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Monday, January 9, 2012
Early-season numbers with bite

By Brian McKitish
Special to ESPN.com

It's been an exciting two weeks of action in the NBA, and while it's still early, we're already starting to see some trends that could last the duration of the season. Many of these trends are reflected in the weekly rankings update, but let's examine the numbers in more depth:

68: Number of 3-pointers made by Carmelo Anthony in 35 games as a Knick under Mike D'Antoni, which is close to 2.0 per game. Even more impressive is the fact that he's shooting 41 percent from downtown during that time. I can't stress enough how important this is to his fantasy value, and I've moved him up five spots into the top 10 this week -- which is still probably too low. Melo might be a big name, but I'm not sure if his owners truly appreciate his fantasy value. In fact, I'm considering offering Durant for Melo plus a throw-in upgrade in one of my leagues.

36.1: Minutes per game for Kobe Bryant after a brutal 10-game stretch. In case you couldn't tell by his move up in the rankings, yes, I am absolutely buying into what Kobe is selling early in the season. Look, I know that Kobe's wrist is hanging on by a thread, but he's always played through pain in his career, and he has that look in his eye like he's going to carry the Lakers on his shoulders this season. Mike Brown may rest him later in the season after they lock up a playoff spot, but I'm not expecting Kobe to show any ill effects of the wrist injury or condensed season until then.

The Top 130

Note: Brian McKitish's top 130 players are ranked for their fantasy value from this point forward in the 2011-12 NBA season. Previous rank is indicated in parentheses.

