All of this NBA All-Star chatter during the past few days, from Marc Stein's Weekend Dime to Eric Karabell's latest hoops blog (LeBron James not even the best small forward in the East?), has me excited to see which players will be rewarded for outstanding first halves, as well as which ones will be disappointed to take a few vacation days (unlike Rasheed Wallace, if he has his way).
Then, my thoughts went back to LeBron for a moment. After all, his Class of 2003, for all the talent it possessed with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to name a few, didn't even supply an All-Star that season. Yao Ming, in 2003, is the most recent rookie to play in an All-Star Game, actually.
That certainly won't change this season, but it doesn't make it any less fun to look at how the player rater ranks the rookies thus far, as we've reached the halfway point of the season. And it doesn't mean a handful of rookies won't be fantasy difference-makers in the second half, either.
71. Kevin Durant, SG/SF, SuperSonics: Durant's 40 percent mark from the field does almost twice the damage to his overall rating that his 86 percent from the charity stripe does to help him. His scoring and shot-blocking will help keep him in the top 75 all season, but he'll have to shoot much better or start rebounding like he's back in Austin to become a top-50 threat anytime soon.
96. Jamario Moon, SF, Raptors: The 27-year-old has made quite an impression north of the border, and his story is now well-known. But how is Moon among the top-100 fantasy performers thus far? The hustle stats, of course, particularly his 60 blocks. It's hard to imagine him improving his stock much more as the season progresses, but how could any Moon owner complain if he simply maintains his current value the rest of the way?
100. Al Horford, C, Hawks: You may be surprised that Horford doesn't rank higher than Moon, but his lack of 3s and assists are what keep him down on the rater. What you see from the former Florida Gator is what you get. He should be expected to continue to produce at the same rate the rest of the way, unless he hits the dreaded rookie wall, of course.
105. Yi Jianlian, SF/PF, Bucks: It's not been easy to own Yi this season. Just when you think he's turning the corner, he puts up an empty performance. Remember that 29-point effort Dec. 22, which caused many owners to scramble for the waiver wire? Well, he's only scored half as many points in a game once since then, a span of 16 games.
114. Juan Carlos Navarro, SG, Grizzlies: Navarro has had pockets of fantasy greatness this season, especially when called upon to start. In 11 starts, he's averaging 16.5 points, 3.4 assists and 3.0 3-pointers per game. He's worth having on the roster for the 3s alone, whether he's starting or not, but what also makes him pleasant to own are his friendly shooting percentages which, combined with his 3-point prowess, have him ranked higher than players like Josh Childress and Carlos Delfino on the player rater.
Not a shabby set of starters, but this all-rookie bunch wouldn't be complete without a short list of players that could provide a Vinnie Johnson-like spark to your fantasy team in the second half.
180. Luis Scola, SF/PF, Rockets: While many expected more out of Scola in his first trip around the NBA, he's a player to keep an eye on simply because the Rockets' two star players, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, have extensive injury histories. In order for Scola to be a consistent contributor, though, he may need both big guns to go down in order to meet the lofty preseason expectations. The skill set is there -- and he's certainly not afraid to jack it up -- but the opportunity hasn't been yet. I'd like to see him get to the line more often, as well.
187. Jeff Green, SF, SuperSonics: Despite more minutes, Green has not been any better in 13 games as a starter than he was coming off the bench. He is the type of player that is more apt to blend in, but on a team that has struggled so mightily, you would expect that Green might make himself more useful in fantasy. He'll certainly continue to get the opportunity, so keep him on your watch list.
230. Thaddeus Young, SF, 76ers: Since the calendar flipped to 2008, Young has demanded to be noticed. If the Sixers are active at the trade deadline and fully commit to the youth movement, Young will join teammate Louis Williams as an instant fantasy-worthy performer, even in 12-team leagues. He has shot the ball well, shown promise on the offensive glass and is averaging 1.3 steals per game in January.
242. Al Thornton, SF, Clippers: On a few different occasions this season, I've felt Thornton was about to emerge as a fantasy-relevant player, strictly because of his ability to score. One of those times is now, but Thornton, who was overvalued in the preseason, is simply not far enough along to help regularly in other categories, so don't expect him to be very well-rounded even when he does get an extended opportunity.
243. Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies: Now here is a player who should already be rostered in most 12-team leagues. He's only so low on the player rater because of all the time he missed due to a bum shoulder. Conley is smart enough not to take too many bad shots and totally ruin your field goal percentage, and is outstanding at getting others involved. And he does so while keeping turnovers to a minimum. If you're in a league in which assist-to-turnover ratio is a category, he's a great option going forward, possibly as good as any rookie not named Kevin Durant.
Keith Lipscomb is an editor for ESPN Fantasy Games.