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Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Player Rater overachievers

By Seth Landman
Special to ESPN.com

Last week, I looked at some players who have underachieved in the first half of the season in fantasy leagues. This time around, I'll look at a few players who have been better than expected, with an eye on the likelihood that they will keep it up the rest of the way. I'm going to focus on players who have outperformed their average draft position (ADP) by at least 50 spots and are currently healthy, so guys like Tim Duncan, Nicolas Batum, Anderson Varejao and some others you might think of are off the list for one reason or the other.

(ADP and current ranking, based on per-game averages, in parentheses)

Andrei Kirilenko
Andrei Kirilenko is having his best season since 2005-06, thanks to playing 35.1 minutes per game.

Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, Minnesota Timberwolves (108.1, 23): In a welcome surprise, Kirilenko's been healthy this season and has followed up his amazing performance for Russia at the Olympics with some of his best basketball in years. When he's healthy, he's always going to be a great fantasy player, chipping in blocks and steals to go along with his solid shooting percentages, his ability to get to the line, and his high assist rate for a forward. None of that has changed this season, and the fact that everyone else on the Wolves' roster seems to be injured most nights means he's had ample opportunity to produce.

Yes, his steals and blocks have regressed a bit from where they were a month ago, but he's still at 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game on the season, and he'll probably hover right around there the rest of the way as long as he's able to stay on the floor. Even better, his game is so well-rounded that as the roster gets healthy around him, he'll be able to create similar overall value in a variety of ways. If you were going to trade him, it would be because you're afraid he might get hurt, but that's a tough thing to predict in sports. If Kirilenko were on my team, I'd need to get a top-30 player back to even think about dealing him.

O.J. Mayo, SG, Dallas Mavericks (83.1, 25): Mayo rode some seriously hot shooting to major value in fantasy leagues in the beginning of the season, but he's managed to pick up his numbers in other areas as his shooting numbers have come back down to earth. Specifically, as his shooting percentage fell from 49 percent to 44 percent from November to December, his steals bumped up from 0.8 per game to 1.7, and those numbers have stayed relatively consistent so far through four games in January. With Mayo, fantasy value is always going to be tied to minutes, and I don't see too many scenarios in which he stops playing heavy minutes for the Mavs this season.

It feels like Mayo's been around forever, but he's still just 25 years old, so as good as he is right now, there's still a little bit of room for improvement. More importantly, it's unlikely he'll start declining any time soon. He's missed just 11 games in his first five seasons in the league, and all of those came during the 2010-11 season. I don't know that he'll be a top-25 player all season, but I certainly don't see him slipping outside of the top 50, and he provides a nice combination of heavy scoring with 3-pointers, steals and a decent amount of assists, too.

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker has improved greatly in his second season, including raising his field goal percentage from .366 to .427.

Kemba Walker, PG/SG, Charlotte Bobcats (92.3, 35): Walker's been great this season, but he's still just a second-year point guard who is slowly improving. Looking a little deeper into the numbers makes this clear. From last season to this season, he's had a slight jump in his usage rate; at the same time, he's cut down a little bit on his turnovers. He's boosted his assist rate while also managing to improve his true shooting percentage. He's a little better on 3s, and just as good at the line while getting there a little more often. All of these are slight improvements that -- taken in the aggregate -- make Walker a much better basketball player (in fantasy leagues, too).

There's one category in which he's turning into a downright force, though, and that's steals. Walker has doubled his steals per game from 0.9 to 1.8 (while his minutes have gone up from 27.2 to 35.5), turning a ho-hum number into a major strength. As such, steals have become his most valuable contribution in fantasy leagues. He's better at getting steals relative to the league than he is at scoring or getting assists. Still, there's not much room for him to improve in that category, so we may be looking at a bit of a plateau in his value for the time being. If he starts shooting 3s at better than 35 percent for a couple of months in a row, we could be looking at a top-20 player, but for now 34 seems just right.

Larry Sanders, PF/C, Milwaukee Bucks (140.0, 38): It doesn't look like Sanders is going anywhere. His minutes continue to hover around the mid-20s, and given his rate of fouling, it's hard to imagine that changing much even under a new coach. Tuesday night against the Suns, Sanders had a great game, finishing with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 steals, but he did all of that in 26 minutes and committed four fouls. You get the idea. Sanders is, amazingly, leading the league in blocks even though he's playing nearly eight fewer minutes per game than Serge Ibaka, and Sanders is also chipping in 8.0 points and 8.3 rebounds for good measure. Those numbers alone make him good enough to hold on to.

However, when a player's contributions fall heavily in one category, you have to be a little careful. Chances are, if you have Sanders, you're doing pretty well in the blocks category in your league, and if you're in a head-to-head league, that's a benefit you'll want to hold onto all season. However, if you're in a roto league, you have to judge how important blocks will be to you as the season progresses. If you could deal Sanders away, might the blocks you've already banked be enough to carry you home? Imagine the strides you could make in steals, assists, 3s and free throw percentage if you found a way to bring someone like Jason Kidd (see below) back in exchange for Sanders. It might not be time yet to pull the trigger, but it's at least worth your consideration.

Jason Kidd, PG/SG, New York Knicks (117.5, 40): As has always been the case, there's no one quite like Jason Kidd. According to basketball-reference.com's play index, only Nate McMillan ever put up 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game while playing fewer than 30 minutes, and while that combination of stats doesn't really tell us all that much, it says something about Kidd's ability to remain relevant in fantasy leagues without putting up huge numbers in the traditional stats or even playing a ton of minutes. Kidd, by the way, makes a whole lot more 3s than McMillan ever did and is putting up these numbers as a 39-year-old.

Because Kidd's stats look so modest, it's hard to imagine getting fair value for him in a trade. No one ahead of him on the Player Rater scores fewer points, not even Joakim Noah. If you were smart enough to get Kidd this season (amazingly, he's actually still available in a few leagues), your best bet is to hold onto him or deal him for someone more one-dimensional who can help you in a category where you need it.