1. LeBron James, SF, MIA (2)
2. Kevin Durant, SF, OKC (1)
3. Chris Paul, PG, LAC (3)
4. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (6)
5. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (4)
6. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (5)
7. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (8)
8. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (7)
9. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (9)
10. Carmelo Anthony, SF, NY (15)
11. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (14)
12. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (11)
13. Deron Williams, PG, NJ (12)
14. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (10)
15. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (16)
16. Al Jefferson, C/PF, UTAH (18)
17. Amare Stoudemire, C/PF, NY (17)
18. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (13)
19. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C, POR (19)
20. Kyle Lowry, PG, HOU (20)
21. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (21)
22. John Wall, PG, WSH (22)
23. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (25)
24. Blake Griffin, PF, LAC (24)
25. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (26)
26. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (29)
27. Andre Iguodala, SF/SG, PHI (27)
28. Ty Lawson, PG, DEN (30)
29. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (38)
30. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (31)
31. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (33)
32. Chris Bosh, PF/C, MIA (35)
33. Kevin Martin, SG, HOU (34)
34. Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, DEN (50)
35. Danny Granger, SF, IND (32)
36. JaVale McGee, C, WSH (37)
37. Marcin Gortat, C, PHO (46)
38. Greg Monroe, PF/C, DET (49)
39. Andrea Bargnani, C/PF, TOR (52)
40. Marcus Thornton, SG, SAC (53)
41. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (40)
42. David Lee, PF/C, GS (41)
43. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (42)
44. Jrue Holiday, PG, PHI (43)
45. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (54)
46. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (51)
47. Serge Ibaka, C/PF, OKC (39)
48. James Harden, SG, OKC (55)
49. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, POR (47)
50. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (48)
51. Nene, C/PF, DEN (45)
52. Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, SAC (44)
53. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (57)
54. DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, SAC (76)
55. Andray Blatche, PF, WSH (59)
56. Boris Diaw, PF/SF/C, CHA (66)
57. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (64)
58. Paul Millsap, PF, UTAH (67)
59. Carlos Boozer, PF, CHI (61)
60. Mike Conley, PG, MEM (60)
61. Raymond Felton, PG, POR (56)
62. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, MIL (62)
63. Jose Calderon, PG, TOR (79)
64. Ryan Anderson, PF, ORL (84)
65. Eric Gordon, SG, NO (23)
66. Wesley Matthews, SG/SF, POR (68)
67. D.J. Augustin, PG, CHA (99)
68. Tyson Chandler, C, NY (70)
69. Jarrett Jack, PG/SG, NO (74)
70. Kris Humphries, PF, NJ (73)
71. Darren Collison, PG, IND (72)
72. David West, PF, IND (63)
73. Tony Parker, PG, SA (75)
74. Jason Terry, SG, DAL (78)
75. Luis Scola, PF, HOU (65)
76. Kyrie Irving, PG, CLE (82)
77. Ricky Rubio, PG, MIN (86)
78. Devin Harris, PG, UTAH (71)
79. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (80)
80. DeAndre Jordan, C, LAC (81)
81. Anderson Varejao, PF/C, CLE (83)
82. Spencer Hawes, C, PHI (98)
83. DeMar DeRozan, SG, TOR (92)
84. Chauncey Billups, PG/SG, LAC (85)
85. Iman Shumpert, PG, NY (NR)
86. Channing Frye, PF/C, PHO (77)
87. Jeff Teague, PG, ATL (87)
88. Dorell Wright, SF, GS (58)
89. Al Harrington, PF, DEN (97)
90. Antawn Jamison, PF, CLE (95)
91. Nicolas Batum, SF, POR (89)
92. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, ORL (108)
93. Chris Kaman, C, NO (94)
94. Tim Duncan, PF/C, SA (96)
95. Jared Dudley, SF/SG, PHO (91)
96. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (90)
97. Gerald Henderson, SG, CHA (104)
98. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, POR (101)
99. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (69)
100. Michael Beasley, SF/PF, MIN (88)
101. Caron Butler, SF, LAC (110)
102. Nick Young, SG, WSH (112)
103. Amir Johnson, PF/C, TOR (111)
104. Paul George, SF/SG, IND (113)
105. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (102)
106. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (36)
107. Carlos Delfino, SF/SG, MIL (103)
108. Andre Miller, PG, DEN (109)
109. Tyrus Thomas, PF, CHA (NR)
110. Arron Afflalo, SG, DEN (107)
111. Richard Jefferson, SF, SA (NR)
112. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (93)
113. Mario Chalmers, PG, MIA (NR)
114. Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, DET (106)
115. Ben Gordon, SG, DET (115)
116. Carl Landry, PF, NO (117)
117. Tony Allen, SG, MEM (NR)
118. Samuel Dalembert, C, HOU (105)
119. DeJuan Blair, C/PF, SA (119)
120. MarShon Brooks, SG, NJ (NR)
121. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, DAL (118)
122. Derrick Favors, PF, UTAH (122)
123. Marreese Speights, PF/C, MEM (NR)
124. Thaddeus Young, SF/PF, PHI (123)
125. Jason Richardson, SG, ORL (124)
126. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (28)
127. Richard Hamilton, SG, CHI (121)
128. Lamar Odom, PF, DAL (120)
129. Trevor Ariza, SF/SG, NO (114)
130. Lou Williams, PG/SG, PHI (128)

2.0: Steals per game for Knicks rookie, and my newest man-crush, Iman Shumpert. If you follow me on Twitter (@bmckitish), you're probably already sick of hearing me talk about him. What can I say? I love the kid's athleticism and tenacity at both ends of the court. I know it's early, but I'm already sold on his long-term potential. A lot of people are going to look at his dismal 3-point shooting in college to say that he won't be able to keep up this pace from downtown, but I still remember Mike D'Antoni's response to the blood-thirsty New York media after selecting Shumpert 17th overall in last year's NBA draft. D'Antoni and the Knicks argued that not only was Shumpert's pre-draft workout one of the best they've ever seen, but that his shooting form was picture perfect. From what I've seen so far, I can't disagree.

5: The number of 3-pointers DeMar DeRozan made last Wednesday night after going 5-for-52 from downtown last season. I don't think that DeRozan is suddenly going to become a lights-out shooter from behind the arc, but it's clear that he worked on his shot in the offseason. If he can just provide 1.0-1.3 3-pointers per game (and it's looking like he can), I'll have to face the music and remove him from my preseason "hate" list.

