DFS Time Machine: Kobe's 81-Point Game
In DFS Time Machine, I look at historical, pre-DFS games through a DFS lens, trying to glean some actionable information for daily fantasy players in 2016. In this edition, I look at Kobe Bryant 81-point game, which took place ten years ago yesterday.
Ten years ago last Friday, on January 22, 2006, the Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Toronto Raptors for a seemingly nondescript, run-of-the-mill January NBA game. There was nothing special about it – Jack Nicholson didn’t even bother to show up for this game between the post-Shaq-era Lakers, 21-19 and barely clinging to playoff hopes, and the Raptors, who at 14-26, didn’t even have a hope to cling to. The Raptors came out swinging, and in the third quarter, the Lakers found themselves down as many as 19 points.
The rest is history. Kobe took total control of the game, leading the Lakers to victory and finishing with 81 points, still the second-highest total in a game by a single player in NBA history. All day on Friday, the internet was abuzz with retrospectives of the game, all adding their own spin to the game and further mythologizing it in their own way. Some were personal (like this oral history at ESPN), some were statistical (like this “7 Notable Numbers” article from Fox Sports), but none (at least none that I came across) approached the game from a daily fantasy perspective.
Of course, that’s because daily fantasy didn’t exist in 2006. But in DFS Time Machine, I watch historical games that pre-date the existence of DFS in their entirety and analyze their (hypothetical) implications, asking, “What if DFS had been around when this game was played?”
How many fantasy points would Kobe have scored? How much would he have cost? How high would his ownership have been? Below I’ll attempt to answer all of these questions, and in the end, glean a few bits of DFS wisdom from Kobe’s performance that can help you out in your DFS contests in 2016.
First, a few random, non-DFS notes on the game (feel free to skip ahead for DFS talk):
*The pre-game introductions feature some serious blasts from the past. Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, Smush Parker…these are names I haven’t thought about since, well, 2006.
*There was serious friction between Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, as the Raptors broadcast team is wont to point out…and point out, and point out. Jackson had recently called Bryant “uncoachable” in his book, and every time Phil Jackson’s mug appeared on the screen, the commentators felt compelled to remind the audience of the soap opera.
*Kobe had scored 88 combined points in the two games prior, and the Lakers lost both games.
*There’s a random Andy Dick appearance halfway through the second quarter. As I said, Jack Nicholson wasn’t there, so they settled on interviewing Dick, who literally says, “’I’m afraid I’m gonna get hit by the ball. This is my first time courtside. Don’t think I’m some kind of playa.” The Raptors broadcast team is not impressed at all. One of them says sneeringly, “Is that the best of Andy Dick right there?”
*There’s some cool (almost) foreshadowing in the second quarter when one of the Raptors commentators says, ““[Kobe’s] got 26. I don’t care if he scores 66, as long as the Raptors win.” Sorry, dude.
*With 10 minutes left in the third quarter, the Lakers were down by 18 points. Kobe took over, and once he started draining shots and approaching 81, the Staples Center crowd would boo anytime a non-Kobe player took a shot.
How many fantasy points would Kobe have scored?
This part’s easy. Thanks to StatMuse, we know that Kobe’s line of 81 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block would have yielded 96.2 points at FanDuel and 101.5 points at DraftKings. So, roughly 10 games’ worth of Tyler Johnson production.
How much would he have cost?
No secret here – Kobe wouldn’t have been cheap. By January 22nd of the 2005-06 season, Bryant would have scored 50+ points at FanDuel and DraftKings 18 different times. For comparison, this year Russell Westbrook has exceeded the 50-fantasy-point threshold on 20 occasions so far, and Stephen Curry has done it 15 times, and they’re the only two players this year who are even close to Kobe (James Harden is next in line with 12 such games). That month, Kobe had only been below 44.4 FanDuel points and 48.5 DraftKings points in one of his 13 games played. And what’s more, the Lakers weren’t good enough to be blowing anyone out, so Kobe was averaging 40.5 minutes per game by that point in the season. Of course this is just speculating, but I could see him costing in the $12000 range given his minutes, usage, and recent production.
How high would his ownership have been?
Okay, here’s where it gets a little interesting. My guess is that Kobe’s ownership in cash games might have been lower than expected, for the sole reason that his price tag would’ve been extremely prohibitive. It’s not uncommon for Stephen Curry to have somewhat low ownership in cash games this year, particularly when he’s priced over $11,000 at either site, and there’s no doubt Kobe’s price tag would have been north of that mark.
And one other thing: yes, he could score at will in 2006, but Kobe wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with his peripherals that year. Up to that point in the year, there had only been two games all season (out of 38 games played) in which Kobe reached double digits in either points or assists. In other words, this isn’t Russell Westbrook, who puts up huge fantasy points even on a bad shooting night. I could see the argument being made that Kobe was slightly risky at his price given the lack of peripherals.
