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I was extremely skeptical of Metta World Peace's resurgence through the first couple weeks of the season. Sure, there were reports of World Peace losing weight and improving his conditioning during the offseason, but "best shape of career" stories are a dime a dozen in training camp.
Of course, he got off to a nice start through the first handful of games, but I still scoffed at the idea of World Peace reverting back to the player we haven't seen since before he joined the Lakers and still went by his birth name of Ron Artest.
All that changed last week when I read the following quote Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni made about his enigmatic small forward:
"He should be wide open every time," D'Antoni said. "I told him he needs to make 4-to-10 [three-pointers] every game, and he can do that. That's 40 percent and that's pretty good, so he'll do that. I think he'll do that every game. He's going to be up there with 17 to 20 points."
That quote made me start to pay closer attention to World Peace. Those stories about him being in great shape turned out to be legit. He's looked like a completely different player than the one we'd seen in recent seasons. Where he's changed the most is on offense. World Peace is averaging 14.8 points and 2.8 treys while hitting 42 percent of his attempts from downtown since D'Antoni was hired.
Now, I highly doubt World Peace will average the 17 to 20 points D'Antoni prophesied, but in the coach's fast-paced offense, World Peace will have plenty of nights where he reaches those levels, especially if he has an unlimited green light from downtown, as it appears he will.
Suddenly, I'm all about letting World Peace reign on any of my fantasy squads.
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 game every now and then - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time, rotation role, or performance.
Kevin Love, F/C, MIN – Love made a surprise return to action last week, appearing in games about two weeks ahead of his expected recovery from a broken hand. Through four games, Love hasn't shown one bit of rust and is already dominating at similar levels to his spectacular 2011-12 campaign. After Tuesday's monster 23-point, 24-rebound effort, Love is averaging a ridiculous 24.0 points, 16.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.3 treys. Prior to suffering his preseason injury, Love was considered a top-4 fantasy option. Now that he's healthy, he should be held in that same regard. Other than LeBron James and Kevin Durant, there's no better player to own in fantasy.
Greivis Vasquez, G, NOR – Taking a look at the league leaders in assists, Vasquez is the one name that seems to be out of place, but fantasy owners should get used to seeing him near the top of the list. The 25-year-old point guard has racked up at least six dimes in every outing this season while also reaching double digits five times. Vasquez's price tag on draft day was discounted because of the looming threat of rookie Austin Rivers stealing time at the point. Given the way Rivers has struggled, Vasquez should hold on to the starting gig all season, even after Eric Gordon returns to action. Vasquez should be valued as a solid No. 2 point guard going forward.
Markieff Morris, F, PHO – The Suns promoted Morris to the starting lineup last week, giving the 2011 lottery pick his first real shot at extended playing time since joining the Association. Morris has responded with averages of 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds through his first four starts. He'll be inconsistent and put up the occasional stinker, like Tuesday's four-point, two-board effort, but Morris remains worth a look in most mid-sized formats as long as he's holding a starting gig.
Tyreke Evans, G/F, SAC – After a slow start to the season, Evans is starting to flash some of the skills that made him one of only four players in NBA history to average 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists over a full season. Over his past five games, Evans has came close to eclipsing those statistical heights, racking up 21.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per contest. He looked tentative and out of place in the Kings' offense through the first two weeks of the season, but Evans has taken charge of the offense while racking up a usage rate of 30 or more in four of the past five games. For comparison, LeBron James' usage rate sits at 29.69 this season. As long as Evans continues to be aggressive on offense, he'll have a chance to finally fulfill the potential he showcased as a rookie. His overall stats are still somewhat underwhelming, so start sending out those buy-low offers now.
Terrence Ross, G/F, TOR – Initially, Ross was considered a fantasy sleeper when he was selected by Toronto with the eighth-overall pick of the 2012 draft. Given the Raptors lack of depth and projected position near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, Ross was expected to factor into the mix immediately. But that sleeper status quickly faded after he was buried on the bench throughout the preseason and the first few weeks of the regular season. The rookie wing has slowly started receiving more run, though, leading to Tuesday's 19-point performance in a season-high 36 minutes. The Raptors were down big in the game, but it should only be a matter of time before Ross permanently rises above also-ran veterans like Dominc McGuire and Linas Kleiza on the depth chart. With Landry Fields (elbow) and Alan Anderson (foot) both on the shelf for another couple weeks, Ross should get ample opportunity to seize a role in the rotation in the short term. He won't provide across-the-board production, but he has the offensive skills to be a decent source of points and threes in deep formats if he can carve out 25-30 minutes per game.
