Last week, I took a look at five players who should be trending downward on the Player Rater through the rest of the season. As I am an optimist at heart, this week should be more fun. Here are some players you might want to try to trade for as soon as you can.
These guys may not be lighting the world on fire quite yet -- they may, in fact, be highly disappointing so far -- but they will be important fantasy options down the stretch and will finish significantly higher on the Player Rater than they are currently ranked. As always, it's important to base any decisions on the makeup of your roster, but overall value is a good place to start looking.
(Current rankings in parentheses based on per-game averages on Player Rater)
Al Jefferson, PF/C, Utah Jazz (46): Jefferson used to be a top-20 fantasy player and he's only 25 years old, so maybe it's not really a stretch to say the ceiling is higher than where he's currently ranked. Still, he might be losing some value of late (at least where consensus opinion is concerned) because of the fact that he's shooting only 47 percent for the season from the floor (and a miserable 41 percent so far in December). What's important, though, is that his shooting is pretty much the only flaw right now. He's blocking more shots, yes, but he also seems to be finding his way in the offense of late; he's seen upticks in his offensive rebounds and assists during December as well. His free throw shooting has certainly been a boon as well; I wouldn't suggest that he'll continue to shoot 85 percent for the rest of the season, but it's reasonable, I think, to expect him to remain above the league average, giving you value in a category you'd have never expected. My guess is that very soon, Big Al starts to look like the player who has hovered around 50 percent from the floor for his whole career, and when that happens, his fantasy value is going to go up significantly.
Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, New York Knicks (60): Gallinari is, in many ways, having a better season this year than he did in his breakout season last year. Unfortunately, his fantasy numbers are worse, and there are a few reasons. For one thing, he was providing at least a tiny amount of value in steals and blocks last season, averaging 0.9 and 0.7 respectively. For another thing, he was attempting almost one more 3-pointer per game last season, even though he was also shooting a higher percentage from the floor overall. Right now, he's showing no signs of picking up his defensive numbers; that's discouraging, but his contributions last season were so slight that it wouldn't take much more than a few lucky plays to move the needle a bit. Where he is improving is as a shooter. He started off the season miserably, shooting 21 percent from the floor in his first three games, but in December, he's hitting 42 percent from the floor and a strong 41 percent from behind the 3-point line. If he can keep that shooting up (and there's no reason to believe he can't) -- coupled with the fact that he's getting to the line a lot and making nearly all of his free throws -- he's going to start averaging more points and his fantasy value is going to skyrocket.
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers (93): In all of fantasy basketball, no number feels as weird as Griffin's ranking as the 93rd most valuable player. In the stats many tend to pay attention to most -- points and rebounds -- he's dominant. What's killing his ranking, of course, is his terrible free throw shooting, which is actually getting worse each month. So why be optimistic? Well, Griffin is improving in almost every other area, many of them very important in fantasy. He's averaging 4.0 assists per game so far in December, which, as you know, is a ton of assists for someone who puts up the kind of rebounding numbers he does (making him more similar to Pau Gasol than, say, Zach Randolph). He's also averaging 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game in December, and although neither of those numbers is so great that you'd be excited about it on its own, both are helpful enough that he'll be a top-60 player very soon if he keeps them up. Yes, he's going to keep killing your free throw percentage, but if you have a team that's strong in that area or a team that's punting that category already, Griffin's the best trade target out there for you.
Vince Carter, SG/SF, Orlando Magic (103): This will be the first positive thing I've ever written about Vince in this space, but that's what happens when you try to be optimistic. I think what's happening is that we're starting to reach the point where Vince's production has fallen off far enough from his usual levels that people are forgetting he does anything at all. Without question, he's been a disappointment based on where he was taken in most drafts, and that's not something I see changing, but at this point of the season we need to forget about where guys were drafted. No one dislikes Vince more than I do, but even I will concede that it won't be difficult for him to produce like a top-75 player for the remainder of the season. Consider that in December he's averaging 17.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists to go along with one steal per game. Those are extremely good numbers which, though far off his career averages, are good enough to help you in fantasy. If you're worried about J.J. Redick stealing minutes, don't. Carter is playing only 30 minutes per game as it is, and can play enough of both shooting guard and small forward that it's hard to imagine his minutes varying that much (especially with Rashard Lewis struggling and Brandon Bass playing well). I can't believe I'm saying this, but if you can deal someone who has been overachieving like Shannon Brown, Mike Dunleavy, D.J. Augustin or Landry Fields for Carter (even if those four guys are far more likeable), you'll come out ahead in the long run.
O.J. Mayo, SG, Memphis Grizzlies (165): Things have hit rock bottom for Mayo, and while I think he was an overrated fantasy player to begin with, he's not as bad as he's looked. In his past two games, he's taken 10 or more shots after not doing that in almost two weeks, and the fact that he played 29 minutes in the Grizzlies' win against the Trail Blazers Monday night is key for his future prospects. Although he's shooting nearly the same percentage on 3-pointers this season as he always does, he's been way off on 2-pointers everywhere but right at the rim (according to hoopdata.com). Considering how low his value is right now, I'd be willing to take the chance that his percentages will come back up and he'll work his way back into a very meaningful role for the Grizzlies. I'd be willing to trade any of the guys I suggested trading for Carter to get Mayo, and will be very surprised if he's not a top-100 player in the next couple of months. He was drafted very high, so it's possible his owners will want to just hold onto him, but if you can get him for his current value, he'll be a steal.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.