Kobe Bryant's decrease in minutes a concern
There are lots of uses for ranking systems in fantasy games. While it is important to watch the games to help formulate your own opinions on players, there are lots of different factors that go into what makes a great fantasy player, and many of those factors go beyond what we see when we sit down to watch basketball games.
It's important to realize that any system of ranking players will have its flaws; it is equally important to realize what those flaws are. The Player Rater allows you to rank players based on the total stats they have accumulated, the average stats they accumulate on a game-by-game basis or their numbers over a given, short-term period (seven, 15 or 30 days).
With each of these methods there are various problems, and this early in the season, the obvious one is that players haven't played in the same amount of games. Dwight Howard, for instance, has played in only two games while Dwyane Wade has played in five. A three-game difference isn't much at the end of the season, but right now it means you can pretty much throw the total stats out the window.
Average stats, instead, are better for the early part of the season, but you should be aware that they have their problems, too. John Wall is a good example. Wall is ranked third overall based on averages, but he has played in only three games (two stellar performances against middling defenses and one lackluster performance against a great defense), so it's hard to put too much stock in his ranking. It's tempting to look at his 12 steals in three games and say the sky is the limit (which, of course, it is), but it's also worth remembering that he put up a 6-for-19 stink bomb when he had to face a good defense in Orlando. He's going to be a great player, but his ranking isn't necessarily a great reflection of who he is just yet.
So, as always, it's important to use the Player Rater as a tool in conjunction with good, old-fashioned horse sense for figuring out what to make of fantasy players. And bearing that in mind, here are a few players who stand out so far (until everyone has played in more total games, we'll look at their rankings based on per-game averages):
Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics: A quick glance at the Player Rater will tell you that Rondo's ranking (21st overall based on per-game averages) is almost entirely due to his absurdly high assist total. He's been a disaster from the floor and a disaster from the line, and only the latter is usual for him. He's getting more assists (including another 17 in Detroit on Tuesday night), which is nice, but his trouble scoring is definitely something worth looking at. If defenses don't let him get all the way to the rim, he's going to have trouble duplicating the 50 percent shooting from the floor that is so essential to his overall fantasy value (even as his actual basketball value skyrockets). For now, we should assume he'll get back to normal, but it is a situation worth paying attention to, especially if his assist numbers normalize a bit in the coming weeks.
Mike Conley, PG, Memphis Grizzlies: Conley's getting some press for his solid play during the Grizzlies' solid start (and for the five-year contract extension he just signed). Keep in mind, however, that he's probably not quite as good as his current top-20 ranking would suggest. Most of his ranking is being inflated by his seven-steal performance against the Timberwolves, who have been turning the ball over a league-high 20.7 times per game. Conley's definitely an improving player, and I have no doubt he's going to continue racking up assists this season, but he has averaged only 1.2 steals per game in 30.2 minutes for his career, so hoping for anything more than 1.5 per game for an entire season is probably preposterous.
Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe's fantasy numbers have been a lot lower than his top-10 draft status would suggest, and that has left him with a ranking of 39th overall through three games. He has only one steal, and he has yet to record a block. What's more, he's playing only 33 minutes per game (down from 39 last season). The truth is that there's no reason for Bryant to be playing 39 minutes per game anymore. The Lakers are playing for the postseason, and Kobe has a lot of miles on the odometer. No one is suggesting he's not still a great player, but we all have seen what reduced minutes have done to the fantasy value of guys like Kevin Garnett through the years. You can chalk up the 26 minutes against the Grizzlies and the 27 minutes against the Warriors to the fact that those games were blowouts, but remember that Kobe never played fewer than 29 minutes in a game all of last season -- blowouts included -- and it's going to be awfully hard for him to match his draft status if his minutes are in the low 30s on average.
Dorell Wright, SF, Golden State Warriors: Normally, if a formerly marginal player was blowing up on the Warriors, I would preach caution and warn you that Don Nelson would have him confused and lingering on the bench in a matter of days. However, these are new days in Oakland. Nellie is gone, and Wright is putting up some pretty nice fantasy numbers. He's still available in lots of leagues, and while his 11 3-pointers in three games might be a little fluky, the one steal and one block he's averaging are completely in line with his career numbers, given the increase in minutes. I don't think he'll continue to be a top-20 fantasy guy all season, but top-50 seems like a totally reasonable estimate based on what he's done so far.
Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana Pacers: Hibbert had a lot of buzz heading into this season, and he has done nothing to put a damper on it so far. You might think the 2.7 blocks per game are a fluke, but on a per-minute basis they are pretty much in line with what he did last season; after all, he is 7-foot-2. His 4.7 assists per game are probably a bit inflated, but it's worth considering that in college at Georgetown he played in a system that required him to make lots of precision passes from the post, so he's used to finding the open man. Given the shooters the Pacers have around him and the fact that they play a fast pace, it stands to reason that Hibbert could and should be one of the best passing big men in the game. It's tempting to call his top-20 ranking so far a fluke, but there's no doubting that he's got the size, talent and opportunity to play like this all season.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.