Watching Kobe Bryant score 44 points in 31 minutes Sunday night was a different kind of thrill. It was the thrill of watching greatness devouring itself. It was the basketball equivalent of Wyatt Earp's vendetta ride.
It was what I call "Pure Fantasy."
Pure Fantasy what happens when a proven star scorer is placed in a situation where his team's success is no longer defined through wins, but rather what said star scorer does on any given night.
I first played fantasy basketball during the 2001-02 season, when Michael Jordan returned to my Washington Wizards. I managed to not succumb to the temptation to draft Jordan. But I watched as many of his 60 games as I could, and got my first view of Pure Fantasy.
It didn't matter if the Wizards made the playoffs or if Kwame Brown was a bust. For that season, it was about the bewildering pleasure derived from seeing Jordan back on the court, albeit in a poorly designed Wizards uniform.
That Jordan was 38. He averaged 22.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists.
That Jordan also shot 42 percent from the field and 19 percent from downtown. He missed 22 games. He registered a (full season) career low 3.3 win shares.
Pure Fantasy isn't about the wins. Pure Fantasy isn't about efficiency. It's about volume at all costs.
2014-15 Kobe is 36. He is averaging 27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.9 steals per tilt. Those 27.3 points are almost a full two points over his career average. On the surface, it’s numerically heroic.
Yet he's clocking in at only 35th on the Player Rater with an aggregate score of 7.26. According to the Player Rater, Tobias Harris is having a better fantasy season.
That's because Kobe's efficiency is mostly nonexistent. His 2014-15 PER is at a career-low 20.1; not horrible by NBA standards, but merely better than the average (15.0).
He is shooting 38 percent from the floor, and his anemic 28 percent 3-point percentage has knocked his true shooting percentage down to a career-low 48.1 percent. (During his mammoth 2012-13 campaign, Kobe assembled a 57.0 TS%.)
The 2014-15 edition of Kobe Bryant could come closer to my version of Pure Fantasy than any other player in recent memory. His win-share total to date, 10 games in, is 0.1.
By Tax Day 2015, his Los Angeles Lakers will be lucky to have won 25 games. It's great theater. It's Kobe Bryant, reasonably healthy, and without a soul (in his mind) to defer to.
And Staples Center is a fantastic fantasy environment. One night, you can watch the Los Angeles Clippers, a team stocked with upside, a short rotation and championship aspirations. The next night, you can watch Kobe Bryant launching shots from everywhere on the court every 30-40 seconds while four other guys stand around and watch.
These Lakers can't defend. Teams that spread the floor effectively perforate them. So they have to score to try to keep up. Their record is 1-9, but they are seventh in the NBA in pace, averaging 97.9 possessions per night.
Which is hard to do because these Lakers -- whose star is 36 -- are a plodding, half-court team.
Through 10 games, Kobe is dominating the NBA in half-court offense. He leads the league in half-court plays per game at 27.6, 4.5 plays more than his closest competitor, Carmelo Anthony.
On Sunday night against the Golden State Warriors (leading the NBA in pace at 102.2 possessions), the Lakers were down 115-79 by the end of the third quarter. The final score (136-115 Warriors) doesn't matter; the box score was incredible. Marreese Speights scored 24 points in 20 minutes.
The other Lakers are (understandably) miffed. Sifting their postgame quotes, the references to "playing as a team," it's obvious whom they're describing.
They know they're stuck in a Pure Fantasy situation.
So now coach Byron Scott is threatening to cut minutes. Who gets them? Wayne Ellington? Scott can't cut Kobe's by more than 1-2 per game, tops. Scott can't really cut them for Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill or Carlos Boozer. Or Ed Davis. Because these Lakers, like the 2013-14 Sixers, sport a size zero rotation.
Look at it this way; they're dying for Nick Young to come back.
If you drafted Kobe (as I did in the fourth round), what do you do? Do you ride this out?
No. You hope he keeps this up for another month, and then trade him.
Pure Fantasy players, with their superstar credentials and Maravich-like volume stats, accrue supremely overinflated trade value.
Other examples of great Pure Fantasy seasons: Kevin Durant in 2007-08, Deron Williams in 2011-12, Antoine Walker in 2002-03. (Walker put together the closest I've seen to a wall-to-wall Pure Fantasy career.)
In 1978-79, Pete Maravich posted the top Pure Fantasy season of the modern era, averaging 22.6 points, but with a FG% of only 42 percent and 0.1 win share. And that was before they counted 3-pointers. (The coach of the 26-win New Orleans Jazz that season? Elgin Baylor. The circle is complete.)
So this holiday season, give some other person in your league the gift of Kobe Bryant. Give him to the Lakers fan in your league who is blinded by the 27.3 points and wants to believe it's 2009.
Until then, enjoy the ride, and pray Kobe doesn't get hurt.