Stop. Halt. Cease. Desist. Arrêt. Alto. Knock it off.
Enough already with all the injuries, NBA players. We, the fans, have had it up to here (you can’t see me, but I’m holding my hand really high in the air for effect). We care an inordinate amount about your health, sometimes even more so than people we know personally and have actual interactive relationships with.
So, when you go down in a heap on the court and get surrounded by trainers and other players, we all stop breathing a little. We worry about how this fall will affect your career trajectory and your legacy, and we immediately start worrying that you might never be the same again.
Maybe you’ll manage to get up, shake it off, and come back for the next play or maybe we won’t see you again this season. We have a tendency to assume the worst. Our collective years of loving the sport have made us rather hypochondriacal.
We get it. The sport is fast. You run, jump, cut, and pivot all over the place. We understand that while those moves are responsible for the highlight plays that we adore, they are also the culprit when it comes to the gruesome injuries that we so deeply despise. We just want to have our cake and not have to watch it tear an ACL too. Is that too much to ask?
The basketball gods have continued to wreak havoc on the knees, ankles, hamstrings, feet, and backs of our favorite players this year. I would mention that this feels like the worst year we’ve had for injuries that I can remember, but I know we say that every year (Honestly, if anyone can remember a particular season in any sport when we collectively said, “Gee, it sure is nice that everyone is healthy and playing well this year,” please hit me up on Twitter: @rustypedalbike).
Some injury replacements are obvious, some less so. Sometimes one player steps in and picks up the slack, other times production is spread out over several scrubs. I’m here to help you sift through the remains a little bit and to make moves (through the waiver wire or trades) to help your team stay afloat.
This might be a good time to look back through old versions of A Dozen Dimes (links in suggested reading), where I’ve previously mentioned how useful Nate Robinson would be if Ty Lawson went down (which he did) or how John Henson is on the rise with Larry Sanders (and now Zaza Pachulia) out.
All told, let’s take solace in the fact that the majority of players eventually come back from injury and look just fine, thus completing the injury circle of life (one goes down, another comes back...deep, I know). For instance, did you know Kobe Bryant returned to action last night and looked ok (9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 of 9 shooting, 8 turnovers)?
Speaking of which...
Buy Kobe Bryant / Drop all Lakers not named Kobe, Pau, or Steve Blake
We all got cute while Kobe was on the shelf. We looked at Kobe’s career numbers of 25.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 threes and said someone has to fill that void. We played with the idea of all Lakers wings being useful at one point or another.
Nick Young? Jodie Meeks? Wesley Johnson? Jordan Farmar? Xavier Henry? Sure, they all had a good game or two or put together an impressive stretch, but let’s not forget how little we cared about those guys in the past.
With Kobe and his career 31.8 usage rate back in gold and purple, you can expect little more than a few impressive games at random times from the aforementioned five-headed guard monster. There’s talk of Kobe converting to be more of a passer as a result of perhaps losing a step from the achilles injury, but I don’t see it.
Kobe is a special kind of human being. He’s wired differently than most ball players. He’s competitive to a fault and he didn’t come back from this big of an injury this late in his career to make those around him better, no matter who says or thinks so. He’s chasing Kareem’s scoring record and Jordan’s titles. He’s not going to accomplish that by feeding Jodie frickin’ Meeks the ball. He’s going to accomplish that by being the Black Mamba.
While we’re on the topic of droppable Lakers, Chris Kaman and Steve Nash are too injury-prone to own, Jordan Hill’s production has fallen into a black hole (and he’s been relegated to the bench as a result), and Robert Sacre and Shawne Williams are...well, themselves. I want nothing to do with you if you’re not Kobe, Pau Gasol, or Steve Blake (who has sustained value in Nash’s absence). End of story.
Also, if you drafted Kobe in the early rounds of your fantasy draft, good for you. It might be slow going at first, but he’ll be a first-round stud again before too long. If you don’t own him, try to convince an owner that he’s lost a step and buy low if he struggles over this initial stretch.
Buy Isaiah Thomas
Well, as I was writing this article, I looked up to realize that the Raptors and Kings had agreed on a pretty significant trade. The Kings get Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy, and Aaron Gray, while the Raptors take on Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons, and Chuck Hayes.
Out of those seven players (in case you’re wondering), Rudy Gay’s role should stay relatively similar in Sacramento, Greivis Vasquez enters a similar timeshare situation with Kyle Lowry as he had with Isaiah Thomas, and the rest remain irrelevant in all but the deepest of leagues. In other words, most players involved in the trade project to have relatively similar value going forward, with Lowry possibly taking a slight hit. The one true beneficiary here is the aforementioned PG still on the Kings, Isaiah Thomas.
