Player Rater: Durant a top-3 player from here forward
With most teams having passed the mathematical halfway point of the season in the past week or so, now seems like a good time to consider value in a larger, more meaningful sense. One must consider the hypothetical redraft situation: Where, precisely, would you draft Player X if you were holding a fantasy draft for the rest of the season today? This mental exercise can help you in considering which players you are perhaps willing to trade and which players you are likely to give up on entirely.
Players such as Allen Iverson, Shawn Marion and Baron Davis were likely drafted in the first two rounds in most leagues. Looking just at their Player Rater rankings based on average stats per game, of those three players, only Davis cracks the top 50. If you were redrafting today, considering the balance of the season, would you take Allen Iverson before you took Nate Robinson? Would you take Baron Davis before Andre Miller? Would you take Rudy Gay before you took Gerald Wallace? These questions likely all have different answers today than they did prior to any games being played. And yet so often when we are trading in fantasy leagues, we hold on to our preconceived notions for far too long. To those out there who own Rudy Gay, for instance, the prospect of trading him at the beginning of the season would have seemed entirely foolish. Leagues will be won and lost based on how the Rudy Gay owners of the world decide to proceed. Do you cut bait on a player who has massively underachieved based on expectations that now seem overzealous? Do you hold on at the risk that he continues putting up numbers you could pretty much be getting from Marvin Williams or Luol Deng?
In this week's look at the Player Rater, I'll take a look at some players who present interesting scenarios regarding their present-day value as it pertains to the season from this day forth. These are cases in which the player's current value (as perceived by me) differs significantly from his ranking.
Kevin Durant, SG/SF, Thunder (8, 7): Durant, to me, is by far the most interesting player in fantasy right now. Certainly, you'd take LeBron over Durant in a heartbeat, right? Maybe, but Durant plays more minutes, gets more rebounds, is a fantastic free throw shooter and provides you with positive value in every single category (assuming your league, like the Rater, ignores turnovers).
OK, but you'd take Chris Paul over Durant 100 times out of 100, yes? Well ... maybe, but Paul doesn't hit very many 3-pointers, and Durant has been a deadeye shooter from long range all season. Oh, and Paul doesn't provide you with the blocked shots Durant does.
Of course, I'm playing devil's advocate here. I would take LeBron and Paul over Durant if I was drafting today, but that's where the list ends. Danny Granger is tempting, but I think Durant's potential has a higher ceiling. Kobe Bryant is certainly a possibility, but the Lakers are so good he may end up going on cruise control at some point. Dwyane Wade is right up there with LeBron and Paul, but I'd feel more comfortable betting on Durant to stay healthy the rest of the season. Dirk Nowitzki can match most of Durant's all-around output, but the thing that pushes me over to Durant again (as it does in all of these cases) is that he seems to be improving so rapidly. He's already pretty close to these guys statistically, and that's after an extremely disappointing month of November in which his rebounds, assists, steals and blocks were all lower than most people expected. He has been just as good as anyone else on the list during the past two months, and he has the most room to get better. Right now, I'd draft him third overall and wouldn't think about it another second.
Brook Lopez, C, Nets (47, 74): For the season, he's ranked just 19th among centers, but over the past 30 days, that number jumps up to seventh. Lopez is a rookie, so it is extremely possible that he'll hit a wall at some point or have trouble adjusting to the league as it acquaints itself with him more and more. That said, he has improved every month and is taking on a bigger roll in the offense with each game.
The attraction in fantasy is that he does all the traditional big-man things -- he blocks shots, scores, gets rebounds, shoots a reasonably high percentage -- but he's also a great free throw shooter; for the season, he's up around 82 percent, which gives him a significant category to hold over other productive centers such as Dwight Howard and Andris Biedrins. However you slice it, Lopez is among the most valuable rookies in fantasy and should continue improving as the season closes out.
