Each season, we see certain players make stylistic changes to their games that turn those players into different fantasy commodities. We tend to believe that players will follow similar career paths, improving until they reach their peak, then remain in their prime for a few years, then slowly decline once age starts to catch up with them. The thing is, that's not usually how it plays out.
In fantasy, that "career-path" mindset often comes into play when we evaluate players for the future. I find myself assuming that Player X is going to snap out of his funk or that Player Y will eventually find his 3-point stroke as the season wears on, but as we get deeper and deeper into the season, it's time to consider the fact that players might just have different skill sets than we imagined.
What follows is a list of players who have shifted the preconceived notions I had of them at the start of the season, some for the worse, some for the better.
For the worse
Brook Lopez, C, Nets: Lopez was a top-30 fantasy asset in each of his first two seasons in the league, and considering his age (he's still just 22), it's extremely surprising that he's floundering outside the top 40 on the Player Rater.
What seems to have changed most about Lopez is his ability to grab rebounds. Consider that among qualified centers, only Andrea Bargnani has a worse rebound rate, and that's largely because Bargnani plays on the perimeter. Lopez was a middling rebounder last season, and a pretty good one as a rookie, so it's surprising to see him averaging only 5.6 boards per game.
What's more, it doesn't seem to be turning around. Lopez averaged a putrid 4.5 rebounds per game in January and is at 4.3 so far in February. This is not because of a lack of playing time, either; he has been well over 30 minutes per game all season and still hasn't had a double-digit rebounding game since Dec. 1.
Factoring in his slight decline in both blocked shots and field goal percentage, there's a real concern here that Lopez simply doesn't want to bang bodies around the basket as much as he should, and that makes him a far less valuable fantasy player. He's still worth owning, of course, as a center who scores nearly 20 points per game, but it's time we stopped thinking of him as the elite player he appeared to be at the start of the season.
Hedo Turkoglu, SF/PF, Magic: Amazingly, it seems we all talked ourselves into liking the wildly overrated Turkoglu again this year. Turkoglu, of course, has received a ton of credit and name recognition for the essential role he has played on many good Orlando Magic teams over the past half-decade. On a team with a point guard like Jameer Nelson, you need another player who can handle the ball, run a pick-and-roll and initiate offense, and Turkoglu can do all of those things surprisingly well for a guy who is 6-foot-10.
On the other hand, we're talking about a pretty mediocre basketball player here. Except for one season (2007-08) that's looking more and more like an aberration, this is the first campaign since '07-08 that Hedo has shot better than 42 percent from the floor. He's a good 3-point shooter, but he doesn't do anything else remarkably well besides accumulate a fair number of assists for a forward. He doesn't rebound, his free throw shooting has fallen off a cliff in recent years, and he never has been a contributor in steals and blocks.
More importantly, even Steve Nash couldn't save Turkoglu's numbers in Phoenix, and he has been decidedly mediocre now that he's back in Orlando. There really was no reason for Hedo to be taken in the top 75 in drafts, and there's no reason why anyone should want to trade for him now.
For the better
Nene, C, Nuggets: This one isn't so much about this particular season; rather it has to do with our perception of certain players. Considering Nene is currently a top-35 player on the Player Rater based on both total stats and per-game averages, one would think that, based on his preseason ADP (average draft position) of 67.8, his numbers are surprisingly good.
But that's not really the case. Nene's scoring numbers (as well as his shooting percentages) are up, but his rebounds and assists actually are slightly down, as are his blocks and steals. What's making Nene so valuable is the same thing that has helped him each of the past two seasons: He's staying on the floor. Although his status is questionable at the moment because of an illness, he has missed just 11 games in the past 2½ seasons.
There seems to be a perception in fantasy that Nene is an oft-injured player, but that just isn't the case anymore. He's still just 28, and his severe injuries of years past should be distant memories by now. Nene slipped way too far in drafts; it's time we consider him the top-35 fantasy player he has been so far this season.
Ray Allen, SG, Celtics: This is the second consecutive season we've seen Allen's ADP take a massive drop, only to see him come out and blow away everyone's expectations. How is this possible? Is he superhuman or something?
This season, Allen has outperformed his average draft position (66.2) significantly; he's averaging 17.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 3-pointers per game. And really, do those numbers look wildly out of the ordinary for him? No, of course they don't. Those are absolutely within range of the numbers Allen has been putting up his entire time in Boston. Sure, his higher-than-normal 50.7 percent shooting from the floor is boosting his fantasy stock a bit, but that doesn't account for the wild gap between his ADP and his current Player Rater rank. The truth is, we just assume Allen's numbers are going to decline one of these years because he's getting older. What we don't realize is that his numbers already have declined from his prime years, but he's still great.
Just five years ago, Ray Allen was a completely different player. He played more minutes, had the ball in his hands a lot more, scored a ton of points and was a great fantasy player for somewhat different reasons. He is not that same player. He isn't the focus of his team's offense, and he's tallying fewer rebounds, steals and assists than he used to. The guy we have today is the getting-older version of Ray Allen, but that player still has plenty of value. It's time we stopped regarding him as a player in decline and instead started appreciating how valuable his particular brand of efficiency is in the fantasy game.