Player Rater: Better shooting helping A.I.
This week, I'm taking a look at highlights and lowlights using two different sorting methods on the player rater. We've got several sorting options, and here are players who have fallen or risen in the past 30 and 15 days.
Allen Iverson, PG/SG, Nuggets: Sure, Anthony Carter is an adequate fill-in NBA point guard, but AI is still dropping dimes and often handling the point guard duties for the Nuggets. His numbers this season are better than what he was putting up after the trade last season, as he's averaging more points, steals and assists with fewer turnovers and better percentages. Speaking of percentages, now that he no longer hovers around 40 percent from the field (he's at 45.9 this year and is better than 45 percent as a Nugget), he's not the same player who used to hurt your fantasy team's field goal percentage. He's always great for steals, but his 2.4 per game this season is his best figure since 2004-05. Three-pointers are the only weak part of his game. Still, AI clearly has at least one good season left, and his success should continue.
Josh Smith, SF/PF, Hawks: In a way, Smith is the new Iverson. He damages your standings in the negative categories (percentages and turnovers), but it's hard to pass up what he provides in the positive categories. His 1.9 steals and 3.2 blocks are outrageous, and he's chipping in 17.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists. If you have an awesome percentages guy like Steve Nash or Josh Howard to pair with him, Smith is the type of player who wins fantasy leagues due to his impressive combination of contributions.
Hedo Turkoglu, SG/SF, Magic: My buddy and I joked this summer that there was little difference between Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis (other than about $70 million): Both are 6-foot-10 players in love with shooting from long range and not using their length or size to their advantage. Well, this season Hedo decided to go crazy and score 20 points per game to go along with his 2.1 3-pointers, 1.0 steals, 6.2 rebounds and surprising 4.2 assists and is suddenly flashing some all-around game, shattering my thesis about the similarities between him and his teammate. Lewis is a scoring and 3-point specialist, while Turkoglu is providing much more. While both are playing like top-25 performers, they're clearly different players.
Grant Hill, SF, Suns: Hill is boasting his highest scoring average since 2004-05 and doing it with his typical glorious percentages (50.3 percent on field goals, 89 percent on free throws) to go along with a steal, 0.8 3s, 0.6 blocks and 3.6 assists. He'll help you in a balanced manner in several areas, while bolstering your percentages or offsetting a bad percentage player who demands a starting spot on your team.
Jason Richardson, SG, Bobcats: I've never understood his foul-stripe ineptitude, but one thing has become certain about his game: He drains 3s. He's averaging a ridiculous 3.0 3s per game in December and is one of the main guys to target if you need serious long-range help. His foul-stripe woes are worse than usual this season, as he's shooting 58.5 percent compared to his career 68.8 mark, and his all-around numbers aren't eye-popping. But those 3s are. If you like Richardson, focus on his 3s. If you need 3s, focus on Richardson.
Tyrus Thomas, SF/PF, Bulls: It'll be interesting to see what the new Bulls coach does with this unpolished talent, because Scott Skiles utilized him inconsistently. He'd put up a few nice games, then get a DNP, coach's decision. He played just six minutes on Thursday, and with Thomas it's not a question of if he can perform, it's if he can get the minutes.
Damien Wilkins, SG/SF, Sonics: Ever since his 41-point outburst a month ago, Wilkins has floundered, most notably shooting 35 percent from the floor and 17 percent from long range in December. His minutes are also down from November's 32 per game to December's 25 per game, and he hasn't played more than 30 minutes in a game since Dec. 7. If Wally Szczerbiak (15 points, 1.7 3s per game in December) keeps draining at will, Wilkins' time could become more limited in the still-undecided Sonics rotation.
Boris Diaw, SF/PF, Suns: Diaw has scored in double digits just twice and registered more than three assists just twice in December. He doesn't shoot 3s, get steals or block shots. If I were Diaw, I would blame it on Grant Hill or fatty French food, but realistically Diaw isn't the player he was in 2005-06, and his impressive stats then were largely the result of circumstance: Amare Stoudemire was out and Diaw was playing out of position at center and using his passing skills to rack up assists. This won't happen again given his current situation, and Diaw went from breakout performer to afterthought.
Andrea Bargnani, SF/PF, Raptors: I got to see him play in person recently, and I was unimpressed. I expected more out of last year's no.1 overall pick at this point. Sure, he's young and still adjusting to the NBA game. But his stats are down in every significant category from his rookie season, and he's losing time to guys like Carlos Delfino and Kris Humphries. Does he have a real position? He started his first game since Dec. 1 on Saturday at center, but he isn't a true center, at least not yet. He's had just one double-digit rebounding game this season, and his season high in assists is four. And get this: He has three steals for the season. That's fewer than Robert Swift, who hasn't played since Nov. 11. Red flags are everywhere for this guy. By the way, Dirk Nowitzki was the ninth overall pick and averaged 17.5 points per game in his second season. Does Bargnani perhaps represent the pinnacle of the European hype?
Rafer Alston, PG, Rockets: From Dec. 19 to 23, Alston had nine 3s and 22 assists for the Rockets. He's started in every game he's played this season, and Mike James' production has plummeted, with two 3s and three steals in all of December, despite the fact that he played in every game but one. For those who still think the Rockets' point guard situation is muddled, think again. Alston will be an excellent source of 3s, assists and steals from here on out, if you can stomach his putrid percentages. Plus, with Tracy McGrady out for at least a week, expect Alston to have the green light to gun away.
Brandon Roy, SG, Blazers: You saw enough of him on Christmas Day. Definitely a guy on Santa's "nice" list for the next 15 years.
Devin Harris, PG, Mavericks: His points, steals and assists are up considerably this season, and his 3-point shot is finally coming along. That's an aspect of his game he'll have to hone in order to be a top fantasy point guard. He's shown the ability to get to the line frequently -- 4.3 times per game -- and is shooting 82.4 percent, almost the same as last season. There's no longer a question about his role compared to Jason Terry's role: Harris is the starting point guard, Terry is the sixth man or occasionally the starter at the 2. Harris has found his groove and will continue playing at a high level, as evidenced by his 15.6 points-per-game scoring average over his past five games.
Rajon Rondo, PG, Celtics: As the only legitimate starting point guard playing for the Celtics, he'll be ridden until the wheels fall off. His scoring shot up in December, from 8.3 to 11.8 points per game, and he keeps getting better playing alongside the big three. Don't hold your breath for 3s this season, and his percentages are lopsided (52.9 field goals, 59.7 free throws). But he'll give you five-plus assists, is continually improving and will be among the league leaders in steals.
Al Harrington, SF/PF, Warriors: The only category in which Harrington shines is 3s, which is beneficial but not what you're typically looking for out of your power forward. It's hard for me to believe this is his 11th season in the league. He's consistently posted mediocre percentages (career 45.4 percent on field goals and 71.3 percent on free throws) and demonstrated no aptitude for rebounding or blocking shots for someone standing 6-foot-9. His past few games have been better, but he put up four single-digit scoring efforts in five games in mid-December and has Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis in front of him as the Warriors' primary offensive options.
Zaza Pachulia, PF/C, Hawks He's been bothered by injuries, but even when he's in the lineup he's been ineffective. It's safe to say that the beginning of the Al Horford era marks the end of the Zaza era for the Hawks.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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