As a Celtics fan, saying I think Rajon Rondo is becoming a great player is an act of severe understatement. It is becoming, even to the casual observer of Celtics' games, quite obvious that Rondo is, in many ways, the engine of the Celtics' machine. Every time I bring this up, I hear a lot about how Rondo is, of course, benefiting from playing on a team with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. It's true, but also remember that it is ultimately impossible to extricate the player from the team in order to perceive actual value. We can do it statistically, but this doesn't account for everything, and I can't help but feel that in a world where name recognition was unavailable to us, we would be watching Celtics games believing firmly that Rondo is at least the second-best player on the team.
This even bears out in the stats themselves. Rondo's PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is 18.89, second on the team only to KG's 21.23. Because of injuries to other point guards during the season, he has been the second most valuable player in fantasy for assists and third in steals. He is second among point guards for fantasy value in rebounds and fourth in field goal percentage, according to the Player Rater. As we have discussed in this space before, Rondo has some negatives as a fantasy player; he doesn't make 3-pointers and his free-throw shooting is a train wreck. Take one of these two weaknesses away, and Rondo would be a top-15 fantasy player right now.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned here that I believe Kevin Durant would be deserving of the third pick overall in a fantasy redraft. I read the comments, I've watched the games in the intervening weeks, and here I still stand by what I said. Sure, Durant has weaknesses, but his current value doesn't reflect the possibility of those weaknesses improving. Rondo is a similar case. His current value does not reflect the fact that, besides Chris Paul, he might be the best fantasy point guard available. Yeah, Jason Kidd is better overall, but he is so clearly on the downside of his career that it would be hard to draft him where he is currently ranked. Chauncey Billups is still a better overall fantasy player than Rondo, but Rondo's advantage in the harder-to-fill categories of assists, steals and field-goal percentage might make him easier to build a team around in many ways. Devin Harris has a superior PER, but his occasional injury woes have left him behind Rondo overall this season in fantasy value.
And then there's this: Rondo is finally starting to play big minutes. After wearing the kid gloves with him for most of last season and the first half of this season, Doc Rivers has been playing Rondo 38 minutes per game so far in seven games in the month of February, and Rondo has responded by averaging 12.0 points, 10.9 assists and 8.3 rebounds during that stretch. If Rondo plays the same amount of minutes as the other elite point guards in the league, that would likely bump his fantasy value ahead of just about all of them, save Paul, who might be the best fantasy player in the league overall. I'm just saying, if you are in a keeper league -- or really any league at all -- you might want to go get him, because he's probably going to be a third-round pick next season (and play that way for the rest of this season) at the very least.
Going up (ranking based on total stats, ranking based on average stats)
Deron Williams, PG, Jazz (48, 11): At the beginning of the season, I planned on taking Williams in the first round of any fantasy draft I could, assuming I was picking fifth or later. I ended up chickening out a little because of his injury and, in retrospect, that was probably wise, as Williams was not himself for the first half of the season. But he has been absolutely tremendous of late. Look at his game log and notice that he has had monster games during the past few weeks against the Blazers, Mavericks, Rockets and Lakers while also beating up on the Warriors and the Kings. In particular, his 31 points and 11 assists in a win against the Lakers just before the All-Star break was most impressive. He'll be a top-10 player the rest of the way, and will wind up being a mid-first-round pick again next season, barring any more injuries.
Tyrus Thomas, PF, Bulls (75, 97): This guy is becoming a monster, and yet he is owned in only 34 percent of fantasy leagues. Listen, even when he was averaging 10.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals in 16 games in January, he should have been owned in every fantasy league, inconsistent or not. Look at what he is doing in five games in February, though: 17.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.4 steals and 50 percent shooting from the floor. There's no one on your team you can send to the waiver wire to pick this guy up?
Kevin Love, PF, Timberwolves (144, 160): It has been said a million times, but Love is going to play more with Big Al Jefferson down for the season. Love played 38 minutes in a loss to the Raptors before the break, and managed to finish with a double-double, 15 points and 11 rebounds. Still, those are somewhat pedestrian numbers when you consider the stats he was putting up in short minutes during the past month or so. Playing starters' minutes is an adjustment, and nights when Love doesn't have a double-double will be a rarity from here on.
Chris Duhon, PG, Knicks (38, 49): I've said this before here, but I am extremely worried about Duhon's recent ankle problems, and about his wearing down in general. Even when he managed to be in the lineup during the past five games, he was only 15-for-42 from the floor, shooting so bad that it points to larger issues. As I've said before, as long as he's coach D'Antoni's point guard, he's going to put up stats when he plays, but I still think he's about to start wearing down in a major way, and I'd be inclined to get something useful for him while I still could.
Mike Bibby, PG, Hawks (35, 44): Bibby might be a similar case to Duhon's. He has been a remarkably durable player over the years, but last season he played in only 48 games and, perhaps as a result, he seems to be wearing down after a long run of good health this season for the Hawks. During the past two weeks, he has missed one game entirely and been relatively ineffective in three others. I trust him more than I trust Duhon down the stretch, but to think that he's a top-50 fantasy player for the rest of the season seems like quite a leap of faith.
Paul Millsap, PF, Jazz (54, 57): Millsap has been nothing short of heroic for the Jazz this season, filling in for Carlos Boozer at a level almost as high as Boozer himself. However, Millsap is also struggling of late and Boozer's return looms. The problem, of course, is that it's hard to imagine Boozer and Millsap effectively operating on the court at the same time. I think he'll still have some value when Boozer returns, but certainly not the value he's had as a starter. If you can get anything for him while his numbers still look great, I think it's worth pulling the trigger, unless you are in a keeper league.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.