First week provides surprises

What to make of Russell Westbrook's early return, other happenings

Updated: November 4, 2013, 10:11 PM ET
By Brian McKitish | Special to ESPN.com

The first week of the NBA season is always a whirlwind for fantasy owners, and I suppose that I am required by fantasy writer law to remind you not to panic this early in the season. And, for the most part, that is true. I wouldn't advocate running out and dropping JaVale McGee or Jonas Valanciunas just because they've had a couple of rough games, but at the same time, there is still much to learn from early-season action.

Although we are dealing with an extremely small sample size, we can still pick up on some trends that might carry over for the remainder of the 2013-14 season. Here are some of the more notable starts to the season, for good reasons and bad reasons.

Fast Starts

The Top 130

Note: Brian McKitish's top 100 players are ranked for their fantasy value for the 2013-14 NBA season. Previous rank is indicated in parentheses.

1. Kevin Durant, OKC (1)
2. LeBron James, MIA (2)
3. James Harden, HOU (3)
4. Chris Paul, LAC (4)
5. Stephen Curry, GS (5)
6. Kevin Love, MIN (7)
7. Anthony Davis, NO (14)
8. Paul George, IND (9)
9. Russell Westbrook, OKC (61)
10. Kyrie Irving, CLE (6)
11. Marc Gasol, MEM (8)
12. Derrick Rose, CHI (10)
13. Carmelo Anthony, NY (12)
14. John Wall, WSH (17)
15. Ricky Rubio, MIN (18)
16. Serge Ibaka, OKC (11)
17. Nicolas Batum, POR (16)
18. Deron Williams, BKN (13)
19. Damian Lillard, POR (22)
20. LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (19)
21. Dwyane Wade, MIA (20)
22. Al Jefferson, CHA (15)
23. Mike Conley, MEM (30)
24. Dirk Nowitzki, DAL (21)
25. Al Horford, ATL (23)
26. Ty Lawson, DEN (25)
27. Josh Smith, DET (27)
28. DeMarcus Cousins, SAC (36)
29. Tony Parker, SA (24)
30. Jrue Holiday, NO (28)
31. Pau Gasol, LAL (41)
32. David Lee, GS (31)
33. Joakim Noah, CHI (26)
34. Blake Griffin, LAC (32)
35. Jeff Teague, ATL (46)
36. Brandon Jennings, DET (33)
37. Klay Thompson, GS (38)
38. Dwight Howard, HOU (35)
39. Rudy Gay, TOR (42)
40. Brook Lopez, BKN (40)
41. Kemba Walker, CHA (37)
42. Larry Sanders, MIL (29)
43. Paul Millsap, ATL (34)
44. Derrick Favors, UTAH (43)
45. Chris Bosh, MIA (39)
46. Nikola Vucevic, ORL (47)
47. Roy Hibbert, IND (45)
48. Kawhi Leonard, SA (48)
49. Monta Ellis, DAL (52)
50. Jeff Green, BOS (49)
51. Thaddeus Young, PHI (51)
52. Bradley Beal, WSH (53)
53. Kobe Bryant, LAL (50)
54. Paul Pierce, BKN (56)
55. Michael Carter-Williams, PHI (120)
56. Greg Monroe, DET (59)
57. Tim Duncan, SA (54)
58. Andre Drummond, DET (66)
59. Eric Bledsoe, PHO (77)
60. J.R. Smith, NY (55)
61. Kyle Lowry, TOR (63)
62. Gordon Hayward, UTAH (76)
63. Ersan Ilyasova, MIL (44)
64. Spencer Hawes, PHI (127)
65. Wesley Matthews, POR (78)
66. Goran Dragic, PHO (68)
67. Jose Calderon, DAL (67)
68. Kenneth Faried, DEN (65)
69. Victor Oladipo, ORL (70)
70. Zach Randolph, MEM (72)
71. George Hill, IND (69)
72. Enes Kanter, UTAH (82)
73. Nikola Pekovic, MIN (74)
74. David West, IND (64)
75. Jonas Valanciunas, TOR (75)
76. Evan Turner, PHI (95)
77. Ryan Anderson, NO (60)
78. Chandler Parsons, HOU (81)
79. Jimmy Butler, CHI (87)
80. Jeremy Lin, HOU (93)
81. Jameer Nelson, ORL (91)
82. Isaiah Thomas, SAC (98)
83. Luol Deng, CHI (80)
84. Tobias Harris, ORL (62)
85. Carlos Boozer, CHI (111)
86. Tyson Chandler, NY (101)
87. O.J. Mayo, MIL (83)
88. JaVale McGee, DEN (58)
89. Andrew Bogut, GS (85)
90. Kevin Martin, MIN (92)
91. Rajon Rondo, BOS (86)
92. Marcin Gortat, WSH (108)
93. DeMar DeRozan, TOR (106)
94. Raymond Felton, NY (100)
95. Eric Gordon, NO (105)
96. Moe Harkless, ORL (96)
97. Andre Iguodala, GS (71)
98. Daniel Green, SA (79)
99. Tyreke Evans, NO (57)
100. Steve Nash, LAL (73)
101. Wilson Chandler, DEN (97)
102. Amir Johnson, TOR (103)
103. Joe Johnson, BKN (99)
104. J.J. Redick, LAC (126)
105. Tristan Thompson, CLE (119)
106. Anderson Varejao, CLE (102)
107. Jamal Crawford, LAC (109)
108. DeAndre Jordan, LAC (NR)
109. Arron Afflalo, ORL (NR)
110. Brandon Knight, MIL (89)
111. J.J. Hickson, DEN (94)
112. Gerald Wallace, BOS (90)
113. Harrison Barnes, GS (115)
114. Shawn Marion, DAL (122)
115. Kevin Garnett, BKN (104)
116. Mario Chalmers, MIA (NR)
117. Trey Burke, UTAH (114)
118. Nene Hilario, WSH (117)
119. Greivis Vasquez, SAC (88)
120. Alec Burks, UTAH (NR)
121. Jarrett Jack, CLE (118)
122. Lance Stephenson, IND (NR)
123. Trevor Ariza, WSH (NR)
124. Miles Plumlee, PHO (NR)
125. Andrew Bynum, CLE (124)
126. Iman Shumpert, NY (129)
127. Vitor Faverani, BOS (NR)
128. Kyle Korver, ATL (NR)
129. Manu Ginobili, SA (NR)
130. Chris Kaman, LAL (130)

