Now that we’re two-and-a-half weeks into the 2015-16 season, it’s becoming easier to distinguish between small-sample-size anomalies and legitimate patterns. For instance, it’s not a fluke that Al Horford and DeMarcus Cousins are knocking down three-pointers this year, providing them extra unforeseen fantasy value. The odds of Ish Smith and T.J. McConnell remaining among the top five assist leaders throughout the remainder of the year, however, are relatively slim.
You can use these early-season trends to your advantage, as some frustrated owners may be ready to trade slow-starters like Danny Green for 60 cents on the dollar. Meanwhile, now might be the time to sell high on guys like Mo Williams and Jerryd Bayless, who are simply holding down the fort until their teams’ respective injured starters, Kyrie Irving and Michael Carter-Williams, return to the floor.
Here, we’ll highlight three players who are vastly outperforming their preseason expectations (based on Expert Consensus Rankings and Average Draft Position) and three players whose fantasy stock is plummeting, whether based on playing time or dismal performances. You shouldn’t necessarily sell high on the rising players or buy low on the falling players; instead, use this to recalibrate your expectations for all of them moving forward.
Karl-Anthony Towns, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves
If you landed Karl-Anthony Towns in a dynasty draft this year, congratulations. You’re about to dominate your league for the next decade. This year’s No. 1 overall pick has hit the ground running, averaging 16.1 points on 48.6 percent shooting, 10.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.1 assists in 29.1 minutes per game, all the while shooting 88.9 percent from the charity stripe.
As Towns’s playing time inevitably increases — you really expect a 39-year-old Kevin Garnett to make it through the season healthy? — his fantasy value figures to continue rising as well. Seeing as he’s already the 22nd-ranked player on ESPN’s Player Rater, it appears as though the Minnesota Timberwolves big man is shaping up as a league-shifting mid-round steal. Don’t sell him for anything short of a stud.
Rajon Rondo, PG, Sacramento Kings
Whereas fantasy owners shouldn’t be rushing to sell high on Towns, the same can’t be said for Rajon Rondo. Over his past three games, he’s erupted for two triple-doubles, averaging 12.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, a whopping 14.0 assists and 3.7 steals, but here’s the rub: He played 46.7 minutes a night over that span.
With Darren Collison sidelined by a hamstring strain, head coach George Karl has run Rondo into the ground over those past three games, but he only topped the 30-minute mark once in his first six contests. Considering Collison’s imminent return — he’s out for Friday, per James Ham of CSN California, but could be back as early as Sunday — the next few days may be your best chance to maximize trade value on Rondo before he returns to a normal minutes load.
Kristaps Porzingis, PF/C, New York Knicks
Towns isn’t the only rookie off to a scorching start from a fantasy perspective. It’s taken just nine games for New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis to make his mark on the fantasy landscape, as he’s averaging 11.6 points (on 39.2 percent shooting), 9.0 boards, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals in just 24.7 minutes per game.
Porzingis damn near drained a game-winning three against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday — it was waved off for coming after the game clock expired — but the fact he was even an option to touch the ball on that play is a promising sign for fantasy owners. The putback king should only see his playing time increase as the season progresses, giving him a realistic chance of finishing as a top 50 value after entering the year with an ADP of 156.
Pleasant surprises who shouldn’t be on any waiver wires:
Nemanja Bjelica, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves (30.4% owned)
Jae Crowder, SF, Boston Celtics (27.2% owned)
Nik Stauskas, SG, Philadelphia 76ers (22.4% owned)
Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
As a Chris Paul owner in the Today’s Fastbreak 12-team fantasy league, I’m admittedly a bit nervous. I thought I stumbled into the steal of the first round when he slipped to ninth overall, but he’s currently 68th on ESPN’s Player Rater, with unimpressive per-game averages of 15.7 points, 8.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 treys in 32.6 minutes.
In CP3’s defense, he’s been nursing a sore groin that’s caused him to miss two of the Clippers’ past four contests, so head coach Doc Rivers could simply be making a concerted attempt to limit his minutes early on as a result. If Paul’s career-low playing time continues, however, the odds of him returning first- or second-round value will plummet accordingly.
Goran Dragic, PG, Miami Heat
If I’m slightly nervous about CP3, I’m nearing a full-out panic regarding Goran Dragic. Through nine games, he’s averaging just 10.6 points on 42.4 percent shooting, 4.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.7 treys in 30.6 minutes, drastic across-the-board decreases from his production with Miami last season. Even without Dwyane Wade in the lineup against Utah on Thursday, Dragic had just 14 points, four dimes, three boards and two steals in 35 minutes.
So, yeah. Anyone who spent a fourth- or fifth-round pick on the Dragon is right to be concerned, as he’s currently 104th on ESPN’s Player Rater. While he’s bound to at least somewhat recover from this slow start, particularly with the Heat having just traded away Mario Chalmers (placing a heavier burden on Dragic), the odds of him returning draft-day value are dramatically decreasing.
Al Jefferson, PF/C, Charlotte Hornets
While I’m more confident about CP3 and the Dragon at least somewhat rebounding from their slow starts, the same can’t be said about Al Jefferson. The Hornets appear to be making a concerted effort to limit his minutes (26.0 per game), which is having a devastating effect on his per-game production (13.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.9 blocks).
Though you likely didn’t draft Jefferson expecting him to be the 20-10 threat of years past, you reasonably expected somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-18 points, 7-9 rebounds and a block per game. Unless Charlotte increases his role as the season progresses — he’s topped the 30-minute mark just twice in the Hornets’ first eight games — anyone relying upon him as their No. 1 center could be in hot water.
Injured players who should be dropped:
Meyers Leonard, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers
Myles Turner, PF/C, Indiana Pacers
Wilson Chandler, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets