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Hoops Lab: NBA Hoops Lab-Week 18

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

Best? Or most Jordan-Like?

I had no intention of writing another intro about the dominant perimeter players in the NBA this week after outlining the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade rivalry last week, but I feel the need to address something that I just saw. On the TNT post game show after the Thursday night games, the crew (Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Ernie Johnson and Chris Webber) were discussing who should be the MVP. Smith gave the opinion that Wade was the most exciting player and LeBron was the best teammate, but that Kobe Bryant was still the best player in the NBA. I've been inundated with that phrase for the last couple of years: "Kobe Bryant is the best player on the planet". But is he really? Or is he benefiting from the perception that he's the closest thing to Michael Jordan that the NBA has seen?

A generation ago, Jordan re-defined what "basketball greatness" means to a large segment of the basketball watching public. Jordan was the most dominant perimeter scorer ever, the best 1-on-1 perimeter defender in the league in his prime, an aerial acrobat and a crunch-time killer. He was ultra competitive, confident to the point of arrogance, and he backed up all of his great stats and swagger by winning a string of titles unrivaled since the days of Bill Russell.

Flash forward to today. Over his career, Bryant has always been compared to Jordan. He plays the same position. They're similarly sized. Bryant is the best scorer in the league like Mike, has aerial artistry like Mike, is known for being a late-game assassin like Mike and can play strong man-to-man defense like Mike. Even his demeanor, and the way he moves on the court, reminds many of No. 23 for the Bulls. I think that many have made the transitive logic leap that since Jordan was the best that must mean the guy that looks most like him now is the best as well.

This logic doesn't necessarily work for me, though, because ultimately Jordan was unquestionably the best because he won. All of the other things certainly contributed, but that Jordan was the best player on the team that nobody could beat is what separated him from everyone else. Without that, he would have been open to comparisons to any of the other great players of his era. As Kobe is today. And frankly, if you look beyond style and focus on substance, it's difficult to argue that Kobe Bryant has ever been the best player in the league.

In the first half of this decade, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were all clearly better than him. And in the second half of the decade, it sure looks to me like LeBron James has outplayed him. There are three main ways to judge a player's value: opinion/perception, team success, and individual stats. While Kobe apparently wins the perception battle, LeBron has mopped him up in the other two categories. Over the past five years the Cavs have a better record than the Lakers despite having similar or lesser talent around their superstar, and LeBron has universally better advanced stat numbers than Kobe (PER, Wins Produced, Roland Rating, Win Shares, Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, Adjusted +/-, etc., James beats Bryant in all of them).

Bottom line: I'd love to be able to go on TNT and debate with Kenny Smith about this. Because while he could tell me that Kobe is a late-game assassin, or that he strikes fear in his opponents, or that he scores so effortlessly, or any of the other "like Mike" comparisons he might make - at the end of the day, it's hard to argue with results. And the results indicate to me that while Kobe Bryant is one of the best players of his generation, the phrase "best basketball player on the planet" has never belonged after his name.

Situations to watch and Quick Hits

Broken Celtics: Rajon Rondo sprained his ankle this week to join the ever-longer list of injured Celtics. Kevin Garnett, Rondo, Big Baby Davis, Brian Scalabrine and Tony Allen are all out with some type of injury. This leaves a bigger offensive load for Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to carry, and also gives Leon Powe a chance to shine as the only power forward on the roster.

Martin's ankle and other Kings injuries: Kevin Martin re-tweaked his chronically injured ankle this week, and is day-to-day. Considering the Kings are going nowhere and are in full youth movement mode, I would be surprised if they rushed Martin back. Beno Udrih (foot) continues to be out as well, and Spencer Hawes (knee) is a bit banged up but may not miss any game action. In the meantime, Francisco Garcia has been playing very well and is the de facto main option if Martin is out.

K-Mart's closed: Kenyon Martin (back) sat out for the fourth time in five games due to an aggravation of his back injury during Monday's game against Houston. Renaldo Balkman has filled in admirably at PF and with a fairly weak schedule ahead of them expect the Nuggets to keep Martin out as long as possible to prevent any further re-injury.

Randy Foye's Ankle: Foye sprained his ankle this week, but could return by the weekend. Foye has been very productive since Al Jefferson went down with his knee injury, and if he can stay healthy he should continue to be strong down the stretch. Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair have stepped up in the face of all of the injuries, and have been producing big numbers between them.

