Player Rater: Fast and slow starts
We're only one week into a long season, so all Player Rater rankings need to be taken with a shaker of salt. That said, this early in the season, it can be useful to pay attention to which players are putting up better numbers than you would have thought (especially by average stats, which early on will be far less skewed than total numbers). Bearing that in mind, let's take a look at some players who are having promising starts to the season, and some others whose fantasy status may need a little rethinking.
(ranking based on average stats)
Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets (4): Anthony's numbers for his fourth game (25 points in 29 minutes in a win over the Pacers in Indiana) were right on track with what he's been doing in all of his games so far. To put it simply, he's scoring more than anyone else in the league. He's averaging 34.5 points in 36.3 minutes, which might be an unsustainable ratio, but is enough to make me rethink the conventional wisdom that Melo's not worthy of a first-round pick. It's not just the scoring, either. He's averaging 6.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 3-pointers, and is already one of the few guys contributing positively in every single category. If you drafted him, good for you, as this appears to be the year Melo proves he's one of the best players in the league and in fantasy.
Larry Hughes, Knicks (5): This is a bit misleading, because I don't actually believe that Hughes is going to continue to be a top-10 fantasy player for more than another day or so. However, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni claims that Hughes will start for the foreseeable future, and anyone put into that kind of position deserves our attention. There's lots to dislike about Larry Hughes as a fantasy player, but over the next couple of weeks, he's going to stuff the stat sheet with assists, steals and 3-pointers, even when he's shooting a terrible percentage from the floor. The fact that the guy can crack the average stats top 5 by playing two decent games should be enough to tell you that he's got the talent to contribute when he's healthy and given the chance. Hughes is owned in only 24 percent of leagues, but right now he needs to be picked up in all of them.
Andre Iguodala, 76ers (19): Iggy is playing like a top-20 player through the Sixers' first four games of the season, including games against both the Magic and the Celtics. Considering the havoc both those teams can wreak on a guy's offensive numbers, Iguodala has been mighty impressive in the early going, racking up tons of steals and being the best source of assists on his team. With two upcoming games against the Nets and one against the Suns, he'll get back to putting up the gaudy numbers he put up against the Knicks (32 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists) rather than the lousy ones he had against the Celtics (17 points, one rebound, three assists).
Brandon Jennings, Bucks (25): A lot of people have jumped on the bandwagon already, but Jennings is still available in some leagues and really shouldn't be. I'd like to say I knew he'd be a great source of points, assists, steals and 3s right out of the box, but I didn't. I figured there'd be some growing pains, and there probably will be at some point, but right now, Jennings is playing some inspired ball, especially for a rookie, and he figures to hover around the top 10 in point guard rankings all season long.
Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz (47): Over his past two games, Kirilenko has six blocks and five steals, reminding many of us of the not-so-distant past when he was an elite fantasy player. Most of his uptick in production stems from the fact that he's playing 39 minutes per game, so we're on somewhat tenuous ground if Jerry Sloan decides that AK-47 needs to play less. Until then, he should remain a great source of blocks and steals on a team that's not exactly known for its fantasy defensive prowess.
Elton Brand, 76ers (81): Having hitched my wagon to Brand for two years in a row now, I'm starting to feel a little bitter. I'm not sure I understand it, exactly, either. Watching Sixers' games, it's clear that Brand is simply out of sorts on both ends. Even Samuel Dalembert seems to be playing a bigger role in the offense, and Brand isn't making even the makeable midrange shots that he thrived on when he was in his prime with the Clippers. That said, like his teammate Andre Iguodala, Brand has faced two of the league's better defenses already (in the Magic and the Celtics), so one hopes his numbers will rebound slightly from the 11.8 points and 5.8 rebounds he's currently throwing up there.
Mike Conley, Grizzlies (95): Conley is averaging 6.3 assists in the early going, which is useful, but he's not really doing much else, and he's got Allen Iverson behind him already complaining about playing time. It's a sticky situation, to say the least, but being surrounded by as much offense as he is, Conley may continue to have a tough time putting up numbers of his own. If Iverson does start getting more than 18 minutes per game, they're probably coming out of Conley's run, not O.J. Mayo's.
Ray Allen, Celtics (96): Allen's start to the season, as the guy who has played the most minutes on what appears to be the best team in the league, has been fine, just not for fantasy, where one needs to do more than play a lot of minutes. The problem here is that his production is right along the lines of what we should probably be expecting from him at this point. He's scoring 15 points per game and making 3s, but not doing much else from a statistical perspective. At some point, Doc Rivers is going to realize that Allen is playing too many minutes. Being ranked right around 100 might just portend where you see Allen at the end of the season, which is a really bad sign considering where you probably drafted him.
Andris Biedrins, Warriors (107): Once again, Don Nelson seems to have found a reason to cut Biedrins' minutes, even though the guy is a great player. As such, Biedrins is putting up only 8.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in the early going. One drafts a guy like Biedrins dreaming of lots of possessions and huge numbers, but it's hard to accumulate those numbers playing only 25.5 minutes per game. Until his minutes climb up over 30 per game, he's going to be a monumental disappointment to the owners who drafted him in fantasy leagues.
Charlie Villanueva, Pistons (173): Call me crazy, but I figured that since the Pistons went out and signed Villanueva to a huge contract this offseason and don't have any other good players who play his position, they would give him a ton of minutes. So far, I have been way off. Charlie V is playing fewer than 26 minutes per game, and isn't really scoring with the same sort of gusto he did in similar action last season. I don't exactly know what the problem is, but until he shows that he's capable of putting up some numbers in his current system (just one good game would be enough to prove it for me), I'd let him ride the pine on my fantasy bench.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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