- Seth Landman, Fantasy Basketball
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By the time Wednesday night is through, every NBA team will have played somewhere between 35 and 40 games, which means we're nearly halfway through the season (even if it doesn't really feel that way). As such, now seems like a good time to start handing out some midseason hardware.
In fantasy, though, value is always a little different than it is in actual basketball games, so we won't play the conservative name-the-best-players game here. Instead, I'd like to acknowledge the most valuable fantasy performances of the season so far. To do that, we won't just look strictly at how valuable a player is, but rather how valuable a player is in relation to where that player was drafted.
What follows is a list of all the players currently ranked in the top 50 on the Player Rater who are at least 40 spots ahead of their ADP (average draft position). Just to stir the pot a little, I'll also speculate about how likely each player is to keep up his performance for the rest of the season.
Players' current ranking based on total stats accumulated for the season, followed by ADP, is indicated in parentheses.
Dorell Wright, SF, Warriors (Rank: 33; ADP: 140): No player has outperformed his draft status more than Wright, who seems to have not actually been drafted in any standard leagues. Wright had never made more than 0.8 3-pointers per game prior to this season, but is currently knocking down 2.6 per game, which is where he accumulates most of his value. He's been wildly inconsistent in every other category, but the Warriors don't really have anyone to push him for playing time, so he stands a pretty good chance of remaining a top-35 player. He's probably at his ceiling, though, so trading him for someone around his current value is a great idea if you can swing it.
Wilson Chandler, SG/SF, Knicks (Rank: 21; ADP: 115.1): Chandler spent the early part of the season turning himself into an elite shot-blocker, but it's worth noting that he's barely over one block per game in his past 17 contests. His 3-point stroke has been extremely inconsistent, as well. A great fit in the Knicks' system, Chandler is also one of the Knicks' only trade assets. He's outperforming his PER projections for this season so severely that one has to be a little worried that his performance so far might be a bit of a fluke, and I'd be trying to trade him while he's hot if I owned him in my leagues.
Wesley Matthews, SG/SF, Trail Blazers (Rank: 49; ADP: 140): Like Wright, Matthews was not really drafted in any leagues but has exceeded all expectations. He's got a few things working for him, most notably that Brandon Roy has missed nearly half the Blazers' games. Matthews has traded a little of the efficiency he exhibited as a rookie in order to be a more prolific scorer, but he knocks down a lot of 3s, gets his fair share of steals and makes 85 percent of his free throws. I don't think you need to worry about Roy bumping Matthews' minutes any time soon, so Wesley seems pretty safe where he is, even if he probably won't rise much higher.
Serge Ibaka, PF/C, Thunder (Rank: 41; ADP: 119.6): Lots of folks decided to try out Ibaka toward the end of their drafts, and for lots of folks that was a great decision. Ibaka is the first guy on this list I'd be extremely hesitant to trade, mainly because his game is improving as his minutes increase. He's already clearly the best big man the Thunder have (even if he is still coming off the bench), and he is an elite shot-blocker and excellent rebounder. A great finisher around the rim, he also has an improving jump shot and is turning into a respectable free throw shooter (77 percent so far this season). He could easily be in the top-35 a month from now.
Elton Brand, PF/C, 76ers (Rank: 29; ADP: 105.5): People had basically given Brand up for dead as a basketball player heading into this season (except perhaps our own Neil Tardy), and for good reason. Even by the end of last season, he hadn't shown enough to warrant a draft pick in the top-100 in most leagues. This year, it's a different story. He has been better in every category and is showing no signs of slowing down as the season progresses. He's ranked right where he should be at the moment.
Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies (Rank: 45; ADP: 104): Conley started like gangbusters, eventually signing a sweet contract extension and accumulating lots of good vibes. Unfortunately, he's looked a lot like last season's Mike Conley for about a month now and is on the verge of finding himself outside of the top 50 pretty soon. Given his mediocre history leading up to this season, I'd be pretty happy if I could trade him for someone who has been underachieving this season. Sell high while you can.
Paul Millsap, PF, Jazz (Rank: 18; ADP: 74): Millsap has just been great. He's become a great scorer by improving his free throw shooting and by having fewer of his shots blocked. All the concerns about Al Jefferson stealing his minutes were unfounded, as Millsap has been too good to take out of the lineup. He'll probably lose a few minutes when Mehmet Okur returns from his injury, but given the dearth of big men on the Jazz, it'll be hard for them to play Millsap fewer than the 35 minutes he's getting right now. He might slip out of the top 20 at some point, but he's an elite fantasy player right now until he proves otherwise.
Andre Miller, PG, Trail Blazers (Rank: 44; ADP: 93.8): In the absence of Brandon Roy, it hasn't been just Wesley Matthews carrying the Blazers in the backcourt. Miller has been just as effective as he was last season, but his game has changed quite a bit. He's boosted his assists while scoring a little less, but most importantly, he's averaging 1.8 steals per game. That would be a career high if he kept it up all season, and he might do that, because he's not slowing down and the Blazers can't play at any slower tempo than they already are this season.
Manu Ginobili, SG, Spurs (Rank: 11; ADP: 59.4): Ginobili is, by all accounts, having the best season of his career, setting career highs in 3s, steals and minutes while coming pretty close in points, assists and free throws. With a guy who gets hurt as much as Ginobili, there's always some risk, but given how steady his production has been, I'd be more worried about trading him for less than he's worth than eventually seeing him get nicked up. I don't see any way a healthy Ginobili falls out of the top 15, so if you do trade him, make sure you're getting fair value.
Raymond Felton, PG, Knicks (Rank: 13; ADP: 60.2): Another guy having the best season of his career, Felton seems to be the beneficiary of playing in a perfect system more than anything else. In that light, his most impressive improvement may be the one he's made at the free throw line, where he's shooting 87 percent for the season. Keep in mind, Felton was picked fifth in the 2005 draft, just after Deron Williams and Chris Paul, so on talent, what he's doing now shouldn't shock anybody; that's as good a reason as any not to trade him.
Kevin Martin, SG, Rockets (Rank: 20; ADP: 66.5): Like Ginobili, Martin just needed to stay healthy to have a great fantasy season. He's suffering his first injury of the season now, having missed the Rockets' win over the Celtics on Monday night with a sprained wrist. Reports indicate he'll be back soon, and it seems like the fact that the Rockets are keeping his minutes down (31.3 per game, his lowest since 2005-06) is helping him stay on the court. Fortunately, he's second only to Kobe Bryant in points per minute, which is keeping him in the upper echelon of fantasy options. Still, he's worth trading simply because he's so brittle.
Kevin Love, PF, Timberwolves (Rank: 7; ADP: 50.4): No one on this list ranked higher to start the season, and no one ranks higher now. Amazingly, he's still getting better. His points, rebounds and shooting percentages all went up from November to December and are all going up again this month. If he could ever start blocking shots, he'd be the best player in fantasy basketball; blocking just one shot per game would bump him ahead of everyone but Chris Paul right now. Do not trade him, because he'll make you regret it.
Ray Allen, SG, Celtics (Rank: 24; ADP: 66.2): A positive contributor in every category save blocks, Ray Allen will probably be on this list every season for the rest of his career. Every season, we write him off, and every season he keeps just knocking down open looks. That said, he also happens to be having his best season as a Celtic and is showing no signs of letting up. I can see trading him for an underachiever with a higher ceiling, like Stephen Curry, but be aware (especially in roto leagues) that when you trade Allen, you're giving up a guy who helps you in the percentages even as he's jacking up a ton of 3s, a rare combination.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com
3hEthan Sherwood Strauss