Commentary

Russell Westbrook's hot start is legit

Updated: November 15, 2010, 3:02 PM ET
By Brian McKitish | Special to ESPN.com

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 during 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 based on what we've seen so far.

Before we take a look at some of the big movers in the top 130, I should note that these rankings are intended to be a long-term look at future values for the balance of the season rather than a snapshot of values at this moment in time. I should also note that my rankings are always up for debate. I'll often receive well-thought-out e-mails detailing why a certain player should be moved up or down, and I am not above changing my tune if a logical argument can be made.

Moving Up

The Top 130

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)
2. Chris Paul, PG, NO (2)
3. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (9)
4. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (5)
5. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (4)
6. Deron Williams, PG, UTA (6)
7. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (7)
8. LeBron James, SF, MIA (8)
9. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (3)
10. Danny Granger, SF, IND (10)
11. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (11)
12. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (12)
13. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (17)
14. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (13)
15. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (24)
16. Carmelo Anthony, SF, DEN (15)
17. Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, SAC (14)
18. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (18)
19. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (20)
20. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (21)
21. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, CHA (22)
22. John Wall, PG, WAS (36)
23. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (26)
24. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (25)
25. Amare Stoudemire, C/PF, NY (19)
26. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (27)
27. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (44)
28. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, PHI (23)
29. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (28)
30. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (46)
31. Tim Duncan, C/PF, SA (30)
32. Al Jefferson, C/PF, UTA (32)
33. Andrea Bargnani, C/PF, TOR (33)
34. Blake Griffin, PF, LAC (34)
35. David Lee, PF/C, GS (29)
36. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (37)
37. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (38)
38. Raymond Felton, PG, NY (47)
39. Jason Richardson, SG, PHO (39)
40. Paul Millsap, PF, UTA (50)
41. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (52)
42. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (45)
43. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, CHA (40)
44. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (35)
45. Brandon Roy, SG/SF, POR (16)
46. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (42)
47. Devin Harris, PG, NJ (41)
48. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (48)
49. Luis Scola, PF/C, HOU (62)
50. Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, DET (49)
51. David West, PF, NO (43)
52. Jrue Holiday, PG, PHI (58)
53. Chauncey Billups, PG, DEN (31)
54. Jeff Green, PF/SF, OKC (55)
55. Andray Blatche, PF/C, WAS (53)
56. Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, NY (56)
57. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (57)
58. Lamar Odom, PF/SF, LAL (63)
59. Nene Hilario, C/PF, DEN (61)
60. O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM (51)
61. Eric Gordon, SG, LAC (64)
62. Mo Williams, PG, CLE (60)
63. Darren Collison, PG, IND (59)
64. Marcus Camby, C/PF, POR (66)
65. Kevin Martin, SG, HOU (68)
66. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, POR (74)
67. Chris Bosh, PF/C, MIA (54)
68. Andre Miller, PG, POR (69)
69. Carlos Boozer, PF, CHI (70)
70. Michael Beasley, SF/PF, MIN (81)
71. Gilbert Arenas, PG/SG, WAS (73)
72. D.J. Augustin, PG, CHA (71)
73. Troy Murphy, PF/C, NJ (65)
74. Aaron Brooks, PG, HOU (75)
75. Tony Parker, PG, SA (76)
76. Serge Ibaka, C/PF, OKC (83)
77. Mike Conley, PG, MEM (77)
78. Jason Terry, SG, DAL (80)
79. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (84)
80. Wilson Chandler, SF/SG, NY (86)
81. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (87)
82. Dorell Wright, SF, GS (91)
83. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (88)
84. Caron Butler, SF/SG, DAL (82)
85. Chris Kaman, C, LAC (67)
86. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, ATL (78)
87. John Salmons, SG/SF, MIL (95)
88. Trevor Ariza, SF/SG, NO (85)
89. J.J. Hickson, PF, CLE (90)
90. Boris Diaw, PF/SF, CHA (92)
91. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (94)
92. Baron Davis, PG, LAC (79)
93. Nicolas Batum, SF, POR (116)
94. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (93)
95. Ben Gordon, SG, DET (96)
96. Vince Carter, SG/SF, ORL (97)
97. Beno Udrih, PG, SAC (98)
98. Rashard Lewis, PF/SF, ORL (72)
99. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, PHO (89)
100. Samuel Dalembert, C, SAC (99)
101. Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, UTA (110)
102. Al Harrington, PF, DEN (101)
103. Anderson Varejao, PF/C, CLE (102)
104. Toney Douglas, PG/SG, NY (100)
105. Lou Williams, PG/SG, PHI (103)
106. Richard Jefferson, SF, SA (113)
107. Carl Landry, PF, SAC (104)
108. Antawn Jamison, PF, CLE (118)
109. Eric Bledsoe, PG, LAC (107)
110. JaVale McGee, C/PF, WAS (105)
111. Tyrus Thomas, PF, CHA (114)
112. Yao Ming, C, HOU (106)
113. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (108)
114. DeMar DeRozan, SG, TOR (111)
115. J.R. Smith, SG, DEN (119)
116. Carlos Delfino, SF/SG, MIL (120)
117. Wesley Johnson, SF, MIN (129)
118. Corey Maggette, SF, MIL (122)
119. Andris Biedrins, C, GS (115)
120. Kyle Lowry, PG, HOU (123)
121. Jarrett Jack, PG/SG, TOR (124)
122. Rudy Fernandez, SG, POR (NR)
123. Tyson Chandler, C, DAL (NR)
124. Ron Artest, SF, LAL (126)
125. Terrence Williams, SF/SG, NJ (117)
126. Daniel Gibson, PG, CLE (127)
127. Hakim Warrick, PF, MIL (NR)
128. Robin Lopez, C, PHO (112)
129. Anthony Randolph, PF/C, NY (109)
130. Arron Afflalo, SG, DEN (NR)

Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder: After hyping Westbrook as a future top-20 fantasy player for about two years, no one is happier than I am to see him sitting alone atop the Player Rater when sorted by averages. Westbrook won't finish the season as the top-rated fantasy player (mostly because he doesn't hit 3-pointers), but it's not like he's playing terribly over his head. Some will point to his improved steals (2.3) and free throw percentage (90 percent) as signs that he's due to come back down to earth, but I'm not so sure. Westbrook is a terrific free throw shooter at 80 percent for his career, and I've always thought he'd be one of the top steal artists in the league due to his unbelievable quickness and intensity on the defensive end. If I'm a Westbrook owner, I'm not even entertaining thoughts of selling high.

Monta Ellis, PG/SG, Golden State Warriors: If Monta didn't have a fairly lengthy injury history, he'd be a borderline first-round fantasy pick. An electric scorer on the offensive end who can also wreak havoc on the defensive side with his quickness, Ellis is getting to the rim whenever he wants and finishing at a high rate. That's why his field goal percentage sits at 51.5 percent despite shooting just 29.7 percent from downtown. There has never been a question about Monta's talents, and at age 25, he's just coming into his prime. Let's keep our fingers crossed that he can stay healthy, because he'll be near the top of the Player Rater all season if he does.

Paul Millsap, PF, Utah Jazz: Millsap has always been super-productive when given ample minutes, so his early-season breakout should come as a surprise to no one. Averaging 21.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks after 10 games, Millsap looks to be a slightly better option than teammate Al Jefferson (who is still learning the ins and outs of the Jazz offense) for the moment. A few things keep Millsap from jumping even higher in the ranks as most people want. First, Big Al will start to steal some of Millsap's scoring once he gets more comfortable in the Jazz offense, and I still think Jefferson is the slightly better long-term fantasy option. Second, what happens when Mehmet Okur returns as expected in mid-to-late December? Don't get me wrong; Millsap's value isn't going to plummet, he's such a scrappy player and tireless worker that he's going to get his, but it's not likely that he'll see 37.0 minutes per game for the duration of the season. As much as I love Millsap, I have a hard time moving him up much higher than his current spot at 40th due to the aforementioned minor concerns.

