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Giving thanks for fantasy bounty

11/23/2009

Thanksgiving is upon us, and because I enjoy all the typical traditions (football, food and family), I'll partake in another Turkey Day tradition: giving thanks.

There are, of course, a million things in my life for which I should be thankful, but rather than bore you with my personal list, I'll keep the following geared toward fantasy hoops. So without further delay, here's what I'm thankful for, fantasy hoops-style:

For the trade that sent Stephen Jackson out of Golden State. The ripple effect of Jackson's departure combined with Kelenna Azubuike's injury will be huge for Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, Corey Maggette, Anthony Morrow and maybe even (gasp) Anthony Randolph. Warriors coach Don Nelson always will be impossible to predict, but not even he can mess up this playing-time situation, especially with Raja Bell contemplating surgery on his injured wrist. You'll notice that each of these players got a bump in my rankings this week, particularly Ellis, who will be pure fantasy gold if he stays with Golden State. He's already averaging 25 points, 6.7 assists and 4 steals in three contests without Captain Jack, and there's no reason to think he won't continue to dominate on a nightly basis.

The Top 130

Note: Brian McKitish's Top 130 are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have been accrued. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

RK. Name, Team (RK)
1. LeBron James, SF, CLE (1)
2. Danny Granger, SF, IND (2)
3. Kevin Durant, SG/SF, OKC (4)
4. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (3)
5. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (5)
6. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (6)
7. Chris Bosh, PF/C, TOR (8)
8. Carmelo Anthony, SF, DEN (10)
9. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (7)
10. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (9)
11. Chris Paul, PG, NO (11)
12. Deron Williams, PG, UTA (12)
13. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (13)
14. Amar'e Stoudemire, C/PF, PHO (14)
15. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (20)
16. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, PHI (15)
17. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (17)
18. Brandon Roy, SG, POR (16)
19. Al Jefferson, C, MIN (19)
20. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (21)
21. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (24)
22. Chauncey Billups, PG, DEN (18)
23. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (22)
24. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (31)
25. Gilbert Arenas, PG, WAS (23)
26. Andrea Bargnani, PF/C, TOR (25)
27. Baron Davis, PG, LAC (28)
28. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (26)
29. Rashard Lewis, SF/PF, ORL (27)
30. Devin Harris, PG, NJ (30)
31. Jason Richardson, SG/SF, PHO (32)
32. Vince Carter, SG/SF, ORL (33)
33. Tim Duncan, C/PF, SA (29)
34. Trevor Ariza, SF, HOU (43)
35. Mo Williams, PG, CLE (36)
36. Carlos Boozer, PF, UTA (37)
37. Nene, C/PF, DEN (38)
38. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (42)
39. David Lee, PF/C, NY (39)
40. David West, PF, NO (44)
41. Antawn Jamison, PF, WAS (57)
42. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, CHA (34)
43. Jose Calderon, PG, TOR (35)
44. Troy Murphy, PF/C, IND (46)
45. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, TOR (47)
46. Ben Gordon, SG, DET (50)
47. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (54)
48. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (52)
49. Caron Butler, SF, WAS (41)
50. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (45)
51. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, GS (51)
52. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (66)
53. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (40)
54. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (53)
55. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (60)
56. Chris Kaman, C, LAC (59)
57. Mehmet Okur, C, UTA (49)
58. Lou Williams, PG/SG, PHI (63)
59. Al Harrington, PF, NY (55)
60. Jeff Green, SF/PF, OKC (48)
61. Eric Gordon, SG, LAC (56)
62. Tyreke Evans, PG, SAC (67)
63. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (58)
64. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, DAL (61)
65. Tony Parker, PG, SA (64)
66. O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM (62)
67. J.R. Smith, SG, DEN (75)
68. Jason Thompson, PF, SAC (71)
69. Boris Diaw, PF/SF, CHA (69)
70. Marcus Camby, C/PF, LAC (70)
71. Jason Terry, SG/PG, DAL (72)
72. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (73)
73. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (80)
74. Channing Frye, PF/C, PHO (100)
75. Luis Scola, PF/C, HOU (84)
76. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, ATL (85)
77. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (74)
78. Andris Biedrins, C, GS (68)
79. John Salmons, SG/SF, CHI (77)
80. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (76)
81. Rodney Stuckey, PG, DET (90)
82. Danilo Gallinari, SF, NY (93)
83. Mario Chalmers, PG, MIA (91)
84. Charlie Villanueva, PF/SF, DET (92)
85. Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, UTA (96)
86. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (88)
87. Aaron Brooks, PG, HOU (94)
88. Michael Redd, SG, MIL (89)
89. Greg Oden, C, POR (99)
90. Thaddeus Young, SF, PHI (82)
91. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, POR (79)
92. Kevin Martin, SG, SAC (78)
93. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (86)
94. Tyrus Thomas, PF, CHI (87)
95. Brendan Haywood, C, WAS (101)
96. Michael Beasley, PF/SF, MIA (103)
97. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (108)
98. Chris Douglas-Roberts, SG, NJ (NR)
99. Richard Hamilton, SG, DET (98)
100. Ron Artest, SF, LAL (104)
101. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (83)
102. Jermaine O'Neal, C, MIA (105)
103. Andre Miller, PG, POR (81)
104. Lamar Odom, PF/SF, LAL (97)
105. Anthony Randolph, PF/SF, GS (121)
106. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (126)
107. Corey Maggette, SF, GS (114)
108. Larry Hughes, SG, NY (129)
109. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (65)
110. Corey Brewer, SF/SG, MIN (117)
111. Raymond Felton, PG, CHA (95)
112. Anthony Morrow, SG, GS (NR)
113. Mike Bibby, PG, ATL (109)
114. Beno Udrih, PG, SAC (122)
115. Spencer Hawes, C, SAC (115)
116. Shane Battier, SF, HOU (116)
117. Wilson Chandler, SF, NY (112)
118. Peja Stojakovic, SF, NO (128)
119. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (NR)
120. Jonny Flynn, PG, MIN (106)
121. Udonis Haslem, PF, MIA (125)
122. Grant Hill, SF, PHO (107)
123. Andres Nocioni, SF/PF, SAC (111)
124. Carl Landry, PF, HOU (NR)
125. Ben Wallace, C/PF, DET (NR)
126. Richard Jefferson, SF, SA (NR)
127. Blake Griffin, PF, LAC (130)
128. Dahntay Jones, SG, IND (NR)
129. Courtney Lee, SG, NJ (NR)
130. Rudy Fernandez, SG, POR (NR)

