We're barely even a week into the NBA season, so I suppose that I'm bound by some sort of unwritten contract to warn you about the dangers of panicking this early in the season. There, I fulfilled my obligation; now let's get to the introductions.
When my editors told me that I could freelance and write about whatever I wanted in my column as long as it related to fantasy hoops and included my top-130 rankings, I imagine I felt a lot like Steve Nash when he learned that the Suns would be going back to the up-tempo offense. I have a feeling my editors might regret that decision when I turn this in considering that this might be double the word count that they were expecting when it's all said and done. What can I say? It's the first week of the season and thanks to NBA League Pass, I've watched more than my fair share of hoops (almost enough to get me banished to the couch, I might add). I might as well get my money's worth. So I figured that I'd take a run through the league and offer my thoughts on the first week of action for all 30 teams, focusing mostly on players who have been hot topics in my reader e-mails during the past few weeks.
A few quick notes about the top-130 rankings before we start. Ranking 130 players may seem like an arbitrary number, but it's not. That is the exact number of players who are owned in standard ESPN formats. Basically, this is a list of all the players whom I feel should be owned in standard fantasy leagues. I should also note that my personal preseason rankings were fairly different from the draft kit rankings prior to the season. So don't put too much emphasis on the change in value this first week. Take Marcus Camby for instance. He's dropped 18 spots in the rankings despite playing very well in early action. That's only because I felt that his initial ranking of 48 was a little too high for the injury-prone big man.
The Top 130
Note:Brian McKitish's Top 130 are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN's preseason ranking is indicated in parentheses.
1. LeBron James, SF, CLE (2)
2. Chris Paul, PG, NO (1)
3. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (6)
4. Kevin Durant, SG/SF, OKC (3)
5. Danny Granger, SF, IND (4)
6. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (5)
7. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (7)
8. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (8)
9. Deron Williams, PG, UTA (9)
10. Chris Bosh, PF/C, TOR (10)
11. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (15)
12. Brandon Roy, SG, POR (16)
13. Amar'e Stoudemire, C/PF, PHO (13)
14. Carmelo Anthony, SF, DEN (18)
15. Al Jefferson, C, MIN (12)
16. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (11)
17. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, PHI (14)
18. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (20)
19. Chauncey Billups, PG, DEN (17)
20. Gilbert Arenas, PG, WAS (33)
21. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (23)
22. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (40)
23. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (24)
24. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (29)
25. Devin Harris, PG, NJ (31)
26. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (36)
27. Kevin Martin, SG, SAC (30)
28. Tim Duncan, C/PF, SA (21)
29. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (19)
30. Vince Carter, SG/SF, ORL (38)
31. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, CHA (34)
32. David West, PF, NO (22)
33. Caron Butler, SF, WAS (35)
34. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (37)
35. Troy Murphy, PF/C, IND (26)
36. Jose Calderon, PG, TOR (25)
37. Rashard Lewis, SF/PF, ORL (43)
38. Baron Davis, PG, LAC (39)
39. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (47)
40. Nene, C/PF, DEN (44)
41. Carlos Boozer, PF, UTA (32)
42. Andris Biedrins, C, GS (46)
43. David Lee, PF/C, NY (28)
44. Jason Richardson, SG/SF, PHO (76)
45. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (41)
46. Andrea Bargnani, PF/C, TOR (67)
47. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, GS (45)
48. Mehmet Okur, C, UTA (49)
49. Al Harrington, PF, NY (50)
50. Mo Williams, PG, CLE (51)
51. Ben Gordon, SG, DET (52)
52. Jeff Green, SF/PF, OKC (66)
53. Eric Gordon, SG, LAC (54)
54. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, TOR (64)
55. Tony Parker, PG, SA (56)
56. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (57)
57. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, DAL (77)
58. Antawn Jamison, PF, WAS (42)
59. O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM (53)
60. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (55)
61. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (60)
62. Tyrus Thomas, PF, CHI (61)
63. Boris Diaw, PF/SF, CHA (63)
64. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (72)
65. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (80)
66. Marcus Camby, C/PF, LAC (48)
67. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, POR (58)
68. Chris Kaman, C, LAC (99)
69. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (74)
70. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (65)
71. John Salmons, SG/SF, CHI (70)
72. Thaddeus Young, SF, PHI (71)
73. Jason Terry, SG/PG, DAL (73)
74. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (100)
75. Michael Redd, SG, MIL (59)
76. Allen Iverson, SG/PG, MEM (75)
77. Lou Williams, PG/SG, PHI (106)
78. Trevor Ariza, SF, HOU (97)
79. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (27)
80. J.R. Smith, SG, DEN (84)
81. Raymond Felton, PG, CHA (87)
82. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (141)
83. Andre Miller, PG, POR (62)
84. Anthony Randolph, PF/SF, GS (89)
85. Paul Millsap, PF, UTA (83)
86. Richard Hamilton, SG, DET (91)
87. Luis Scola, PF/C, HOU (82)
88. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (78)
89. Rodney Stuckey, PG, DET (96)
90. Mario Chalmers, PG, MIA (79)
91. Aaron Brooks, PG, HOU (112)
92. Mike Bibby, PG, ATL (90)
93. Lamar Odom, PF/SF, LAL (105)
94. Michael Beasley, PF/SF, MIA (128)
95. Charlie Villanueva, PF/SF, DET (68)
96. Wilson Chandler, SF, NY (108)
97. T.J. Ford, PG, IND (95)
98. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (111)
99. Greg Oden, C, POR (115)
100. L. Barbosa, SG/PG, PHO (118)
101. Grant Hill, SF, PHO (119)
102. Jermaine O'Neal, C, MIA (121)
103. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (88)
104. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, ATL (98)
105. Ron Artest, SF, LAL (69)
106. Josh Howard, SG/SF, DAL (81)
107. Mike Conley, PG, MEM (85)
108. Tyreke Evans, PG, SAC (143)
109. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (189)
110. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (149)
111. Richard Jefferson, SF, SA (107)
112. Ronnie Brewer, SG, UTA (116)
113. Jonny Flynn, PG, MIN (122)
114. Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, UTA (92)
115. Channing Frye, PF/C, PHO (227)
116. Brad Miller, C, CHI (109)
117. Jason Thompson, PF, SAC (131)
118. D.J. Augustin, PG, CHA (86)
119. Spencer Hawes, C, SAC (94)
120. Andray Blatche, PF/C, WAS (177)
121. Mike Miller, SG/SF, WAS (117)
122. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (157)
123. Marvin Williams, SF, ATL (132)
124. Randy Foye, SG/PG, WAS (130)
125. Yi Jianlian, PF/SF, NJ (219)
126. Chris Duhon, PG, NY (129)
127. Courtney Lee, SG, NJ (138)
128. Danilo Gallinari, SF, NY (209)
129. Marreese Speights, PF/C, PHI(165)
130. Kirk Hinrich, SG/PG, CHI (113)
It's a good news/bad news type of situation for Kevin Garnett owners. The good news is that KG has looked healthy and active on the defensive end (2.0 blocks, 1.0 steals) in the early going. The bad news is that he's averaging just 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds and is seeing only 28.0 minutes per game thus far. Needless to say, it's going to be extremely tough for him to return to dominance if Doc Rivers continues to limit him to less than 30 minutes per game.
Rasheed Wallace adds some serious depth to the Celtics' roster, but he won't offer much fantasy value unless you're in the market for a 3-point specialist. Sure, he may hit two-plus 3-pointers per game on the season, but that's about all you'll get. Feel free to dump him if you don't need the treys.
If you didn't believe in Lou Williams before the season, I hope you do now. Averaging 20.3 points, 5.3 boards, 5.0 assists, 1.7 steals and a 3-pointer through three contests, Williams certainly looks like the real deal. OK, for full disclosure it should be noted that his numbers are slightly inflated thanks to the Knicks' porous defense, but he's had a great start nonetheless.
My colleague Josh Whitling pimped Sixers second-year big man Marreese Speights as a potential pickup last week. I'll second that, especially given that both Samuel Dalembert and Elton Brand have struggled in early action.
