With the All-Star break nearly at hand, we're a lot deeper into the 2010-11 NBA season than you might realize. In fact, we're closer to being two-thirds of the way through the season than we are to the halfway point, and for some of us -- the sadder, more inconsolable ones -- it might be time to start getting desperate.
Fortunately, this Player Rater column is all about desperation. As we've pointed out hundreds of times, the Player Rater is useful as a tool only in regard to analyzing the past. The Player Rater rankings help us make judgments for the future, but the specifics of those judgments is, as always, ultimately in the hands (or perhaps more accurately, the whims) of each particular fantasy basketball owner.
When I say "it might be time to start getting desperate," by the way, I don't mean you should trade all your good players for awful ones. Instead, you should try to find a few diamonds in the rough in the 50-to-150 range of the Player Rater -- guys you think could play well above their current ranking over the final third of the season -- and pursue them in trades, offering up players you feel have less upside.
What follows is a list of players I think are about to break out over the coming weeks in such a way that it will alter how we view these players heading into next season. This type of breakout is not uncommon, of course. Consider, for example, the way Jrue Holiday played for the 76ers down the stretch last season. After being largely a non-factor prior to the break, Holiday averaged 13.2 points, 5.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.5 3-pointers per game last March, with 50 percent shooting from the floor. That served as ample notice that he would be a key player this season, which he has been.
Channing Frye, PF/C, Suns: When Frye signed his long-term contract with the Suns this summer, I thought Suns management had made a huge mistake; I felt there was no way he was going to be able to keep knocking down 3-pointers without Amare Stoudemire drawing defenders away in the pick-and-roll game. Of course, I seem to have underestimated two things: one, Steve Nash; and two, the fact that Frye is nearly 7 feet tall. Nash keeps getting Frye open looks, and Frye is tall enough that it doesn't necessarily matter that he's not quite as open as he was before.
It's important to remember that there are few precedents for a player such as Frye. The NBA has had a 3-point line for more than 30 years now, and only three players 6-foot-11 or taller have made more than 150 3-pointers in a season. They are Dirk Nowitzki (though not in a decade), Troy Murphy (who hasn't played since Jan. 7), and Frye, who is on pace to just about match the 172 3s he knocked down last season.
But wait, there's more! Frye is averaging better than nine rebounds and a block per game in February, too, so he's not just a shooter these days. In a season in which LaMarcus Aldridge finally decided it was a good idea to crash the boards, maybe it's not unreasonable to think that Frye could do the same. After all, he's a big guy, and he plays on a team that plays a fast enough pace that he can rack up big numbers in rebounds without necessarily being an innately great rebounder. Basically, this all adds up to a general feeling of optimism in Frye's game; after all, he's still only 27 years old, and his team definitely needs him to produce.
Kyle Lowry, PG, Rockets: Despite concerns that he would lose playing time once Aaron Brooks returned from injury, Lowry has, at this point, firmly grabbed the reins of the point guard job in Houston. This makes perfect sense; according to 82games.com, the Rockets are a much better team with Lowry on the floor than when Brooks is playing the point. After Lowry's minutes dipped from 34.1 per game to 32.5 from December to January, he's approaching 35 per game in February, and while he has struggled to shoot for a decent percentage from the field, he's making two 3s per game and has averaged 12.7 points, 5.7 assists, and 1.3 steals in his past seven games.
As he continues to adjust to being the full-time starter, Lowry is only going to get better. If he can continue to bump up his steals average -- he averaged 2.3 steals per game in December, so it's possible -- he could easily be a top-50 fantasy player the rest of the way and could possibly be had for someone trending down, such as Devin Harris.
DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Kings: Cousins' off-court transgressions -- the most notable was a locker-room altercation with teammate Donte Greene, which resulted in Cousins being fined and left out of a game -- have been widely reported in recent weeks. Now the Kings are saying that Cousins will come off the bench for the next two games. What happens after the All-Star break remains to be seen, of course, but when we're talking about making desperate moves for the chance to strike gold, Cousins definitely fits the bill. He's a supremely talented player who was just starting to put up huge numbers before all of this recent turmoil.
Cousins is averaging 17 points and 11.4 rebounds in February, and it stands to reason that he could easily maintain those numbers on a regular basis after the break. It's a risk, of course, because Cousins could just as easily allow the adversity make him worse and go the other way. Still, Cousins is the sort of player who, when he's right, can save your fantasy season, and if you're stuck somewhere in the middle of your league's standings, he's exactly the sort of player you should be targeting.
Kendrick Perkins, C, Celtics: Perhaps because he just came back from the long-term injury he suffered in the Finals against the Lakers, Perkins is still available in most fantasy leagues. But that won't be the case for long. The Celtics need him -- he's already averaging 31.3 minutes per game in February -- and his 9.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game this month, along with his usual high field goal percentage, make him someone who probably should be owned in all formats.
Were he to play a full season, Perk would easily wind up among the top 100 fantasy players. His one major weakness is that he turns the ball over, but if you're in a standard league that doesn't count turnovers, he's a great option, especially considering his familiarity with the lineup. You could do much worse than relying on him the rest of the way.