For the Phoenix Suns organization's decision to go back to its bread and butter, the up-tempo offense. The Suns lead the league with 109.8 points per game, and even though they technically aren't doing it with the fast break, they're getting their baskets early in the shot clock and moving the ball around in a wide-open system. This has had a profound effect on Steve Nash's assist totals (11.8 per game) and the 3-point shooting of both Channing Frye (2.8 per game) and Jason Richardson (2.5 per game). It's even made Jared Dudley somewhat useful in deeper fantasy formats. The only negative I can find in Phoenix is Leandro Barbosa's subpar play in the early going. I had high hopes for Barbosa coming into the season, but he's seeing just 21.3 minutes per game and can be dropped in most fantasy formats.

For the Weekly Schedule Chart that is underused by far too many fantasy owners. Savvy owners will use this chart to their advantage by exploiting the NBA's unbalanced schedule, and because not many do, you'll have an instant leg up on the competition. Coincidentally, our Neil Tardy does a great job of breaking down the schedule for you in his weekly Fantasy Forecaster column, which grades every matchup for the week on a scale of 1 to 10 for both offensive and defensive opportunities.

For Trevor Ariza's getting a career-high 38.6 minutes per game and contributing positively in nearly every category but field goal percentage. We knew he'd be fantastic in steals (2.1) and 3-pointers (2.4), but not many imagined he'd also add 18.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. The only thing stopping Ariza from being ranked in my top 20 is his 38.8 percent shooting from the floor. That's a number I expect to go up as Ariza becomes more comfortable being the go-to guy in Houston, but even if it does go up, he'll still shoot somewhere around 40-42 percent.

For the Atlanta Hawks. Not only are they exciting to watch, they're also a much better team than people give them credit for. Oh, and they're chock-full of fantasy goodness. Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams can underperform all they want; it's not as if fantasy owners drafted them all that high anyway (at least I hope not).

I'm absolutely loving the play of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jamal Crawford right now. JJ has silenced those who didn't believe he could put up numbers with Crawford in town, and Crawford looks great in his instant-offense role with 16.7 points and 1.4 3-pointers per game.

