The Black Mamba is ready to strike again.
Kobe Bryant has a history of returning early from injuries or playing through ailments altogether, and he'll make his season debut Sunday. Less than eights months after suffering a career-threatening Achilles injury, Bryant is ready to suit up.
He's coming off a monster fantasy season in which he finished with averages of 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.7 three-pointers while shooting 46.3 percent from the floor and 83.9 percent from the charity stripe. Regardless of ranking system or scoring format, Bryant likely ranked as a top-10 player on a per-game basis last season.
Despite his strong showing in 2012-13, there's some concern that Bryant won't be the same dominating player this season. Given the devastating nature of his injury and his advanced age (35), those concerns are legitimate. But should we really doubt the Mamba?
I actively avoided Bryant in drafts. My expectations were for him to return in mid-to-late January with about 75 percent of his usual production once back on the hardwood. Essentially, I expected Michael Jordan in his days with the Wizards.
In light of his faster-than-expected rehab and the hefty contract extension (two years for $48.5 million) the Lakers just handed to Bryant last week, my pessimism has started to wane.
Owners shouldn't expect Bryant to return to his previous MVP-form, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he plays at an All-Star level after shaking of some rust. Either way, the NBA and fantasy basketball will be more exciting come Sunday.
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.
Ryan Anderson, F/C, NOR – A foot injury just before the regular season tipped off forced Anderson to miss the first two weeks of play, but the three-point shooting big man has been absolutely lights out since returning to full health. Through nine games, Anderson is averaging a career-high 22.1 points and 4.0 treys. He's been even better since Anthony Davis went down with a broken hand last week, as Anderson is averaging 28.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.0 three-pointers over the past three games. Anderson has been an elite three-pointing shooting option for a few years now, and while it's extremely unlikely for the 6-10 forward to continue hitting at a 52.9 percent clip from downtown, he's a great bet to finish near the top of the leaderboard in the category. With Davis out for the next month or so, Anderson will continue to see an increased role for the Pelicans as part of their starting five.
Jeff Taylor, F, CHR – With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist set to miss the next four-to-six weeks due to a broken hand, Taylor has joined the Bobcats' starting unit. He put together a solid game in his start Friday, finishing with 20 points (8-of-16 FG, 2-of-7 3Pt, 2-of-2 FT), eight rebounds, one steal and one block in 37 minutes against the Sixers. He won't have the benefit of facing the league's worst defensive squad every game, so don't expect him to post such solid lines on a nightly basis, but he'll be a decent option in most mid-sized formats while MKG is on the shelf. Taylor is widely available in ESPN and Yahoo! Leagues. Go grab him now before a league mate beats you to the wire.
Taj Gibson, F, CHI – Despite continuing to work as a reserve behind Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, Gibson has carved out some fantasy value. Over the four games, Gibson has averaged 21.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 30 minutes per game. While Boozer has the starting power forward gig locked down, the Bulls often turn to Gibson down the stretch due to his stronger defensive play. With Derrick Rose out for the season, the Bulls also no longer have a realistic shot at a championship, which has led to speculation Boozer could be traded at some point this season. Gibson's play over the past handful of games already makes him a valuable enough piece to add in many formats, and the prospect of Boozer's starting gig becoming available later this season is intriguing enough to warrant a stash of Gibson in shallower leagues where he would normally be viewed as a fringe option.
Brandon Knight, G, MIL – Knight started off slow while battling through a lingering hamstring injury, but the third-year point guard is starting to take kindly to his new digs in Milwaukee. Over the past five games, Knight has averaged 16.8 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.8 threes and 1.4 steals in 29 mpg. The 22-year-old point guard hasn't developed much as a distributor, but he does appear stronger this year while still possessing explosive speed, solid perimeter defense and a good three-point stroke. Ignore Knight's poor season-long averages and pick him up for his recent production, which should hold now that he's healthy and locked into Milwaukee's starting five.
Andre Iguodala, G/F, GSW – Iguodala sat out his seventh consecutive game Friday, as he continues to nurse a hamstring injury. While Iggy isn't practicing or playing yet, he did join the Warriors on their current three-game road trip, which indicates a return could be on the horizon. The Warriors won't have time to practice before Saturday's game against Memphis, but a return Monday against the Bobcats seems like a possibility.
Deron Williams, G, BKN – Williams, who has missed eight of nine games with an ankle injury, is targeting a return to the court Tuesday against the Celtics. Given his lackluster production and inability to stay healthy, it seems the Nets have opted to err on the side of caution in bringing their star point guard back into action. Hopefully he's at or near full strength in his return next week and starts to offer owners the production expected of a high-round pick.
Michael Carter-Williams, G, PHI – Carter-Williams was forced to sit out Friday's game due to right knee soreness. He's doubtful for Saturday's tilt against the Nuggets as well. While this injury doesn't appear to be serious, the Sixers are in full-blown tank mode and will be cautious with their rookie point guard. Tony Wroten, who did a great job filling in for MCW a couple weeks ago, makes for a good plug-and-play option over the weekend.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, CHR – The aforementioned Kidd-Gilchrist will miss the next four-to-six weeks due to a non-displaced fracture of the fourth metacarpal in his left hand. With averages of 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds, owners should be able to find comparable production on the waiver wire.
Anthony Davis, F/C, NOR – Owners will have to deal with this year's top breakout star and one of the best options in all of fantasy being out for the next four-to-six weeks. Like Kidd-Gilchrist, Davis suffered a fractured left hand. Due to his standing as a top-5 fantasy option, owners will want to keep Davis stashed on the bench while he's on the shelf. Ryan Anderson will be the primary benefactor while Davis is out.
J.J. Redick, G, LAC – Redick completes the triumvirate of useful fantasy players whom went down with a hand injury this week. Of the three, Redick's injury was the most severe. The Clippers sharpshooter is expected to miss the next six-to-eight weeks to recover from his broken hand and torn ligament in his wrist. While he's valuable enough to stash in deeper formats, Redick's absence will be lengthy enough to cut him loose in many 10- or 12-team leagues if there's comparable production on the waiver wire and you don't have the extra room on your bench to stash him.
Gerald Green, G/F, PHO – Green has been a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners this season. He's flashed a much-improved three-point stroke while providing the Suns with significant offensive punch while the team was short-handed in the backcourt. But with both Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic now healthy, Green has seen his role shrink. Over the past four games, Green has averaged 8.5 points in less than 23 mpg. In his new role as primarily a three-point threat, Green will have bouts of inconsistency, which will only be compounded by his recent drop in playing time. Outside of deep leagues that value three-point specialists, Green can be cut loose.