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Friday, December 30, 2011
Kobe Bryant sharp despite early schedule


It is definitely too early in the season to start making any proclamations about how a player is going to hold up over the course of this year's especially rigorous schedule, but Kobe Bryant just played four games in five nights and showed no signs of wear whatsoever. The fact that Kobe is getting to the line more than he has since 2007-08 is definitely a good sign that his game might not be descending into a series of long 2-point jump shots quite yet. His rebound and assist rates are both the highest they've been in years.

Again, we're talking about just four games, but it was a rigorous four games, and Kobe made it through with flying colors. That said, if he starts to break down this season, it'll be because he's taking too much responsibility onto his own shoulders. His usage rate is even higher than it was when he averaged 35.4 points per game in 2005-06, and that was when the guys playing the most minutes around him were Lamar Odom and Smush Parker. Still, the early signs seem to indicate that drafting him early may not have been such a bad idea after all.

Looking Back

• There's not a lot going well for the Dallas Mavericks right now, especially after losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder on a Kevin Durant buzzer-beater Thursday night, but one potential bright spot could be the play of Delonte West. The Mavs were +18 in West's 23 minutes on the floor, and since he's already in the starting lineup, that definitely bodes well for his future playing time. Meanwhile, West already has a history of being a useful fantasy player in the right situation. He makes 3s and gets steals and doesn't do anything especially poorly. If he can even come close to Thursday night's numbers (15 points, six assists, two steals) on a regular basis, he's going to be worth picking up in most leagues.

DeJuan Blair has put together back-to-back 20- point games for the San Antonio Spurs, and in Thursday's loss to the Houston Rockets, he was one of the only starters to log significant minutes, finishing with 22 points and 12 rebounds. That's a good sign. His youth might allow him to play more minutes while the Spurs do what they always do in recent seasons: rest Tim Duncan. Blair's a good player, but since he doesn't block shots, he's really only useful if you need some extra scoring and rebounding help.

• Amazingly, Ryan Anderson is still only owned in 50.9 percent of ESPN.com fantasy leagues. He finished with 22 points, including three 3s, last night in the Orlando Magic's win over the New Jersey Nets, and those numbers are par for the course: He's averaging 18.3 points and 3.7 3s per game through the first three games. Just as important, his minutes are pretty safe, as Glen Davis has been a total disaster coming off the bench behind him.

• Another player who has been a bit of a disaster, by the way, is Deron Williams. Williams is currently being drafted eighth overall on average, and that's looking more and more like a mistake every day. Without Brook Lopez in the lineup, there's just no one out there to help him. Rookie scorer Marshon Brooks has some promise but appears to be the sort of player who needs to control the ball in order to score. If you drafted Williams, you probably are best off holding on to him for now because his trade value is pretty low, but he'll have to make some major strides to avoid being a bust this season in fantasy leagues.

Looking Ahead

• The Boston Celtics play their first home game of the season Friday night against the Detroit Pistons, and hopefully they'll be able to right the ship. Paul Pierce is expected to play, so the thing to watch will be how the minutes get distributed beyond the Pierce-Ray Allen-Kevin Garnett-Rajon Rondo group. If Brandon Bass can keep getting around 28 minutes per game (and I think he will), he'll be worth owning in most fantasy leagues.

Mike Conley appears to be out of action for the Memphis Grizzlies against the Houston Rockets, and while Jeremy Pargo filled in admirably for Conley in Wednesday night's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, I'm looking for O.J. Mayo to make greater use of the minutes he gets this time around. The Rockets can certainly give up some points, so Mayo could actually be worth a look in deeper leagues in you need some 3s.

J.J. Barea is doubtful for the Minnesota Timberwolves against the Miami Heat, and while that matchup is a bit of a nightmare for an opposing point guard, it'll be interesting to see how Ricky Rubio handles the extra playing time if Barea can't go.

• It should be a great night to get Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry into your lineups again, as the New Orleans Hornets have an easy matchup against the Phoenix Suns and will be without Eric Gordon once again. Given the way Jack abused the Boston Celtics the other night, he should have no trouble against the Suns.