Charlie Villanueva, F, DET – Here's another player who should garner some attention in deeper leagues. The veteran forward has found his way off the Pistons' pine and is now etched in as the team's backup power forward. Villanueva is a perfect compliment to Rodney Stuckey on Detroit's second unit, as the three-point happy forward can stretch the offense and open up slashing lanes for Detroit's newly minted sixth man. There won't be much production beyond points and threes from Villanueva, but he can be productive enough in those two categories to garner some fantasy attention.
Ersan Ilyasova, F, MIL – Ilyasova finally gave his owners a glimmer of hope this week, posting an 18-point, six-rebound effort against the Bulls on Monday. Oddly, his best performance of the season came in his first game since being demoted from the starting lineup. Most owners have probably given up hope on Ilyasova, but I still believe he can return to some of the glory he flashed in the second half of the 2011-12 season. Hopefully the recent demotion continues to light a fire under the Turkish forward and he builds on Monday's effort.
John Wall, G, WAS – The original target date for Wall's return from a knee injury was Nov. 30. While that timetable doesn't appear to be realistic anymore, the reports coming out of the Wizards camp is that their star point guard continues to show progress in his recovery. All owners can do at this point is keep Wall stashed on the bench and hope he returns to action sooner than later.
Eric Gordon, G, NOR – Gordon is another young stud who's return is murky. The good news is that the pain in Gordon's injured knee is subsiding, but unfortunately, we still don't have a concrete timetable for his return to the hardwood. At this point, a return in mid-December appears to be a best-case scenario.
Pau Gasol, F/C, LAL – Gasol recently revealed that he's been dealing with knee tendonitis since the preseason. The ailment is not expected to sideline him, but it's hard to argue it hasn't affected his production on the court. Over the past four games, Gasol has averaged just 9.3 points and 7.8 rebounds while playing 31 minutes per game. New Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has already called out Gasol about his conditioning and even went as far as benching the veteran big man in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Grizzlies. There's little doubt Gasol will bounce back some and start posting solid lines, but this recent turn of events is enough for me to shop him around for a younger player who provides more upside.
Derrick Williams, F, MIN – Kevin Love's injury at the start of the season gave Williams the opportunity to carve out a sizable role in the Timberwolves' rotation. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, Williams crapped the bed and now appears to be completely out of Minnesota's rotation. The second-year player has received the dreaded DNP-Coach's Decision in three of four games since Love's return. There's still tons of upside with Williams given his pedigree and skill set, but it doesn't look like he'll get much of a chance to live up to his potential with how the Timberwolves' rotation is currently constructed.
Paul Millsap, F, UTA – Millsap is finally starting to lose playing time to Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Over the past six games, Millsap has averaged just 27 minutes while also spending significant crunch-time minutes on the bench. He's still averaging a solid 11.0 points and 6.5 rebounds over that stretch, but Millsap owners should start to take notice of the situation and act quickly. The 27-year-old forward has proven he can be productive with limited minutes in the past, but he won't be able to come close to matching his lofty fantasy value from last season if the current playing time distribution holds. Millsap owners should also consider the fact that he's in the final year of his contract and probably doesn't have a long-term future with the team. Don't give him away, but it wouldn't hurt to see if you can still pawn him off on an unsuspecting owner who expects Millsap's production to approach last year's value.
Dwyane Wade, G, MIA – While Wade should still be considered a good-to-great fantasy player, there's no denying he's taken a step back this season. Despite taking a clear backseat to LeBron James during the Heat's championship run last season, Wade was still being drafted in the first round this year. Through 10 games, he's come nowhere near that lofty draft day cost, posting averages of 18.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.3 steals. He's also all but erased the three-point shot from his arsenal, attempting just six shots from downtown all season. This type of production will still hold plenty of value in pretty much any conceivable format, but Wade owners should seriously consider cashing in on his name value while trying to land another player with more upside.