I'm just going to go ahead and say it: If Anthony Davis can stay healthy, he'll have a chance to finish No. 1 on our Player Rater by season's end. I know it's been only three games, but this isn't really a huge surprise given the talent he showed last season and in this preseason. No one, and I mean no one, can match Davis' fantasy potential thanks to his unique combination of defensive skills and offensive efficiency. With averages of 23.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 4.0 blocks in to start the season, Davis is well on his way to the breakout campaign that many expected he'd have.

It's rare to receive good injury news, but that's exactly what we heard this week when Russell Westbrook returned to action on Sunday, beating his original timetable by more than a month. Westbrook looked just as quick and explosive as ever with 21 points, 7 assists and a steal in 33 minutes and should immediately return to top-10 fantasy status. Congrats to those who rolled the dice on Westbrook, as he'll likely end up as the best pick in your draft if he doesn't suffer any setbacks.

I'm absolutely buying what Michael Carter-Williams is selling early this season. MCW was a preseason favorite of mine because I thought his length and athleticism would frustrate the opposition on the defensive end, but never did I expect him to come out with 20.7 points, 4.7 boards, 9.0 assists, 4.3 steals and 2.7 3-pointers per game after his first three contests. Carter-Williams will certainly come back down to earth with his shooting percentages and scoring, so there is a little bit of "sell high" to him, but make sure you get something good if you're the one who's selling, because this kid is going to have a big rookie fantasy season in the counting stats.

MCW isn't the only Sixer who's turning heads in the fantasy community; just look at what Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young are doing. The combination of their up-tempo attack and a lack of depth has created the fantasy equivalent of a perfect storm for the Sixers' big four.

The same can be said for the Utah Jazz, although not quite to the extent of the Sixers. Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks have mostly lived up to expectations thus far, and all look poised to deliver breakout campaigns. Don't forget about rookie Trey Burke, who should have plenty of success when he's fully healed from a preseason finger injury.

