Next Man Up: NBA Injury Replacements

If you drafted an injured star, should you be playing his real-life backup?

The NBA season is finally here, and it couldn’t have come soon enough. All the waiting and wondering is coming to an end and we’ll soon see what impact a very busy and eventful offseason will have on the Association.

Injury-wise, we're about to get some answers. How quickly can Russell Westbrook come back from a meniscus tear, and will he be just as reckless and explosive? Is Derrick Rose still Derrick Rose, even after an ACL repair and 18 months away from NBA games that count? Can Kobe Bryant overcome his Achilles’ heal (formerly his age and hubris, now an actual torn Achilles’ heal)?

As fantasy basketball owners, the answers to these questions are particularly important to us. With the season starting this week, most drafts are done and lineups are set. Just in case you picked up an injured star for later and need a decent player for right now, here is a breakdown of “the next in line” guys that you may want to look for on your waiver wire to ease the pain of waiting:

Russell Westbrook

Backup: Reggie Jackson

The Thunder are going to be conservative with their All-NBA point guard, and with good reason. A player as explosive as Westbrook needs to be operating at 100 percent to be capable of doing his thing, so they’re going to wait it out.

OKC still has talent on their roster (maybe you’ve heard of Kevin Durant), and can keep the ship afloat until Russell is ready. In the meantime, third-year PG Reggie Jackson will continue filling in admirably. Jackson is a multi-dimensional Westbrook-Lite. He averaged 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game in the playoffs last year, while hitting 1.2 threes per game. He has also shown further development in the Orlando Summer League and NBA preseason since putting some valuable playoff minutes on his resume.

With Kevin Martin out of town, Jackson will be even more relied upon to score, and looks to be the Thunder’s sixth man even when Westbrook returns. He’s a high-upside waiver wire pickup now that could have sustained value all season long. He’s available in a lot of leagues, but won’t be if he gets off to a hot start in Oklahoma.

Verdict: Add him whether or not you own Westbrook.

Other possible adds: Patrick Beverley, Jarrett Jack

Kobe Bryant

Backup: Nick Young

An Achilles’ heal injury is touchy business, and it’s hard to rush back from. We all appreciate Kobe’s determination, but an opening night return was never very realistic. You might have to wait another few weeks to a month (or longer) before you get the Black Mamba back in your lineup, so go get yourself a serviceable SG in the meantime.

The position is not quite as deep as it used to be, so you might have trouble finding talent on the wire. Kobe’s new teammate, Nick Young, is a serviceable fill-in for the Lakers, so he could be that for your fantasy squad as well. Young is as streaky as they come, but can light it up when given the green light to shoot. Mike D’Antoni will likely continue to try and force this Laker roster to be an up-tempo team which could bode well for Young’s value to start the season. He is a good source of threes and points when he gets going and he should see plenty of touches as there simply aren’t many good scoring options on the Lakers to start the season.

Verdict: Add if you’re desperate for points and/or threes.

Other possible adds: Lance Stephenson, Jared Dudley

Danny Granger

Backup: Lance Stephenson

The Pacers surprised some people last year when they took the Heat to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. That impressive team seemed to get even better in the offseason by adding Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, and C.J. Watson to address their depth concerns.

Perhaps the biggest addition, however, was supposed to be the return of Danny Granger from a knee injury that kept him out of all but five games last season. While some people likely drafted him with hope of a return to All-Star form, they’ll be disappointed to learn that Granger might be out another 4-6 weeks with a new calf injury. Lance Stephenson slides back into the starting SG position and will look to build on a fairly strong 2012-2013 season and playoffs. His numbers weren’t super flashy at 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.8 threes last year, but he has shown signs of continued growth as he gains confidence in his role. He is trying to win the starting spot from Granger and will get the chance to prove himself early on.

Verdict: Add with caution or monitor for progress.

Other possible adds: Jared Dudley, Maurice Harkless

Rajon Rondo

Backup: Avery Bradley

The Celtics are officially in rebuilding mode, after trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett this offseason. Rajon Rondo is still recovering from a partially-torn ACL, and both he and the Celtics are being very tightlipped about a timetable for his return. We could be in for a long season of speculation as the Celtics focus on developing their youth and punching their lottery ticket in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes.

Their starting PG this year is fourth-year combo guard Avery Bradley. Bradley is mostly known as a solid perimeter defender (1.3 steals per game in 50 games as a starter last year), but doesn’t really give you the numbers you want from your PG slot (only 2.1 assists and 40.2% from the field in those 50 games). You can probably find a better option while you wait. Hopefully we get a more definitive take on Rondo’s timetable sooner rather than later. Fantasy owners do not want a repeat of the dragged out Derrick Rose situation from last year.

Verdict: Pass, you’ve got better options.

Other possible adds: Reggie Jackson, Patrick Beverley

Andrew Bynum

Backup: Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson

The Cavs signed Andrew Bynum to an incentivized contract that values games played (and, unfortunately for him, not crazy hairdos). He missed every single game for the Sixers last year without suffering a major injury. I’d bet my life savings on him not reaching those goals before I’d ever consider having him on my fantasy team. Yes, he could come back and pay huge dividends, but we said the same thing last year and he never even put on a Sixers uniform. I would honestly take any C in the league over dealing with the uncertainty. I hope he’s someone else’s problem and not yours.

Verdict: Trade Bynum if you can. If you insist on keeping him, pick up any of Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller, or Tristan Thompson as a contingency plan.

Other possible adds: Any C with two functional legs.