Commentary

Westbrook, Love among top breakouts

Updated: January 11, 2010, 12:33 PM ET
By Brian McKitish | Special to ESPN.com

Last week's column on Tyreke Evans brought in plenty of feedback, mostly about other players who are in the midst of breakout seasons and need more respect from the fantasy community. Ask and you shall receive, my friends. Below is a list of some of my favorite fantasy players who are in the middle of breakout years, and what we should expect of them going forward.

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 already been accrued. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

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

Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder (31): Westbrook still needs to work on his shot selection and 3-point shooting before he becomes an elite fantasy point guard, but his potential in points, assists, rebounds, steals and free throw percentage is simply off the charts. While his free throw percentage (.762) and steals (1.1 per game) have dipped slightly off last season's pace, his assists have skyrocketed up from 5.3 to a cool 7.3 this season. Averaging 16.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.8 steals in his past five games, Westbrook has really come into his own as of late, particularly as a ball distributor. It's also nice to see him getting after it a little more on the defensive end. With his skill set, he should be creating at least 1.5 steals per game. I'm not entirely sure what's going on with him at the free throw line this season, but he gets to the stripe at a high rate (5.3 times per game) and he knocked down 81.5 percent last season so we should expect some improvement in this area going forward. My favorite aspect of Westbrook's game is not his ability to easily get into the lane, where he can score, dish and draw fouls (though that is nice, too); it's his impressive offensive rebounding numbers with 1.7 per game. That number leads all guards by a substantial margin -- Dwyane Wade is next closest at 1.4 per game. And with that said, of all the players on this list, I have the highest hopes for Westbrook.

Kevin Love, PF/C, Timberwolves (42): Say what you will about Love's lack of explosiveness, this guy is the best rebounder in the league not named Dwight Howard. Actually, Love might be (gasp) a better rebounder than Howard … according to the numbers at least. At 18.9 boards per 48 minutes, Love barely bests Howard's 18.3. With 4.6 offensive boards per game, he's getting a ton of easy putbacks, which has undoubtedly helped increase his scoring to 15.4 points per game. Not only that, but it's helping him get to the free throw line in bulk (5.1 FTA, and he's shooting 80.4 percent from there). And don't forget that he has added the 3-point shot to his repertoire (0.7 per game). I typically don't crush on big men who don't block shots, but Love is an exception to the rule because he does so many other things well that it's easy to overlook his one fantasy fault.

Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, Knicks (48): He's not just a 3-point shooter, folks. Gallinari has proven to be a surprising resource of steals and blocks in his second season. Averaging 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks on the season, the Rooster put up 1.07 steals and 1.14 blocks during the month of December. Add those impressive numbers to the fact that he ranks second in 3-pointers per game (2.8), behind only Danny Granger, and shoots better than 80 percent from the free throw line and Gallinari is quickly becoming one of my favorite fantasy players thanks to his ability to contribute in multiple scarce categories.

Aaron Brooks, PG, Rockets (68): By all accounts, Brooks is in the midst of a breakout season with 18.4 points, 4.9 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.3 3-pointers while shooting 83.4 percent from the free throw line so far. Still, I can't help but wonder if the 24-year-old can give fantasy owners more. I know that's asking a lot, but think about it. A few more assists and steals would make this kid a legit fantasy star, right? One would think that a guy as quick as Brooks would be better at creating steals than he is right now, so there is some optimism for improvement on the defensive end. He should also get better at creating open shots for his teammates as he continues to learn the point guard position at this level. Remember, this is his first season as a full-time starter, so he's still learning on the job. Do not be surprised if he figures it out in the second half this season, or sometime early next season. If he does, look out.

Lou Williams, PG/SG, Sixers (69): If it weren't for a broken jaw and the subsequent Allen Iverson signing, Williams would already be well-known as a breakout player this season. Prior to his injury, Williams was dominating with 17.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 3-pointers while shooting 49.7 percent from the floor and 83.3 percent from the line. But since his return, Sweet Lou has taken on a slightly different role in Philadelphia. Thanks to Iverson's presence, Williams is much more of a scorer than a playmaker in the new Philly offense. Averaging 14.3 points, 3.3 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.4 3-pointers since his return, it is obvious that Iverson has cut into Lou's ball distribution. That said, it's pretty clear that Williams is still a star in the making; we just might need to wait until Iverson goes down with an injury for it to happen.

Yi Jianlian, PF/SF, Nets (77): There was a time when I didn't believe in Yi, but those days seem like a distant memory after seeing his transformation this season. Now 22 years old, Yi is starting to come into his own in his third professional season with averages of 15.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 1.3 blocks and 0.4 3-pointers per game. What I love most about Yi this season is that he's relying less on his long-distance jumper and is attacking the basket more and more. This can be seen in his dramatic decrease in 3-point shooting (1.2 attempts, down from 2.3 attempts last season) and increase in free throw attempts (5.3 FTA, up from 2.0 last season). Given that the Nets are already playing for next season and have few offensive options, we can expect that Yi will continue to fill the stat sheet the rest of the way as long as he stays healthy.

Rodney Stuckey, PG, Pistons (80): Ah, the post-hype breakout season is in full effect. Averaging a quiet 18.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals on the year, Stuckey doesn't get the respect he deserves in fantasy leagues due to his poor 3-point shooting and field goal percentage. I almost wish he would stop shooting 3-pointers altogether considering that he's shooting just 19.4 percent from behind the arc. Still, I'm not going to complain much as long as he continues to put up such impressive numbers across the board. Stuckey's most redeeming fantasy quality is his ability to get to the line at a high rate (he's shooting 82.8 percent on 5.3 attempts per game). This is a testament to his ability to use his body to get into the lane to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. I should note that part of Stuckey's breakout can be explained by injuries to Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, but I expect him to continue to play at a high level, with perhaps more assists and less scoring now that the Pistons are beginning to get healthy.

Almost Famous

The following players aren't quite enjoying the breakout seasons we projected, but are oh so close to fantasy stardom.

Derrick Rose, PG, Bulls (64): I desperately want to put Rose on the above list, and I would if this weren't a fantasy column. Unfortunately, Rose has proven early in his career that he is much better in real life than he is in the fantasy game. There is a lot to love about Rose -- mainly his scoring and assists -- but until he proves that he can either create steals on the defensive end (0.8 steals), extend his game behind the 3-point line offensively (0.1 3-pointers), or hit his free throws at a slightly better clip (77.4 percent), I just can't get too excited about his fantasy prospects. It is somewhat unsettling that someone as athletic and explosive as Rose can manage to create only 0.8 steals per game. I'd like to think that he could improve in this area, but I'll have to see it to believe it. Before I start sounding too down on the kid, I should mention that he is still ranked fairly high because he's an absolutely brilliant scorer and distributor. And he's really starting to take off offensively with 21.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game over his past five.

Anthony Randolph, PF/SF, Warriors (125): It's pretty simple: When Randolph gets minutes he's a dominant fantasy player. He's seen 25-plus minutes in just 15 of his 33 games this season and is averaging 14.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.1 blocks during those contests. There's no doubt in my mind that these are the kinds of numbers we would come to expect from him if Don Nelson ever gave him consistent run. I'm thinking that time will come in the second half of the season, depending on how serious his recent ankle injury is.

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

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and is a two-time Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year, as named by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

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