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After beginning the season with an ungodly amount of hoopla and fanfare, things have cooled off a bit around the Brooklyn Nets. They're middle of the road in just about every way you can imagine. They rank right around the middle of the pack in both offensive and defensive efficiency, they score one-tenth of a point more per game than they give up, and they aren't exactly sporting much star power in comparison with the league's other marquee teams.
Most important, the guy who was supposed to be their best player just hasn't been up to the task. Deron Williams' supremacy has been usurped by a shockingly good season out of Brook Lopez (now in the top five in the entire league in PER!), and anyone who used a first-round pick on Williams in fantasy leagues is likely in the cellar of the standings at this point.
I was thinking about Deron Williams the other day, wondering what happened to him, when I pulled up the Player Rater on my browser and saw that he's hovering right around the top 20 overall this season. Obviously, for a guy with an average draft position (ADP) of 5.3, that's a major disappointment. On the other hand, I happily dealt Deron Williams for Pau Gasol in one of my leagues before the big man got injured, and that was during one of the worst stretches of the season for Pau. It is clear that Deron's stock had taken a major hit.
Ultimately, that's how we've arrived at a place where Deron Williams has now become underrated in fantasy leagues. It can happen quickly sometimes, but that's what we're dealing with. For the month of February, Williams averaged a season high 18.7 points including 2.5 made 3-pointers per game. He also chipped in 7.1 assists and shot 86.4 percent from the foul line. Those are monster numbers, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Williams -- still just 28 years of age -- kept them up for the rest of the season.
Who are some other players you might be underrating as we move into the home stretch of the 2012-13 NBA season? Glad you asked.
(Ranking based on per game averages in parentheses)
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers (33): Griffin hasn't been a top-50 fantasy player before, which could come as a surprise given the fact that he's universally considered one of the 15 or so best basketball players in the world. The problem has always been his free throw shooting; after shooting just 64 percent from the line as a rookie, he plummeted to 52 percent his second time around. This year, he's up to 66 percent, and while that's nothing to write home about, when you couple it with the fact that he's shooting fewer free throws, it starts to look like a slight weakness instead of a deal-breaker for carrying him on your roster.
Griffin is doing one other thing that's increasing his fantasy value by leaps and bounds: He's getting a ton of steals. He's racking up 1.4 steals per game, which might not sound like much until I point out that it is first among players eligible only at power forward (among all players eligible at the position, he's still an impressive seventh on the Player Rater). If Griffin can boost his free throw shooting just a little bit more next season, we could have a new contender for the top 20 on our hands.
Larry Sanders, PF/C, Milwaukee Bucks (37): Now among the most popular players in the league among the NBA League Pass crowd, Sanders came out of nowhere this season. Consider that, in his scouting report on Sanders heading into this season on ESPN.com, John Hollinger wrote that Sanders was a "below-average rebounder." All we knew about Sanders coming into this season was that he could dunk and block shots. He has done those things, particularly the latter, amazingly well.
What makes him special, though, is actually his combination of rebounding and blocking shots. Amazingly, he's the only active player on the list of guys who have averaged at least nine rebounds and three blocks for a season before the age of 25 (assuming Sanders keeps those numbers up the rest of the way). That list is populated by names such as David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, etc. While Sanders isn't on the level of those guys offensively, he's still a terrifically valuable fantasy player. The only wart on his fantasy résumé is that he's shooting 58.5 percent from the line, but that's up from last season's 47.4 percent, so maybe there's room for improvement. It will be interesting to see whether Sanders gets drafted ahead of guys such as Al Jefferson and DeMarcus Cousins heading into next season.
Kyle Korver, SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks (59): You're already shocked. Isn't it crazy that Korver is rated this high on the Player Rater? I look at this list all the time, and even I am almost always surprised when I see his name this high. That's because it's easy to think of Korver as just a guy who makes a lot of 3s. Obviously, there's more to it than that. He's a little banged up right now -- questionable for Wednesday night's game against the Philadelphia 76ers after missing Monday night's game against the Denver Nuggets -- so I'll go easy on the praise, but let's start with the fact that he's posting a positive value in every single category on the Player Rater. He gets 1.0 steals per game; not great, but it helps. It's the same with his 0.5 blocks, and it's the same with his 45.7 percent shooting from the floor (which is extremely impressive and valuable when you consider that 71 percent of his field goal attempts are 3-pointers). The list goes on.
As an impending free agent, Korver's status for next season is unclear, but if he winds up back on the Hawks as a starter again, you can be sure his average draft position will be a lot higher than 140. Amazingly, he's still actually available in quite a few leagues, which I'll just take as proof that no one in those leagues is actually checking rosters anymore.
Shawn Marion, SF/PF, Dallas Mavericks (72): Once a formidable fantasy force, Marion's fantasy goodness seems to have become a tad overlooked. Nothing about his numbers stands out, but he does a lot of things that will help you in fantasy leagues. His best categories are rebounding (8.0 per game is pretty exciting if you're using him as a small forward), and field goal percentage (50 percent from the floor is always a good thing). Still, he chips in enough to be of some value nearly all the way across the board. The only category in which he's a negative is 3-point shooting: He's made only 18 3s so far this season, and isn't likely to rebound to his Phoenix levels any time soon.
Marion's ADP was 117.4, and given last season's numbers, that was probably fair, but he's 34 years old, not 40, so he probably has at least one or two seasons left in the tank, and he's signed with the Mavericks through next season, so keep him in mind when you're nearing the end of next season's draft and just want a guy who will chip in a little here and there without hurting your team at all.