After one of the more exciting stretches of basketball in recent memory, I finally get to answer the question I've been asked repeatedly all week: "Where are you going to rank Jeremy Lin?"
Averaging 26.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.6 3-pointers while shooting 51.5 percent from the floor and 73.8 percent from the line in his past five games, Lin has been a top-10 fantasy performer the past week. Is Lin for real, or will he come crashing down to earth once Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire return?
The Top 130
Note: Brian McKitish's top 130 players are ranked for their fantasy value from this point forward in the 2011-12 NBA season. Previous rank is indicated in parentheses.
1. LeBron James, SF, MIA (1)
2. Kevin Durant, SF, OKC (2)
3. Chris Paul, PG, LAC (3)
4. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (4)
5. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (5)
6. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (7)
7. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (8)
8. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (6)
9. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (9)
10. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (10)
11. Deron Williams, PG, NJ (11)
12. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (12)
13. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (13)
14. Al Jefferson, C/PF, UTAH (14)
15. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C, POR (15)
16. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (17)
17. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (16)
18. Kyle Lowry, PG, HOU (18)
19. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (20)
20. Blake Griffin, PF, LAC (23)
21. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (21)
22. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (22)
23. Carmelo Anthony, SF, NY (19)
24. Ty Lawson, PG, DEN (25)
25. Amare Stoudemire, C/PF, NY (27)
26. Paul Millsap, PF, UTAH (26)
27. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (29)
28. Ricky Rubio, PG, MIN (28)
29. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (30)
30. DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, SAC (38)
31. John Wall, PG, WSH (32)
32. Marcin Gortat, C, PHO (35)
33. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (31)
34. Greg Monroe, PF/C, DET (37)
35. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (33)
36. Andre Iguodala, SF/SG, PHI (34)
37. JaVale McGee, C, WSH (36)
38. David Lee, PF/C, GS (40)
39. Marcus Thornton, SG, SAC (50)
40. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (39)
41. Danny Granger, SF, IND (46)
42. James Harden, SG, OKC (42)
43. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (45)
44. Chris Bosh, PF/C, MIA (43)
45. Mike Conley, PG, MEM (44)
46. Ryan Anderson, PF, ORL (47)
47. Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, SAC (55)
48. Kyrie Irving, PG, CLE (48)
49. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, POR (49)
50. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (51)
51. Serge Ibaka, C/PF, OKC (60)
52. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (59)
53. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (84)
54. Jrue Holiday, PG, PHI (53)
55. Kris Humphries, PF, NJ (54)
56. Jeremy Lin, PG, NY (NR)
57. Carlos Boozer, PF, CHI (56)
58. Kevin Martin, SG, HOU (41)
59. Nene Hilario, C/PF, DEN (52)
60. Tyson Chandler, C, NY (58)
61. Dorell Wright, SF, GS (64)
62. Tony Parker, PG, SA (57)
63. Jose Calderon, PG, TOR (61)
64. Paul George, SF/SG, IND (71)
65. Kemba Walker, PG, CHA (66)
66. DeAndre Jordan, C, LAC (67)
67. Jason Terry, SG, DAL (70)
68. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (72)
69. Caron Butler, SF, LAC (74)
70. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (75)
71. Jeff Teague, PG, ATL (69)
72. Jarrett Jack, PG/SG, NO (63)
73. Drew Gooden, PF, MIL (92)
74. Antawn Jamison, PF, CLE (80)
75. Andrea Bargnani, C/PF, TOR (62)
76. Eric Gordon, SG, NO (68)
77. Al Harrington, PF, DEN (77)
78. Nicolas Batum, SF, POR (85)
79. David West, PF, IND (88)
80. Darren Collison, PG, IND (79)
81. Luis Scola, PF, HOU (86)
82. Tim Duncan, PF/C, SA (83)
83. Jared Dudley, SF/SG, PHO (90)
84. Lou Williams, PG/SG, PHI (94)
85. Nick Young, SG, WSH (87)
86. Mo Williams, PG, LAC (108)
87. Raymond Felton, PG, POR (78)
88. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, ORL (82)
89. Wesley Matthews, SG/SF, POR (81)
90. Brandon Knight, PG/SG, DET (89)
91. Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, DEN (24)
92. DeMar DeRozan, SG, TOR (95)
93. Channing Frye, PF/C, PHO (109)
94. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, POR (105)
95. Michael Beasley, SF/PF, MIN (91)
96. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (97)
97. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (122)
98. Nikola Pekovic, C, MIN (115)
99. D.J. Augustin, PG, CHA (102)
100. Spencer Hawes, C, PHI (73)
101. Andre Miller, PG, DEN (98)
102. Jason Richardson, SG, ORL (113)
103. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (110)
104. Arron Afflalo, SG, DEN (124)
105. MarShon Brooks, SG, NJ (127)
106. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (120)
107. Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, DET (104)
108. Marcus Camby, C/PF, POR (106)
109. Gerald Henderson, SG, CHA (101)
110. Trevor Ariza, SF/SG, NO (111)
111. Boris Diaw, PF/SF/C, CHA (96)
112. Anthony Morrow, SG/SF, NJ (99)
113. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (123)
114. James Johnson, SF, TOR (114)
115. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (121)
116. Iman Shumpert, PG, NY (100)
117. Randy Foye, SG/PG, LAC (NR)
118. Anderson Varejao, PF/C, CLE (65)
119. Landry Fields, SG, NY (116)
120. Samuel Dalembert, C, HOU (93)
121. Devin Harris, PG, UTAH (112)
122. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, DAL (117)
123. Trevor Booker, PF, WSH (NR)
124. O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM (107)
125. Gordon Hayward, SG/SF, UTAH (126)
126. Ersan Ilyasova, SF/PF, MIL (NR)
127. Chase Budinger, SF, HOU (NR)
128. Mario Chalmers, PG, MIA (125)
129. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, MIL (128)
130. Tayshaun Prince, SF, DET (130)
The answer to that question, of course, is somewhere in the middle.
