We're roughly a quarter of the way through the NBA season, and given that we looked last week at players who have been exceeding their expectations based on average draft position (ADP), this week -- with the holiday season looming -- feels like a good time to delve into the more disappointing cases around the league. In some cases, these guys will be prime buy-low candidates, but in others you may just want to cut bait while you still can.
(Ranking based on per-game averages in parentheses)
Portland Trail Blazers
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers (34): Aldridge's ADP jumped up to 14.4 after last season's career-best numbers across the board, but he's currently coupling a career-high usage rate with a career-low true shooting percentage, and the results have been less than exciting for fantasy owners. It's tempting to say the career-low 46 percent shooting from the floor is a fluke, but he's exchanged some of his close-to-the-basket shot attempts for more long jump shots, and he's not shooting those well, either. Add it up, and he's averaging fewer points than he did last season even though he's playing more minutes on a worse team.
It's a bad set of circumstances for fantasy owners, and it's unlikely to change soon. The Blazers have no depth whatsoever, so Aldridge needs to play heavy minutes in order to give his team a chance to win. It's possible that the extra minutes (and extra wear and tear that comes with them) is making him far more likely to settle for a jumper in lieu of banging bodies in the post (though, to be fair, he's getting to the line as much as he ever has). Still, there's a good chance his blocks will decline as the season wears on, and that's just another reason to believe the upside here is minimal. I'd be looking to trade him, if it could return me a player with a little more potential in the fantasy world.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat (40): Wade is currently working on his lowest PER since his rookie season, and even that statement might undersell the decline he's experiencing as a fantasy player. Offensively, he's actually been a little better than the perception. His scoring is a bit down, but he's shooting over 50 percent from the floor and is getting to the line nearly as much as he did last season. Rather, it's all the other stuff that's a problem. He still never makes 3s, and the defensive numbers he managed last season (1.3 blocks and 1.7 steals) are a distant memory (0.6 and 1.1 so far this season in similar minutes). What's more, his rebound rate is a career low and his rebounding and assists per minute are worse than they've ever been as well (and he's playing fewer minutes, too).
Obviously, none of this is good, and it's probably not going to get better any time soon. Even with the Heat clearly coasting through the regular season and Wade missing games here and there, the Heat are tied with the Knicks for fewest losses in the Eastern Conference. They're most likely going to wind up in first place whether they get a great season out of Wade or not, and that means Eric Spoelstra is probably going to keep limiting his minutes in order to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Wade is obviously a better player than, say, Monta Ellis, but whether he can prove it in the context of fantasy leagues for the rest of the season is an open question, so trading him for fair value now might not be a bad idea if it improves your team.
Greg Monroe, PF/C, Detroit Pistons (60): Monroe, in some ways, has become an even better all-around player so far this season. His assists and steals (both valuable numbers for a big man) are up to 3.4 and 1.6 respectively, and he's taking more shots and getting to the line more than he did last season. Unfortunately, carrying a bigger load in the offense comes with a drop in efficiency, and Monroe is no exception. His field goal percentage is down from 52 to 45, and, though it's a separate issue, his free throw percentage has dropped from 74 to 71. It's worth pointing out that his number of attempts at the rim is the same as it was last year, so the extra field goal he's attempting every night has a decent chance at being a jump shot he's missing, and over the course of a season, one extra missed shot in every game can really add up.
Obviously, Monroe is still a very young player, and he's got lots of room to improve. He's a fantastic team player too -- a great passer for a big man -- so as the Pistons' roster improves around him, he should improve simultaneously with it. For now though, the efficiency is a concern; after a somewhat underwhelming November, his December has been a disaster through seven games. He's averaging just 11.1 points on 35.5 percent shooting from the floor, and that's not going to cut it in fantasy leagues. I think he'll turn it around, but he might not find his way back into the top 50 by season's end.
Paul Millsap, PF, Utah Jazz (64): There are plenty of small reasons for it, but after years of being an underrated fantasy player, Millsap became overrated this season, and promptly has slid back on the Player Rater. It's tempting to look at his declines in rebounding and scoring, but those areas aren't really what's killing his value this season. Rather, it has been his decline in the steals category that has cut him down. Were he averaging the 1.8 steals per game he managed last season, Millsap would be right around his ADP of 29.9. Still, there are some encouraging signs. For one, he's added a 3-point shot to his arsenal, and while he's making just 0.5 from that range per game, his 47 percent shooting proves that he's capable of making it a real weapon. Second, maybe the steals are coming around; he's grabbed six of them in his past two contests.
Finally, there's the issue of his field goal percentage, which is down to a career-low 46 percent after last season's career-low 49 percent. I'm going to go ahead and chalk that up to the fact that he's shooting 31 percent on shots between 16 and 23 feet according to hoopdata.com. Those jump shots have been far more productive for Millsap in past seasons, and given the fact that he's turned himself into a proficient 3-point shooter, I would expect the midrange game to climb to its old levels any day now.