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Spin Doctors: Kobe Bryant vs. Kyrie Irving

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Kobe admitting he's second in this debate (USP)

In a battle of two highly talented guards, one toward the end of a career while the other is just beginning theirs, two members of the Yahoo! Fantasy staff view them differently.

Who do you prefer, a proven superstar with an impressive track record yet now in the decline phase, or a budding star with little history but with a ton of potential?

Funston says Kobe's still got it: The main argument against Kobe is that he's old. But being 34 years old is only a problem if you are starting to show the obvious wear-and-tear that comes with the mileage you've traveled. And I'm having a hard time finding proof that Kobe is, in fact, in decline.

Over the past seven seasons, Kobe has played 96 percent of the Lakers' regular season games. Last year, he produced the sixth-highest scoring average, sixth-highest free-throw percentage, fifth-highest three pointers per game mark and eighth-highest minutes per game average of his 16-year career. He finished last season's Yahoo! game ranked No. 15 in fantasy output per game.

And here's a key component to this argument. Kobe was one of only four SG-eligible players ranked among the top 32, and one of only two (along with Dwyane Wade in the top 19). As for the PG position, where Irving is eligible, there were 11 players ranked among those top 32. Fact is, you aren't going to have a problem finding a big-time producer at the point in your draft, but an elite shooting guard is a different story.

Last season, Kobe was a six-category positive in fantasy, and he can all but carry a squad in the Points and FT% departments. And one of his negatives (FG%), could turn back into a plus given that he now has Steve Nash setting him up and guys like Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison to deflect much of the extra attention Kobe would normally see on the offensive end.

Both Bryant and Irving have the potential to be top 10 fantasy commodities but, as I said, if that's the case, then I'll opt first for the shooting guard over the point guard. Especially when the SG has 14 consecutive years of elite production on his record.

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Irving is ready to take the leap (USP)

Dalton says to go young: Kyrie Irving averaged 19.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.7 3pt while shooting 45.8 percent from the field last March before injuries severely limited his minutes over the final month of the season. That's obviously cherry picking numbers, but it also highlights the upside of someone who was just a 19-year-old rookie with only 11 collegiate games under his belt. Irving shot 39.9 percent from behind the arc and 87.2 percent from the line, as there's no real weakness in his game (even his 0.4 bpg ranked third among all point guards). He's battled health problems in the past but enters 2012/13 fully healthy and as the clear centerpiece to a Cleveland team that has improved its roster over the offseason.

Kobe Bryant was more valuable last year according to Basketball Monster, checking in as the 23rd ranked player compared to 38th for Irving, but these are two players clearly headed in opposite directions in their careers. I'm not going to argue Bryant isn't one of the best players of all time, and it's hard to say he's wearing down after he easily led the NBA in Usage Rate last season, but the 34-year-old has accrued 1,381 games in his career if you count the playoffs. The addition of Steve Nash will no doubt have its benefits for Bryant, but he's not going to be handling the ball nearly as much this season and should also lose some shots to newcomer Dwight Howard as well.

Point guard admittedly looks deep this year, but I'd give Irving a legit chance at beating Bryant in seven of the nine fantasy cats, and the youth factor here shouldn't be overlooked. I'm not burying Bryant by any means, as this is less of indictment on him as it is a highly favorable outlook for the sophomore from Cleveland. Irving should finish 2012/13 as a top-15 fantasy player.

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