Something disconcerting will happen throughout most Fantasy Basketball drafts this season, a scene unseen since Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress lacked the (ahem) Presidential Seal of Approval. Shut your eyes, pin your ears, for the words about to be mentioned will leave many shaking:
Kobe Bryant will not be a first round pick.
For the first time since his second season in 1997-98, the Black Mamba will not be a name proclaimed in the early portion of most drafts. Bryant is still recovering from the torn Achilles sustained this past April 12. Even at age 35 and with 43,590 regular season minutes logged on his body, Bryant would have been a solid late-first round pick had he been healthy and might have provided mid-first round value considering the Lakers lack a viable scoring option besides him.
(Spare me your Paul Gasol has Fantasy value stories. It’s there; right now, my skeptical side is coming out, and it’s saying Gasol’s not going to deliver without Bryant as well as many expect).
Fret not, though. Bryant will be a very interesting gamble for those willing to play “Guess the Timetable.” While it’s unlikely he is available on opening night (hold that thought for a second), let’s take the optimist’s view and say Bryant returns for a November 22 matchup against the Warriors, just in time for him to shake off the rust before the Lakers embark on a Thanksgiving week swing on the East Coast.
Or does one look at a more realistic target date of perhaps December 20, when the Lakers host the Timberwolves? With the annual Christmas day game against the Heat a mere five days later, Bryant would have three games (Timberwolves, at Warriors, at Suns) as a tune-up for the arrival of King James and His Merry Men from Miami. How would you look at his value then?
And there’s this in from Dubai, where Bryant is promoting health and fitness. Mamba told The National website the following:
“Now it’s about cutting the recovery time. I should be OK (for the start of the season).”
So, how much to trust in the words of Bryant, one of the most mentally relentless athletes in the world? How much trust in the Lakers, who need a healthy Bryant to have a whisper of hope for a playoff spot in an extremely competitive Western Conference? There’s also the devil’s advocate suggestion of simply leaving him alone come draft time and letting someone else deal with the headache, unless he falls to a point where pure unadulterated common sense kicks in and you grab him?
In the handful of drafts in which I’ve either participated or observed, Bryant’s Average Draft Position has been 41.5, which puts his value in the early to mid-fourth round. He lands (again, on average) as the seventh-best shooting guard available behind James Harden, Steph Curry, Paul George, Nicolas Batum, Dwyane Wade and Kawhi Leonard.
Even with his uncertain target date, selecting Bryant in that range is an astute move, considering the position falls to levels of uncertainty after he goes off the board. Is 60 to 75 percent of his availability more valuable than full value of the likes of Klay Thompson, Monta Ellis or Eric Bledsoe?
If anything, pondering Bryant’s worth shows that the SG position isn’t as deep as it may originally appear. Only Wade Davis is a strictly a SG, which would make Bryant the second-best 2-guard on the market.
Regardless of target date, rolling the dice on Bryant isn’t as risky is it may have sounded a few weeks ago. While not filled with negatives, the positives — along with a solid draft day game plan — are more than enough to pick Bryant, stash him off as he shakes the rust off, and enjoy the numbers.
So, just how early should one go after the likes of a Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and Andrew Bynum and how sound would such a move be? All three will be the focus of the next NBA Sick Bay.