Four players poised to take off
Almost halfway through the season, it can often feel like players have settled into their roles, but there are always surprises, injuries, epiphanies and other changes on the horizon. Here are a few players you might find skyrocketing up the Player Rater rankings in the coming weeks. The first couple guys you'll have to acquire by trade; the rest you'll be able to find on the waiver wire.
(Current ranking based on per-game averages in parentheses.)
Paul Millsap, SF/PF, Utah Jazz (63): About a month ago, I wrote about Millsap and pointed out that the big problem with his fantasy value wasn't his declining numbers in points and rebounds, but his precipitous fall in steals. This might not have been immediately apparent, but the idea is that a fall from 17 points per game to 15 points per game is much less a big deal than a decline in steals from 1.8 per game to 1.2 per game. Millsap put up big totals in steals for two straight seasons, but he had never done so prior, so it made sense to worry that his prowess in that area may have been fluky or circumstantial.
Fear not, Millsap fans! For the month of January, he's looking a lot more like the player he was last season, averaging 16.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.3 steals, 49.5 percent shooting from the floor and 81.6 percent shooting from the line (where he goes with some frequency). That's all really good stuff, but it's the steals that stand out. While it's only eight games, it's reason to think that his second half will be a lot better than his first. There's always the chance that he gets traded, but I'd be inclined to target him in trades in the hope that his quiet resurgence hasn't been noticed by the masses quite yet.
Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets (71): Gallo was so bad for the first month of the season that his stats are only now starting to look like what we might have expected heading in, but the gap between his numbers on the season and his current level of play gives him some extra possible value. He still hasn't found his stroke from the free throw line, but his attempts per game have steadily gone up each month, and his January numbers across the board are pretty remarkable: 19.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.6 3-pointers and 48.1 percent shooting from the floor.
Those are the numbers, but anecdotally, Gallinari just looks like a different player. In particular, it feels like he's shooting the ball with a lot more confidence than he was early in the season. For instance, he's shooting over 40 percent on 3s since Dec. 1. He hasn't shot that well for a whole season since his rookie year (in which he played just 28 games), so I'm not expecting him to stay quite this hot, but he's a career 36.6 percent shooter from behind the arc, and even at that percentage, he has some serious value. If his free throw percentage down the stretch is anything like it's been the past couple of seasons, he'll probably be a top-40 fantasy player for the rest of the season.
Carlos Delfino, SF, Houston Rockets (125): For a few weeks, I've been following Delfino's numbers very closely because he's a great 3-point shooter on a fast-paced team, a combination that should be gold in fantasy leagues. He's played eight games so far in January and is averaging 12.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and, ridiculously, 2.8 3s per game in just 26.1 minutes. Those averages are really good; you can absolutely use numbers like that in a fantasy league, unless you're in one of those leagues with just six teams where every player is basically an all-star.
The problem -- but it's not really a problem, if you think about it -- with Delfino is consistency. Not one of his actual performances over the seven games in January thus far looks much like those per-game numbers. One night he has two points on 1-for-6 shooting from the floor, and the next night he goes 8-for-11 and drops 22. No one has attempted as many 3s this season with fewer 2s than Delfino, which means that the vast majority of his field goal attempts are 3s. As such, in order to get a meaningful sample size, you have to look at his numbers over the course of many games, and doing that leads us right back to those per-game averages. When you have a player like Delfino, you have to just play him every night, because if you try to guess which nights he'll be hot, you'll most likely end up benching him on a night where he makes a ton of 3s. If you just play him every night, the averages will work out in your favor, and that makes him worth owning in most formats if you need a boost in the 3s category.
Thomas Robinson, PF, Sacramento Kings (283): Robinson has been pretty terrible through the first half of his rookie season, to the point that he has actually had negative value in fantasy. That 283rd ranking is not a typo; I'm pretty sure it's the lowest ranking I've ever seen for a player I've written about in this column. I'm writing about him because he's becoming useful now, but also because I think he's going to become extremely useful as the season moves along.
For now, Robinson is a guy who is averaging 9.0 rebounds per game in just 20.6 minutes over his past five games. That's pretty darned good, and while 9.0 isn't a number that's going to change the scope of your roster, it's a number that's useful in the here and now. Over that same stretch, he's also scoring 8.0 points on 52.8 percent shooting from the floor, and those numbers don't hurt, either (even if they're far less than spectacular). His minutes, too, are ticking upward with no loss in efficiency, so there's a decent chance we're looking at a talented rookie who is starting to carve out his role in the league. The big upside here, though, is that the Kings are at the center of all kinds of trade discussions, and as their latest lottery pick, Robinson is unlikely to move. If one of the big men ahead of him in the rotation gets dealt, Robinson could be looking at 30-plus minutes per game, which would make his rebounding and scoring numbers even more valuable. If you need rebounds in the short term, he's worth a look, but the long-term potential is a good reason to grab him if you've got space on your bench.