There are some great discussions when it comes to the NBA. East or West? Duncan or KG? Whose better Boston or Cleveland? Which team has more tattoos, the Nuggets or the Cavs (my personal favorite)? With the 2009-2010 NBA season set to kick off in less than 2 months let’s begin our fantasy preview by discussing the biggest enigma in the NBA, Kobe “Mamba” Bryant. When the public last saw Kobe on an NBA court he was holding a finals MVP trophy and holding 4 fingers up to the camera. For the last few years Kobe has been a top 4 or 5 pick in most fantasy drafts even making a case for number one overall. However, for the 2009-2010 season, is the Mamba a top 5 pick?
Kobe turned 31 last month. Historically for most elite NBA shooting guards, that is a death sentence, they lose their quickness, they get hurt, and unless they have a dead-eye three point shot like Ray Allen or Reggie Miller, their efficiency and effectiveness greatly decreases. The one lone exception is the player that Kobe is most compared to, Michael Jordan. Jordan never really had that steep of a decline, his superior strength, conditioning, and fundamentals carried him for those last three Chicago titles where he put up averages of 29.6 ppg, 4.6 apg, 6,5 rpg on 48.2% shooting for those 3 seasons between the ages of 32-35. I think those numbers would be top 2 pick material in drafts today, just a hunch.
Now Kobe is not Michael, as much as he has been compared to him he is not the player that MJ was. I would be shocked if Kobe put up numbers like those above this season. Last season, his thirteenth in the NBA, Kobe put up 26.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 4.9 apg. His scoring average was his lowest since the 2004-2005 season, and he averaged his lowest minutes total (36.1) since the 2004 season. The Lakers current roster also does not really allow Kobe to put up huge point numbers with Gasol, Odom, Bynum, and now Ron Artest all on the team. So if he doesn’t have to score 30 ppg, lets see him get 7-8 apg with that kind of talent around him you say. Well not so fast, the Lakers play in the triangle offense; which is not very assist friendly for individual players. An encouraging sign could be the Lakers increased reliance on the high screen with Kobe and Gasol, they did that in the playoffs and Kobe had some big assist games.
Now for the other side of the argument, the side that says that Kobe could have a dominant statistical season. One major plus is that Kobe has had a free summer for the first time in 4 seasons. After the 2006 season he had knee surgery which limited his training time, after ’07 he played in the tournament of the Americas, and last summer he played in the Olympics. These international tournaments are very taxing for players, especially after they’ve played 100 game seasons(playoffs included). This summer Kobe had time to rest his aching joints, his knees and to work out on his own. Word out of L.A. this summer is that Kobe has been working hard on staying in shape and adding some different quirks to his offensive repertoire.
Another argument for Kobe having a big season has to do with his mentality. Since the Lakers are the defending champs, they’ve got the big bulls-eye on their backs. Every night they play teams are going to be coming after them. Kobe lives for the moments where he’s public enemy number one. If some of the other Lakers like Gasol or Odom can’t handle it, you can bet Kobe will pick up the slack. He’s defended a title before and he knows what it takes.
In terms of numbers what can we expect from number 24? Well, it’s very obvious that his best days are behind him and his 30 ppg days are over, even Laker fans should admit that. I can’t see Kobe averaging more than 25 ppg, 5 rpg, however I do predict his assists will go up and he’ll average a career high 6.7 apg. However if Phil Jackson continues to severely monitor his minutes, those numbers might be hard to come by. Last season, due to the firepower on the Lakers roster, Kobe sat out 11 fourth quarters. I expect his minutes to be around the 35-37 range, but Phil will definitely try and limit him as much as possible.
In the grand scheme of fantasy basketball Kobe has fallen out of the top 5. In my opinion there are 5 players that if you draft them ahead of the Mamba, you’ll be better off with. Who are those 5 players? You’re going to have to wait until my fantasy rankings come out.