Although it's probably not a good idea to make too many judgments based on three games, Kevin Love has managed to give Timberwolves fans and fantasy owners a boost all at once since his return from a broken left hand.
He's averaging 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in just 26.7 minutes, but we knew he'd put up big numbers in those categories. The surprises are four 3-pointers and six steals in three games. If he can average even one 3-pointer and one steal per game on the season, he'll be a major force in all fantasy leagues the rest of the way. Considering he's a smart player with great hands (and without the leaping ability to rely on being able to block shots), it stands to reason that Love should be able to come up with an occasional steal.
More reliably, Love was a 35 percent shooter on 3s during his one season at UCLA, and after a year of getting adjusted to the NBA line, these three games provide a tiny bit of evidence that he might be that sort of shooter in the pros as well.
All told, the future looks pretty bright for Love and his healed hand. Now we just need him to give Al Jefferson a boost.
Here's a look at some other players who are succeeding at roughly the quarter point of the NBA season and others who haven't been up to snuff.
(rankings based on per-game averages)
Marcus Camby, PF/C, Clippers (23): A fringe first-round fantasy pick just a few years ago, Camby's average draft position was 51st this year in ESPN.com leagues. Of course, as he usually does when he's healthy, Camby is blowing that ranking out of the water, and the nice part about owning Camby is that it's not always clear what his good games will look like. For example, in an 11-point loss to the Magic on Tuesday night, Camby had just three points on 1-for-5 shooting from the floor, but it was actually a productive night for those of us who own him in fantasy leagues, as he managed to add 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. This is a typical performance from Camby, and it's the sort of thing that's a relief to see in the box score when he plays.
Trevor Ariza, SG/SF, Rockets (37): I did not like Ariza heading into this season for a couple of reasons. One, he always has seemed better suited to a complementary role, and two, his shooting performance on 3-pointers in last season's playoffs was a complete and utter outlier when compared to his career numbers. Quite simply, I thought people were blowing up his potential a little too much. That said, I believed that his fantastic ability to create steals would give him some value no matter what he did offensively.
To this point in the season, all that has been pretty much true, yet he's vastly outperforming his ADP. He's a serious liability from the floor and a small liability at the line, but he helps you everywhere else. The blow from his horrendous shooting is eased by the fact that he takes so many 3s. (Even though he's awful at that, too, he's managed to knock down 44 in 20 games.) He scores, passes, rebounds a little and gets lots of steals and the occasional block. All told, even though he is the player I thought he was, I underestimated how valuable that sort of player could be.
Kevin Garnett, PF, Celtics (43): I know, he's been a statistical disappointment by any stretch, so it doesn't make a ton of sense to list him here. That said, I want a space to point out to his owners that there's some reason for optimism. For one, he's still extremely productive based on his efficiency and how many minutes he's playing (just 30.5 per game, the fewest since his rookie season). For another, he's recovering from a pretty bad knee injury, and if his recent performance is any indication, it would seem that he's pretty well recovered.
In Garnett's past five games, his numbers have been insanely good. He's averaging 21.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 75 percent shooting from the floor. I point out these numbers not as a projection of what I think he'll do for the rest of the season but rather so that we understand Garnett is still an elite player, just one who happens to be on a team that doesn't need him to log heavy minutes.
Carl Landry, PF, Rockets (57): You can ignore a guy for only so long. At some point, a guy starts throwing up 20-point games more often than not (literally, he has seven 20-point games in his past 13), and you just have to acknowledge that he's a fantastic basketball player, even if he's undersized and playing fewer than 30 minutes per game.
Landry is actually in a perfect situation; he comes off the bench and scores against the other team's bench. He's so good at this that he's been a better fantasy commodity than Jeff Green, Elton Brand or his teammate Luis Scola so far this season. Amazingly, he does it almost entirely on the strength of his scoring and percentages. Sure, he throws in some rebounds and the occasional block, but the reason to pick this guy up right now is that few players who might be available on the wire will help your percentages more.
