Beware Small Sample Sizes
We're less than two weeks into the regular season and there have already been plenty of pleasant and unpleasant surprises in fantasy hoops.
Anthony Davis is in full breakout mode and already looks like a top-5 player. Derrick Rose looks nothing like the stud we've seen in past seasons and like the all-world player he was during an impressive stretch to wrap up the preseason.
We're only five games in and Larry Sanders looks like one of the bigger early-round busts. Meanwhile, Spencer Hawes is performing at a near first-round rate after costing owners a mid-to-late round pick in most standard formats.
Some breakouts or busts will turn out to be legit. Davis, in particular, looks like a lock to be a fantasy monster for the next decade. But regardless of which side of the spectrum a specific player may be pushing your love or hate, owners should be careful with any long-term valuation after such a small sample size.
Case in point, Klay Thompson, who has come out of the gates scorching hot.
Through five games, Thompson has averaged 24.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 3.8 treys, which has been good enough to rank him among the top-5 in most standard formats. While some of that production isn't all too surprising for an elite 23-year-old shooter whom many pundits expected to breakout last season, his fast start can be directly linked to the insane percentages he's posting from the floor. As a career shooter of 43.5 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from downtown, it's completely unreasonable to think Thompson can keep up his current clips of a 57.9 field-goal percentage and 55.9 three-point percentage. Increases in both areas are more than likely given his skill set, but owners shouldn't value Thompson based on his current production just because he happened to start the season with what could turn out to be one of the better shooting stretches of his campaign, if not his career. Sure, he'll remain a very good fantasy option and will have a chance to outperform his draft day cost, but Thompson shouldn't be viewed as a top-10 or top-20 fantasy option just yet.
Thompson is just one of many players who is hitting shots at an abnormally high rate compared to past seasons. Kyle Korver, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner, C.J. Miles, Paul Millsap and Jeremy Lin are other players hitting at high clips far above their career norms. Most, if not all, of these players will hold plenty of value going forward, but this bunch is currently ranked higher than where they'll end up once regression hits.
And players currently struggling with their shot, like Rose, Kyrie Irving, Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay and Joakim Noah, will all find their stroke sooner than later.
Most of these players make for good sell-high or buy-low candidates, as their current rankings aren't reflective of the value they'll hold by season's end. Instead of reading too much into the small sample size of five or so games and declaring a player a rising star or bust, try to look at the past performance, skill set and the long-term outlook of a player before passing any concrete judgment.
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 game every now and then - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time, rotation role and performance.
Ty Lawson, G, DEN – Through four games, Lawson is averaging career highs in minutes (37), points (21.0), assists (7.5), rebounds (4.8) and treys (2.0). With Andre Iguodala now playing for Golden State and Danilo Gallinari (knee) out for an extended period, Lawson is the unquestioned focal point of the Nuggets' attack this season. Denver's depth and talent is lacking compared to previous seasons, which should ensure Lawson's usage rate remains at a career-high mark throughout the season. His shooting percentage (42.2) and steals (1.0) are both well below levels we've seen in the past, so the best is likely still to come from Lawson.
Andrea Bargnani, F/C, PHO – With Tyson Chandler (fractured right fibula) expected to miss the next four-to-six weeks, Bargnani is in line for a huge boost in playing time. The Italian big man made his first start of the season at center Friday night, finishing with 25 points (11-of-25 FG, 3-of-9 3Pt), eight rebounds, five blocks and three assists. His shooting percentage will be a drain, and Bargnani's rebounding totals usually resemble that of a point guard more than a seven-foot forward/center, but he'll have value as a scorer and three-point shooter while Chandler is sidelined. There's a good chance Bargnani was dumped in many standard leagues after his slow start, so rush to the waiver wire to see if he's available.
Trevor Ariza, G/F, WAS – The veteran swing man has started off the season strong, averaging 13.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.8 treys through five games. He dealt with multiple injuries and split playing time with Martell Webster last season, which led to a disappointing campaign. Washington appears committed to deploying Ariza as their primary small forward this year, and it shows in the 37 minutes per game he's averaged as a member of the starting lineup. His shooting percentage will be a minus, but Ariza will remain a plus contributor in both threes and steals. A quiet performance Friday night (five points, three assists, three steals) may scare away some buyers, but Ariza should still be a hot ticket on the waiver wire.
