- Seth Landman, Fantasy Basketball
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Paul Pierce has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and it's easy to understand why.
He earned a championship ring; spent the summer telling anyone who would listen how great he is; and in the past week had 22 points in the fourth quarter alone in a huge win over the Raptors, hit a buzzer-beater to beat the Hawks, and scored 29 points on just nine field-goal attempts against the Bucks in Milwaukee on Saturday night. His well-rounded game is tailor-made for fantasy -- even though he's shooting only 41 percent from the floor so far this year, he is good enough in all the other categories that he is currently No. 7 on the Player Rater. He has been particularly valuable in that he's taking and making a lot of 3-pointers, and when he isn't chucking up treys, he's living at the line. Basically, he's playing exactly how we'd like our fantasy players to play.
Still, in terms of fantasy, it is important to remember that we are still early in the season. I'm getting e-mails from guys in my keeper league telling me that they're ready to start making trades for next season. People, I'm here to tell you: Hope is not yet lost.
Things are just not what they seem. For instance, I was surprised to see that three Celtics -- Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen -- are all in the top 15 on the Player Rater. I was surprised because I am a huge Celtics fan who follows these guys' stats instinctually, and to me they hadn't seemed to have been doing anything out of the ordinary. It's true. They are climbing up the Player Rater because they have played more games (11) than just about any other team in the NBA so far. Besides the percentage categories, the Player Rater deals in raw totals. So if the Celtics' players have played 11 games to other teams' nine or 10, that difference is significant and will boost them up the rankings. This is important to remember if you are using the Rater as a tool in making trades.
A good example of this comes from Nets point guard Devin Harris. He's currently ranked just 17th among point guards, but if you take a look at his averages, you can see they are off-the-charts good. He's putting up 23.0 points, 6.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds, but because he was injured for a couple of games, his raw totals are lagging behind those of guys like Roger Mason and Delonte West. Injuries are especially frustrating for fantasy owners early in the season. But as the season wears on, the occasional missed game means less and less because it is a less significant fraction of the whole. Now is the time to try to get owners to panic and deal players who have missed a game here and there, like Corey Maggette or Baron Davis. Pay attention to injury reports, but trust your pre-season projections and deal accordingly.
Al Jefferson, PF/C, Timberwolves (14): Big Al does a lot of subtle things that are good for fantasy. He averages a steal per game, which is a great number for a big man who blocks as many shots as he does. He has increased his assist rate again, which not only means he's getting more assists but also means he's turning the ball over less frequently while passing out of double-teams. Most importantly, his free-throw shooting is up above 80 percent. I'm not sure whether he can keep it up, but after going from 68 percent two years ago to 72 percent last year, it stands to reason that his improvement could be for real. I wasn't high on Jefferson to start the season, but he has been great, and it seems he would have been worthy of a late first-round pick.
Kobe Bryant, SG, Lakers (40): Fortieth? Well, that goes back to the introduction to this column, and it's pretty simple: The Lakers have played only eight games. Kobe's numbers have fallen off some from last season, but not to the point that he should be ranked here. If Kobe's owner in your league is getting nervous, see whether you can pry him away.
Caron Butler, SF, Wizards (104): The Wizards have played the fewest games in the league (seven), so the fact that Butler -- along with the rest of the team -- has gotten off to a terrible start is magnified. His averages are down across the board, too, but even if he continues to put up the numbers he has put up through the first seven games, he'll skyrocket up the Player Rater once the Wizards catch up to the rest of the league. I still think Butler will be the player many drafted in the first round this season; seven games is an extremely small sample from which to draw any long-term conclusions, especially when you consider that the Wizards have appeared to be more out of sync than ever.
Paul Pierce, SG/SF, Celtics (7); Ray Allen, SG, Celtics (12); Kevin Garnett, PF, Celtics (15): As I said above, the Celtics are tied with the Bucks, Suns and Kings for most games played (11). Two months from now, things like this won't matter so much, but when we're dealing with only a few games, it's a really big deal. So be careful how you evaluate players on these teams the next few days. Even if you believe these guys will maintain their averages (which is actually quite possible), understand that they will still fall a bit in the overall Player Rater ranking.
John Salmons, SG/SF, Kings (16): Let me preface this by saying that I think he's a good play over the next couple of weeks while Kevin Martin is out with an ankle injury. At some point this season, though, Martin and Francisco Garcia are going to be back and healthy, and Salmons will see a decrease in minutes. As good as he has been, he's still only an average player in terms of his PER (Player Efficiency Rating), and certainly wouldn't be getting the minutes he is getting on most teams. As with the Celtics' studs, his numbers are also being inflated by how many games he has played. If I owned Salmons I'd be shopping him all over my league right now.
Mickael Pietrus, SG/SF, Magic (39): Um, yeah, he's ranked ahead of Kobe right now. This is a perfect example of how the early part of the season can be fluky. While I do believe Pietrus is an excellent player, I don't believe he is as good as he has seemed so far. He is a decent 3-point shooter, but right now he's making 1.9 per game on better than 45 percent. He has never been close to 40 percent before. Expect that number to fall. The bigger concern is his free-throw shooting. He is up around 89 percent right now and is getting to the line a fair amount. It is currently his best category in fantasy. This is a guy who has never shot 70 percent from the line for a season before. He's going to come back down. Sell now.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Seth Landman explains why an owner should have games-played statistics handy when looking at the Player Rater.