Luis Scola, PF/C, Houston Rockets: Doing his best David Lee impression (David Lee circa 2009-10, of course), the ever-improving Scola is putting up 22.1 points, 10.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks per game in the early going. Do I think these numbers are for real? For the most part, yes. Scola just keeps getting better and better. Much like Millsap, he is a tireless worker on both ends of the court, and with Yao Ming already hurting, Scola will be the primary scoring option in the paint all season long. I'm not quite ready to put him in the Al Horford/Joakim Noah/Kevin Love discussion, but if we were redrafting today I'd certainly take him before fellow big men like David West, Andray Blatche, Nene and Chris Bosh.

Moving Down

Amare Stoudemire, PF/C, New York Knicks: Did Amare trick us by scoring nearly 30 points per game in the preseason? It's sure looking that way. Here's the thing about Stoudemire: He's not the type of player that's going to get the ball in the post and go to work. Stoudemire is a great finisher, but he needs to be put into a position to score in order to be as effective as he was in Phoenix. So far that is not happening in New York, as he is scoring a below-average 20.8 points per game and shooting just 45.9 percent from the floor. And that's not even mentioning the poor rebounding efforts he's turned in, with just 8.1 boards per game. The saving grace for his fantasy value has been his resurgence in the shot-blocking category, with 1.7 blocks per game. Amare still does enough in the fantasy game to be a top-25 player, but he is going to be a disappointment for those who made him a first-round selection this year.

Brandon Roy, SG/SF, Portland Trail Blazers: What to do with Roy and his balky left knee? Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do but cross your fingers and hope that it's less serious than it sounds. At this point, I'm not all that optimistic about Roy's long-term health this season, so I'm checking to see if Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez and Wesley Matthews are available in all of my leagues. Roy, meanwhile, moves down a solid 29 spots in the ranks until we get a more definitive prognosis.

Chauncey Billups, PG, Denver Nuggets: Averaging just 14.6 points, 4.3 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 3-pointers on the season, Chauncey is in the unfortunate position of having one of the league's better backup point guards in Ty Lawson coming off the bench. One of the big reasons for Billups' early-season struggles is the fact that his minutes have dropped from 34.1 per game last season to 31.6 this season. It's looking more and more like 2009-10 was Billups' last as an elite fantasy point guard. Another negative for Billups is the increase in production from starting point guards across the board this season. As of Sunday, 15 players were averaging at least 7.0 assists per game. To put that number in perspective, last season only eight players averaged that many assists. The point guard position is being redefined in the NBA, and it might be starting to pass Billups by.

Rashard Lewis, PF/SF, Orlando Magic: Many thought Shard would have a bounce-back season in Orlando, but after nine games it's looking more and more like those were just pipe dreams. He's averaging only 10.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.6 3-pointers, and while Lewis will improve upon his 37.1 percent shooting from the floor, it's probably time we stop thinking of him as the elite fantasy performer he used to be.

Most Debated

Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey Nets: A lot of people are disappointed with Lopez's early-season averages of 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, but they are more disappointed with his shooting percentage, which stands at 39.9 percent. Look, Lopez is too good to struggle like this all season, and he's had a real tough schedule to deal with, going up against two of the league's best defenses in the Heat and the Magic in four of his nine games thus far. I know the Heat have allowed some huge games to opposing big men, but Lopez played them before teams figured out the Heat's weakness on the interior (that being breaking down the defense and dishing inside the paint rather than posting up).

Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics: Some people think Rondo should be ranked higher than his current spot at 20th overall. I would ask those people how a player who doesn't score (10.8), hit 3-pointers (0.1) or hit his free throws (48.8 percent) can be ranked much higher than he already is. Rondo is as dominant as they come in assists and steals, and he's a very good rebounder for a guard, but we play eight categories in standard fantasy hoops and he contributes in only three of them.

Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers: The steals and blocks are coming, folks. I promise. Griffin still has a long way to go defensively, but he's racked up four steals and three blocks in his past two games, and it's only a matter of time before he starts doing this on a consistent basis. Don't make the mistake of underestimating him based on a very small sample size of defensive stats.

Pau Gasol, PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers: Lots of people got real upset with Pau's semi-low ranking of ninth overall last week, and most of those people made some valid points for why he should be ranked in the top five. I still have some small worries about his injury history and production once Andrew Bynum returns, but since there are so many question marks at the top this season, Gasol has to be considered a top-five fantasy talent.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at bmckitish@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.

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.

ALSO SEE