Zaza Pachulia, C, MIL – Injuries to the Bucks' frontcourt has led to an unexpected bump in playing time for Pachulia. The veteran center has made the most of his extra time on the floor, averaging 13.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steal in nearly 30 mpg. Inflated shooting percentages (57.1 FG, 100 FT) play a part in Pachulia's fast start, but his per-36 career numbers are similar to the production we've seen from him this year. Pachulia will see a dip in run once Larry Sanders (thumb) and Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) are back to full strength, but the 29-year-old center is a short-term option in deeper formats.
Markieff Morris, F, PHO – The better half of the Morris Twins is starting to realize some of the potential he flashed toward the end of the 2012-13 campaign. Over his past three games, Morris has averaged 22.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals while playing 31 mpg. Morris is still being deployed as a reserve, but if he continues his strong play, the rebuilding Suns will have to give serious consideration to handing him a full compliment of minutes as a member of the starting five. The key here is playing time, and Morris has the skills to be an across-the-board fantasy contributor in most formats if he continues to play about 30 mpg.
Stephen Curry, G, GS – Curry sat out Friday's tilt against the Spurs with a bone bruise in his left ankle. He originally sustained the injury during Wednesday's game against the Timberwolves. While the injury did force Curry out of Wednesday's contest in the third quarter, he was able to return later that night and was originally considered probable for Friday's matchup. The good news is that this latest ailment shouldn't keep Curry on the sidelines for an extended period, but any time the Warriors' sharpshooter experiences ankle issues, it's worth keeping a close eye on the situation.
Ryan Anderson, F/C, NOP – Anderson, who has been sidelined since the start of the regular season with a chip fracture in his toe, had his status upgraded to day-to-day. The Pelicans haven't released an updated timetable for Anderson's return yet, but it appears he'll avoid the long end of his original one-to-three week timetable and appear on the hardwood soon.
Wilson Chandler, G/F, DEN – Chandler's status in his return from a hamstring injury has been somewhat murky during his entire rehab, but it appears the veteran swingman is close to activation. The 26-year-old forward has been cleared for basketball activities and hopes to make his season debut against the Jazz. Denver isn't nearly as deep as last season, and Chandler is expected to have a large role for the team upon his return. He's worth snatching up off waivers if available in shallow leagues.
JaVale McGee, C, DEN – Pundits have been raving about McGee's potential for years. George Karl left Denver this offseason, which led to the widespread belief that McGee would finally get a chance to shine under a new regime. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case, as McGee continues to see erratic playing time. Through five games, McGee is averaging just 16 mpg and has topped 20 minutes just twice. Many blamed Karl for McGee's lack of playing time in Denver last season, but it's starting to become clear that the talented, yet basketball-IQ challenged, big man is destined to find himself in every coach's doghouse. Until McGee learns how to play smarter and stay on the court longer (something the talented 25-year-old should have easily figured out through his first five seasons in the NBA), he'll be nothing more than a block specialist for fantasy purposes.
Larry Sanders, C, MIL – Here's another young and talented big man who's main problem appears to be the head on his shoulders. After a breakout campaign last year, Sanders got off to a slow start for the Bucks. To make matters worse, Sanders suffered a thumb injury last weekend that may have occurred during an off-the-court altercation at a bar in Milwaukee. No charges will be filed and Sanders appears ready to make a quick return to the court, but he still deserves a downgrade. The early-round fantasy pick is averaging a measly 2.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 17 mpg. His two swats per game has been the only rewarding part of his stat line for owners who grabbed him early hoping that Sanders was the next Serge Ibaka. Sanders will no doubt bounce-back to post better numbers going forward, but his lack of refinement on the offensive end of the court after signing a big contract this offseason is concerning. Unless Sanders starts working on his post-up game and starts using his head better (on and off the court), he'll have a tough time living up to his draft day cost.
Greivis Vasquez, G, SAC – One of bigger surprises at the point guard position in 2012-13, Vasquez has seemingly taken a step back this year. Vasquez was the unquestioned floor general in New Orleans last season, but he's locked into a playing time battle with backup Isaiah Thomas in Sacramento. Thomas has outplayed Vasquez significantly through the first handful of games, and while Vasquez's starting job appears to be safe, odds are Thomas continues to see enough run off the bench to damage Vasquez's value long term.
Tyson Chandler, C, NYK – The aforementioned Chandler will be on the shelf for at least the next month with a fractured right fibula. His timetable for a return is short enough for most owners to stash him away on the bench, but owners in shallower formats with short benches may want to explore other options if comparable production is available on the waiver wire.