- Seth Landman, Fantasy Basketball
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It's early still, friends. If this season were your day, you'd still be making coffee. It's easy to think we're further along than we are, but reality says otherwise; sample sizes are still small, and your fantasy players, whether they've been disappointing or glorious thus far, may still be settling in to the story of their 2009-10 season.
So far, though, as far as I'm concerned, the early part of this season has belonged to Brandon Jennings. His 55-point outburst against the Warriors is getting all of the attention (most points by a rookie since Earl Monroe!), but how about the 4.8 rebounds per game, or the revelation that he can shoot the 3? Just last night, my friend Dave and I were discussing Jennings' fantasy trade value, and it's like trying to crack an impossible code. In a keeper league, even more so. What do we make of this beginning?
Well, frankly, there are some red flags. For one, I'm still a little wary of the fact that everyone said he couldn't shoot. He's hitting 54 percent of his 3-pointers through eight games, but that number is so high that it can't possibly be real. His jump shot, exciting as it is to watch, is a bit of a knuckleball, and though he's making everything right now, it won't last forever. He's attempted just 37 free throws on the season -- a little better than four per game -- and 24 of those attempts have come in his past three contests, so we don't know yet how much he's willing to go to the basket. His 5.5 assists per game are, for a point guard with his kind of quickness and vision, pretty underwhelming, but if you were on the kind of shooting streak he's on, would you be passing? Finally, 1.1 steals is a fine number, but I would have expected more knowing he's playing nearly 35 minutes per game.
There are going to be ups and downs for any rookie, and Jennings, it must be said, hasn't had a down yet. It's coming. But sometimes in basketball things start happening that seem like flukes, and you explain them away, and then they keep happening. If you drafted Jennings, wouldn't you have to be totally bowled over with a Godfather-type offer to even consider dealing him? I think so.
Here's a look at some other players who have started the season like gangbusters, and then some who just look like busts.
(rankings based on per-game averages)
Al Horford, PF/C, Hawks (26): A major factor in the Hawks' recent success has been the ascendance of Horford, who is definitely among the league's better centers at this point. He's a reliable contributor in points and rebounds, and in the early part of the season he's putting up a combination of 1.9 blocks and 0.8 steals. These numbers all seem entirely sustainable to me. He's clearly a good fit on the Hawks' super-athletic front line along with Josh Smith and Marvin Williams, and if he can stay healthy (he missed 15 games last season, but played in 81 as a rookie), he'll continue to outperform his average draft position (ADP) all season long.
J.R. Smith, SG, Nuggets (36): He was suspended for the first seven games of the season, and even though he put up five only points in his first game, he's averaging 18.0 points in 25.8 minutes through four games. There will be some lean nights with J.R., of course, but he's providing a tremendous combination of points, 3-pointers (2.5 per game) and steals (1.5 per game), and as long as he's healthy, there's no way his minutes will go down from that 25.8 per game clip. If you gambled on him in spite of his suspension, congratulations.
Jason Thompson, PF, Kings (49): He's still young, so it's tempting to take the numbers -- 14.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 blocks, 82 percent from the line -- with a grain of salt, but I actually think he's going to get better very soon. Looking at his game log, what stands out is actually the inconsistency. He'll have a few great games, and then lay an egg. That's because he's still figuring things out, but clearly, Thompson is a major talent, and as he gets more and more comfortable being a good player, he'll get better at it. There's plenty of room for improvement in his shooting from the floor, and as time goes by he'll contribute more of the peripheral stats on nights when his offense isn't working. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he stayed in the top 50 all season.
Carl Landry, PF, Rockets (68): Right away, I'll say that getting 5.9 rebounds per game out of a power forward is nothing to get too jazzed up about. Look beyond that, though, and you'll see that Landry might be a special sort of fantasy player. Pretend, for a second, that instead of a power forward, he's a small forward. Now you've got a small forward who is averaging 15.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks. He doesn't shoot 3s, but you can live with that because he's shooting a ridiculous 57 percent from the floor and 87 percent from the line. What's more, those numbers aren't even fluky. He shot 57 percent from the floor last season, and 81 percent from the line. Basically, as long as Landry gets minutes, he's a great guy to have filling out your fantasy roster.
Anthony Morrow, SG, Warriors (80): For the moment, it appears Morrow is firmly entrenched in the starting lineup on the post-Stephen Jackson Warriors. Considering the fact that he's a phenomenal long-range shooter, that's a good thing for fantasy owners. After being the best 3-point shooter in the league last season, he's doing it again so far this season, and is playing even more minutes. As long as those minutes stay above 25 per game, he's worth having on your roster, as he's the rare player who makes a ton of 3s without hurting your field goal percentage at all.
Jason Kidd, PG, Mavericks (33): He's a disappointment only because you had to draft him so high, but still, there's no way he's going to finish the season in the top 30 if he continues to play like this. I know Kidd's value isn't in his scoring, but he's averaging just 6.8 points per game so far. He's basically given up on doing any scoring besides shooting open 3s, which, for Kidd, is probably a good thing, considering his 39 percent shooting from the field. He's still giving you assists, rebounds and some steals, but it feels to me like a precipitous decline is on the way; it's never a good sign when a player stops getting to the line, and Kidd has taken just two total free throws through the first eight games of the season. That's not two per game. That's two total shots. Add to that the fact that he's made just one 2-point field goal per game, and I have to wonder how long this sort of style can last.
David Lee, PF/C, Knicks (64): I was surprised to see him ranked this low based on his numbers, but it's just a reminder that scoring points isn't worth much in the fantasy game. Lee has bumped his scoring from 16.0 to 17.3, but besides that, he's suffering slight drop-offs in lots of important areas. His shooting from the line has been atrocious so far (69 percent), and his shooting from the floor, so far, is on the way down for the third straight season. He's still good at 54 percent, but his complete lack of contribution in blocks pretty much negates that number. Most importantly, his rebounding has dropped by 2.4 per game, and now stands at 9.4. Unfortunately, if you drafted Lee, you were paying for 16 points, 12 rebounds and 55 percent shooting. When he doesn't put up those numbers, he stops being a top-50 fantasy player.
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Trail Blazers (112): At this point, it's starting to become clear that Aldridge might not be as good a fantasy player as he is in real life. He's rebounding a little more this season, but his per-game averages are just 14.7 points and 8.0 rebounds to go along with his 49 percent shooting from the field. Most concerning, he just isn't blocking shots anymore. Playing alongside Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, he doesn't really have to, but 0.3 blocks per game from a stud power forward who is 6-foot-11 just doesn't cut it. You'd be better off with Carl Landry.
Rasheed Wallace, PF/C, Celtics (134): Unfortunately for you, if you used a top-100 pick to draft him, Sheed's purely a bench player right now. If he was averaging 30 minutes per game, he'd be putting up better than two 3s to go along with a block and a steal per game, but he's not, and he probably won't any time soon. He seems happy with his role, and even if someone gets hurt, the fact that Shelden Williams has been providing the Celtics with great defense and rebounding off the bench probably means that Wallace's minutes wouldn't change that much anyway, especially considering the fact that Glen Davis will come back eventually. Unless you need the 3s, you can go ahead and drop Sheed for now.
Thaddeus Young, SF, 76ers (145): He's not rebounding, he's not making 3s, he's not getting steals and he's forcing shots and killing his percentages. There's nothing good here right now, and it's hard to say when it'll turn around. He might start getting more minutes at power forward with Marreese Speights out, but I'm not sure that's a good thing, considering how Young is playing right now. You can't drop him because he's got too much promise and talent, but I fear he might be deadweight on your roster all season.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.