Let's get the bad news out of the way first. There is little chance that Lin will continue to see 39 minutes with 19.4 shot attempts per game once Melo and Amare return to the lineup. It's also hard to imagine that Lin will continue to shoot 51.5 percent from the floor when he's just 3-for-17 from downtown in this stretch. But none of this means Lin can't still be a highly effective fantasy point guard.
Breakout candidates are normally found when talent meets opportunity, and Lin has already proved he has the talent (albeit in a small sample size). His basketball IQ is off the charts, and I'm not saying that just because he went to Harvard. Similar to the Minnesota Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio, Lin knows how to direct an offense, and he knows how to get in passing lanes and create deflections on the defensive side.
As for the opportunity? Well, he's found himself in the fortunate situation of being the only true point guard for a team that has been desperate for one all season. He's playing for a coach that (as we've come to learn this year) needs a true point guard to succeed, and he's playing in a system that has been very friendly to point guards over the years. If Chris Duhon and Raymond Felton can be fantasy stars running the point for Mike D'Antoni, why can't Jeremy Lin?
With that said, I've ranked Lin 56th this week, just behind Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday among point guards but in front of Tony Parker and Jose Calderon. That's pretty high praise for a player who only has about a week's worth of history to look at, but I believe in D'Antoni's fantasy-friendly system, and I believe in Lin's ability to run that system effectively.
Lost in the "Linsanity" craze has been the play of DeMarcus Cousins, who has put up 18.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks over his past 10 games. Cousins has been a man among boys in the paint since Keith Smart replaced Paul Westphal as the Sacramento Kings' coach, and fantasy owners should consider him a top-30 player going forward.
Cousins' teammate, Marcus Thornton, is back to full strength after a thigh injury and is averaging 19.7 points, 1.3 steals and 3.0 3-pointers in six games since his return. These are the type of dynamic numbers we've come to expect from Thornton whenever he's getting quality playing time.
With two separate 10-block games this month, I think it's safe to say Serge Ibaka's slow start is finally behind him. Now that his minutes have crept up into the range of 30-32 per night, Ibaka should be considered a borderline top-50 player.
We discussed Nikola Pekovic briefly last week, but Pek has continued his solid play with 15.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game over his past five. Pekovic is a brilliant offensive rebounder, which should ensure that he continues to earn quality minutes in the Timberwolves' frontcourt. He shouldn't be available in many leagues at this point, but it's worth checking just in case he has flown under the radar.
Mo Williams hasn't played particularly well since Chauncey Billups went down with a season-ending Achilles injury, but Williams and Randy Foye will be the primary beneficiaries for the Los Angeles Clippers. Williams, who averaged 15.4 points, 1.4 steals and 1.8 3-pointers in the month of January, should right the ship soon and become a quality fantasy option for scoring, 3-point shooting and steals.
After sitting out two games near the end of January with a foot injury, Kevin Martin has struggled mightily in his return, with just 12.7 points per game while shooting 38.9 percent from the floor this month. Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale has not been shy about tinkering with his lineups while Martin struggles. In this stretch, McHale has limited Martin to 24.1 minutes per game while Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee help pick up the slack. There has been no indication that Martin is hiding an injury, so it appears as if this is merely a shooting slump. Martin appeared to be back on track in Sunday night's 28-point effort against the Warriors, so let's cross our fingers and hope the slump is over.
Brandon Jennings has been a streaky shooter throughout his short career, and, after spending much of the season on an incredible run, he finally has hit a bit of a cold streak in recent action. Luckily, he's still been productive despite shooting only 34.4 percent from the floor in seven games this month. Jennings will be fine, but his owners will have to remember that he can go cold from the floor from time to time.
Some might be surprised to see Tony Parker dropping a few spots in the week's rankings after averaging 26.0 points, 7.2 assists and 1.4 steals over his past five games, but his scoring and assists should take a hit with Manu Ginobili back in action.
Samuel Dalembert is up to his old inconsistent tricks again. After posting 9.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in the month of January, Dalembert has slumped with just 3.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 17.5 minutes this month. Dalembert has always struggled with inconsistency, and I wouldn't be surprised one bit if he ended up having value again this season.
Speaking of inconsistency, Tyrus Thomas has managed just 6.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks over his past five games. Thomas very well may have a few more stretches when he appears to be turning the corner, but fantasy owners are starting to get wise to his disappearing act. Thomas drops out of the Top 130 this week, and he'll have to put up more than just a couple of solid starts in a row before he'll be welcomed back in.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and was named the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2011. He can be reached at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.