It's always a little dangerous to get too excited about a player immediately after a great performance. Especially this early in the season, one big game can artificially inflate a player's value to an unsustainable level. Even bearing that in mind, however, it's impossible not to be pretty excited about what's been happening with the Warriors' Monta Ellis thus far.
On a team full of dysfunction and lacking any sort of continuity from night to night, Ellis is without question the best player. As such, he tends to rise above whatever unpredictability Don Nelson's coaching style causes (although Nelson has been out recently with pneumonia). Basically, the 39 minutes per game Ellis has been playing so far is a good bet to remain consistent. Durability has to be a concern, but last season's ankle injury appears to have been a one-time fluke, and Ellis has dealt with this kind of responsibility in the past and flourished.
As for his numbers, there's even more to like. He's scoring like crazy, provides plenty of rebounds and assists, and has been the most valuable player in the steals category to this point of the season. The steals, in particular, are enough of a leap from his career averages that they may be a bit of a fluke, but it's not as though he's skating by on one or two strong games. He recently went through a stretch in which he had at least three steals in five straight games, and he's had only one game all season in which he failed to record at least one.
This is all to say that Ellis's current ranking as the 13th-best fantasy player based on per-game averages might not be a fluke at all, even though it vastly outperforms where he was drafted in most leagues. Ellis is a great fantasy option, and that's not going to change any time soon.
Here are some other players who are off to great starts and some who have been disappointments.
(rankings based on per-game averages)
Tim Duncan, PF/C, Spurs (14): Those of us who believed Duncan's minutes would go down this season were entirely correct; he's averaging just 31.8 minutes, down from 33.6 minutes last season. However, Duncan is outperforming his average draft position because he has been much more efficient. He's putting up basically the same numbers as last season, but is blocking more shots and shooting higher percentages. In particular, he's shooting 54 percent from the floor, which would be the highest percentage he's posted in a season since his rookie year. Perhaps that number will fall a bit as the season goes on, but it's also possible that Duncan, with a greater complement of offensive weapons around him, is simply getting better looks. Either way, it looks so far as though the great decline many were expecting is at least another season away.
Greg Oden, C, Trail Blazers (38): Because Oden can't stop fouling, he's playing only 24.5 minutes per game. Remarkably, he's still putting up great fantasy numbers in points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage. In addition, he's improved his free throw shooting to the point that he's not a liability there either. In total, he doesn't really hurt you anywhere and can absolutely carry a fantasy team in blocks. With Oden, it's hard to say whether he'll be able to stay healthy, but maybe the fact that he's not playing a ton of minutes will help keep him in the lineup.
Luol Deng, SF, Bulls (40): Deng has been one of the best values in fantasy so far, and all he's done is finally return to being the player he was in 2006-07 when he showed so much promise. He hasn't been quite as efficient from the floor as he was that season, but he's improved his rebounding, shot-blocking, and free throw shooting enough that he's valuable in all of those categories as well. If he can continue to improve his 3-point shooting, he's got a chance to move further up this list as the season goes on.
Kendrick Perkins, C, Celtics (93): Many thought that Perk would lose some of his opportunity to Rasheed Wallace, but Perkins is starting to prove beyond any sort of a doubt that he's a legitimate starting center on one of the league's best teams. He's one of the best in the league in field goal percentage and blocks, and does enough scoring and rebounding to help out in those categories, too. He's basically a lesser version of Greg Oden at the moment. He'll probably lose some minutes to Glen Davis when he returns from his thumb injury, but Perkins might be playing well enough at the moment that Doc Rivers won't be able to keep him out of the lineup.
Chris Bosh, PF/C, Raptors (30): It seems weird to call a guy who's already a superstar and is averaging career highs in points and rebounds a disappointment, but in fantasy that's what he's been. He's taken slight hits in many other categories, so much so that he's no longer an asset in steals or in free throw percentage. This all seems to be part of Bosh's being in a contract year; his assists are down and he's doing fewer of the little things. He's putting up huge numbers in the more visible categories, but his fantasy stock is down. Things might rebound soon, but for now he's less valuable than guys like Carlos Boozer, Tim Duncan and maybe even guys like Nene and Brook Lopez.
Chauncey Billups, PG, Nuggets (33): Unfortunately, Billups' numbers seem to be down across the board, and even though he's been better during the past week, I'm a bit worried about what the future holds in terms of the fantasy game. Billups is, of course, getting older, and the Nuggets have an extremely promising rookie behind him in Ty Lawson. That's not to say that Billups is in any danger of losing his starting spot; he's not, and he won't be any time soon. Still, to think that Billups' numbers will rebound to the levels they were at last season is probably a bit misguided. He's a 33-year-old point guard with a lot of miles on the odometer, and he's on a good team that will want to conserve him for the playoffs.
Jose Calderon, PG, Raptors (85): He's still doing a lot of the things that made him so great the past few seasons, like shooting a high percentage from the floor and hardly ever turning the ball over, but his assists, 3s, free throw shooting and steals are all down, and because he was all about efficiency in the past, slight dips in any categories make him far less valuable. Interestingly, his minutes have hardly gone down at all, and the Raptors have been one of the most offensively efficient teams in the league, but as a team they are averaging almost two fewer assists per game overall. Unless they undergo a change in style, Calderon might simply not be as good in fantasy as we hoped.
David West, PF, Hornets (89): West has to be one of the biggest fantasy disappointments of the season, and it's not because he's not producing anything. What's so frustrating about West is that he's playing plenty of minutes, but he's just not rebounding at all for a player of his size and strength. Just when it seemed as though he had righted the ship, he put up just two rebounds each in back-to-back games. That's a total of four rebounds in 67 minutes of playing time, which is just entirely inexcusable for an NBA power forward. He does enough that you can't drop him, and it's probably not worth trading him because you won't get much back. Unfortunately, you're just stuck with a guy who should have been a seventh-round pick instead of a second-round pick.,/p>
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.