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Fantasy basketball

Posted by Ed Ryan February 19, 2009 05:54 AM

If I had to choose between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant for Most Valuable Player, I’d choose James. If I had to start a franchise and could take only one of the two, I’d again take James.

But that’s in the real world. How about in fantasy basketball: James or Bryant? Do you go for James’ all-around game or Bryant’s explosiveness (and underrated all-around game)? Both are worthy selections, but is there an obvious answer?

At first glance, the choice seems easy. This season James eclipses Bryant in most categories: scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, blocks, and field-goal percentage. That’s a hefty edge. Bryant, meanwhile, maintains a sizeable advantage in free-throw percentage and three-point shooting percentage.

James’ scoring edge is minuscule: 28.5 to 27.7. His edge in rebounding and assists is more significant, though. James averages 7.5 rebounds per game and 7.0 assists per game. Bryant averages 5.6 rpg and 5.0 apg.

James’ ability to involve his teammates and get on the glass is why I’d select him on the court, but fantasy basketball requires a different evaluation. Which positions do they play? Do they play on good or bad teams? Who plays in the better conference?

James and Bryant play on exceptional teams that could win the Finals, so the edge there goes to no one. The same is true for their conferences’ strength — there’s no discernible edge. Bryant’s Western Conference has long been superior to the East, but some recent powers (Phoenix, Dallas) are in decline. James’ conference has several good teams (Boston, Atlanta, Orlando, Detroit).

Which leaves us evaluating who plays the more valuable position. James is officially a forward (on the court he’s everything but a center, actually), and Bryant is a guard. In a quick check of the top 30 fantasy scorers (add and then average points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals) in my league, only nine of the top 30 are guards. The other 21 are centers or (mostly) forwards.

Bryant, then, plays the more valuable fantasy position. There are fewer big producers in the backcourt than in the frontcourt. In my league, James has the edge in average fantasy points by 6.3, 46.4 to 40.1, but is that advantage enough to give James the fantasy nod over Bryant?

I say no. You have to consider the big picture. If you’re deciding between James and Bryant, that means you’re drafting first, and you won’t make a selection again for several picks. Bryant, despite the small drop-off in production, is the smart choice, because you’ll be able to do a better job of balancing your team by taking a top-tier forward or center in the second round. By taking James first, you won’t be able to find a difference-maker at guard by the time your second-round pick comes around.

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