The key to appreciating Murphy is to think of him as though he's the best rebounding guard you have ever seen in your life. Sure, he shoots a low percentage for a big man, but he's not a terrible free throw shooter and almost half of his field goal attempts are 3-pointers. So, he's a decent scorer who provides a huge boost in 3s while not killing you from the floor overall. Like many guards, he's OK on steals -- 0.8 per game on the season -- but doesn't block shots. It just so happens, however, that he also gets 11.4 rebounds per game, which is extremely rare for someone with his skill set, with center eligibility.
Amazingly, he was this good last season, too. Only now he is playing a lot more minutes on a team that plays faster than almost any team in the league. That means the rebounds and the 3s are here to stay. On average stats, he's currently ranked ahead of Shawn Marion and LaMarcus Aldridge, and although he doesn't have the same name recognition, I think he'd be worth drafting ahead of those guys today.
Jason Kidd, PG, Mavericks (13, 12): Whatever upside and potential one finds in Kevin Durant, one finds the opposite in Kidd. He is still a great fantasy player, but watching him, he seems to be running on fumes. He's getting absolutely shredded on defense because he often simply can't stay in front of his man. There are a few things that alarm me most, however. First, his shooting percentage might actually be much, much worse than it seems. The fact that he's shooting 41 percent on the season is actually being buoyed by the 46.5 percent shooting he put up in 15 games in November. He shot 36.5 percent in December and is at 38 percent so far for January. That kind of percentage, even for a guy who doesn't shoot a lot, is a real drag. Even worse, his steals have gone from 2.6 in 2008 to 1.25 so far in 2009. His minutes have fallen slightly each month, as well. It is my feeling that he is getting tired.
Personally, I'd much rather have Rajon Rondo and figure out a way to make up the 3-pointers and free throw shooting elsewhere. The way Kidd is getting butchered on the defensive end is just too ominous a sign. Kidd has been extremely great so far this season in fantasy, but I fear too much that it can't last.
Jameer Nelson, PG, Magic (34, 21): Somehow, during the course of a two-month period, Nelson went from being a former college star in the midst of a disappointing pro career to a probable All-Star. That's not to say he doesn't deserve the publicity. His upswing has directly coincided with the ascendance of the Orlando Magic. Sadly, I just don't believe it will last. He is currently obliterating his career highs in every shooting category, including free throws. Personally, I think he's a lot closer to the player who is shooting 45 percent in January than the one who shot 56 percent in December and 51 percent in November. He isn't special enough in picking up steals and assists to continue to hold such a high ranking without making a ton of 3s and shooting 50 percent from the floor; both of those situations will stop once he stops making such an absurd percentage of his 3-pointers.
If I was drafting Nelson, I'd still take him way ahead of where he was likely drafted in most leagues originally. In my league, he went in the ninth round, behind such luminaries as Raymond Felton, T.J. Ford and Mo Williams. I would take him ahead of any of those guys right now, but anywhere in the first four rounds is way too soon. If you can trade him for someone like Ben Gordon, even, you'll likely be glad in the long run.
Peja Stojakovic, SF, Hornets (159, 126): If you are holding on to Peja waiting for him to return to form, you have some real decisions to make. On the one hand, he has played a bit better with increased minutes in January, and in his past five games is averaging 17.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 3-pointers. On the other hand, the stretches of games in which he plays this well are becoming fewer and farther between. He's still great in terms of hitting 3s, but he's a drag on your fantasy team almost everywhere else. If I were drafting today, I'd rather put my money on someone like Daequan Cook or Rudy Fernandez, 3-point specialists who are younger and have the potential to do a bit more.
In the league I am in, Peja was originally drafted in the sixth round, though, and his name still carries some value. If you can get someone who is desperate for 3s to bite on him, it'll be worth your while. We've turned the corner past the point where Peja is a player who is anything more than a one-category specialist; this is the first year in which his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) has been below the league average, and it's time to value him accordingly.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.