- Seth Landman, Fantasy Basketball
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Kobe Bryant, you probably won't be surprised to learn, is currently ranked eighth on the Player Rater based on per-game averages so far this season. That may be a bit lower than some would have guessed at the start of the season, but the fact that Kobe's in the top 10 shouldn't surprise anyone. As always, Kobe's durability makes him even more valuable; he's ranked sixth overall if you look at totals rather than averages.
It has been, by all accounts, an admirable season for Bryant. His team is fantastic; he's playing a ton of minutes; he's making a game-winning shot in what seems like every game he plays; and his stats, in the aggregate, look a whole lot like the numbers he put up last season.
For Bryant's fantasy owners, however, it's not all peaches and cream at the moment. Kobe's playing hurt, it's making him a far less valuable fantasy commodity, and the reason his stats still look so good in total is that he was so efficient early in the season. It is particularly telling that he managed to shoot only 75 percent from the line in January. Clearly, his finger is bothering him, and unless the issue resolves itself (not likely considering how hard he plays), he's simply not a top-20 fantasy commodity even though he's still a phenomenal overall basketball player.
We can see this a lot more clearly if we use the Player Rater to rank players based on their past 30 days of work. During that stretch, fantasy Kobe is ranked 47th, more similar to O.J. Mayo and Andre Iguodala than to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. As we've gone over again and again in this space, success in fantasy basketball has less to do with what's happened to this point in the season and more to do with one's ability to predict what will happen the rest of the way. So trading Bryant for, say, Stephen Jackson -- which would have seemed inconceivable at the start of the season -- might be a prudent move for the home stretch, and if you can swing a deal where you get someone like Iguodala or Mayo and another asset for Kobe, that might be worth looking at as well.
Here are a few players you might want to consider dealing before things get worse. For each player, I've listed a few guys you might want to consider targeting in trades. Each player's ranking for the past 30 days is shown in parentheses.
Tim Duncan, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs (52): After hovering around the top 10 for much of the season, Duncan's value has taken a major hit in recent weeks as his stats fell across the board in January. I felt optimistic that he'd be able to maintain his good play, but although his rebounds and assists have climbed, he's fallen off in every other category. In particular, his field goal shooting has fallen from 57 percent in December to 47 percent in January, and his free-throw shooting has plummeted back to more Duncan-like levels as well. The Spurs are fifth in the West in the standings and fourth in point differential, and as the season wears on, and it looks more and more likely they'll make the playoffs, so coach Gregg Popovich is going to rest Duncan more. It's probably time to trade him while his overall stats still appear to be top-20 caliber.
Try to trade for: Al Jefferson (43) has been a bit of a disappointment this season but has been better than Duncan during the past month and is likely to improve as the season wears on. He duplicates many of the stats Duncan provides, especially the combination of points, rebounds and blocks. Channing Frye (32) plays the same positions as Duncan but provides value in completely different categories. He'll get you some blocks, but his real value is in 3-point shooting and a better percentage from the line. Plus, if the Suns do end up trading Amar'e Stoudemire, they'll rely on Frye for even more of their offense, and Frye's value might be low enough that you can receive another asset in the deal.
Joe Johnson, SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks (29): This seems to happen every year: Johnson starts out hot and then loses his shooting touch as the season wears on. Last season, December was his best month, January was his worst, and he never quite recovered all the way. This season, so far, seems to be playing out similarly, and it might be time to try to deal him if you can get the right player in return. Alongside drops in his shooting percentage, rebounding and assists, what concerns me most about Johnson at the moment is his drop in free-throw attempts from 3.8 per game in December to just 2.3 in January. Quite simply, he's not being as aggressive, and this year's Hawks can rely on Jamal Crawford to take some of the pressure off, so Johnson is less likely to force himself back into being that sort of aggressive-type player.
Try to trade for: O.J. Mayo (33) has been shooting better as the season has gone along (as opposed to Johnson), plays huge minutes, and has had somewhat comparable rebound and assist numbers to Johnson during the past month or so. Stephen Curry (7) has been playing so well of late that he's probably a long shot, but if you can find an owner who likes Johnson's experience over Curry's youth and perceived unpredictability, that would definitely be a deal worth making. Andrei Kirilenko (42) could replace Johnson at small forward and is the rare player who provides blocks, steals and assists all in one neat package. He's much more of a health risk than Johnson but could provide a boost in entirely different categories, and you could probably get him and someone else in exchange for a player like Johnson.
Al Horford, PF/C, Hawks (89): Not to keep picking on the Hawks, but Horford's performance has dipped demonstrably during the past month, and given his track record in his short career, I'm not sure we should be expecting a rebound. After some ridiculously hot shooting from the floor in November and December, Horford was at 53 percent for the month of January -- much closer to his career average -- and as a result, his production slipped even though his minutes increased. Even worse, his blocks and steals have decreased in each full month this season. Put it all together, and you have a player who definitely does not belong in the top 50 going forward, even though that's still where his ranking puts him for the season.
Try to trade for: Nene (69) won't rebound quite as much as Horford, but he'll rack up more blocks and steals, and he'll give you the boost in field goal percentage that Horford was giving you until January. Trading Horford for someone like Roy Hibbert (64) means you'll lose some rebounding as well, but you'll probably net the same amount of points, many more blocks, and since Horford's considered a better asset than Hibbert, you might be able to swing a second player in the deal as well. Andrew Bogut (9) has been great during the past month, but remains enough of a health risk that someone may be willing to trade his upside for Horford's steady production; if that's the case, Bogut is clearly a far better fantasy option going forward.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.