One thing I always preach early in the season is to keep things in perspective. We aren't even two weeks into the 2015-16 campaign, and most teams have played just seven or eight games. If it were January, we would speak of seven to eight contests or two weeks as a "stretch of games" or note that a player has been on a "streak."
The point: Don't panic if a player you believe in has slumped early on, and don't overreact if a player you don't believe in is red-hot.
However, every season there are players who exceed or fail to live up to expectations, and fleshing out who is for real and who is a bust can be difficult. For instance, what should you do with Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo? Are the hot starts of T.J. McConnell and Evan Fournier flukes? Will rookie Emmanuel Mudiay get off the schneid? Is there a slumping player out there you should target at a discount in trades?
Don't worry; I have the answers for you.
Each Monday this season, I'll tip the week off by positing and seeking answers to five key questions, thus the "Starting Five."
This week's contributors are ESPN NBA Insiders Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle and yours truly.
Injury-prone guards Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo have lots to prove this season but thus far have been extremely inconsistent. Which player would you rather invest in for the remainder of the fantasy season?
Doolittle: In real life, I'd probably go with Rose. For fantasy purposes, Rondo is the safer play. First, from an advanced metrics standpoint, Rondo had a slightly higher projection anyway. In that light, you'd expect him to retain the edge. Rondo is a lock to beat Rose in rebounds, assists and steals. Rose may start taking more 3s as his vision improves in the wake of his broken face, but it may also be a product of Fred Hoiberg's system. Oddly, it's free throw percentage that may be a tiebreaker, as Rose is consistently good there, while Rondo keeps getting worse.
Pelton: Both players are probably more valuable in a fantasy context than on the court at this stage of their careers. I'm skeptical Rondo can maintain what would be the lowest turnover rate of his career -- even lower than 2007-08, when he largely played off the ball for the champion Boston Celtics. Meanwhile, Derrick Rose's 7.7 percent 3-point shooting is ripe for regression. So I'd lean his direction.
Carpenter: In my Bold Predictions piece, I suggested that Darren Collison would replace Rondo in the Sacramento Kings' starting lineup by Thanksgiving and that Rose would play more games this season than LeBron James. Granted, I was being bold, but I do think that Rose is more likely to settle in as a viable long-term fantasy contributor than Rondo this season. Having said that, though, I would look to trade both if I got a halfway decent offer. In Rondo's case, he is coming off a triple-double and should have some inflated production this week with Collison slated to miss more action with a strained hamstring. If he looks good, deal him away, because it likely will be his peak value for the 2015-16 campaign.
Undrafted rookie T.J. McConnell is averaging 6.8 points, 9.3 dimes and 6.3 boards over his past four games with the Philadelphia 76ers. What should we expect from him in the short and long term this season?
Doolittle: McConnell's rise has been a nice story, but I don't expect him to continue to produce as this level. First, he's far outstripping his projection, though with rookies there's less of a confidence factor there. I don't think his 3-point percentage is sustainable, for one. And for all the assists he's racking up, his turnover rate is astronomical. I do like the way he and Nik Stauskas work together, but I suspect McConnell is headed for the second unit and maybe the end of the bench when Kendall Marshall -- who does many of the same things -- and Tony Wroten return.
Pelton: Undrafted or no, McConnell's college statistics suggested he could be a capable backup point guard in the league. They didn't suggest he'd be this productive. McConnell is actually rebounding and assisting more frequently than he did at Arizona, and that just doesn't happen. It's going to be difficult for McConnell to keep that up, and as the Sixers' options at point guard improve with the return of Marshall and Wroten, he's unlikely to keep playing so many minutes.
Carpenter: I'm skeptical about McConnell continuing to roll at this level for the long term this season, mostly because his minutes should be scaled back once Marshall and Wroten return from the infirmary. It's also tough to buy into an undrafted player emerging as a long-term fantasy contributor at point guard as a rookie. For those reasons, the odds are slim that you'll be able to trade him right now for good value, so McConnell should be the classic player you snag off waivers, ride for a few weeks, then toss back into the free-agent pool.
Orlando Magic small forward Evan Fournier has cooled off a bit after his scorching-hot start to the season, but he still chipped in 17 points on Saturday and has taken double-digit shots in each of his past six games. What are your expectations for Fournier going forward?
Doolittle: What's encouraging is that Fournier's increased production hasn't been a simple matter of a hot streak from 3-point range. For the season, his improvement has come from his work inside the arc. My big concern is that you could see his 37 minutes per game role being chipped at as the season goes along. The Magic have defended a lot better with Fournier off the floor, likely a function of Aaron Gordon and Dewayne Dedmon lurking on the second unit. Gordon and Mario Hezonja are going to need more minutes, and head coach Scott Skiles will relish the chance to play bigger.
Pelton: With Scott Skiles concluding that Tobias Harris is best at power forward and Mario Hezonja as yet unable to handle heavy minutes, Fournier is likely to remain Orlando's best option at small forward. His stats are inflated a bit by playing 37.6 minutes per game, which probably isn't going to continue, but the rest of his numbers aren't particularly fluky. I'd expect him to settle close to his per-36 averages of 18 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 3-pointers.
Carpenter: We already knew that Fournier could shoot the 3, because he knocked down at least 37.6 percent of his 3-point attempts during each of his first three NBA campaigns. The surge in overall scoring is the result of playing nine more minutes per game and taking 5.4 more field goal attempts per game than last season. So the question is whether he can maintain this rate of minutes and shots for the long term. Coach Skiles has proved over the years to be extremely loyal to players he likes -- those who play hard and are fundamentally sound -- and Fournier fits the bill. He doesn't dish a lot or rack up steals, but as a 3-point specialist who can score in the upper teens and post excellent percentages, I'm a buyer.
Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay has shown signs of success (games of nine and 10 assists, four steals on Friday, several games with multiple 3-pointers) and signs of concern (horrendous percentages, massive turnovers). What are your thoughts on the No. 7 overall pick early in his rookie season?
Doolittle: Mudiay is learning how to play pick-and-roll basketball. His decision-making there is undercutting his numbers far more than any general concerns about his inconsistent jump shot. Per Synergy, when he's finishing those plays himself, he's turning the ball over a third of the time. And he's shooting 28 percent on 2-pointers. Given Mudiay's background, you had to expect a learning curve. His athleticism has lived up to billing and his numbers, aside from this precise area, have been on target. He should get better and, eventually, when Jusuf Nurkic returns as another roll man option, it will help too.
Pelton: I don't anticipate the overall results changing dramatically. This kind of inconsistency is what happens when you turn your team over to a 19-year-old point guard who's barely played high-level basketball. Specifically, I'd expect Mudiay to shoot a better percentage inside the arc and cool beyond it. His shooting form and track record don't support that Mudiay can keep making 37.5 percent of his 3s. And there's no way anyone can keep shooting so poorly on 2s. No player since the ABA-NBA merger has shot less than 30 percent on 2-point attempts and played at least 1,200 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Carpenter: I projected Mudiay for 39.1 FG%, 55.4 FT% and 4.1 turnovers per game, so I'm not surprised that after six games he is averaging 30.5 FG%, 63.2 FT% and 5.3 turnovers per game. Poor shooting and sloppy ball protection were going to be the rub in roto systems because his jumper is cringe-worthy, and an inexperienced 19-year-old is going to make tons of mistakes running the point for 30-plus minutes per game. I'd steer clear of him in roto games, especially if they include turnovers. However, in points leagues, where you can hide percentages and turnovers, Mudiay is worth targeting in trades now, because his overall production is bound to increase as the season moves along.
Name a player who has gotten off to a slow start this season but should be targeted in trades because you expect him to turn things around sooner than later.
Doolittle: I'd hope that people aren't bailing on Carmelo Anthony, but there's an easy answer. An even easier one is Marc Gasol. He's been nicked up a little bit with a neck issue and perhaps pressure after signing that huge deal in the offseason. The Grizzlies in general have looked dysfunctional. There are some problems with age in Memphis, but I'm not buying this narrative that they've gotten old all at once and are mid-plummet. Gasol is shooting under 40 percent, and that's just not going to last. It's not like his game was based on elite athleticism in the first place.
Pelton: Ty Lawson. The concerns about Lawson's fit with James Harden are well-founded and explain some of his decline from last season, particularly in terms of assists. But Lawson's 36.4 percent shooting -- down from 46.3 percent in 2014-15 -- is entirely fluky, and just shooting last year's percentage would give Lawson an extra point per game. Add better chemistry with Harden -- and possibly more action with Harden on the bench -- and Lawson should be fine going forward.
Carpenter: Klay Thompson. He is averaging 6.7 fewer points and 1.2 fewer 3-pointers per game this season. That is due to a combination of taking nearly four fewer field goal attempts per game compared with last season and hitting just 36.1 percent of his 3s. The shots are down largely because Stephen Curry is in some sort of white-hot supernova zone and taking 3.3 more shots per game. For his career, Thompson is shooting 41.7 percent from beyond the arc, so it's only a matter of time before he rights the ship. I'm sure his current owner isn't going to trade him at a fire-sale discount, but this is probably your best chance to acquire Thompson at an affordable rate. Don't forget that he finished last season at No. 7 on the Player Rater.