- Seth Landman, Fantasy Basketball
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Let the record show that, by the time Kevin Durant sprained his ankle (he'll be out for a couple of weeks), he had moved all the way up to fifth overall on the Player Rater (in both averages and totals). If there was an argument to be made that he wasn't a top-five fantasy player for next season a few weeks ago, I think it's out the window now. Keep in mind that Durant struggled mightily early in the season and has done most of his damage in the 2009 chunk of 2008-09.
Let the record also show that Durant is, at this point, the most well-rounded player in fantasy. He gives you decent productivity in every single category. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don't help you at the foul line. Dirk Nowitzki doesn't get steals or assists. Jason Kidd misses too many shots. Durant has none of these issues. He's not a great passer (yet), but he uses so many possessions that he gets enough assists to be relevant anyway. As he gets stronger heading into next season, one would think he'd be able to start racking up some more blocked shots and rebounds. As I wrote on this site about a month ago, I can understand taking LeBron James or Chris Paul ahead of Durant. Even though I think he's next in line, he still has a way to go to catch up to those two. If you can get past Wade's injury history, I could see taking him third. Beyond those guys, there is no one with the combination of current value and future upside for fantasy like Durant.
For the next two weeks, the guy you want is Russell Westbrook. Yeah, Thabo Sefolosha will get his chances, and so will Kyle Weaver, and the Thunder will also look to Jeff Green to carry more of the load offensively. Westbrook, however, is the one who controls where the ball goes, and he is the most willing scorer of the bunch. In his past five games, he's averaging, get this, 24.4 points, 6.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.0 3s and is 37-for-41 from the foul line. In my opinion, the Rookie of the Year award should come down to Westbrook and Brook Lopez, and for the former, I think we'll see why during the next two weeks.
Going up (ranking based on total stats, ranking based on average stats)
Jason Terry, PG/SG, Mavericks (38, 31): If you can make a final push before your league's trading deadline to acquire Terry, I would do it. He's just returning from injury, but he doesn't have a long history of health concerns. He's going to struggle a little bit at first, as his hand is still in the healing process, but if you are in a head-to-head league with playoffs, there's a decent chance he could be dynamite heading down the stretch. Coach Rick Carlisle might wear the kid gloves with Jet at first, but the Mavs are going to need him to play well if they are going to make the playoffs.
John Salmons, SG/SF, Bulls (36, 51): Welcome back to the fantasy world, John Salmons! It was a short break. It appears the month of February, in which we lost so many All-Star-caliber players to major injuries, took one more victim in the person of Bulls forward Luol Deng, which pushes Salmons back into the starting lineup. Of course, he managed only 12 points in 39 minutes against the Rockets on Saturday, but he should soon go back to being the 18-point-per-game scorer he was with the Kings before the trading deadline.
Francisco Garcia, SG/SF, Kings (136, 101): Garcia's potential in fantasy hinges on his ability to be one of those rare players who block shots, get steals and make 3-pointers. Now that he is playing major minutes for the Kings, he's able to do just that, averaging 1.4 steals, 1.4 3-pointers and 0.8 blocks per game in his past five. He's also on fire, scoring 15.4 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the floor during that stretch. Perhaps we should temper our optimism, though, and just hope that he's able to hold Andres Nocioni off from the starting lineup down the stretch.
Vince Carter, SG/SF, Nets (29, 41): When I put him in this space at the beginning of February, he was ranked 21st in total stats and 35th on average stats. As you can see, both of those numbers have started to take a hit. He's averaging only 15.8 points, one 3-pointer and shooting 39 percent from the floor overall in the past five games. Even worse, his 39 percent shooting on 3-pointers for the season has dipped to 24 percent during this recent stretch, and that includes a good game against the Hornets in which he shot the ball quite well. Put it this way: For the rest of the season, all things being equal, I'd much rather have Jason Terry.
T.J. Ford, PG, Pacers (74, 82): For whatever reason, Ford is not getting a whole lot of assists this season, even though the Pacers play fast, and when healthy, he is the starting point guard. He hasn't been bad overall -- he has been a good scorer and he's always good from the foul line -- but if Ford isn't going to get you a lot of assists, his value takes a major hit, because he doesn't really get a lot of steals and he also doesn't take or make a lot of 3-pointers. His stats overall are a lot closer to Allen Iverson's than they are to, say, Rajon Rondo's, and I don't mean that as a compliment. If you can sell Ford to someone desperate for assists (point to his career numbers, the Pacers' pace and the fact that he's been in and out of the lineup and isn't in a groove yet), I would definitely look at doing so.
Derek Fisher, PG, Lakers (79, 111): In his past five games, he's averaging just 7.6 points and 2.4 assists. He's made eight 3s during that stretch, but you can get that kind of production a lot cheaper. With Jordan Farmar back and healthy, I'm not even sure Fisher is the best point guard on his team. He's actually probably the worst playmaker in the Lakers' starting lineup. His whole value right now is tied to his making 3-pointers, but again, you can pick up some 3-pointers anywhere. Fisher is owned in 71 percent of ESPN.com leagues and Francisco Garcia is owned in 67. Go figure. You know who I'd rather take.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Seth Landman notes that, before Kevin Durant injured his ankle, he was a top-five fantasy force.