King Kobe the 8th
By NBA TV's Rick Kamla

Jan 27 -- Here we are, at the halfway point of the 05-06 season, and I’m already in basketball heaven. Freaks, with a regular season this good, the playoffs should blow our heads “clean off”, as Dirty Harry might say.

When I look back on the first half, I think of...81 points from King Kobe (more on that nickname in a sec)...Larry Brown’s maddening rotations...the headline “LeBust” on a rival website because our hero was light in boards and dimes in November...how busy Charlotte’s trainers have been...how busy Houston's trainers have been...how awesome Andre Iguodala would be if he were used like fellow-Wildcat Richard Jefferson...how right the Pacers were for suspending and trading Ron-Ron...Pat Riley taking over as coach one game after Shaq returned...152-149...the Suns losing two triple-overtime games in eight days...the game-winning hit by Chauncey Billups on an 0-2 pitch against Memphis in Double OT...Rip doing his best D-Fish against the Celtics...Dwane Casey buzzkilling my pick for Sleeper of the Year – Eddie Griffin...Chris Paul -- aka ROY -- missing one game with a torn ligament in his right thumb...Shareef Abdur-Rahim returning three weeks ahead of schedule to play with his jaw wired shut...Carmelo Anthony (29 ppg in December and January) evolving from rising star to superstar...King Kobe evolving from superstar to legend...Tony Parker leading the league in points in the paint...and a couple thousand things that aren't coming to mind right now...

Before playing the nickname game, lemme just say that there isn’t anyone outside of LeBron’s inner circle or the Cavaliers Nation that loves LeBron more than yours truly. Like Magic Johnson back in his salad days, I will do whatever it takes—including lopsided trades for the other guy—to get LeBron in my tye-dyed uniform.

Having said that, even I have to admit that LeBron hasn't done enough to earn the nickname "King James". Not yet. So please stop calling him "King James". You can go with LBJ, which I do NOT like because of its unoriginality, or LJ23, which I coined in his rookie season to zero public avail. Hello? Is anybody out there? I repeat: Is there anybody...OUT THERE?

What’s wrong with LJ23?

You’ve got LeBron’s initials as well as a tip of the cap to MJ23, the Greatest Ever. (Yes, freaks, still greater than King Kobe). Whatever your moniker for LeBron, just use something other than King James...and please stop writing the words "leggings" and "LeBron" in the same sentence. That combo couldn't be more unbecoming of The Baddest Swingman Ever.

Unless you've been living under Kirby Puckett for the past week, you know the current King of our beloved NBA, and soon to be scoring champion (for the first time in his career), is Kobe. As we speak, King Kobe has a 2.3 ppg lead on Allen Iverson at the halfway point, and with Kobe in a yearlong zone, that's going to be mighty tough to overtake.

Let's rewind for a second. A couple years ago on the fantasy show we were on a mission with the freaks of the world to find nicknames for both Kobe and Amare Stoudemire. We settled on King Kobe the 8th and The Seed, respectively. The Seed, which was not my idea, never caught on. Thank God. King Kobe the 8th became the moniker of choice for a while, but then faded because Kobe kept proving he wasn’t worthy of such lofty praise.

Well, in the white-hot light of 81, which automatically and permanently changes his pre-name adjective from superstar to legend, Kobe has re-established the fact that he is worthy of King Kobe the 8th. So, take this nickname back to your locker rooms, your water coolers, your local radio shows, and let the world now that now and forever, Kobe Bryant shall be known as King Kobe the 8th—or "King Kobe" for short.

All hail the King!

At King Kobe’s request, we have rounded up the best of the best from the first half of the 05-06 season for your fantasy enlightenment...

Fantasy MVP – Shawn Marion, Suns: For the third straight season, it's looking like we'll have a new alpha male in fantasy hoops. Back in 03-04, Kevin Garnett was the beast of all beasts. Last year, LeBron rose to the top of the fantasy heap in just his second season. And this year, at the halfway point, the No. 1 player in 8-cat leagues is The Matrix, thanks to 21.6 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 2.0 bpg, 1.9 spg, 1.1 3pg, and 51 percent from the field.

Freaks, if it seems like I'm in a sour mood on the fantasy show this week, it's because I'm playing against Marion in League Freak. Sweet. I always enjoy going up against superheroes. FYI – LJ23 and KG are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in 8-cat leagues, and within striking distance of Marion, so stay tuned.

Fantasy Rookie of the Year – Chris Paul, Hornets: Paul had both reality and fantasy Rookie of the Year locked up in October. As soon as the fantasy world caught wind of Andrew Bogut coming off the bench, a two-horse rookie race became one—as in, the new superstar one for the Hornets. At current, Paul ranks 18th across eight cats, while Bogut is second among rookies with an 8-cat ranking of 92 and Channing Frye is third at 98. That gap is wider than the one between Shaun Alexander’s teeth.

Paul already has moved past the whole Rookie of the Year thing. That award is his and it’s already accumulating dust in his trophy case. Now, it’s about whether Paul is an All-Star as a rookie. He’s certainly worthy, because his stats and team’s win-loss record make him the total package, and now that Tracy McGrady is a forward on the ballot, the guards heading to Houston should be Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Tony Parker, and Chris Paul.

