Commentary

Player Rater: Durant playing at elite level

Updated: January 5, 2009, 1:11 PM ET
By Seth Landman | Special to ESPN.com

In terms of across-the-board production, there aren't many better options out there right now than Kevin Durant. On the Player Rater currently, Durant's lowest value is 0.48 in assists, which has unquestionably been the worst facet of his game so far in his pro career. For the season, he has the numbers of the sort of player who helps you a little bit in lots of categories, but doesn't really put you over the top in any; however, it seems as though that may be starting to change.

For the season, only two players with a usage rate as high as Durant's have a lower assist rate, and those players are Charlie Villanueva and Zach Randolph. However, because Durant plays so many minutes and uses so many possessions, his 2.3 assists per game on the season probably aren't totally killing your fantasy team. He's providing enough scoring, 3-pointers and a high free-throw percentage (as well as a nice combination of blocks and steals) to make him one of the best fantasy players in the league already, 14th overall on the Player Rater.

The bonus is that Durant might finally be starting to figure out how to better get his teammates involved. His two highest assist totals of the season have come in his past two games -- six against the Warriors and five against the Nuggets -- and he has had three or more assists in six straight games. It's the second time he has had a streak like that in his career. The first was at the very end of last season, when he finally started to put all of his tools together.

He lost it a bit at the start of this season, but in his past five games his averages look like this: 25.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 3-pointers, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals. He's also 32-for-36 from the line during that stretch. I don't think he'll sustain that level of play for any long period of time this season, but I think he could come close. I don't think it's out of the question that as his teammates improve around him (Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, etc.) he could see his averages -- especially in assists and field goal percentage -- increase. If you own him, depending on what your fantasy team needs, the list of guys I would deal Durant to get is extremely short. Besides LeBron, Chris Paul or D-Wade, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a player with more potential for the second half of this season than Kevin Durant.

Going up

Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, 76ers (43): He was terrible to start the season but has emerged from his slump to post some pretty great numbers (actually, pretty much just the numbers I expected from him to start the season) of late. In the past five games, he has gone for 23.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists. Add to that 2.4 steals per game and the fact that he's on fire (41 for 74 from the floor) shooting the rock, and you see why I think he'll start climbing in value to where people drafted him in the second or third round of most fantasy drafts.

Hedo Turkoglu, SG/SF, Magic (60): His only major negative is still his field goal shooting, and he's coming off what I have to assume will be his worst shooting stretch of the season, going 1-for-14 against Miami and then 4-for-12 against Toronto in the next game. He was over 50 percent from the floor during the stretch of four games before these two, and I think he's showing signs of turning around his slump. Of course, he has remained a pretty good source of rebounds and assists for a swingman, and is still worth owning and playing in all formats. I still maintain that he won't shoot this poorly all season. He's a career 38.5 percent shooter on 3-pointers, and that's his percentage from the floor this year. It can only go up.

Anderson Varejao
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesAnderson Varejao is averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds in five starts this season.
Anderson Varejao, PF/C, Cavaliers (118): With Zydrunas Ilgauskas out for a few weeks, the opportunity is there for Varejao to put up some pretty gaudy rebounding numbers. He played 40 minutes in the Cavs' terrible loss to the Wizards on Sunday and put up 10 points, 10 rebounds, one steal and one block. Nothing too impressive, but Varejao has been extremely productive when he has played this season, and one would think increased minutes would allow him to average a double-double. The only concern is that fouls will keep his minutes limited, but he's worth the risk right now. He provides a unique combination of steals and rebounds, so if those are categories you need, you might want to make a play for him.

Going down

Dwight Howard, C, Magic (30): Earlier this season, I said I thought it was possible for Howard to continue blocking shots at a rate of better than four per game, and that potential made it worth building around his terrible free-throw shooting. Well, it's looking less like a possibility now. He's averaging only 2.3 blocks per game during his past 10 contests, which is a great number, but has him slowly moving away from being head and shoulders above everyone else in the league in that category. If Howard's blocks aren't as much of a positive as his free-throw shooting is a negative, it makes it harder to own him. He's still a tremendous player who has even more value if you can afford the hit from the charity stripe, but right now it looks a lot more possible that we've seen the best of Howard this season already, at least in fantasy.

John Salmons, SG/SF, Kings (48): I know I've been picking on Salmons all season, and perhaps a bit unfairly, as he has been a good option and has so far outperformed his average draft position. He has been an excellent source of scoring, and he does enough of everything else (especially 3s and assists) to be a very valuable fantasy player. That said, if you haven't sold him yet, your window might be closing soon. Kevin Martin's 45-point outburst against the Pacers has me thinking he'll be back in the starting lineup sooner than later, which means Salmons will be back to fighting for minutes with Francisco Garcia, Bobby Jackson, Beno Udrih and everyone else in the Kings' backcourt. Salmons will still be productive, but he won't be the elite fantasy guy he has been in the early part of this season. If you can deal him for another top-50 player, I would make that deal while you still can.

Jarrett Jack, PG, Pacers (105): He has been extremely productive lately, evidenced by the fact that he's 11th on the Player Rater over the past week. In leagues in which turnovers don't count, he'll always be a decent option on nights when T.J. Ford is hurt (which, to be fair, can happen quite a lot). In leagues in which turnovers do count, however, I'm not sure you can afford to play him unless he's on the sort of absurd hot streak he was riding these past few games. He just doesn't do enough other things well. In 34.4 minutes per game as the starting point guard in his past five games, he's averaging only 4.2 assists. He might have some value for a little while longer (while Ford gets reacclimated to the lineup) to other owners who are desperate for some assists and steals, so now is the time to deal him if you can. In a week, you'll probably just need to cut him loose.

Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

Seth Landman

Fantasy Basketball
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.