Marvin Williams' back: Williams has declined to have season-ending back surgery and will opt for more conservative treatment, but he is still out indefinitely. The Hawks expect to make the playoffs, so it's possible that Williams could sit out a good chunk of the remaining year and still be back for the postseason. Unfortunately, this doesn't do much to help his owners in the regular season.

Troy Murphy: fantasy superstud? Murphy was in this space a couple of weeks ago based upon his strong play, but he's back again after registering the number one overall Yahoo! ranking for the last week in which he averaged 22.5 points, 14 rebounds, 5.5 treys, 2.0 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 56 percent from the field and 100 percent from the line. Murphy is a 20-10 double-double waiting to happen on a nightly basis, and when you mix that with 3-point range at the center position you have the formula for a very strong fantasy producer.

Gordon the rookie to own: While other rookies are more likely to win the Rookie of the Year award, Eric Gordon is shaping into the rookie I'd most like to have down the stretch as a fantasy owner. The Clippers are a bad team, full of veteran players with injury issues that are likely to slow down or stop down the stretch. Meanwhile, Gordon is trying to make a name for himself and is averaging 24.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 boards, 2.0 steals and a blocked shot over the last week

Granger expected back soon: Danny Granger (foot) went through a workout on Tuesday, but was noticeably wincing and grimacing. The Pacers are making noises about him returning by this weekend, which would be great news for owners who need the production. The continued pain bothers me, though, and if the Pacers ever fall completely out of the playoff hunt, it wouldn't be surprising if they shut him down.

Boozer, Millsap, and AK47: The Jazz have their entire complement of power forwards healthy enough to play, though both Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko have not been playing the amount of minutes and not producing as much as they are used to. For Boozer especially this could just be short-term rust, but it appears as if Paul Millsap is taking some of Kirilenko's minutes. As a result, Millsap continues to put up nice numbers when he is in, comparable to most of the nights he had starting in place of Carlos Boozer earlier in the year.

Biedrins and Ellis Back: Andris Biedrins returned to action after missing two games to deal with a family issue and recorded a 10-point/13-rebound double-double in Wednesday's win over New Jersey. Outside of Coach Don Nelson's imposed absences, Biedrins should be a safe option. Likewise, Monta Ellis (ankle) was also back in the Warriors' starting lineup on Wednesday after missing seven games and scored 19 points in a win over New Jersey.

The Amazing Krytpo-Nate: Nate Robinson has used the momentum from his Slam Dunk Contest win to jump-start the second half of his season. Robinson has really ramped up his scoring over the past month. Over his last 13 games, he's averaging an astonishing 27.2 points per game.

New Additions

At this point in the season, a surge in injuries is expected. We are entering the last third of the season, when bodies have been taking a steady pounding for four months. And every injury is potentially a "season ending" injury, since the season has less than 2 months left. As such, it's important to keep one eye on the injury list and the other on the waiver wire, because every injury to a starter is an opportunity for a backup to produce.

Larry Hughes (48% owned): Hughes continues to love the Mike D'Antoni offense, putting up solid numbers since he joined the Knicks rotation. Hughes is averaging 21.3 points, 3.8 assists, 3.5 boards and 1.8 steals over the past week making him a bargain at his current price tag.

Andres Nocioni (39% owned): Nocioni has been playing a larger role for the Kings of late, averaging 19.5 points, 6.0 boards, 2.0 treys, 2.0 assists and a steal over the last week.

Nenad Krstic (25% owned): Krstic has stepped up his game in recent weeks, as apparently he has knocked some of the rust off. He's averaging 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds over the last week, and now that he has his legs under him he should continue to produce even after Kevin Durant re-joins Jeff Green and their Thunder teammates on the court.

Thabo Sefolosha (19% owned): Sefolosha is in this space for the second week in a row, as he continues to be a productive option for ultra cheap. He has averaged 13.3 points, 6.0 boards, 3.3 steals, 2.0 assists and 1.3 blocks over the last week and is a solid member of the rotation with Kevin Durant out.

Leon Powe (10% owned): With Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine all injured at the same time, Powe is left as the lone pure power forward in the rotation. In his first such game Wednesday night, he exploded for 23 points and 13 rebounds on 7-of-14 shooting from the field. Over the last three games, he's averaged 18.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.

Article first appeared 3/13/09