Kobe Bryant continues to struggle with shot
It might be time to start worrying a bit about Kobe Bryant. Despite his unprecedented scoring prowess at the age of 33, he's going through an extremely rough stretch that might be hard to notice if you just pay attention to his minutes and scoring numbers. Over his past four games, Kobe's averaging 22.3 points on just 35 percent shooting from the floor. For the season, he's shooting just 43 percent, which would be his worst percentage since his second year in the league (and by far his worst percentage since the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol during the 2007-08 season.
Looking further into Kobe's numbers on the season doesn't help. After an extremely productive start to the season, his splits start to get particularly disturbing of late. He's actually shooting less than 41 percent from the floor over the past two months while his rebounding and assist numbers have fallen off as well. He's making up for that somehow by getting to the line more and making a higher percentage of his free throws when he's there, but the wear and tear he's putting on himself in doing so seems to be starting to take its toll.
This, of course, brings up an interesting dilemma that we seem to talk about every year. We're passed the trading deadline in most leagues, so it's too late to deal Kobe; if he's yours, you're stuck with him. But where should he be drafted next season? This season, he finally slipped to the second round of drafts, but he's been a top-10 fantasy player all season on the Player Rater, and has a good chance of staying there despite his waning production. Meanwhile, players like Paul Pierce, Steve Nash and Kevin Garnett (in addition to Kobe) also keep outperforming their preseason expectations in fantasy leagues. The lesson, I guess, is that while Kobe (along with other aging stars) seems to be slipping this week (and, really, these past two months), he's always right on the cusp of turning it around. It makes for some difficult decisions for fantasy owners, but it's certainly fun to watch.
• Nene and Trevor Booker both wound up playing for the Wizards on Thursday night, and both were relatively productive, at least on the glass, as each had double-digit rebounds. Both probably should be in your lineup moving forward, as they've seemed to recover from their respective ailments, though Booker's plantar fasciitis is certainly something that could cause problems over the course of the rest of the season.
• Marco Belinelli had his second great game in a row for the Hornets, scoring 27 points (including seven 3-pointers) in their loss to the Trail Blazers. It's tough to play Belinelli most of the time because he does little else besides make 3s, and two games isn't enough to make him a viable fantasy player in the long term, but if he keeps making multiple 3s per game, he's going to quickly become a valuable commodity in fantasy leagues.
• J.J. Hickson has played just four games for the Trail Blazers, but he's starting to look like he could be of use in fantasy leagues. He put up 12 points (6-for-10 shooting), six rebounds and two steals against the Hornets and is averaging 12.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and shooting 64 percent from the floor over his past five games while averaging just 23.5 minutes.
• With Jarrett Jack out with a sprained ankle, the Hornets turned to Greivis Vasquez, and while Vasquez wasn't all that productive (14 points, six assists, and four turnovers in 43 minutes), he did prove that he's a good source of assists if he gets playing time. It's unclear at the moment how serious Jack's injury is, but Vasquez is definitely worth keeping an eye on if you're desperate for help in the assists column.
• Ekpe Udoh is most likely going to get another start for the Bucks with Ersan Ilyasova and Carlos Delfino out of the lineup, and he's probably worth playing in fantasy leagues. His numbers of late are certainly modest, but he did manage eight points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, and two steals in 31 minutes against the Hawks on Tuesday night, and could end up with a similar line against the Cavaliers on Friday.
• Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey are both doubtful for Friday night's game, but the Pistons are playing the Bulls, so it's not necessarily a given that you'll want to get Brandon Knight into your lineup. Yes, the Bulls will likely be without Derrick Rose, but they've fared particularly well without him all season. Knight's been terrible against the Bulls this season, and the Bulls defend 3-pointers better than any team in the league. I'd be inclined to sit all Pistons guards unless you are especially desperate.
• Given all the Nets' injuries of late, Friday night looks like as good a night as any to give Gerald Green a shot. He's been pretty productive in the peripheral categories of late, averaging 1.6 3s, 1.6 steals, and 1.0 blocks in his past five games. Those numbers are a rare combination, and he'll have a great chance to put them up against a pretty weak Warriors team.