January 31, 2011

One important skill to have when playing fantasy basketball is the ability to classify players properly. You need to be able to distinguish between the solid, reliable veterans you can count on night in and night out and the once solid, reliable veterans who are now either injury prone or have reached the winters of their professional basketball careers.

While veterans generally provide stability due to their history and track records, they will not always remain in their prime. Whether it is due to age, injury, or even a change in scenery, players who were once dependable sources of stats eventually see their fantasy productivity fade away.

How many seasons have you stayed away from Steve Nash thinking that his creeping age and aching, battle-weary body will finally catch up with him and hinder his fantasy production? Until what year will you continue to draft Tim "the Big Fundamental" Duncan, thinking that he'll still be an ever reliable source of points, rebounds, and blocks? Are you still drawn to those occasional (but rarer and rarer) triple-double performances from Jason Kidd? When is it time to move on from a player once considered solid and reliable? For some players, that time has finally come. Fret not though, in their place are some youngsters who are ready to carry the torch of fantasy production.


Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks -- He was once able to make up for his lack of scoring punch with a high volume of three-point shots and his unusually high rebounding rate for a point guard. Sadly, J-Kidd is no longer a top 10 point guard. He's been overtaken by some young players who may not rebound as well as he did in his prime, but deliver consistently across other categories. Just like Dallas' hopes for an NBA championship, Kidd's fantasy relevance is swiftly fading.

Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets, and Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns -- Both of these players have about a season or two left in their tanks. Unfortunately, age and wear and tear on their bodies are taking their toll. Their fantasy production will still be decent next season, but as they enter their late-30s their game will no longer be considered elite.


Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder -- He's truly come into his own this 2010-11 season. At times he's had performances that have overshadowed his more popular fantasy small forward, teammate, Kevin Durant. Westbrook appears to have improved his shooting percentages to the point that the turnovers he commits can be considered acceptable evils. Moving forward, fantasy owners will discuss "Russ-West" alongside Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls -- He's put in a lot of hard work and it's clearly paying off. He's no longer a one-dimensional, slash-or-pass guard. The development of his outside shot and his steals has made his game more well-rounded and consistent than in recent years.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors -- The only concern (if at all) about him is his potential for being injury prone, but Curry can really pour on the offensive numbers for fantasy teams. Consider him as a solid source of points, threes, steals and some assists moving forward.


Vince Carter, Phoenix Suns -- Even a move to the fantasy-friendly Suns was not enough to re-kick-start Vinsanity. If playing alongside Steve Nash in an up-tempo oriented offense can't revitalize your fantasy production, nothing will.

Richard Hamilton, Detroit Pistons -- His glory days with the old, championship-winning Pistons is now just water under the bridge. Even if he is traded this season, don't expect him to bounce back anywhere close to the time when you could count on him to deliver 20-plus points with solid shooting percentages.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers -- This is not something that is imminent, but merely an advanced heads up. Kobe's minutes are down to 33 a game this season, and while he has a few more seasons in the tank as a reliable vet, the curtain has to fall, even for Showtime.


Eric Gordon, Los Angeles Clippers -- He's the leading scorer for the Clippers. Gordon, however, brings more than just points to the fantasy table. He's shown to be a solid source of threes, steals and some assists (when really needed by his team). Consistent and reliable, you can really count on Gordon to bring his "A" game night in and night out.

Nick Young, Washington Wizards -- Maturity has been his biggest stumbling block over the last couple of years. Now that he's had his time to shine as a starter with the rebuilding Washington Wizards, Young can grow alongside rookie John Wall, and together they may emerge as one of the East's more offensively potent back court combos.


Richard Jefferson, San Antonio Spurs -- His New Jersey days are far behind him now. He's just a shadow, or a skeleton of a shadow, of his former self. The Spurs may be killing it so far this season, but as far as Jefferson's fantasy reliability is concerned, that's just spilled milk at this point. Don't cry about it. Move on.

Rashard Lewis, Washington Wizards -- Lewis' last couple of seasons in Orlando were big disappointments. While he's improved since getting traded to the Wizards, Lewis still plays more like an aging shooting guard than a 6-10 forward. He's also largely regarded as one of the NBA's most overpaid players, and rightly so. Expect him to soon join Peja Stojakovic wherever it is that former three-point shooting, forwards go to fade into fantasy basketball obscurity.


Dorell Wright, Golden State Warriors and Wilson Chandler, New York Knicks -- Both of these guys provide the three-point shooting fantasy owners usually want from scoring small forwards. As a bonus though, they also bring very diverse stat lines to the table and look to be solid, multi-cat contributors moving forward.


Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs -- He's aged gracefully, indeed, but even sound fundamentals can't keep Father Time from getting his due. Duncan is no longer an elite contributor in the key categories you expect your fantasy power forward to deliver. More and more often we see Duncan deliver sub-par games. His 20/10/2 lines are now fewer and farther between. It's time to look somewhere else for a solid four to fill your fantasy roster.


Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves -- Based on statistical production alone, K-Love deserves to start in this season's All-Star Game. What he fails to deliver as far as blocks are concerned, he more than makes up for in his uncanny ability to convert treys and of course his ability to simply dominate the offensive and defensive glass. It's also a huge boon that his free-throw percentage is an impressive 87.8 percent this season.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers -- Aldridge has really stepped up his game in 2011. Well, he's had to seeing as he's the only healthy star Portland has left. He used to have pedestrian lines and averages, garnering complaints from owners that he doesn't rebound or block enough shots. However, hard work in the gym over the off-season has given him just the right amount of bulk to make him a formidable force in the paint.

Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers -- At this point he's already a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year. He's explosive off the dribble and looks like he uses pogo sticks for shoes when he's hopping and leaping all over the paint. Even though he's playing in his first season as a pro, there doesn't appear anything (other than injury) that's going to keep Griffin out of the top power forward echelon from this point forward.


Brendan Haywood, Dallas Mavericks and Samuel Dalembert, Sacramento Kings -- While neither of these guys were ever considered elite centers; they were solid fantasy sources of 8-10 rebounds and 1.6-2.1 blocks a night for most of their careers. Unfortunately, they are both now lost behind other players in their teams' rotations. Their reliability has truly fallen to wayside, as evidenced by the fact they are both averaging less than 21 minutes a game so far this season.


Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers -- Despite his long tenure in the league, Gasol just turned 30 before the start of the season and is as good, if not better, than he's ever been in his career. Arguably, he's the best center in fantasy hoops today. Gasol still has at least 4-5 years of reliable fantasy production ahead and the Lakers will increasingly lean on him as Kobe begins to slow down.

Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks -- He's matured and improved his game slowly and steadily over the last three years or so. Horford is now a solid source of points, rebounds, some blocks and is one of the best free throw shooting centers in the league. Based on the trajectory of his development, expect him to continue to slowly improve year after year.

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