Surprise performers by category
One of the most useful aspects of the Player Rater is that it allows us to figure out in which category a player is best. This is an area where it's easy to be fooled by just watching games; a player might be known for his ball handling, his shooting, etc., but once the stats are compiled, he's actually better -- relative to the league average -- in a category you might not have considered.
Let's take a look at one player who has been surprisingly effective this season in each standard category:
Field Goal Percentage
Hakim Warrick, PF, Phoenix Suns: Warrick has been absurdly efficient as a scorer this season, shooting 63.4 percent from the floor while taking 7.1 shots per game. That percentage might seem like an unsustainable number, but consider the fact that he's the Suns' best option to give Steve Nash a dive man on pick-and-rolls (especially considering the recent injury to struggling center Robin Lopez). Also consider that Warrick has almost entirely stopped shooting jump shots and is getting to the line more frequently than he ever has in the past. It's not as though the Suns haven't faced any tough competition, either; they've faced only one bottom-10 defensive team and have faced the league's third-toughest schedule overall. Considering Warrick is available in many leagues, he looks like a great pickup if you need help raising your field goal percentage (though it's the only category in which he's truly great, or even very good).
Free Throw Percentage
Brandon Bass, PF, Orlando Magic: At only 21.4 minutes per game, Bass is not playing enough to really contribute much in most categories, although at 5.7 rebounds per game, he's at least passable there. Where he really gains fantasy value, however, is at the foul line. A surprisingly good free throw shooter for a big man (84 percent for his career), Bass is living at the line this season, averaging 4.1 attempts in his limited minutes. That's more attempts than Al Jefferson, David Lee or LaMarcus Aldridge (just to name a few examples of guys who are playing way more minutes), and when Bass gets to the line, he makes his shots. As a result, he's been more valuable at the line this season than guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Andrea Bargnani and Brook Lopez. Like Warrick, Bass won't help you in other categories, but he's definitely worth a shot if you need help at the line.
Manu Ginobili, SG, San Antonio Spurs: Ginobili has always been a great fantasy player for a variety of reasons, but this season his 3-point shooting stands out as the best part of his game. It's not -- as I would have thought before I looked up the stats -- because he's making an absurd percentage of his 3s, either. No, it's because half of the shots he takes are 3s this season. Never before has he even approached that number, and it's the key to why he's making 2.9 3-pointers per game. If you lowered his percentage from 40.9 to the 37.7 he's averaged for his career, he'd still be making 2.7 per game and his 3s would still be the most valuable part of the whole Ginobili. At 33 years of age, I see no reason he'd start plowing into the lane instead of taking 3s, so I'd expect this trend to continue.
Kevin Garnett, PF, Boston Celtics: I wanted to write about Pau Gasol here, but I think I've given him enough words of late. He's amazing; let's move on. Instead, I'd like to point out that the rumors of Garnett's demise have been greatly exaggerated. He's moving far better this year than he has in a while, and that has led to his posting his best rebound rate since his final season in Minnesota. Of course, due to injuries to some of his ancient comrades, he's also playing more minutes than he has since the 'Sota days. Still, I had begun to think of Garnett as purely a jump shooter after his rebound rate and minutes dipped last season to the point that he posted his lowest numbers since his rookie season. I'm inclined to believe he's just healthier than he's been in a while, and there's a decent chance he'll keep hovering around 10 boards per game all season.
Tony Parker, PG, Spurs: There were lots of choices here, because assists, as a category, is always in high demand. There are so few players who accumulate huge amounts of assists that it becomes easy (and quite valuable) to separate oneself from the masses. The key question, then, is one of perception, and I have always perceived Parker to be more of a scorer than a distributor. In fact, his 7.7 assists per game this season would be a career high if it holds up, but there are reasons to expect that sort of production to continue. The most important of those reasons is Tim Duncan. According to hoopdata.com, Duncan has been assisted on a higher percentage of his baskets than he ever has in the past. Considering Duncan's age, it makes sense that, while he still has a good jump shot, he's more reliant on Parker to find him open looks. And with the Spurs averaging more than five more possessions per game than they did last season, it seems totally possible that Parker will continue to be among the 10 best assist men in the league all season.
Corey Brewer, SG/SF, Minnesota Timberwolves: To be totally honest, there's not a ton to like about Brewer's game, and it's certainly not a surprise that his ability to rack up steals is the best part of what he does. Still, he's been valuable enough in that one category that it seems worth mentioning him under the circumstances. For one thing, the Timberwolves have played a league-high 12 games and Brewer has managed at least one steal in each of them. That's consistency, especially when you consider that he's playing just 23.3 minutes per game. Amazingly, the Wolves do not seem ready to give up on Brewer, even though the rest of his game is putrid, so I'd expect those minutes to hover around that level all season. Brewer might not continue to average 2.25 steals per game all season, but I'm guessing he'll be a top-15 producer in that category for some time. That makes him worth paying attention to if you need production in that category.
Wilson Chandler, SG/SF, New York Knicks: Chandler is having a strange season in many ways. He's playing fewer minutes than he has since his rookie year and is shooting the worst percentage of his career, but he's also scoring more points than he ever has. Weirdest of all, however, is his shot-blocking. He's averaging better than two blocks per game as a swingman, a miraculous number considering he's never even topped 1.0 per game in the past. It's very possible it's just a fluke and that he won't keep it up, but it's also true that the Knicks are playing the best defense they've played in years, and Chandler is certainly a part of that. It's certainly surprising that Chandler, while averaging career highs in points and rebounds, is most valuable because of his shot-blocking, but a player with his size and athleticism averaging two blocks per game all season certainly wouldn't be the most surprising thing I've ever seen.
Eric Gordon, SG, Los Angeles Clippers: Generally speaking, if scoring is the thing you're best at, you're not very good as a fantasy player. Or, if you are, it's because your scoring is based on making a ton of 3s or having great percentages (both of which are easier to accumulate fantasy value in relative to the league than points). Gordon is an exception. He's pretty good from the line and gets there a lot, but it's hard to separate yourself from the field when you shoot 80 percent. He's a good shooter from long range for his career, but has been dismal on 3s in the early part of this season. All together, though, he gets to the line a lot and is posting the highest usage rate of his short career; that's allowed him to average nearly 23 points per game, and that number is where he's carrying most of his fantasy value. I'm expecting his 3-point shooting to pick up as the season goes on (and that's where I'd normally expect him to be most valuable), but perhaps it's time we expect him to be more of a driver than a shooter by nature.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.