The Warriors Nation is probably up in arms, but Paul is ahead of BD and J-Rich in the fantasy rankings and Hornets are up on the Warriors in the standings.

Fantasy Most Improved Player – Gerald Wallace, Bobcats: As we documented last week, Wallace is the most improved player from a year ago, rising in six of eight categories and developing into a dominant defensive player. Hold that thought...

Fantasy Warrior – Allen Iverson, 76ers: In the opening column of the year, we talked about the chondromalacia in Iverson's right knee and that Marion and Jerry Stackhouse were forced to have surgery to correct the same injury. While not in a state of panic, the fantasy world definitely entered the season trepiditiously regarding last year's scoring king. I know I did.

But here we are, 42 games into the season, and Iverson has started all 42 games. And this, despite knocking knees with Jason Collins almost two weeks ago. Yes, the same right knee. Good thing Iverson is the toughest player in professional sports, and the inspiration for the Allen Iverson Memorial Warrior of the Week award on the fantasy show.

Fantasy Coach of the Year – Mike D’Antoni, Suns: There are coaches who have positively tweaked their rotations this season, and we thank them for the extra minutes. But no coach does more for the fantasy world than the real Mike D, who deploys short rotations, insists on the always fantasy-friendly up-tempo pace, and affords his players a perpetual green light.

The reigning Coach of the Year has turned Steve Nash into a scoring man’s John Stockton, he’s turned Raja Bell into Quentin Richardson, and he’s turned Boris Diaw from first-round bust to Most Improved candidate.

Fantasy Surprise of the Year – The Wests (Delonte and David): In the current 8-cat rankings, Delonte is 45th and David is 46th. How cool is that for two of the top candidates for Most Improved Player to be neck-and-neck at the turn?

Delonte is the best 8-cat player you've never heard of. Check the numbers, he helps in all eight cats. As for David, he's been solid in six of eight categories, failing only in threes and assists. Both Wests were waiver wire specials early in the season, but they have blossomed into every-week starters.

Fantasy Disappointment of the Year – Ron Artest, Pacers: Ron-Ron played only seven games last season, but in those games, he did enough to rank third in 8-cat leagues. That ranking, and a heavy dose of positive propaganda in the offseason, got the fantasy world—including yours truly—believing he had turned the corner and should be a second- or third-round pick.

Sadly, we were duped (again) when he publicly demanded a trade, then said he was sorry for saying that, then got traded, then rejected the trade for reasons we'll never comprehend, then removed foot from motor mouth just long enough to blame it on his agent, and then landed in Sacramento with the Kings, who now probably wish they never dialed up Donnie Walsh.

Artest has obvious upside in Sacramento, where they want to run-n-gun and need to play stickier D. But because it's going to take Artest at least 2-3 weeks to get into playing shape, and because the Kings have Mike Bibby, Brad Miller, SAR, Kenny Thomas, and Bonzi Wells (when healthy), he will not get the additional shots he was looking for when he turn coated the Pacers.

Artest averaged around 15 shots per game over the last three abbreviated seasons with the Pacers, but he is replacing a man, Peja Stojakovic, who averaged only 13.7 shots this season with the Kings. Including Peja, the Kings have five players averaging 10+ shots, with Bibby leading the way at 16.6. Ron may work his way up to 15 or 16 shots per game, but because the Kings spread it around to five guys who can shoot, he won't even approach 20 shots per game.

It'll be good to have Ron-Ron back for the fantasy owners who have been held hostage since early December, but brace yourself for the next flake. It's coming...

Fantasy D-Freak – Gerald Wallace, Bobcats: Wow, how about two halfway awards for Crash? Freaks, Wallace is this year’s Matrix in terms of netting 2 & 2 on the D. Marion is close, at 2.0 blocks and 1.9 steals, but Wallace is the only player in the league to average two-plus blocks (2.2) and two-plus steals (2.4). Crash, on behalf of the fantasy nation, sorry about the negative knee, thanks for all the goodies in the first half, and we’re all pulling for a speedy, but healthy return.

Fantasy Sharpshooter – Kobe Bryant, Lakers: When you compute the rankings based on points, threes made, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage, the winner is King Kobe the 8th thanks to 35.9 ppg, 1.9 3pg, .452 FG%, and .838 FT%. Hard to believe King Kobe went the first eight games of the season sans triple. FYI – Ray Allen is second and Dirk Nowitzki is third among the four-cat sharpshooters.

Fantasy Oddballer – Marcus Camby, Nuggets: If you play in five-cat leagues (P-R-A-B-S), you may have figured out that blowing off points in the pursuit of boards, blocks, dimes, and steals is the best way to win. For years, Ben Wallace and Jason Kidd have been monsters in five-cat leagues because of their oddball abilities. This year is no different, as Ben is the third-best oddballer and Kidd is seventh.

The No. 1 oddballer from the first half is Camby, who averaged 12.9 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 assists in 25 games before undergoing hand surgery. Congrats to Camby owners on his much anticipated return. FYI – Andrei Kirilenko is gaining on Camby, and probably will win Fantasy Oddballer of the Year.

NBA TV fantasy expert Rick Kamla's Living the Fantasy column appears weekly on NBA.com. E-mail him at fantasyhoops@nba.com