Commentary

Player Rater: Big seasons from Pau, Mayo and Rondo

Updated: April 20, 2009, 12:48 PM ET
By Seth Landman | Special to ESPN.com

In school, when you fail a test or get a bad grade on a paper, teachers want you to rehash what happened. "It's a learning process," they say. The idea is that going back over the test is a chance for you to learn the information you didn't learn when you were supposed to learn it.

Of course, for most of us, when the test is over, we just want to move on, put the failure behind us and think about what's ahead. Then again, if you are reading this column, there's a decent chance that this is not the way you feel about fantasy basketball.

Here we pore over our mistakes as well as our successes. We look back at each decision we made as the watershed after which our season went from good to bad, from bad to worse, or, if we're lucky, from average to historically great. We look back so we can share our stories among our league mates, those sorry souls we fleeced (if we won) and joked with all season long.

Where tests are concerned, undeniable answers exist; your personal justifications for why you messed up what you messed up are deemed useless and whiny, and rightly so. Fantasy basketball, on the other hand, is all about explanation and surprise, all about the reasons why you didn't think what happened was actually possible.

Here, in wrapping up this season's Player Rater, we'll take a look back at a few players who ended this season with far more value than we might have expected. We'll take a look at where those same, overachieving heroes might end up next year. We'll know, of course, the entire time, that we'll do the same thing next year, because that's the whole point.

(Player's final rankings, overall and by averages, in parentheses)

Pau Gasol
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesPau Gasol quietly finished seventh overall in our Player Rater.
Pau Gasol, PF/C, Lakers (7, 14): Not to toot my own horn, but here's what I wrote about Gasol before the season started:

"He's a great passer, takes only good shots, and is playing with other gifted offensive players in an efficient system. He shot a ridiculous 59 percent from the floor with the Lakers, up from 50 percent with the Grizzlies before the trade, and decreased his turnovers from 2.1 to 1.6 (and down from 2.7 the previous season). Those differences are more important than a point and a rebound here and there."

This was all just to persuade you that Gasol was worthy of a second-round pick even with Andrew Bynum in tow. Gasol's average draft position (ADP) was 37th, and he finished as the seventh most valuable fantasy basketball player in the league, and that's in a system in which he doesn't even get credit for how few turnovers he committed.

Yes, Gasol benefits in the rankings from having been healthy all season, which is something he has struggled to do in recent years. Yes, Andrew Bynum missed significant time, giving Gasol, perhaps, a chance to play more minutes and contribute more in fantasy. That said, it isn't like Gasol finished that much lower based on per-game numbers. At this point, I'm convinced Gasol actually is one of the best 10 basketball players in the NBA, and he's one whose fantasy value is reflected accurately in his real value. Next year Pau will be 29, still in the thick of his prime, and I wouldn't hesitate even for a second to use a late-first-round pick on him.

Troy Murphy, PF/C, Pacers (23, 19): The improvements from last season to this season were not major ones. His player efficiency rating (PER) went from 15.87 to 17.81 -- a significant leap, but one that reflects the fact that he was pretty darn good last season, too. His minutes went from 28.1 to 34.0, but it's not like he was playing 40 minutes per game this season. When you add it up, though, increased time and efficiency led to increased fantasy value, and by the end of the year, we have Murphy making a case for himself as a top-20 pick in next year's fantasy drafts, even though his ADP was 95.

Of course, you also could make a case for letting him slip based on the fact that he played only 73 games this season, but even considering that, he managed to crack the top-25 overall, and in playing around 70 games or so, he has been remarkably consistent. Over the past five years, he has played in 70, 74, 68, 75 and 73 games, respectively. Say what you will about him as a big man defensively, but you have to admit Murphy is one of the best players in the league at doing two things: rebounding and making 3-pointers. As long as he keeps doing those things, he's going to be an extremely valuable asset where fantasy is concerned.

O.J. Mayo
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesO.J. Mayo was much-hyped this season, but he lived up to it.
O.J. Mayo, SG, Grizzlies (38, 56): I've been beating up on Mayo in fantasy articles for about half a season now, because I think somewhere along the way this season, he actually became overrated. But now I think that trend is starting to reverse itself. We're just one game into the postseason, but it seems as though Derrick Rose is locking himself in as the best rookie in an astonishingly good rookie class, and the more that gets talked about, the less people are going to discuss Mayo.

Well, all expectations aside, here are O.J. Mayo's numbers in the only season of professional basketball he has ever played: 18.5 points, 3.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 44 percent shooting from the floor, 88 percent shooting from the line, 38 minutes per game. Those numbers are not great, but they are quite good, and it's easy to forget that they came from a guy who was just 21 years old. Take a look at Brandon Roy's rookie numbers, or Dwyane Wade's and I think you'll find that Mayo hangs pretty close with those guys, especially when you consider the fact that he had to come in and carry an offense by himself because of Rudy Gay's massively disappointing season. I'm expecting big things from O.J. next season, and I wouldn't hesitate at all to use a late-third or early-fourth-round pick on him in standard drafts.

Rajon Rondo, PG, Celtics (42, 55): Let's get to the point immediately: As this iteration of the Celtics gets older, Rondo is going to become more and more important. Watching them play, it's kind of a moot point. He's the only thing on the floor I can even pay attention to. Kevin Garnett can have all the credit for getting the Celtics to play so well over the past two seasons, but watching them, it is more and more apparent that the team belongs to Rajon Rondo.

Even more exciting is how much room Rondo has for improvement. We can already tell that he'll be an elite force in steals, assists and field-goal percentage for as long as he's around, but what if he can turn himself into a 70 percent free-throw shooter, or make a 3-pointer once every game or so? Rondo's potential seems limitless, even as he already feels in so many ways like a finished product.

Let's leave it here: Rondo doesn't even need to change. Judging by the Player Rater, he outperformed his ADP (87) by more than 40 spots, and he'll be even better next year, whether he develops a jump shot or not.

Tyrus Thomas, SF/PF, Bulls (55, 77): If you caught the Bulls' Game 1 win over the Celtics on Saturday, you saw Tyrus put up 16 points (8-for-12 from the floor), six rebounds and three blocks against a good team on the road. You also saw just how varied his game is. On offense, he's able to make jump shots and, because of his quickness, take larger guys off the dribble. On defense, he's absolutely everywhere as a help defender.

This season, Thomas increased his free-throw shooting from 74 percent to a very respectable 78 percent. He increased his field-goal percentage from 42 percent to 45 percent. His PER increased from 14.91 to 15.95, and that difference is perhaps the most telling. The league average is 15, and Tyrus is now very clearly planted above that figure. The truth is, Tyrus is still a major wild card, and I don't think even the Bulls quite know what to expect from him down the road. But in terms of helping your fantasy team now, and having major potential for the future, there may be no better talent in the league than Tyrus Thomas.

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

Seth Landman

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

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