Player Rater: Five to deal
It may seem as though the basketball season is still fresh and new, but a quick look at the standings will make it clear that we're already one-quarter through the 2010-11 campaign. That makes it a good time to realize that you've already accumulated one-quarter of your fantasy stats for the season; if you see major flaws in your roster, it's a good idea to remedy them while you still have plenty of time to make them up.
In traditional Player Rater fashion, I thought I'd look at a few players who I think have played above their heads to this point in the season, and selling high on them while their value is highest could be your chance to fill some holes on your roster with players who might trend upward in the coming weeks.
Current Player Rater rankings are indicated in parentheses and based on per-game averages.
Kobe Bryant, SG, Lakers (23): Writing about Kobe always brings out strong opinions one way or another, but I don't think there's any arguing that he's slipping as a fantasy player. Kobe was a top-five pick in most leagues this year, and it doesn't look as though there's any way he'll finish even in the top 20. Still, there's more to be worried about than it seems. After hovering around 46 percent shooting the past few seasons, Kobe seems to be reverting to forcing offense more often than he needs to, and whether that's because he's playing fewer minutes or because he's finally starting to show signs of his age and mileage, the numbers don't lie. He's posting his worst shooting numbers in more than a decade and is compensating with his highest usage rate since the 2005-06 season, when he was basically a one-man team.
Kobe, I should point out, is still an amazing player. He's still fifth in the league in player efficiency rating and second in scoring. But because his minutes have been reduced, he's simply not as special as he used to be in categories like steals and assists. To be sure, the declines are small, but they do exist, and that makes Kobe's current value a bit higher than what we should be expecting out of him the rest of the way.
Rajon Rondo, PG, Celtics (25): Rondo has missed four of the Celtics' past eight games, and the Celtics have managed to keep winning thanks to some inspired shooting from Nate Robinson (averaging 16.5 points on 62.5 percent shooting in the four games Rondo's missed) and some great defense from just about everyone. The Celtics, it seems, are deep enough that they can rack up wins over bad teams even without Rondo, and that means they'll have plenty of incentive to rest him whenever he needs it. When he plays, he's great, but considering the value he's already pulling from the assists category (where he leads the league by an extremely comfortable margin), I don't see any way for his value to go up unless he all of a sudden starts stroking 3-pointers or making his free throws. If you own Rondo and find yourself demolishing the competition in assists, it might be worth dealing him (once he's back in the lineup) to someone who is desperate in that category in exchange for someone who helps you plug holes elsewhere on your roster.
Jason Richardson, SG, Suns (31): Richardson doesn't seem to be getting a ton of attention for the tremendous season he is having, which is crazy, because he's a major reason Phoenix is still the second-most efficient offense in the league even after losing Amare Stoudemire this past offseason. I want to give credit to Richardson for becoming one of the best shooters in the league, but his percentages seem a little too high to be sustainable. For one thing, he's making better than 48 percent of his 3s right now; that's the best percentage by anyone who is not named Mike Bibby among players in the top 40 in made 3s, and it would be Richardson's career high by a large margin. The problem is that even though his ranking currently seems comparable to where it's been in past years, his numbers in assists in and rebounds continue to slowly decline. To this point, the hot shooting has made up for those declines, but that won't last forever. Richardson is, then, definitely worth dealing if you can replace a chunk of his 3-point production while adding better stats in other areas.
Jeff Green, PF, Thunder (58): There's a reason Jeff Green always seems to be a pretty decent fantasy player, and that reason is playing time. Basically, he's always in the game. This season he's playing a career-high 40 minutes per game (second in the NBA!), yet his numbers look remarkably similar to his numbers from the past two seasons. He's had slight increases in points and rebounds and slight declines in blocks and steals. He's getting to the line more and making a higher percentage of his free throws, but he's making a lower percentage of his shots from the floor. Green is, undoubtedly, a good player on a good team, and I'm certainly not quibbling with the Thunder for playing him so many minutes, but it's worth noting that this team has an up-and-coming big man in Serge Ibaka who deserves more playing time, and a recently healthy-and-resigned Nick Collison who will need playing time as well. For all the talk about Green's ability to spread the floor, he's also declining enough as a 3-point shooter that his 39 percent mark from two seasons ago is starting to look like a fluke. If I could deal him for someone who has underperformed to this point, like Danilo Gallinari or even (to reach a little) Chris Bosh, I would happily do so.
Richard Jefferson, SF, Spurs (78): If you're going to sell high on Jefferson, you might have to do it really soon. The Spurs, as you're probably aware, have been amazing so far this season. They have the best record in the league and the best average margin of victory, and a large part of the credit for that goes to a rejuvenated Richard Jefferson. Although his numbers in rebounds and assists continue declining, like Richardson's, he's having a career year as a shooter, which is masking his general decline as a player. Of course, in cases like this, it's always possible that a player will just continue making shots at a ridiculous rate all season. However, considering Jefferson's relative uselessness as a fantasy player last season, I'd be much more inclined to try to get something for him while I still could. Perhaps someone desperate for 3s would be willing to consider dealing for him (maybe along with another player) in exchange for an underperforming player with a higher ceiling like Darren Collison, David Lee or Andre Iguodala.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.