Are Holiday, Redick, Sanders, Lin as good as their hot starts say?
For this season's inaugural look at the Player Rater, I thought we'd take a peek at the rankings based on per-game averages to see which players might be much, much better than we thought they'd be. Let's keep in mind, however, the volatility of the Player Rater this early in the season. Make 4.5 3-pointers per game while knocking down two thirds of your attempts through four games (I'm looking at you here, O.J. Mayo), and you're liable to find yourself much higher in the rankings than you probably should be.
(current ranking based on per-game averages in parentheses)
Jrue Holiday, PG, Philadelphia 76ers (11): What we've seen out of Holiday so far this season is, of course, subject to change once Andrew Bynum returns to the 76ers lineup. Bynum is a major presence who will entirely change the way the team plays on both ends of the floor, so it's important not to read too much into what happens without him. Still, basketball fans have been waiting for Holiday to break out for years, and in the midst of Philly's early-season struggles (two losses to the New York Knicks after an impressive beat-down of the Denver Nuggets), Holiday has been a bright spot. He can't keep making over 50 percent of his 3s, but he's shown an increased ability to get to the line, and seems to be maxing out his capabilities as a passer as well. This all bodes well, as does his improvement at the line and his consistency as a source of steals. Holiday is an extremely talented player; it's surprising to see him ahead of guys like Rajon Rondo, Ty Lawson, and Russell Westbrook in the rankings, but it's not the absurd reach it would have seemed to be a few weeks ago. We'll see over the coming weeks whether he can sustain it.
Anderson Varejao, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers (18): Varejao has missed gigantic chunks of five out of the eight seasons he's been in the NBA prior to this one, so it's not like he's ever going to be a sure thing, but I think at this stage we're long past the point where we should be surprised in the least at how productive he is. Is he capable of putting up 14 points and 15 rebounds per game over the course of an entire season? Probably not, but he can certainly post a robust double-double as the dive-man in an onslaught of screen-and-rolls with Kyrie Irving. He's been posting solid rebound rates for years, and has a knack for racking up just enough steals and blocks to be a factor in those areas as well. You could try to sell high on him out of fear that he'll get hurt, but it's worth reminding yourself that predicting injuries is a tricky enterprise best left to, well, probably no one. You can expect his percentages, obviously, to fall off a bit, but he's more than capable of being one of the premier fantasy big men all season.
Jeremy Lin, PG, Houston Rockets (24): It's hard to say if Lin's high ranking through three games is a surprise or not; certainly, if you believe Lin's performance last season was no fluke (and I do), then his numbers so far this season are no surprise to you. On the other hand, his percentages are very low so far, and those declines are being offset by production in rebounds and steals that, while encouraging, feels a bit unsustainable. You can add to those concerns the fact that he hasn't gotten to the line with the same vigor he did during his ascendance last season either. Basically, when you add it all up, it seems like Lin is going to be a little worse than he's been so far this season. Even so, it looks like he's going to be a top-50 fantasy option if he stays healthy, and that alone makes him an excellent value for where he was drafted.
J.J. Redick, SG, Orlando Magic (35): I wrote about his elite production in 3s and free throw percentage in the shooting guards preview in our draft kit, but it's worth repeating: Redick is an ideal player in fantasy leagues. He doesn't hurt you in any way and provides value in categories where you probably need it. What we all may have missed is the upside. Redick has averaged 6.3 assists through his first three games. Among shooting guards who played as many minutes per game as Redick last season, only Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry, Gordon Hayward, and James Harden had a better assist rate, so this is no fluke. Yes, he'll cool off a little, and might see a slight decline in minutes once Jameer Nelson returns to the lineup, but it's clear at this point that Redick is going to be an important player in fantasy leagues; I'd expect to see him in the top 50 at the end of the season.
Larry Sanders, PF/C, Milwaukee Bucks (44): Guys who block shots are always valuable in fantasy leagues, but when they start to flash a halfway decent offensive game, that's when we really need to pay attention. Sanders, in the early going, seems to be a bigger part in the Bucks' rotation than guys like Samuel Dalembert and Ekpe Udoh (and Drew Gooden, who is already racking up DNP-CDs), and given his ability to rebound, block shots, and finish around the rim, he's got a chance to provide big value all season if he can keep playing somewhere around 25 minutes per game. The Bucks have been good so far, and it's only two games, but Sanders has been a major part of that. If you need blocks, and have some space on your roster, it's a good bet that Sanders will continue to be worth a spot on your team all season.
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, New Orleans Hornets (45): I haven't always been a fan of Aminu's game, but early on this season he's beginning to remind me of a younger Gerald Wallace. Remember, before Wallace left Sacramento early in his career, he was seen as a great athlete who still needed to figure out how to play basketball. When he got to Charlotte as a 22-year-old, in spite of a less-than-effective offensive game, he averaged 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks and became a valuable player in fantasy leagues. Early on this season, Aminu's athleticism has made him an effective two-way player, and while I'm less excited about his offensive potential, I'm all-in on his defense. He's capable of staying north of 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks all season, but even numbers slightly lower than those would make him a steal in fantasy leagues. He's removed the ill-advised 3-pointer from his arsenal and is crashing the glass more effectively than ever before. If he's still available in your league (getting less likely by the minute), pick him up ASAP.