It's easy to get overly excited about fast starts when the season is less than 10 games old. Still, it's good to take stock and try to quickly reassess the opinions you had before the season started. Ideally, you'll always be trying to figure out where your opinions of players differ from the prevailing winds of perception -- that's where you find value that other people aren't picking up on. With that in mind, I want to point out a few things I'm noticing on the Player Rater (based on per-game average stats) in the early going.
Pau Gasol might be one of the three best players in fantasy this season
Gasol was a first-round pick in most leagues this year, but I think that had more to do with a perceived safeness in picking him than it did with any sort of upside. While it may be true that the Lakers have played a weak schedule about as perfectly as possible, it's also true that Gasol, at 30 years of age, is playing the best ball of his career. He's rebounding and scoring like a man possessed while cutting down on his turnovers and boosting his assists to a career-high rate.
Just as importantly, while the Lakers seem to be intent on cutting down Kobe Bryant's minutes (just 31.8 per game so far in the early going), Gasol's minutes are almost exactly where they've been the past couple of seasons despite the fact that the Lakers are routinely blowing teams out of the water. It stands to reason that his minutes won't go down any when the competition gets tougher, even when Andrew Bynum comes back (Bynum will get some of Lamar Odom's 34 minutes and probably all of the minutes being shared by Theo Ratliff, Derrick Caracter, and Devin Ebanks).
Gasol also has just as much staying power as any of the guys currently in the top six on the Player Rater, if not more. Rudy Gay is shooting a higher percentage than he ever has from all over the court. Josh Smith is getting most of his value in the blocks category, but his 3.4 per game average in that category would be a career high by quite a bit and more than a block better than he's averaged in three seasons. Russell Westbrook is shooting 92 percent from the line and is averaging a full steal per game more than he ever has before. Elton Brand hasn't played this well in years, and wasn't expected to even sniff the top 50 in fantasy leagues. Only Chris Paul was expected to be as good as he's been so far. Suffice it to say that if you drafted Gasol, you'll be reaping the rewards all season long.
Manu Ginobili is still an amazing fantasy player
Yeah, he's 33 now and he's always an injury risk, but the Spurs seem to be aware of the fact that their window is closing, and Manu is averaging a career high in minutes and points so far this season. You might think that's what causing his fantasy stock to skyrocket, but really, besides a few extra points per game, he's not doing anything out of line with his normal numbers. In fact, his PER is exactly where it has been for two years now.
So, why was he being drafted around the 60th pick in most leagues heading into this season? To be honest, I have no idea. He has played 74 or more games in three out of the past four seasons and isn't any more of an injury risk than plenty of guys who were drafted ahead of him (Devin Harris and Danny Granger, to name a couple).
Ginobili does everything you'd want a fantasy guard to do: he gets steals, knocks down 3s, takes and makes free throws, doesn't kill you from the floor, and contributes in assists and rebounds for good measure. Yeah, if you draft him and he gets hurt you end up kicking yourself, but he's a top-20 fantasy player by any measure when he's playing; that makes him a risk a lot of us should have taken this season.
Yao Ming will be a useful fantasy player this season
There were a ton of questions surrounding Yao this season, and now we seem to have a few answers. Yes, the Rockets are going to limit his minutes (21.0 per game so far). Yes, he's going to play only one game out of two when the Rockets have a back-to-back (and he won't always play the front end, it'll be based on matchups, so you'll have to carefully watch for notes on those days). Yes, both of these things make him less valuable than he could be.
Keeping all of that in mind, however, he does have some value. The Player Rater currently has him 70th overall based on averages, which means that when he does play, he puts up numbers that have been more valuable so far this season than such luminaries as Brook Lopez, Al Jefferson and Andrew Bogut. How is this possible, you ask? Simple: he doesn't do anything bad. He's great from the floor, great from the line and he blocks almost two shots per game while he's out there. If his name wasn't Yao Ming, people would be waiting in line to sing his praises.
So, if you have Yao, what do you do? Well, for one thing, you pay attention to matchups, and you do your best to get him into your lineup every time he's going to play. He's not one of the best players in the league anymore, but if you can swing 50 games of Yao this season, it will help your fantasy team a lot, especially in roto leagues with daily roster moves.
Blake Griffin might be a great rookie, but he's not a great fantasy player
Griffin got a lot of buzz this preseason, to the point that his ADP (Average Draft Position) was 51st in ESPN.com drafts. Actually, if you've just been paying attention to his points and rebounds, you'd probably think he was justifying that status in the early part of the season. Of course, that's why we have the Player Rater.
Despite the fact that (with all due respect to John Wall) Griffin has been the best rookie so far in reality, he finds himself ranked well outside of the top 100 fantasy players based on per-game stats. There are a few reasons for this. First, while he's great at getting to the line, he's a Dwight Howard-level abomination once he's there (60 percent). Second, despite his activity in the preseason, he has shown no ability whatsoever when it comes to picking up steals and blocks. This, like his woeful free throw shooting, is consistent with his college stats (he managed around one steal and one block per game at Oklahoma, but those numbers are well below what you'd expect from a guy who always seemed like the most athletic dude on the floor).
So, amazingly, a rookie who is averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds per game is actually a pretty terrible fantasy player. If you're looking for points and rebounds, he's great, but overall, he's going to be a fantasy disappointment this season. I'd sell high on him if you can.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.