- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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February is the oddest month: Twenty-eight days (already weird) most of the time, but 29 every once in a while (even weirder). February is to months as "Y" is to vowels. What about that silent "r"? Is it even silent? Does anybody actually enjoy the manufactured emotion of Valentine's Day (worst holiday ever) other than Halllmark?
As of this writing, February hasn't quite arrived, but 30 days of January play have passed. Thus, we can look at a player's January stats and directly see how it translates to their ranking on the player rater when clicking on "30 Day (avg)." Here are players who have moved up and down the player rater in 2008, with their rankings during the past 30 days in parentheses:
Chris Bosh, PF/C, Raptors (third): You know that thing about dogs and their owners looking alike? Well if it applies to players and their mascots, Bosh looks like a velociraptor to me, attacking the hoop and dominating the court at will. His January averages (28.7 points, 9.3 boards, 1.1 blocks, 1.2 steals, .592 field goal percentage, .832 free-throw percentage) reflect his supremacy, and his percentages are insane because both come at a high frequency. He's third in field goal standard deviation and seventh in free-throw standard deviation, using the player rater's measuring system in the past 30 days. And after Wednesday's 37 and 12, Bosh has exploded. We've been waiting for him to take that step for awhile, and if he can stay healthy, Bosh is immediately in the discussion about the best forwards in the league. No player can rehabilitate your percentages better.
Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Mavericks (fourth): He started slow and Josh Howard's emergence overshadowed the lurking German's dominance, but during the past month he's fourth-best on the player rater. Look at Dirk's January stats: 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks, while shooting an insane 58 percent from the floor. That's Dirkalicious.
Mike Dunleavy, SG/SF, Pacers (23rd): When recently perusing one of those magazines that convinces me I'll exercise more often -- get killer abs in 72 hours! -- I read a feature on Dunleavy and Troy Murphy's offseason training regimen. Dunleavy put on 15 pounds of muscle, added inches to his vertical leap and entered camp in the best shape of his life, both in terms of athleticism and strength. Check out these January stats: 19.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.0 3-pointers, 1.4 steals, 49 percent from the floor and 90 percent from the stripe. An overall improvement in a player's game due to hard work is refreshing, and a sign that Dunleavy's numbers are far from anomalous. And, dude, if you mix three ounces of tuna with one ounce of soybean paste and wrap it up in lettuce, you'll have a boost of energy before adjusting your roster!
Anthony Parker, SG, Raptors (52nd): Parker is the type of player who sits on your bench for three weeks, then you look at the player rater and realize he's outperforming half of your starters. His numbers aren't flashy, but his percentages are. In January, Parker averaged 15.0 points, 2.3 3s, 1.3 steals, 3.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, while shooting 48.9 percent from the floor and 83.3 percent from the stripe. He's got nice all-around numbers, scores efficiently, nails 3s and is consistent almost to a fault. Parker is an underrated fantasy player who I bet can be had for cheaper than what he's worth.
Kirk Hinrich, PG/SG, Bulls (65th): OK, so he hasn't been fabulous. But in the past month, he's just barely underperforming compared to his preseason value after starting the season off terribly. I've said it again and again: He's a terrific player with proven fantasy success, and the extent of his early season struggles was fluky.
Al Harrington, PF/C, Warriors (85th): Threes galore! Harrington boasts the second-most in the league in the past month behind Peja Stojakovic. He provides perhaps the best option to make up ground in 3s, since you can start him at center and still load your lineup with guards that drain.
Josh Childress, SF/SG, Hawks (96th): Never flashy, but always worth the last spot on your team. He played in every January game, averaging 12.1 points, 1.3 steals, 5.0 rebounds and 0.4 blocks while shooting 56.1 percent from the floor.
Chris Paul, PG, Hornets (13th): Before you rip my head off in the Conversation section, look at the purpose of this column. This isn't "who's a good player, who's a bad player," it's "who has moved up or down the player rater in a certain period of time." Well, a month ago Paul was the best fantasy player alive. In the past month, he's only the 13th-best. That's all I'm saying.
Vince Carter, SG/SF, Nets (84th): It's hard to say whether a Jason Kidd trade would help or hurt Carter's value, but it's unlikely his play will continue to be as uninspired as it was in January: 19.9 points, 0.9 steals, 0.7 3s, 5.3 boards, 5.3 assists, 42 percent from the floor and 74 percent from the stripe doesn't cut it for a player drafted 24th overall on average. Even though Carter does benefit from Kidd's playmaking abilities, he also thrives as the team's "best player" and is a good buy-low option, since he should play better than he has recently, regardless.
Udonis Haslem, PF, Heat (140th): He's looking like he needs to be the third or fourth option on a team to produce. Haslem currently has a bum ankle, but wasn't playing well when healthy, mostly because he suddenly became the Heat's primary body in the paint. He stopped taking shots, thus stopped scoring points. After averaging more than 11 attempts per game in both November and December, that number dipped to eight in January, and his primary weakness is his lack of defensive statistics. Averaging 0.2 blocks and 0.2 steals per game in January is unacceptable for a starting forward.
Tony Parker, PG, Spurs (132nd): He was playing like garbage. He was playing hurt. Pop is a genius and sat him indefinitely, despite Parker's pleas, so he'll be fresh to torch foes in the playoffs. Sit Parker and look elsewhere. If Damon Stoudamire indeed signs with the Spurs, he's worth an immediate pickup because Jacque Vaughn is not a starting NBA point guard, as I got to see firsthand in Tuesday night's upset against the Sonics. Speaking of, Kevin Durant's upside is harder to predict than any other player's in the league. His ceiling enters unexplored fantasy waters. And Jeff Green will be crazy good, too.
Rajon Rondo, PG, Celtics (144th): His impressive defense translates to the fantasy game, with Rondo averaging 1.8 steals per game. But he's not complete enough yet (no 3s, low scoring and free-throw percentage) and the fact that all three of the "big three" are capable passers who can bring the ball up the floor indicates he's not going to average many assists.
Luther Head, PG/SG, Rockets (166th): He had the opportunity to make it rain as he has in years past when Tracy McGrady was sidelined, but Head has been a marginal player in the past month. He averaged more than 26 minutes per game in January, but shot 29.6 percent from behind the arc for 1.1 3s per game.
Darko Milicic, PF/C, Grizzlies (168th): He's so bad at everything except for blocking the ball. The sad part is that he's still on the fantasy radar because only seven players averaged more than his 2.2 blocks in January, and many owners are desperate for swats. If you've resorted to relying upon Milicic, I suggest making a trade instead of sacrificing the rest of your stats. He literally contributes in no other fantasy category.
Jeff Green, SF, Sonics (255th): Not just yet.
Channing Frye, PF/C, Trail Blazers (257th): I actually like Frye's skill set from a fantasy perspective (good percentages, steal/block combo, scoring and rebounding), but his opportunities are limited and 17 minutes per game isn't enough to warrant a roster spot. His typically sweet shooting stroke vanished in January, as he shot 37.1 percent from the floor and 77.3 percent from the stripe, scoring 5.3 points with just 0.2 blocks, and this type of play won't earn him more minutes. He's been involved in trade talks, though, so if he ends up on a team where he'll get those minutes, he'll be a second-half sleeper.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Josh Whitling breaks down January's best players, along with some disappointments.