2008-09 Season Preview: Shooting Guard
The goal for the 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers is clear, simple and explicit: win the NBA title. Every team in the league, of course, aims for the championship, but few truly have the players to leg out the seven-month journey.
L.A. has those players.
We took a look position-by-position at each Laker based on what was done last season, what the numbers say, what assistant coach Jim Cleamons explained and what you can expect from a fantasy perspective.
It simply wasn’t a good year for Kobe Bryant in 2007-08. Sure, he vastly improved his leadership and relationships with his teammates in leading the Lakers within a few games of a title … Who cares? Yeah, maybe he won the league’s MVP award … Big deal. Perhaps he averaged 28.3 points, 6.3 boards, 5.4 assists, 1.84 steals … Who doesn’t? And yes, Kobe made the All Defensive First Team and All-NBA First Team … Not impressed. Better luck this year, Kobe.
1: Bryant’s place on the all-time NBA list for the youngest player to 20,000 career points, accomplished against New York on Dec. 23 last season.
16: NBA players to amass 21,000 points and 4,000 assists, which Bryant did last season with his 4,000th dime against Sacramento on April 15.
25.0: Kobe’s career scoring average after 12 NBA seasons, capped by his 35.4 average in 2005-06.
81: Points Kobe dropped on the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006. Can you see that insanity repeating itself?
“I think Kobe just has to build on what he did last year. He did a very good job of bonding with his teammates, and if he can continue to do that, I think that once again the sky’s the limit because Kobe has unlimited talent and ability. He’s going to go as far as he trusts his teammates to take him there. (Kobe’s being good at nearly every physical aspect of the game) is a pretty fair assessment.”
Kobe Bryant is the best player in the world. Most NBA players and coaches will tell you as much, even with a few peeps for LeBron here and there. But in terms of fantasy hoops in 2008-09 - even though we’d never actually bet against Kobe in … well … anything -you’re probably better off with King James or Chris Paul if you’re picking No. 1. In fact, you could make a credible case for Amare Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard as guys you might draft over Mamba (though that’s the absolute limit). Again, it’s not that Kobe isn’t capable of out-numbering all of those ballers if he so chose to. It’s that he has Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza waiting to produce numbers of their own. Kobe’s primary, and perhaps only concern this season is winning a championship, plus he’s already played 1,000 career games. So when LeBron is going off for 40, 12 and nine in November, Mamba may be just fine with 25, five and eight. But don’t you dare let Kobe out of your top six … He’s still Kobe, after all.
The stats put up by Vujacic last season – 8.8 points, 2.1 boards, 1.0 assists and 0.5 steals in 17.8 minutes – don’t do his 2007-08 campaign justice, which is why the Slovenian inked a three-year deal in the offseason. A cold-blooded shooter off the pine who played some feisty defense, Vujacic’s biggest tangible addition came in the form of 43.7 percent shooting from the three-point line, good for 8th in the NBA and for the top mark in franchise history. Vujacic was almost the literal definition of instant offense off the bench, justifying the basketball ops staff's decision to make the two-for-one deal with Orlando (Brian Cook and Maurice Evans for Trevor Ariza) that opened up more minutes for Sasha.
2: Over under on number of Sasha’s teammates that could pronounce his mother’s name, Ksenija. No. 18’s real name is Aleksander.
29: Times Vujacic was in double figures in 2007-08, a number that should climb along with his minutes.
43.7: Three-point percentage for Vujacic last season, over six percentage points higher than his 37.3 output the previous season. Both his field goal and three-point percentage marks have climbed in each of Vujacic’s four seasons in the NBA.
56: Percentage of Vujacic’s shots that came from beyond the three-point line. Vujacic attempted 270 bombs in only 17.8 minutes of 72 games, which adds up to 3.5 jacks a game.
“Sasha is another young man who has to continue to grow. He has the security now of a long-term contract, and now just needs to come and play. He knows he can make shots, but what I’d like to see him do is make better decisions as to when to take his shot. The defense knows he’s coming in to shoot, so that means they’re going to be running at him. Does that mean you have to take the three ball all the time? Sometimes a shot fake or just you looking at the basket is going to bring the defense to you, and that’s going to open up someone else. We know you’re a scorer and you get paid to shoot, but now in the team aspect, your decision as to when to pull the trigger is going to make us a better team.”
If Vujacic gets the 20-25 minutes that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said is a reasonable expectation, Vujacic will certainly have fantasy value. Of course, you can’t expect Sasha to board or dime for you, but he’ll be among the league’s top gunners yet again, getting you double-figure points at a high percentage, a few free throws a game and, most importantly, a load of threes. He’s definitely worth a late-round selection in standard leagues, as he’s definitely not hurting you in any categories and helps more than most in some key ones.