843: Ankle injuries for Stephen Curry since the start of the 2010-11 season. OK, it's more like seven by my count, but it feels like it's been 843, right? The good news is that he seems to return fairly quickly (and effectively) from each injury; the bad news is that he seems to be walking on a glass ankle. Curry is obviously a top-10 fantasy player when healthy, but these ankle issues are concerning to say the least. If (and that's a big if) you can get top-20 value for him in trade negotiations, feel free to pull the trigger.

5.0: Offensive rebounds per game for DeMarcus Cousins, which ranks second in the league behind Kevin Love. Cousins was a top-20 offensive rebounder last season, and he's picked up right where he left off despite his early-season spat with the Kings brass. Now that Paul Westphal is out of town, I feel slightly more comfortable owning Cousins, but Cousins is so volatile that he could have a swing of 30 spots in either direction in my rankings on any given week.

6.5: Shots per game for Dorell Wright after putting up 14.0 shots per game last season. I had warned of a letdown for Wright this season, but not even I expected this. With averages of just 5.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.6 3-pointers in 29.1 minutes per game, he is barely worthy of a roster spot in standard fantasy formats. Wright isn't this bad, nor is he as good as he showed last season, but it's hard to get excited about him returning to form when he appears to be an afterthought in the Golden State offense. I'd recommend holding him for another two weeks to see if he can turn things around before cutting bait.

.244: 3-point field goal percentage for Danilo Gallinari, who is a career 37 percent shooter from downtown. If you think the Rooster is having a good season now with 16.9 points, 5.4 boards, 1.9 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.1 3-pointers, wait until he starts connecting from long distance. It feels odd calling a guy who currently ranks 22nd on our Player Rater a buy-low candidate, but he has the potential to be better than he's been thus far.

3.33: Assist-to-turnover ratio for Bobcats point guard D.J. Augustin, which ranks eighth in the league. Augustin loves playing for head coach Paul Silas, and it's clear from his play that his confidence is sky high. With 16.9 points, 8.0 assists and 1.9 3-pointers, Augustin is putting together a fantastic season despite rookie Kemba Walker's presence. I'll admit, I underrated D.J. to begin the season, but he's proving me and a lot of others wrong.

3.7: Blocks per 48 minutes for Cavaliers rookie Tristan Thompson. He's still way too raw to earn enough playing time to make a difference in standard fantasy leagues, but I'm liking what I see in store for his future if he can refine his game a little bit. Keep Thompson on your watch list for later in the season when the Cavs are ready to give him 30 minutes per night. I should also note that fellow rookie Kyrie Irving is a future fantasy superstar in the making. Even as a rookie, he'll have more ups than downs, and his upside is off the charts, especially given his propensity to block shots as a trailer a la LeBron James.

4.5: Assists per game for 38-year-old Jason Kidd. We used to deal with his terrible shooting percentage (30.8 percent) and lack of scoring (4.9 points per game) because he'd get us 8-9 assists with a bundle of steals and 3-pointers, but Kidd is really starting to show his age early this season. To make matters worse, he's now dealing with a back injury. With averages of just 4.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.5 3-pointers, Kidd should still be owned in standard fantasy formats, but it's clear that he's going to struggle with the rigors of the condensed NBA schedule. Delonte West and Rodrigue Beaubois, by the way, should be on everyone's watch list given the concerns around Kidd.

2: Three-point field goal attempts for this year's biggest early-season surprise, Spencer Hawes. Now attempting more shots in the 15-23 foot range than ever before, the realization that he is not a 3-point shooter has been instrumental in his growth as a player. With averages of 12.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 0.9 steals while shooting 64.6 from the floor, Hawes won't be this good all season, but he will continue to pay off for anyone who scooped him off the waiver wire last week. Meanwhile, Hawes is killing the value of Elton Brand in Philadelphia. Brand is posting just 8.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 27.6 minutes per game and is in danger of being a drop candidate in standard fantasy formats.

14.7: Assists per 48 minutes for Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry, best in the league. He's real and he's spectacular, folks.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and was named the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2011. He can be reached at bmckitish@yahoo.com, or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.