The holidays bring enough surprises, so I'm keeping it simple this week: Who has been hot and who has not in the Player Rater in December? Happy Holidays, my friends.
Dwyane Wade, PG/SG, Heat: Wade was one of the most volatile options in fantasy drafts this season because of the inevitability he'd miss games before returning from both knee and shoulder surgeries. He ended up missing just seven games, and he had a decent November, averaging 20 points and five assists. But he has looked even more Wade-like in December, averaging 25.3 points, 7.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 81 percent from the free-throw stripe. He's spectacular, plain and simple, and his numbers will continue to improve. If you can convince his owner to trade him for his current season value, I respect your skills of persuasion.
Vince Carter, SG/SF, Nets: He has been booed at home, missed time with injuries and had his heart questioned yet again this season. His scoring is down, but he's still shooting well from the floor, and his peripheral stats are close to his impressive totals from last season. In December, he's averaging 23.3 points, five rebounds and 4.5 assists, while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the stripe. He hasn't missed a game since Nov. 19 and has topped 30 points in three of his past six contests (he had done that just once before, which is a sign he's heating up). I own him in a few leagues and was tempted to trade him during his slump, but I am now pleased to reap the benefits of his impending awesomeness. Owners who drafted him likely spent a second- or third-round pick on him and have thus far been frustrated by his overall production. I see him continuing to stay hot, making Carter an ideal buy-low option.
Josh Howard, SF, Mavericks: He does everything. Plus, a commentator referred to him as a "knife fighter" on ESPN during Thursday night's Mavs-Suns game. And everybody knows that championship teams need at least one knife fighter. Howard has been one of the best eight-category players (or nine, if turnovers are your thing) around in December, with his 27 points, 7.1 boards, 5.1 assists, 1.0 3-pointers, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks, 1.3 turnovers, 49.1 field goal percentage and 86.4 free-throw percentage. Nine categories. Nothing to hate. Rare.
Kirk Hinrich, PG/SG, Bulls: He's always kind of looked like a dead person, but this season he actually has played like one. After being one of the most consistent point guards on both ends of the floor in recent seasons, Hinrich has struggled in all aspects of his game this season, most notably his field goal shooting (37.3 percent). This is reflected in his low point and 3-pointer totals, numbers I see going up now that he has scored in double digits five of his past six games, and even in his most recent clunker on Wednesday night, he still had three steals, two 3s and played the most minutes of any Bulls player. At times I apply fantasy football strategy to basketball. Given the number of games they play, each NFL game equals about five NBA games. Thus, it's as if we just finished Week 4 in the NFL, and Hinrich appears to be just fine heading into Week 5 and the remainder of the season. I've lauded him as a buy-low candidate all season, and the window to buy him is closing.
Kurt Thomas, PF/C, Sonics: At times, I'm convinced Thomas is the best player on the Sonics. Obviously he won't put up the best stats and has little upside, but it's fun to watch him play. He controls the post defensively during stretches, and his 19 rebounds per 48 minutes is bested only by Marcus Camby and Dwight Howard. His minutes are inconsistent, and you can't expect much more than rebounds, but Thomas is one of the lone bright spots on the Sonics' roster this season.
Mikki Moore, PF/C, Kings Moore and I once shared nonverbal communication about a high school girl's inability to hit the high note in "The Star-Spangled Banner," so my personal interaction with him frames him in a favorable light. He has been starting at power forward and is averaging about 10 points and seven rebounds this month, shooting 52 percent from the floor. That's about the best you can expect from him, but for a fantasy player who had no expectations placed upon him this season, Moore has emerged as a deep-league option at center.
Jermaine O'Neal, PF/C, Pacers: People forget how good JO can be when healthy. Remember back in '04 when he averaged around 24 points, 9 boards and 2 blocks? I think it's safe to expect 20.8 points and 2 blocks from this point on if he stays healthy, numbers good enough for any fantasy team. He's averaging 20 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in December, and more importantly hasn't missed a game this month. Consider him another good buy-low player.
Andrew Bynum, C, Lakers: He's big, young and talented. He's also averaging a double-double this season, and 3.7 blocks per game in December. Don't buy high on him right now, but don't sell high, either, because he's legit. Bynum will experience periods of inconsistency, but overall he's worth starting as your fantasy center indefinitely.
Anthony Johnson, PG, Hawks: Didn't the Hawks draft Acie Law to alleviate their point-guard woes? I guess even as a four-year college vet, it's difficult to be a solid NBA point guard as a rookie. Johnson looks like the guy who will man the fort until Law is ready to take over, and he's been performing well lately, averaging 5.7 assists per game in December and 11.5 in his past two games, both of which were huge games. I don't know what else to say other than I added him in several leagues while writing this article. He's like the box of orange Tic Tacs nestled at the bottom of your stocking; not too exciting, but a satisfying find indeed.
Martell Webster, SG/SF, Blazers: After monitoring his play closely, I'm just not convinced Webster will be consistent this season. He'll end up being a perennial fantasy starter, especially if he's in a lineup with Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden for the next decade. But for now, he's one of those tall guys who clearly loves shooting 3s more than utilizing his size, which means 3s are all you can expect from him on a nightly basis. His November stats (11.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.5 3s, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks), were much better than December's (10.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 3s, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks), and James Jones' recent effectiveness has put a damper on his value. Feel free to cut bait.
Chris Wilcox, PF/C, Sonics: It's difficult to make a name for yourself as an almost purely offensive power forward. Eventually, your team is going to ask for at least a block per game and/or eight boards, and Weezie isn't that type of player. He's a terror when thrown alley-oops (which won't happen much given the Sonics' dire point-guard situation) and in the open court, but he has lapses where it seems as if he's sleepwalking through games. Right now is one of those stretches; he has four single-digit scoring efforts in December already after just two in all of November.
Ben Gordon, PG/SG, Bulls: Hinrich's woes must be communicable because his backcourt mate is averaging 16.1 points per game in December, his lowest monthly total since March of 2005. The Bulls have become the polar opposite of the Golden State Warriors -- they keep teams from scoring, but they don't score much themselves. That makes Gordon pretty tough to own right now. But he won't continue playing this poorly, and his field goal percentage will eventually creep back over 40 percent. Don't panic; he'll come around.
Mikael Pietrus, SG/SF, Warriors: Despite his talent, it's tough for a player to establish value as an eighth man. Pietrus hits 3s, and he has good per-48-minute stats, but in basketball, minutes are everything for bench players, and unless an injury occurs or he persuades coach Don Nelson that he's significantly better than Kelenna Azubuike, Pietrus' value is low. He's a career 41 percent shooter from long range, and he'll give you 3s regardless, but don't expect much more. He's hit double digits in scoring once in December, and with Stephen Jackson's dominant play, Pietrus is becoming an afterthought.
Francisco Elson, C, Spurs: Fabricio Oberto almost got an upward-facing green arrow next to his name in this article, but I opted to discuss his counterpart's recent struggles instead. Elson is hurt right now, but even in several games sans Tim Duncan, Elson did nothing and is shooting 38.5 percent from the floor in December. That's pathetic for a 7-footer, and Elson is fantasy trash although Oberto is a solid add, averaging 9.3 rebounds and an unbelievable 73.7 percent from the floor in December.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.