All that said, this isn’t Andrew Wiggins, either – even though he wasn’t putting up peripheral stats, he led the NBA in scoring (34.8 points per game by January 22nd of that year) and was virtually guaranteed to score 30 points (he’d scored 27+ in each of the 12 games leading up to his 81-point game). His ownership still would’ve been high, but I’m sure he would’ve had his skeptics, all of whose wallets would’ve been a bit thinner after that game.
So what can we learn?
Lesson One: Ball hogs = money.
During the broadcast, the Raptors commentators pointed out an interesting stat: up to that point in the year, Kobe was shooting 27 shots per game, most in the NBA. The player who was next in line on the team was Lamar Odom…who only averaged 11 shots per game. Coming off of two straight losses to Western Conference teams (the Kings and the Suns) and being on the fringe of being a playoff team, the Lakers couldn’t afford another loss. Kobe had to take over the game, because there was nobody else to do it.
One thing I’m learning as I get deeper into NBA DFS is that, unlike in some other sports, it really is possible for a player to “take over” and control his own production. In baseball, it’s hard to believe there’s a correlation between a hitter’s desire to hit a home run and the likelihood that he’ll actually hit one – simply wanting it more doesn’t equate to more fantasy points. And in football, a receiver can call for the ball more, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a higher-than-usual number of targets. But in basketball, if Kobe Bryant decides he’s going to shoot the ball 46 times (as he did in his 81-point game), there’s nobody to stop him. In fact, if he’s making his shots, and if the team around him is offensively challenged, there’s a direct incentive for him to shoot more. Therefore, Kobe’s 81-point game serves as proof that in NBA DFS, you want the guys who are, without mincing words, ball hogs.
While there’s no direct analogue in 2016 for the sheer quantity of shots Kobe was taking in 2006, there is one player who takes a disproportionate amount of shots compared to his teammates this year: James Harden 19.2 field goal attempts per game leads the Houston Rockets, taking nearly double the amount of shots as the next highest player, Trevor Ariza, who shoots 10.3 times per game.
So in other words, there’s really nobody who hogs the ball quite like Kobe did back in 2006. He took an astounding 39.3% of his team’s shots that year when he was on the floor, which is the highest rate of any player as far back as the 1996-97, the earliest year NBA.com lists this type of data. The player who comes closest in terms of percentage of team’s field goal attempts is Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, who is responsible for 34.0% of hit team’s shots when he’s on the floor, which leads the league.
Lesson Two: There are many paths to building a winning DFS lineup.
There are many nights that if you fade the one stud who goes off for 60 or 70 or 80 points, you’ve got no chance at cashing. January 22, 2006 was not one of those nights. While none of these games are in the same stratosphere as Kobe’s 81-point game in term’s of historical magnitude, take a look at some of the other fantasy point totals for that day:
Shawn Marion, Phoenix Suns – 66 FD points, 70 DK points
Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns – 60.6 FD points, 66 DK points
Tracy McGrady, Houston Rockets – 59.6 FD points, 62.8 DK points
Ray Allen, Seattle SuperSonics – 56.7 FD points, 62.5 DK points
Luke Ridnour, Seattle SuperSonics – 54.7 FD points, 58.5 DK points
Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers – 53.3 FD points, 58.3 DK points
Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards – 50.6 FD points, 52.5 DK points
Even Mike James from the Toronto Raptors, Kobe’s opponent that night, hit six three-pointers en route to 42.2 FD points and 48.8 DK points.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that one could have rostered more than one of the above players given their assumedly varying price ranges. Even if you had decided to fade Kobe on that day, the combination of Luke Ridnour and Shawn Marion, for example, would have made up enough ground for you to still be competitive.
In a recent blog, I listed all of the giant games I’d missed out on recently as a result of spending too much time tinkering with my lineups. And while I still stand by most of what I wrote in that blog, I’ve got to admit that blaming my losses on fading that one player who went off has become a crutch for me as I’ve reflected on my losses. The truth is that there are MANY paths to a winning lineup.
Would you have won a GPP if you chose to fade Kobe on the night of his 81-point game? Of course not. But if you’d landed any combination of the above players, your night could still have been salvaged. But you probably wouldn’t have faded Kobe in his next game.
If you want to watch Kobe’s performance, you can find a few grainy videos of the game in its entirety on YouTube and Daily Motion, but If you’re pressed for time, you can watch all 81 points in three minutes here. Or, if you just want to glance at the box score, click here.
*If you made it to the end of this ridiculously long blog, congratulations, and thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, click the green thumbs up in the upper right corner, and feel free to leave a comment or a game suggestion for a future DFS Time Machine blog in the comment thread below.
For research, I consulted StatMuse, NBA.com, and Basketball Reference.