I'm not 100 percent sold on DeMar DeRozan's new-found ability to knock down 3-pointers and create steals, but it's nice to see him averaging 20.3 points, 1.7 steals and 1.3 3-pointers after three games. DeRozan has steadily become a more well-rounded fantasy player in each of his first four seasons, and would become a much more intriguing option if he can continue his improvement in steals and 3s.

This isn't the first time DeAndre Jordan has come out of the gates on fire, so it's understandable if you don't fully trust his 11.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game after three contests. That said, Jordan is logging a ton of minutes in the early going, and he'll have a big season as a rebounder and shot-blocker if he can continue to stay on the court for 30-plus minutes per game.

Cause For Concern?

I am not at all worried about slow starts for Derrick Rose and Bradley Beal. Rose looks a little rusty after missing all of last season, but has shown his trademark athleticism and explosiveness. He'll be fine once he shakes the rust. Beal, on the other hand, appears to simply be in a shooting slump. He's getting the minutes (37.0 per game) and shot attempts (18.0) for which we were hoping and should be putting up big numbers in no time.

Earlier this week, ESPN's Mark Stein reported that the Raptors are open to trading anyone on their roster not named Jonas Valanciunas, so it was sort of shocking to see the ultra-talented big man getting just 19 minutes against the Hawks and 16 minutes against the Bucks in his first two contests. Perhaps head coach Dwane Casey was attempting to match up with some smaller lineups in his first two games, but I can't say I understand the strategy here. Jonas is too talented to be kept on the bench, so there's a pretty good buy-low opportunity if his current owner in your league is panicking.

First-year head coach Brian Shaw sure has a funny way of committing to JaVale McGee. Foul trouble might have held McGee to 10 minutes on opening night, but his 13 minutes against the Blazers on Friday night was all on Shaw. The Nuggets have been a bit of a mess to start the season, and Shaw is already starting to tinker with his lineup. This is obviously not a good sign for McGee, but his owners should hang tight for the moment.

After scoring 17 points in 36 minutes on opening night, Greivis Vasquez has lost playing time to Isaiah Thomas in Sacramento's deep backcourt and is averaging just 9.0 points and 3.7 assists in 26.7 minutes after three contests. With Vasquez, Thomas, Marcus Thornton and rookie Ben McLemore all vying for minutes in the Kings' backcourt, it's hard to get too excited about anyone outside of Thomas, who is averaging 19.0 points, 4.7 assists and 2.0 3-pointers in the early going.

Fantasy owners aren't the only ones frustrated by Larry Drew's use of Larry Sanders in the early going. Sanders himself vented some of his feelings about seeing just 17.3 minutes per game after three contests. Sanders has swatted 2.0 shots per game in his limited minutes, but has managed just 2.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game on the season. I find it hard to believe that Drew will continue to keep his best defender buried on the bench like this for much longer, so there might be some buy-low potential here.

Tyreke Evans has looked mostly lost in three games for the Pelicans, even with Ryan Anderson sidelined. With just 6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 23.7 minutes per game, one has to wonder how Evans will fit in with this team over the course of the season. He's shooting a dismal 25.8 percent from the floor, and while I think he'll bounce back a little, it's hard to get too excited about his prospects unless (or until) Eric Gordon gets hurt.

It's still early, but just 6.7 shots per game for Andre Iguodala even with Harrison Barnes out of action? Iggy still brings some statistical diversity to the table with 4.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 3-pointers per contest, but his lack of involvement in the offense is concerning given that Barnes should return within the next week or so.

Steve Nash looks like a shell of his former self in the early going, and while I'm not advocating a flat-out drop just yet, his owners should certainly be nervous at this point. Give the 39-year-old a couple of weeks before making any impulsive roster decisions, but keep a close eye on his progress.

Cody Zeller will have value at some point this season, but it's not going to be anytime soon. Losing minutes to Josh McRoberts, Zeller simply isn't seeing enough playing time to be rostered in standard leagues. Feel free to drop him for now, but be sure to keep him on the radar as a potential pickup later in the season.

Speaking of drop candidates, my top 130 should give you an idea of who I think should be added or dropped after the first week of action. A few notable drops: Anthony Bennett, Andrei Kirilenko, Gerald Henderson, Markieff Morris and Ben McLemore.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and is a two-time Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year, as named by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

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