New Jersey Nets
The Nets might not be a good team yet, but they're awfully fun to watch. Brook Lopez and Devin Harris you know about, but Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Yi Jianlian and Terrence Williams are all up-and-comers with underrated fantasy value. I like Lee and Yi the best of that group, mostly because they're earning 39.7 and 34.0 minutes per game, respectively. That said, Williams may be the most intriguing fantasy option of the bunch. He has serious multicategory potential and is averaging 10.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals and a 3-pointer in just 26.3 minutes per game.
New York Knicks
I still have some concerns about Danilo Gallinari's ability to stay healthy and remain consistent, but wow has this kid come out on fire from downtown with 18 3-pointers in his first three contests. If there's anything we've learned about Mike D'Antoni over the years, it's that any player can have value if he fits into his system, and the Rooster certainly seems to fit here. If there's any downside, it's that Gallinari's emergence seems to have zapped Nate Robinson's fantasy value. Hang on to Nate in deeper formats, but feel free to part ways in 10-team formats.
Can you say contract year? Chris Bosh can, and he's playing like it, with 31.0 points, 14.7 rebounds and a block per game through his first three. Most impressive is that two of the teams he's faced have had a big-time inside presence: Orlando and Cleveland. Almost as impressive has been the play of Andrea Bargnani, who has drained eight 3-pointers and is averaging 22.0 points against the same tough competition. Expect big things from both Bosh and Bargnani this season.
Despite not scoring as much as we've become accustomed to, LeBron James currently ranks first on our Player Rater. And he might just hold that ranking all season long. Sorry Chris Paul, I love ya, but LeBron blocks shots and I love that more. Meanwhile, LeBron and Mo Williams are the only two Cavaliers who cracked my rankings. Shaquille O'Neal and Anderson Varejao were close, but didn't quite make the cut.
Derrick Rose looks healthy and explosive coming off an ankle injury, but it's not yet showing up in the box scores. Don't go crazy over his somewhat pedestrian stats to this point.
Don't be afraid to give Kirk Hinrich a look in deeper fantasy formats. With Ben Gordon out of town, Hinrich is primed for a bounce-back season and has started strong with 12.0 points and 4.5 assists while adding a steal and a 3-pointer per game.
Brandon Jennings has the potential to be something special in the fantasy game. The kid is lighting quick and extremely creative with the ball, plus he's destroying Luke Ridnour in the minutes department with 33.0 minutes to Ridnour's 15.5. Jennings will be inconsistent at times, but he will battle with Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry and Jonny Flynn for fantasy rookie of the year now that Blake Griffin is on the shelf.
Charlie Villanueva is coming off an injury and dealing with an illness, which helps to explain his painful start to the season (9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 3-pointers). You have to hold on to him for now, but his inconsistent act is starting to wear thin on the fantasy crowd.
Who knew that coach Jim O'Brien had a doghouse big enough to fit both T.J. Ford and Brandon Rush? I was expecting big things from both players coming into the season, but Ford has lost time to Earl Watson and is seeing just 22.0 minutes per game while Rush is seeing just 16.0 minutes thanks to Dahntay Jones' emergence. Hold your ground on Ford. The more the Pacers lose, the more O'Brien will realize that he needs Ford on the court. Rush, on the other hand, is now waiver-wire fodder.
Keep a close eye on the Roy Hibbert/Solomon Jones position battle. I fully expect Hibbert to come out on top, but it's worth noting that both players can contribute in boards/blocks when given the opportunity.
It's been Ryan Anderson, not Brandon Bass, who has stepped up in the absence of Rashard Lewis. Anderson has hit 11 3-pointers in three contests and looks like a great short-term pickup. Don't expect much, however, once Lewis (and Vince Carter) return to action. As for Bass, if he's not going to produce now, we can pretty much write him off for the season.
Jameer Nelson broke out on Sunday with 30 points, 5 assists and 5 3-pointers after playing in less than 25 minutes in each of his first two games. Some may be worried about Jason Williams emerging as a viable backup to Jameer, but Nelson should be just fine and he'll probably post a career high in assists this season.
Those who tabbed Michael Beasley a sleeper this season have to be feeling pretty good after seeing him put up 14.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and a block per game through his first three contests. For as many off-the-court problems as Beasley has, we still have to remember that he is super-talented on the court, and that's all that should matter for fantasy owners.