Larry Hughes, SG, Knicks (60): It's been a few weeks since I've written about Hughes in this space, so let me just remind you all that he's been great this season, even when you factor in that he doesn't necessarily show up every night. His numbers look really great as it is at 12.8 points, 4.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.3 3s, etc., but they'd look even better if you sat him whenever he played against the Celtics and the Magic. How would you know to sit him against those teams? Well, just sit him against elite defenses that know how to take away the perimeter. It's that simple.
Yes, it's hard to rely on a player like Hughes, but he's still available in most leagues even though he's been outperforming Ray Allen, Vince Carter and Gilbert Arenas in fantasy for the season. Just pick him up already.
Amar'e Stoudemire, PF/C, Suns (52): I'm not sure exactly what's happening here. Stoudemire's team is clearly better than it was last season, but perhaps the credit for that has to go to offseason additions such as Channing Frye. Stoudemire, for my money, seems slightly disinterested.
The Suns are still getting scorched by other teams' big men, and Stoudemire is averaging only 19.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. As you saw above, you could pretty much be getting those numbers from Carl Landry right now. I hate to rag on Stoudemire, because his team is having more success than anyone thought it would, but right now he is a huge disappointment in fantasy, no matter how you slice it.
Brandon Roy, SG/SF, Trail Blazers (55): Roy is down in literally every category this season, even though he's playing the exact same number of minutes he played last season. The only category in which he's averaging more is turnovers. This might just be an example of a small sample size for his poor shooting, but it's not a good sign that he's averaging fewer steals and blocks than ever. Those numbers point to effort, it seems, more than anything else, and for Roy, those numbers are nearly nonexistent.
Boris Diaw, SF/PF, Bobcats (91): If the Bobcats thought they had an elite 3-point shooter on their hands in Diaw, it appears they were wrong. He shot 42 percent on 3s in the 58 games he played for the Cats last season and is down to 37 percent this season. That's still pretty good, but it's enough of a drop that combined with the team having more options on offense, his scoring has fallen from 15.1 points per game to 11.9. He's also averaging fewer assists and fewer rebounds, so there's not much to like here at the moment.
Diaw does enough of everything that even though he's been a disappointment, he's still a relatively useful fantasy player and hasn't been so much worse than his draft position. Still, fantasy owners can't be happy with 4.9 rebounds per game out of their supposed power forward.
Chris Andersen, PF/C, Nuggets (122): I don't want to toot my own horn too much, but this is what I wrote about "The Birdman" in October as part of our draft kit:
His value on your fantasy team is predicated entirely on his ability -- and, far more importantly, his opportunity -- to block shots. In 2008-09 -- as a 30-year-old -- he had a great season and blocked 2.5 shots per game while averaging just 20.6 minutes, but let's keep in mind that in 2004-05, he blocked just 1.5 shots per game in 21.3 minutes. Was he a preternaturally great shot-blocker in each case? Emphatically, yes, he was. You block 1.5 shots per game in 21.3 minutes, and you are a great shot-blocker. You block 2.5 shots per game in 20.6 minutes, and you are still a great shot-blocker.
Andersen is blocking 1.8 shots per game in 22.2 minutes so far this season for the Nuggets. Sounds great, right? Well, again, he blocked 2.5 shots per game in just 20.6 minutes last season. Is he getting worse at blocking shots? Probably not. It's a fickle category. The point is that the gap between 2.5 blocks per game and 1.8 blocks per game makes Andersen go from a useful fantasy commodity to a guy who might not be worth playing at all unless you are totally desperate for blocks. Instead of being a sleeper, he's performing beneath his ADP and has been a disappointment, even though he's not playing much worse than he did last season.
Paul Millsap, PF, Jazz (137): Don't fool yourself into believing this is all about his losing minutes to Carlos Boozer in Utah. Millsap is averaging 26 minutes per game and averaged 30 minutes per game last season, so the precipitous drop in scoring, rebounding and steals won't be so easy to explain away. His per-minute rates in those categories have fallen, too, even though his percentages are actually up. He's also turning the ball over way too much. Perhaps if Boozer were out of the picture, Millsap would return to being a hugely productive player, but with the way Boozer is going right now, I wouldn't expect the Jazz to even consider dealing Boozer until the deadline. That means at best we're looking at two more months of not worth playing Millsap in fantasy.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.