Disappointments poised to finish strong
Well, here we are. The All-Star Game is over, and we are, amazingly, nearly two-thirds through the 2009-10 NBA season. For those of you in roto leagues, of course, that means you've accumulated nearly two-thirds of the stats you will amass this season.
This column, focusing on the Player Rater, is about value. The Player Rater, as I've said a million times, is a tool we can use to figure out what has happened so far this season. It is not a projection system, however, and for the half of you who are in the bottom half of whatever fantasy league you are part of, it's time to start getting drastic. You have only one-third of the season to catch up and finish respectably. You can either fold up the tent or start searching for value.
So today, with All-Star Weekend in the rearview mirror, let's take a look at a few players whose prospects for the final third of the season look particularly bright, keeping in mind that the trade deadline is only a day away and could shake up the landscape as it stands right now.
Jason Richardson as Phoenix Suns shooting guard was incredibly good last season, scoring 16.4 points per game, knocking down 1.8 3-pointers, shooting 49 percent from the floor and picking up 1.1 steals per game for good measure. He's only 29 years old, so he shouldn't be declining this much yet. In his final three games before the All-Star break, he averaged 16.3 points, 1.7 3s, 1.3 steals and shot 46 percent from the floor, and on Tuesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies he went for 27 points (12-for-17 from the floor), 6 rebounds, 2 3s, 2 steals and 2 blocks, showing signs that he may be far more productive going forward.
Al Jefferson, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves (68): Jefferson certainly has struggled to get back to full strength after missing most of the second half of last season, and because of that, a guy who was a top-15 player at the start of last season is now struggling to make the top 50 overall. You'll have to give up pretty good talent to get Jefferson, because anyone who has avoided dealing him so far might be inclined to hang on to him, but if you need scoring and rebounding, Jefferson averaged nearly 19 points and 12 rebounds in January and appears to be slowly making his way back to being his former self. He's dealing with tightness in his knee and had an off night against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night, and there's a chance he won't get all the way back to being healthy this season. But betting that he does is a good risk to take if you're bordering on being out of contention at this point of the season.
Devin Harris, PG, New Jersey Nets (81): Harris was one of the league's most productive players when he was healthy last season. Unfortunately, he missed 13 games earlier this season and never really got on track. Still, it's important to remember that in just 69 games last season, he managed to finish ranked 39th on the Player Rater with averages of 21.3 points, 6.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 82 percent shooting from the line on 8.8 attempts per game. Those are huge numbers, and he seems to be showing some signs of moving back in that direction. In his past four games, he's averaging 20.5 points, 8.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor. If he can get back to being even close to as good as he was last season, he'll be far more valuable than he's been so far this season, and because he's still dealing with a few injuries, you still might be able to get him for less than he's potentially worth.
Westbrook has improved his shooting in the short term by eschewing his bad habit of taking lots of 3s. In the meantime, he's increased his scoring in every month this season and is in the top 10 in assists. In Tuesday's win over the Dallas Mavericks, Westbrook had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. There's an extremely good chance that his top-75 ranking to this point in the season will improve to more like a top-50 ranking the rest of the way.
Eric Gordon, SG, Los Angeles Clippers (85): Last season, Gordon was one of the most promising rookies and seemed to be entering a great situation (at least statistically speaking) heading into his second season. He has been good, but not nearly as good as I, or many other folks, thought he'd be. Mostly because even though he's getting to the line more and taking more 3s, his percentages on free throws and 3s have declined significantly. What's worse, there's nothing in his splits to suggest that things are going to get better any time soon.
Still, Gordon has been known as a fantastic shooter since his high school days, and it's hard for me to believe that a guy who shot 39 percent on 3s and 85 percent from the line as a rookie could be shooting 35 and 73 percent, respectively, in his second season. On Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, Gordon made 3 of 5 3s and 3 of 3 free throws on his way to 20 points, and if you're desperate, Gordon has as good a chance as anyone to make huge leaps in productivity during the final third of the season.
Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs (104): Parker has had a tough season, missing games because of injury and not playing as well as he has in the past when he has been OK. Actually, he's down in every single statistical category from where he was last season, even though his minutes are pretty comparable. Add to that the fact that he missed his final game before the All-Star break because of a hip flexor injury, and it would seem that there's not that much room for optimism here. On the other hand, the Spurs generally wait until after the All-Star break to make their move in the standings, and they have probably managed to get Parker a little more rest than he may have needed so far this season. In the three games he played before the break, he averaged 17.3 points, 9.3 assists, 2.0 steals and shot 50 percent from the floor. He's only 27 years old and still should be in the thick of his prime, so he's probably going to be much better from here on out.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.