If his first two games are any indication, Josh Smith is in for a huge bounce-back season. Averaging 19.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.5 steals and 2.0 blocks, Smith looks much more like the stud we saw in 2007-08 rather than the dud we saw in 2008-09.
Thanks to an injury in the preseason, Jamal Crawford hasn't quite found his rhythm yet. Expect him to increase his minutes per game (19.0) as he gets more comfortable, and be ready to downgrade Mike Bibby when that happens. Bibby, coincidentally, is already dropping in my rankings after averaging only 8.0 points in 31.5 minutes in his first two games.
I've been a huge Andray Blatche fan for years, so I'm happy to see him breaking out early this season. Still, for as much as I love him, we have to realize that his numbers are inflated due to the absence of Antawn Jamison. And don't forget, Blatche's 30-point explosion against the Nets came with both Jamison and Caron Butler out of the lineup.
You'll notice that Gilbert Arenas is the fifth-ranked point guard in my rankings. He's already proved to me that he's back to his old ways, and I'm taking a leap of faith that he'll stay healthy this season. Go ahead and feel free to take advantage if an antsy owner wants to sell high on Gilbert's hot start.
The Bobcats are struggling on the offensive end, averaging just 80 points per game as a team. All right, so they've played two of the better defensive teams in the league in Boston and Cleveland, but that's still embarrassing. And it's not helping their fantasy values, either, as almost everyone on the roster is underperforming. I still like Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin, so look for them to turn it around a little once their schedule lightens up.
Al Jefferson is clearly not himself yet. He's averaging just 14.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and a block while shooting 34.8 percent from the floor in his first three contests. The medical staff in Minnesota is limiting his minutes for the time being, so it may be a few weeks before we see the "real" Al Jefferson again. Savvy owners will begin planning their buy-low offers now.
Jonny Flynn appears to have the leg up on the position battle with Ramon Sessions, even though Sessions logged more minutes than Flynn in Sunday night's game. Still, feel free to send Sessions packing if there's a good pickup available on the waiver wire. This is Flynn's job and he won't be giving it up.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook were two super-sleepers heading into the season and so far neither has disappointed. Westbrook can't shoot but he's had two double-doubles (points and assists) and has a knack for creating steals, and Green is providing a versatile 19.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.7 3-pointers and a block per game thus far. Both players are going to have huge seasons.
As he is known to do, Paul Millsap had a big 23-point, 9-rebound, 1-steal, 2-block effort in Mehmet Okur's absence on Friday night. He will explode like this whenever Okur or Carlos Boozer is out of action, but will be fairly pedestrian if both are healthy.
Ronnie Brewer has had two solid games to start the season, but I see his name popping up on the "most-dropped" list and I'm not sure why. The steals will come my friends, stay patient!
Portland Trail Blazers
Greg Oden is the one player I've been asked about most this season. Everyone wants to know what to expect and if he'll stay healthy. I have my doubts about his long-term health for the season, but that's not going to stop me from using him while I can. Oden is a rebounding and shot-blocking monster, and his averages through four games seem to be in line with what we should expect going forward: 6.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. Given how scarce blocks are in the fantasy game, that's more than worth the injury risk.
Yes, Andre Miller is earning only 24.3 minutes per game behind starter Steve Blake, but you still have to hold on to him if you drafted him this season. It's not an ideal situation for him, but Miller should produce in assists and steals even if he is seeing only 24-25 minutes per night. Give him at least another few weeks before deciding to cut him.
Is it just me or does Carmelo Anthony look like a man on a mission in the early going? He's completely dominating on the offensive end (37.7 ppg) and has gotten to the free throw line 41 times in his first three contests, where he's shot 87.8 percent. I'm convinced that Melo is going to have a huge season. He's hungry after losing to the Lakers in the playoffs last season and he's going to take his frustrations out on the league.
No, your eyes aren't deceiving you, that was Channing Frye who drained six 3-pointers on Friday and Sunday night. Who does he think he is, Danilo Gallinari? In any case, thank you Alvin Gentry! Everyone who earns minutes in Phoenix is officially fantasy-worthy again.
