plummet when you're running a stagnant offense.
Mike Conley, PG, Memphis Grizzlies (119): Conley could be on the chopping block in many leagues now that Memphis has signed Jamaal Tinsley, but Tinsley hasn't played in more than a year, and I don't think he'll be too big of a threat to Conley's starting spot. Still, Conley's play has been abysmal in the early going, and he's ranked here only because he was equally bad for half the season last year before turning it up in the second half.
Anthony Randolph, PF/SF, Golden State Warriors (121): A lot of folks already have given up on Randolph (88.7 percent owned), but I'm going down with the ship and holding on to him. Games like his 23-point, 7-rebound, 3-steal, 3-block performance last Monday might be few and far between right now, but I still believe that at some point, Don Nelson will come to his senses and give this kid the run he deserves.
Paul Millsap, PF, Utah Jazz (124): Millsap probably can be dropped in most formats, but he'll remain on my list because it's a long season and he's a monster when either Carlos Boozer or Mehmet Okur is out of the lineup.
Elton Brand, PF, Philadelphia 76ers (126): I was so very close to dropping Brand out of the top 130, but then Marreese Speights went ahead and injured his knee. Let's see how Brand performs with Speights on the shelf for the next six to eight weeks. If he can't get it going now, he probably never will.
On The Bubble
Every week, there are about 15 to 20 players I want to somehow work into the rankings, but for one reason or another, they miss the cut. Going forward, I'll be listing those players in this section.
Darren Collison, Josh Howard (ankle), Chris Duhon, Courtney Lee, Stephen Curry, Anthony Morrow, Raja Bell, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes, Toney Douglas, Marvin Williams, Hakim Warrick, Richard Jefferson, Yi Jianlian (knee), Terrence Williams, Samuel Dalembert, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Erick Dampier, Anderson Varejao, Al Thornton and Marreese Speights (knee).
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
14hMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne