Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When I recently checked my favorite fantasy basketball league's "overall statistics," I was shocked at how many of the top-10 players were "new" to the top of the leaderboard.
Sure, Chris Paul, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams and Amare Stoudemire were on the list, but where were Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Danny Granger?
The answer is; below some rising stars like Al Horford, Raymond Felton, Rudy Gay, Russell Westbrook and one grizzled veteran off to a great start - Manu Ginobili.
Ginobili has always been a very good player, and a great one come playoff time, but he's playing better right now than at any other time during his career. He is on pace to break his career marks in points per game, assists, steals and free throw percentage. His performance is the top reason why the Spurs are 18-3 and own the best record in the NBA.
It may also be the perfect time to "sell" on Ginobili. His numbers will never get higher, and, based on past history, at some point he will miss games due to injury. Over the past five seasons he's averaged just 66.5 games a year. And it's not just because he's 33 years old. He plays a physical game, driving to the hoop against bigger and stronger opponents and frequently ends up on the floor. He's also represented his country in many settings, which, along with 117 career NBA playoff games with the Spurs, means a lot of wear and tear on the body.
On the other hand, Horford is a physical specimen who has almost always been able to make it onto the floor for tipoff. He played in 81-of-82 games last year as he did in his rookie season. Horford is taking advantage of an opportunity to contribute more on offense with the absence of Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks starting lineup. Horford averaged 16.7 ppg with Johnson on the floor and is averaging 19.4 ppg since the All-Star guard was injured. Johnson is expected to be out for at least three more weeks, so Horford should enjoy continued success.
Felton and his fantasy owners are enjoying the "D'Antoni effect." It's what happens to players in the coach's up-tempo system. Felton never averaged more than 14.4 ppg in a season or 7.4 apg, but in his first season with D'Antoni he's averaging 18.6 ppg and career-highs in rebounds (3.9), assists (8.6), steals (2.0), field goal percentage (47.1) and free throw percentage (89.7). There is no reason to think his numbers will fall in any of these categories, so unless someone blows you away with an offer, enjoy the ride.
Gay has been a consistent contributor all season long and should continue to produce. He's improved in a number of categories over last season, but none by such a huge amount that you would think he's playing over his head.
Everyone knew Westbrook was a good player, but with Durant getting the majority of the hype, many fantasy owners are just finding out how good the Oklahoma City point guard can be. In his third season, Westbrook's points per game is up 7.6, and he's also increased his rebounding and assist totals. Moreover, he's shooting better from the field and the line as he's become more comfortable with his game. If he can just work on his three-point shooting accuracy, he'll be a fantasy superstar on the order of Chris Paul.