Has anyone else noticed that Steve Nash looks much more comfortable with the old run-and-gun back? He's averaging 18.7 points, 14.0 assists and 2.0 3-pointers through three games and just might be able to challenge Chris Paul for the league lead in assists now that the Suns are back to their old ways.
Golden State Warriors
Don Nelson is up to his old tricks again. After the coach gave Anthony Randolph all kinds of minutes during the preseason, Randolph found himself on the court for only 10 minutes on opening night. Then he was right back in the starting lineup for Game 2. There is no doubt that Nellie is going to frustrate Randolph's owners this season, but don't panic yet. Randolph is too talented to give up on this early in the season.
Los Angeles Lakers
I thought Ron Artest would struggle to get his numbers in L.A., but not even I imagined that he would be averaging just 6.5 points through his first two games. Forget about the fact that he's shooting just 25.0 percent from the floor, that will even itself out. What's most concerning is that he's getting only 8.0 shot attempts per game. And that's without Pau Gasol in the lineup. To say that I'm concerned would be an understatement.
Preseason darling Tyreke Evans has already shown us some of what we can expect this season. Inconsistent play and shooting will be the norm, but we knew that going in, right? He's a rookie point guard, so he'll have his growing pains. But he'll also have his fair share of big games like he did on Friday night when he went off for 22 points and two steals against the Hornets. If you drafted him, stick with him through the roller-coaster ride because there will be more highs than lows as the season progresses.
Los Angeles Clippers
Enjoy Chris Kaman's production while it lasts. Kaman currently ranks second on the Player Rater behind LeBron James thanks to his 22.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, but his owners should know that he's played in an average of just 43.5 games the past two seasons. I guess it's possible that this could be the season that he finally stays healthy and produces, but I'm not willing to bet on it.
Al Thornton (30.5 minutes) and Rasual Butler (26.3 minutes) appear to be canceling each other out and neither will be worth a roster spot in 10-team leagues unless an injury opens the door for more playing time.
San Antonio Spurs
It's hard not to notice that there's not one player on the Spurs' roster who is averaging 30 minutes per game through their first three contests. This roster is so deep that Gregg Popovich's rotation now includes 10 players. If Pop continues to spread the wealth, it's going to be hard to get excited about anyone in San Antonio from a fantasy perspective. Tim Duncan (14.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks) has been lights-out on a per-minute basis, but is seeing just 26.3 minutes per game. Duncan's stats will suffer mightily if this trend continues, so think about selling high while you still can.
Welcome back to fantasy relevance, Shawn Marion. Marion looks great alongside Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki and has rewarded his owners with averages of 16.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and a steal in his first three games. He's not a 3-point shooter anymore, but I doubt his owners are complaining much. I'm buying this version of Marion in Dallas even though his value is already high.
I'm still not sure why folks were sleeping on Aaron Brooks to start the season. He looked great during last spring's playoff run and has picked up right where he left off with 21.7 points, 8.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.3 3-pointers through his first three contests in 2009-10. There's no way he'll continue to be this good, particularly in the assist category, but he will be a great option for points, steals and 3-pointers all season long.
I'm thinking that I might have to eat some crow after putting Trevor Ariza on my "hate" list to start the season. I thought he'd struggle being the focal point of an offense, but I'm starting to have second thoughts about that after seeing him light it up for 23.3 points with 11 3-pointers through his first three games.
I'm reserving most of my judgment on the Grizzlies until I see them play with Allen Iverson on Monday, but I will admit that I am shocked at Marc Gasol's play early this season. Gasol is still available in plenty of leagues, and in case you hadn't noticed, he's ripping it up right now with 20.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. With numbers like those, I don't need to tell you to pick him up ASAP if he's available in your league.
New Orleans Hornets
Emeka Okafor (11.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks) looks quite good alongside David West and Chris Paul in New Orleans. Yep, I think it's fairly safe to assume that he's fully recovered from his preseason injury scare.
Apparently Peja Stojakovic can still shoot. He drained six 3-pointers on Sunday night against the Celtics, and if Julian Wright doesn't step up his game, Peja might be in line for some more minutes down the road. Hold off on adding Peja in 10-team leagues for now, but feel free to scoop him up for help in 3s in deeper formats.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.