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Hoops Lab: NBA Hoops Lab-Week 23

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

The Hoops Lab

By Andre' Snellings
RotoWire Staff Writer

MVP Talk III: The Assassin

I've heard it said that Kobe Bryant is the basketball version of Tiger Woods, and I think this is a good comparison. Tiger is extremely gifted as a golfer, but what makes him the best is that he knows every nuance of how to play the game and is mentally strong enough to do whatever's necessary to win. Bryant is also like this. He's taller, quicker, bigger, and/or jumps higher than almost everyone that guards him, and he uses that to ultimate advantage. He has no qualms about taking a smaller player to the post, abusing a slower player off the dribble, or simply rising up to shoot over any opponent. His vast array of skills in addition to the mental processor that knows his opponent so well allows him to score efficiently in any situation, very similar to how Woods is able to bring any golf course to its knees. Finally, on top of the physical skills and high basketball IQ, Bryant also has the reputation as a late-game assassin. His cold-blooded execution in crunch time situations makes him one of the most feared players in the NBA when the game is on the line - the same fear opposing golfers feel when Woods is stalking at the end of a tournament.

Bryant is also an excellent defender. He's a seven-time NBA All-Defensive team selection, and his efforts this season should get him to team number eight. He's allowing his individual opponent to produce a PER of only 12.6 (, one of the best marks in the NBA among swingmen. The Lakers defense is also quantifiably stingier with him on the floor than without him (2.4 points fewer per 100 possessions). Bryant's defensive prowess separates him a bit from other MVP candidates Chris Paul and LeBron James, who each have good steal numbers, but worse defensive statistics overall.

Finally, let me point out another way in which he has helped make his team into a championship contender: his will. No one questions neither Bryant's ability to play at a championship level nor his demand that his team perform at the same level. Being anything less than the best is not an option for Bryant, and thus he wills his teammates, his coach, and his front office to be the best that they can be so as not to hold him back.

In Machiavelli's famous treatise The Prince, he writes of shrewd methods that a leader can use to acquire a throne and establish his reign. Machiavelli states that "it is best (for a leader) to be both feared and loved; however, if one cannot be both it is better to be feared than loved." This season, it can be said that Bryant employed some Machiavellian methods to ensure that the Lakers help him to reach his championship goals. His much publicized contempt of the Lakers' decision to keep Andrew Bynum instead of trading for established superstar Jason Kidd was perceived as negative leadership for his young teammate, yet the end result was that Bynum reportedly used his leader's contempt as a goad to work harder than ever before to bring his game to the elite level.

Bryant's public requests to be traded last summer, along with perceptions that he was still unhappy to start the season, were seen as negatives. Yet, the Lakers' fear of what Bryant's discontent could mean long-term led them to forge a franchise-altering trade to acquire Pau Gasol. These two developments have helped make the Lakers contenders this season.

Bottom line: Bryant is the best individual offensive player in the NBA today. He is also one of the better individual perimeter defenders in the league. And his off-court behavior over the past year, which some have seen as negative, has in the end contributed to making the Lakers a stronger team that could legitimately win the NBA championship. Bryant's fantasy credentials are already well established as some of the best in the league - he's a multiple-time scoring champion who contributes positively to just about every roto category. In short, Bryant has long-been a fantasy feast, and this year he can make a very strong case to be the Most Valuable Player in the NBA.

Situations to watch and Quick Hits

Fantasy friendly Pacers: Like the Nuggets, who we discussed last week, the Pacers are a good team for fantasy owners to be aware of down the stretch. They are technically still in the playoff hunt, and they are just good and bad enough to have close games with any opponent. In the past week they have lost to the West-leading Hornets by eight and beaten the West-straggling Timberwolves by only 11. The Pacers also have a good offense and a poor defense, which has contributed to four consecutive games where both the Pacers and their opponents have scored more than 100 points. If a starter on the Pacers is on your free agency wire he's likely worth a pickup, and if you have a lineup dilemma and one of the players in question is facing the Pacers, that could be a good tiebreaker.

Fantasy MVPs?: Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul are both legitimate NBA MVP candidates, but over the last week they have been challenged for fantasy supremacy on their own teams by teammates Lamar Odom and David West. Odom, ranked third overall by average in the Yahoo! fantasy rater over the past week, is averaging 18.8 points, 15.2 boards, 4.4 assists, and 3.6 steals/blocks in his last five games. West, eighth overall in the last week, is putting up 30.7 points and 8.7 boards per over the same stretch.

Star of the Nets/Mavs trade?: Jason Kidd vs. Devin Harris: When the Nets and the Mavericks swapped point guards it was supposed to be a trade of present production (Jason Kidd) for future potential (Devin Harris). Instead, Harris has been putting up better fantasy numbers than Kidd in recent games. While Kidd is struggling with averages of only 8.0 points, 7.3 assists, 6.3 boards and a paltry 24 percent field goal percentage over the last week, Harris has produced recent games with 15 and 13 assists and is averaging 15 points, 9.3 assists, 4.5 boards and 46 percent field goal shooting over the same stretch.

Jermaine O'Neal update: O'Neal (knee) has been practicing recently without any significant problems other than conditioning, and has suggested that he could return to the lineup over the next week. If so, he could be available in time for the last couple weeks of the fantasy playoffs.

Weekly Gilbert Arenas update: Arenas almost returned for last Sunday's game against the Pistons, but team doctors would not clear him to play and he was expected to miss at least another week. That means that he could conceivably be cleared by next week's games, but that's not certain. Since every game counts in the fantasy playoffs, and Arenas is such a question mark, in some cases it might be worth it to let him go for more dependable current production that could help your team get to the next round.

Weekly Elton Brand update: Brand participated in his first sanctioned full-court scrimmage Monday, and now looks more likely to see some action before the regular season ends. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy suggested that Brand is likely to play the final six games of the season. Keeping in mind that when he comes back he's unlikely to handle a full workload, and also that a return for the last six-games would prevent him from contributing anything until the championship game in most head-to-head leagues, Brand is a luxury that most teams probably can't afford.

New Additions

Troy Murphy: Murphy missed Wednesday's game with strep throat, so make sure he is back before you pick him up. But he was averaging 18.8 points and 11 boards per game in the four games leading up to Wednesday, so he's worth a look once he's healthy again.

Kenyon Martin: Martin is in this space for the second week in a row, showing that he's producing at a high level consistently. He is averaging 15.8 points, 6.4 boards, and 3.6 combined steals/blocks over his last five games.

Ronny Turiaf: Turiaf is a hustle/role player, which generally doesn't get you on this list. But he's scored double-figures four games in a row, and is even dishing the rock with two surprising six-assist games in the last week. He is averaging 12.4 points, 5.6 boards, 3.4 assists and 1.2 blocks over his last five games.

Joel Przybilla: Przybilla has 56 boards and six blocked shots over his last three games, numbers that would make even Marcus Camby proud.

Article first appeared 3/27/08