Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
We're about a quarter of the way through the NBA's 2011-12 shortened season as we look at who is improving and who is headed in the wrong direction.
Josh Smith, Atlanta - Smith started the season slowly barely averaging double digits in December's four games. But with the turn of the calendar, Smith has become the man all fantasy owners were hoping for. He's averaging 19.7 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.9 bpg, 1.6 spg while shooting 54% from the field. If he could just shoot free throws a little better (48.6% for the year), he'd be the "perfect" fantasy player who contributes in every category.
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota - We're beginning to see what all the fuss was about. In his first season in the NBA, the 21-year-old Rubio is averaging 10.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 8.3 apg while mostly coming off the bench. Even more dramatic is his production as a starter over the last three games - 13 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 9.7 apg, 3.3 spg and 10-for-10 from the free throw line. Those are definitely fantasy-worthy statistics. Rubio (81% owned) might still be available in your league.
Marcin Gortat, Phoenix - When Dwight Howard's backup was obtained in a trade last year, the news didn't garner much attention in the "real" world. It turns out it was big news in the fantasy realm as Gortat has quickly became a viable fantasy center. From averaging four points and five boards backing up the "big man" in Orlando, Gortat has blossomed into a solid contributor. Over the first 13 games this year Gortat is averaging 14.3 ppg and 8.9 rpg while shooting a league-leading 62.5%, but in January the numbers read 16.1 ppg and 10.0 rpg. Those are solid statistics equal to guys like Marc Gasol, the surprising Greg Monroe and DeMarcus Cousins.
Other hot players include; Mario Chalmers, Miami; Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers; Steve Nash, Phoenix; Mike Conley, Memphis; Paul Millsap, Utah.
Ray Allen, Boston - Allen's numbers were distorted early on because the absence of forward Paul Pierce forced the shooting guard to take a bigger control of the offense. He averaged 20.0 ppg in December, but in seven January games, with Pierce back in the lineup, has only scored at a 14.4 ppg rate. Allen's average with the Celtics over the past three seasons (16.4 ppg) is closer to the lower number and at 36-years-old can't be expected to rise.
Danny Granger, Indiana - So far this year, Granger's shooting touch is non- existent. As in he couldn't hit the lake while sitting in the middle of it. For January he's shooting an ugly 32.3% from the field. His career field goal percentage is a much more reasonable 43.9% so now might be the best time to "buy low" while his owner is frustrated by the lack of production.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas - Nowitzki is a great basketball player, who simply isn't playing well right now. His numbers are down across the board from last year - 17.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 apg. He's been wearing a protective sleeve on his knee, the one that cost him two weeks last year, which isn't a good sign this early in the season. Dirk is shooting just 19.2% from beyond the arc and at a 46.9% rate overall, his lowest field goal percentage since the 2004-05. He could be a candidate to "sell" if you believe that the knee problem will continue to hurt his performance.
Other cold players include; Spencer Hawes, Philadelphia; Marcus Thornton, Sacramento; Rajon Rondo, Boston; Ben Gordon, Detroit, Jamal Crawford.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits last week rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 304,000. Jobless claims continue to be near pre-recession levels despite the slight increase.
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