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Gasol, Stoudemire, Jefferson due to rise

12/30/2009

The purpose of the Player Rater, beyond the pure joy of making lists and arguing about their accuracy, is to help the discerning fantasy player in his or her ongoing quest to fleece his or her leaguemates in trades.

I've brought this up before, but in fantasy, just like in real life, we're constantly making judgments for the future based on the information of the past. That information is inherently flawed because the past's bearing on the future has yet to be determined. That's where this column comes in; I'm making predictions of future value in order to help you turn a ticking time bomb into an explosion of statistical abundance. Consider it a holiday gift from me to you every week for the rest of the season.

The following is a list of players I think will be rising on the Player Rater over the coming weeks, followed by a few players I think are heading south. We'll keep using per-game averages, keeping in mind that players who have missed a few games might be ranked a bit higher on this list than they would be based on season totals.

Going Up

Pau Gasol, PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers (8): "Going up" may be somewhat impossible given where he's ranked, so let's just say I don't think he's going to be out of the top 10 anytime soon. What Gasol has managed to do alongside Kobe Bryant these past few seasons is turn himself into one of the league's most efficient players. He plays off his teammates flawlessly, and because so many of them can score, Gasol seems to be shifting his focus slightly toward rebounding and shot blocking. He's playing plenty of minutes, which should continue, and is making the most of them. There's no way I would trade this guy right now unless someone made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

Amare Stoudemire, PF/C, Phoenix Suns (45): Even as the Suns were rolling through the early part of their schedule, Stoudemire was looking more and more like a complementary piece. Not exactly what you were expecting out of a top-20 fantasy pick. However, he seems to be getting his mojo back. Interestingly, he's doing it by rebounding like crazy. He's averaging 10.4 rebounds per game in December after averaging just 7.1 in November, and on a team that plays as fast as the Suns, there's no reason why he shouldn't be able to average 10 boards a game for as long as he wants. He's got too much talent to be ranked this low, and I think he'll slowly work his way up the board as the season wears on. Now is the time to buy.

Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee Bucks (47): I'm going to be in the minority on this issue, but I think Jennings will be a top-50 player for the rest of the season despite his recent shooting struggles. In December, his shot has fallen off a cliff, as he's below 38 percent overall and under 30 percent on 3-pointers after making nearly half of those shots in November. In spite of all that, I'm optimistic because Jennings is learning how to be a more efficient point guard on the fly. He's averaging 6.7 assists and just 2.3 turnovers this month, and I think his shot will come back a bit as he gets more comfortable with what defenses are giving him. Jennings is a monster talent, and we shouldn't forget that because he goes through some rookie struggles.

Anthony Randolph, SF/PF, Golden State Warriors (89): Up until about a week ago, Randolph was well out of the top 100 and was having what most would consider a disappointing season. Of late, he's been blocking shots like a man possessed, and the chatter seems to point to coach Don Nelson letting Randolph initiate a bit more offense, which probably means more minutes too, and if this kid gets minutes, he's going to contribute all over the stat sheet. Now's the time to try to snap him up; I wouldn't give up anyone you're really relying on, but if you can deal someone like Trevor Ariza or Andrei Kirilenko for him, I think that's a deal you've got to make.

Al Jefferson, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves (90): Feel free to remain troubled by the lack of blocks and the fact that he's still well under 50 percent from the floor for the season. For my part, I'm going to focus on the fact that Jefferson is almost all the way back to his usual consistent dominance as a scorer and rebounder. As he makes his way all the way back from his injury troubles, he'll begin to look more and more like the player he was before he got hurt. If you can buy low on him right now, you just might be getting the guy who averaged 23 points and 11 rebounds in the 50 games he played last season.

James Harden, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder (148): He hasn't had many assists of late, which, I'll admit, looks bad. Still, Harden's modest averages show that he can knock down 3s, distribute, and pick up steals. Players who do those three things are valuable, especially if you can get them for nothing. In Harden's case, he seems to be the go-to guy off the bench for the Thunder's backcourt, and in many ways he's already the second best guard on the team (unless you count Kevin Durant). He's going to keep improving as the season wears on, and it's probably a good idea to have him on your roster starting now, just in case.

Going Down

Carlos Boozer, PF, Utah Jazz (19): Boozer simply isn't scoring with the same verve of late (under 20 points in four of his past five contests), and I'm concerned he might be starting on the long path to what's known as "mailing it in." Right now, he's still very productive, but the number of games where he throws up a stinker seems to be on the rise. He has seen a decline is every meaningful stat in December, and that decline could easily continue into January. Don't trade him off for nothing, but right now I'd rather have Josh Smith or Troy Murphy for sure. I might even take Kevin Love over Boozer if I had to decide today.

Channing Frye, PF/C, Phoenix Suns (60): I don't think his value is about to fall off a cliff or anything, but Frye's taking and making fewer 3-pointers in December than he did in November, and that's a major concern. If he was blocking lots of shots or rebounding well, we could ignore the slight decrease in 3s, but that's simply not the case. His value is almost entirely driven by the fact that he's a center who makes 3s, so the difference between 2.6 and 2.1 3s per game is one you need to pay attention to, especially if it continues into next month.

Vince Carter, SG/SF, Orlando Magic (64): The aggregate numbers have been OK, but if you have any idea what you're getting from Carter on a night-by-night basis at this point, you know things I do not. He's a total drag on your field goal percentage, and seems to be getting worse from behind the arc too. What's more, his steals and blocks are so low that one has to wonder whether he's giving his best effort --after all, this is Vince Carter we're talking about. I'm all for dealing him if you can get equal value, like Jason Richardson or Stephen Jackson, for example.

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