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Monday, January 12, 2009
Player Rater: Aldridge shows signs of improvement

By Seth Landman
Special to ESPN.com

LaMarcus Aldridge is the sort of player who consistently puts up solid numbers, but not the gaudy sort that get noticed in the fantasy world. He's averaging 17.6 points but an underwhelming 6.9 rebounds per game this season, and you can expect that performance from him almost every night. However, Aldridge is showing signs that he might be even better. His averages in almost every meaningful category have improved every month this season, and in four January games, he's averaging 21.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 50 percent shooting from the floor.

The main concern with Aldridge is his rebounding rate, which has been poor this season and hasn't been strong in the past, either. But this time around, his rebound rate has dipped to career-low levels. On the one hand, this drop is largely due to the presence of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla. On the other hand, Aldridge has yet to show at any point in his career that he can be a dominant rebounder, even though he has all the tools to be one.

Aldridge has displayed an uncanny ability to take care of the ball, make open jump shots and find his teammates. In these areas, he continues to improve, and when you find a player in fantasy who can score and get you a decent number of steals and blocks, you hold on to that player for dear life. My money is on Aldridge improving even more as the season wears on, even in the rebounding category. He currently sits at No. 55 on the Player Rater, and I'd expect him to be ranked in the 30s when the season is all said and done. I think he'll be a third- or fourth-round pick in next season's fantasy drafts.

Going up

Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has done wonders recently as the Thunder's starting point guard.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder (80): I know I write about Westbrook a lot, but he really deserves it. The rookie is firmly entrenched in the starting lineup (and has been for a couple of months now) and is posting some fantastic numbers. In his past five games, he's averaging 16.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1 steal per game. Even better, he's turning the ball over far less frequently while seeing more minutes than he did earlier in the season. He should be in the running for rookie of the year, so if you can still trade for him, you'll want to act soon.

Andre Miller, PG, 76ers (40): After a really awful November in which he averaged just 13.6 points, 5.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds on 42 percent shooting from the floor, Miller has played much better. In fact, he's on fire lately. In six January games, he's putting up 20.5 points, 5.7 assists and 6.0 rebounds, and he's shooting 60 percent from the floor. The truth lies somewhere in between. Miller is nothing, however, if not durable, and he should be one of the more valuable players down the stretch simply by virtue of his uncanny ability to remain on the court. If you can trade someone who's playing well but is an injury risk for Miller, you'll likely benefit in the long run, even if the per-game averages don't entirely jibe.

Eric Gordon, SG, Clippers (82): Although Gordon has posted some huge scoring numbers (22.6 points per game in his past five), he's still working out the kinks in his game. First of all, the Clippers haven't won any of those games, even on nights when Gordon has scored 30 or more points. Second, Gordon already has NBA defenses keying on him less than halfway through his rookie campaign, so he's wearing some heavy shoes. But he's scoring a lot lately while struggling from the floor. Gordon has a great stroke, so I'm reasonably certain he'll stop killing your field goal percentage at some point in the coming weeks. The thing to like most about Gordon is that he's getting to the line like a man on a mission (46 attempts in the past five games) and, once there, is converting (42 makes). That allows him to score 14 points on a night when he's only 2-for-14 from the floor, and that means you and Gordon should remain productive through the occasional shooting slump.

Going down

Jameer Nelson
How much longer can Jameer Nelson keep up his shooting percentage?
Jameer Nelson, PG, Magic (35): I really love how Nelson has played this season for the Magic, and I'm one of many who feel his improvement is the major reason his team is so much better than it was last season. However, Nelson has been making 54.4 percent of his two-point jump shots according to 82games.com, and that number is likely to decline as the season wears on. In fact, Nelson has shot only 38 percent from the floor in his past five games, even though he has made 43 percent of his 3-pointers in that stretch. If his field goal shooting falls closer to last season's levels, he'll score fewer points, as the bump in shooting is responsible for his posting the best scoring rate of his career. He has been playing well long enough that you could trade him for a better option, but be careful. I think his value will fall, but not precipitously. He's still a very good point guard, no matter how fluky his shooting has been.

David Lee, PF, Knicks (43): Lee gets his value mostly from two categories -- field goal percentage and rebounding. In both categories, he is extremely valuable. What's more, he's doing those things very well. He has been shooting 58 percent and averaging 12.8 rebounds per game in his past five contests. But Lee can't play any better than this. He doesn't have to create his own offense, so he's playing in a perfect system; the Knicks play a fast-paced offense that allows for plenty of rebounds. His ability to find good position makes him even more valuable because the Knicks play a chaotic style that allows Lee to find space and make easy baskets. But even in that system, he's not about to start averaging 20 points per game (he's at 14.7 for the season), blocking shots or finding his teammates for assists. So, Lee owners, be aware that what you have is the best version of Lee, who could get traded in the coming weeks. As such, now is as good a time as any to try to trade him, before rumors start coming out that he could end up in Portland or another team playing on the slow-paced end of the spectrum.

Trevor Ariza, SF, Lakers (102): Many people have jumped on the Ariza bandwagon of late, mostly because of his contributions in the hustle stats. He gets a lot of steals and the occasional block, and meanwhile doesn't turn the ball over very much. What's more, he has an extremely good Player Efficiency Rating for a bench player, so there is the sense that he deserves more minutes (which is true). But Ariza's hot streak has coincided with Lamar Odom's injury, and Ariza is playing on what is probably the deepest team in the league. Once Odom returns, his minutes likely will start to dry up. Even without Odom in the lineup, Ariza was utterly ineffective against the Heat on Sunday night, and the Lakers have been giving Josh Powell a look off the bench for some decent minutes. If you picked up Ariza recently, see if you can pawn him off on someone who is desperate for steals. If you can get something of value, it might be better than Ariza, who will be good when he plays but likely won't get any sort of consistent minutes any time soon.

Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.