The best part about the Hawks, however, has been the maturation of Smith and Horford. It looks as though Smith has learned how to harness his potential, as he is no longer relying solely on his god-given talents. He's stopped forcing shots and has deferred to open teammates when he's bottled up (4.3 assists per game). He's also getting after it on the glass (9.3 rebounds per game) and defensively (1.6 steals and 2.6 blocks). Horford, meanwhile, just keeps getting better. He's improved in each of his first two seasons and is breaking out early in his third.

For all the rankings systems out there (including our Player Rater) that slightly overvalues players based on 3-point shooting. As we discovered a few weeks ago, 3-pointers aren't nearly as scarce as they used to be, so we should be using that knowledge to our advantage. Whenever I see a player who doesn't seem to belong on a rankings list (like Channing Frye at No. 43 or Anthony Morrow at No. 71 on our Player Rater), I know that it's mostly because of his 3-point shooting abilities. Don't get me wrong, Frye and Morrow are pretty good, but they shouldn't be valued that high because more 3-point shooters are around these days, and that lessens the impact guys such as Frye and Morrow have on the category as a whole.

For Al Jefferson finally looking as though he's fully recovered from last season's torn ACL. He's put up back-to-back 20-point, 10-rebound games, and his minutes are creeping up into the 35-per-game range where they're supposed to be. And no, I'm not terribly worried about the impending return of Kevin Love. In fact, I think Big Al will thrive with Love taking some of the pressure off. Last season's numbers support this theory, by the way. According to last season's data from 82games.com, Jefferson was even more dominant than usual when playing alongside Love. The window to buy low is closing rapidly, so get a move on it.

For Chris Kaman putting up 20.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks thus far because he'll have a hard time keeping this up all season long. Kaman has started hot before (see his 2007-08 season) but has never been able to keep up this level of consistency for an entire season.

Two things worry me about Kaman. First, he's played an average of 43.5 games in his past two seasons, and he's never really showed the ability to produce when dealing with nagging injuries. (Again, see the 2007-08 season.) Second, Kaman's rebounding and scoring undoubtedly will take a dive once Blake Griffin returns to the lineup. Griffin should be back sometime in mid-December, which gives Kaman owners a few weeks to work their trading magic. His value is at an all-time high, prompting one commenter to say it was "absolutely preposterous" I had Kaman ranked only 59th last week. That being the case, I figure you might be able to deal Kaman for someone like Al Horford or Joakim Noah plus a good throw-in.

For rookies who are fortunate enough to play on a team that needs them to produce right away. Look, we all know that rookies tend to be a bit overrated on the day of your fantasy draft, but rooks in recent years have bucked that trend on one condition: that they get enough minutes. I was pretty high on both Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans coming into the season, but not nearly as high as I should have been. Let's put it this way: If you are talented and getting minutes, you'll produce for fantasy teams. It doesn't matter whether you're a rookie.

For the seemingly ticky-tacky fouls that are being called on Dwight Howard early this season because it's making him a serious bargain in fantasy trade negotiations. Howard, who had never had much of a problem with fouls in his career (3.2 per game), is averaging a ridiculous 4.1 fouls in just 31.2 minutes through his first 13 games. I know Howard was fined for complaining about the refs on his blog, but his foul rate has climbed so high that it appears he was right to complain. Needless to say, this foul issue is killing his fantasy value, but there is some good news. First, Howard's per-minute production has stayed fairly constant. His overall numbers are down, but that's mostly because his minutes are way down because of the aforementioned foul trouble. Second, we have five years of proof that Howard is adept at staying out of foul trouble. He will figure it out, and his minutes (and production) will be back in line to what we're used to in no time. Buy low if you can.

For Corey Brewer's 2.3 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, because without them he'd be waiver-wire fodder. With them, he's a tremendous role player who should be owned in all fantasy formats. Brewer's 11.4 points and 4.2 rebounds aren't much to get excited about, but they are solid enough (when combined with the defensive stats) to overlook the fact that he's shooting just 36.4 percent from the floor.

On the bubble

As promised in last week's column, I'll be listing 15 to 20 players who did not make the cut for the top 130. Those who missed the cut this week include:

Paul Millsap, Leandro Barbosa, Mike Miller (ankle), T.J. Ford, Randy Foye (ankle), Chris Duhon, Chuck Hayes, Mike Conley, Josh Howard (ankle), Ersan Ilyasova, Andray Blatche, Nate Robinson, Ronnie Brewer, Terrence Williams, Will Bynum, Marvin Williams, Darren Collison, Marreese Speights, Jared Dudley, Drew Gooden.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at bmckitish@yahoo.com.