I talked about IT2 as a worthy add a few weeks ago (Volume 2), and now he has reached must-add, buy-immediately status.
Last year, starting in 62 games for the Kings, Thomas averaged 15.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.0 steal, and 1.6 threes. That’s impressive enough, but he managed that in only 29.2 minutes per game as a starter and was held to only 26.9 MPG on the year.
So far this year, he has been coming off the bench in favor of Greivis Vasquez, averaging 27.7 minutes per contest. Despite not starting a single game, he has still managed to be the 35th-ranked player on our NBA Player Rankings with a nERD of 5.3. With Vasquez now out of the way and no PG on the Kings roster likely to challenge IT2 for minutes, he’ll be given the keys to an offense that he has deserved to drive for some time now.
He has been excellent, posting per-36 averages of 23.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.9 steals, and 2.0 threes on excellent shooting numbers of .458 from the field, .403 from deep, and .860 from the line this season. Now that he’ll be given a chance to play true starter minutes, the sky is the limit.
If you’re in one of the 25% of leagues where he’s available, pick him up. Otherwise, trade for him before an owner gets wise to his potential.
Buy Amir Johnson
Continuing the fallout from the Rudy Gay trade, there are several players that are likely to benefit from Gay’s 18.6 shots per game at a .388 success rate being redistributed (I discussed how much the Raptors offense could gain from from shipping him out here earlier this week). The most obvious beneficiary is Jonas Valanciunas (discussed at length in Volume 2 as someone who has the chance to explode if any rumored Gay trade came to fruition). The dark-horse buy in this situation, however, is Amir Johnson.
Johnson has struggled a bit as of late and hasn’t been living up to last year’s quietly successful season and a mid-round ADP in this year’s drafts. In roughly the same minutes this year, he had dropped in almost every category (his scoring was lower before Sunday night's career high of 32 points).
This slight drop in production, including a seven-game stretch in which he averaged only 5.7 points and 4.1 rebounds, led to Johnson losing his starting job to Tyler Hansbrough. The move to the bench seemed to ignite something in Johnson though, as he went for 19.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks on .640 shooting from the field and 1.000 from the line over his last two games off the bench.
Hansbrough is now day-to-day with a sprained shoulder and Johnson moved back into the starting lineup in Sunday’s game against the Lakers. He exploded for 32 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, and 2 blocks, shooting 14 of 17 from the floor and 4 for 4 from the line. The job looks to be his again for now.
Patrick Patterson coming over from the Kings presents a threat, but Johnson has shown that he can be productive in either a starter or bench role when given minutes. He is definitely in a situation to monitor in Toronto. I would gladly take a flier on him if you’re looking for a big with upside, either through the waiver wire or a trade.
Add Taj Gibson
The post-Rose Bulls are still a work in progress this year, with various players reacting differently to new or redefined roles. Perhaps no player has stepped up more than fifth-year PF Taj Gibson.
Over his last five games, Gibson has been an absolute beast. He has averaged 21.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in 32.4 minutes per game during that stretch, while shooting .608 from the field. He even made an appearance in the starting lineup in place of the injured Luol Deng in the last contest against Detroit’s formidable frontline and put up an excellent 21-point, 10-rebound, 1-block performance.
His usage rate has been steady at 25.9 in those five games, to go along with a fantastic 106.0 offensive rating and 98.2 defensive rating. He looks to be breaking out in a way that will be hard for Coach Tom Thibodeau to ignore, especially considering he already seems to prefer Taj to regular starting PF Carlos Boozer (mostly due to Gibson’s superior defense).
Gibson is currently the go-to guy to back up Deng, Boozer, and Joakim Noah whenever they miss time. He already holds standard league value as a first big off the bench and could be even more valuable if either of Chicago’s starting frontcourt players suffer a long-term injury or get traded. Pick him up and ride the wave.
Buy Trey Burke
This is the year of rookie guard stat-sheet stuffers. I’ve already talked about Michael Carter-Williams (Volume 1) and Victor Oladipo (Volume 5) and now we should be turning our attention to Jazz rookie PG Trey Burke.
The start of Burke's career was slightly delayed when he missed the first twelve Jazz games this season with a fractured index finger. He came back and played with a minutes limit off the bench for the first few, but has really come on in his last seven games (all as a starter). During that period, he has averaged 15.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.0 steal, 2.0 threes, and only 1.6 turnovers.
His shooting is a bit of an issue (.372 on the year) and he has been heavily criticized for his defensive ability (including a benching on Friday night), but he is a player well worth owning in fantasy leagues. He’s still available in about 30% of Yahoo leagues for some reason. Grab him if he’s available, trade for him if not. The Jazz don’t really have anyone to challenge him for minutes at PG and he’ll be given every chance to develop and put up big numbers.
Add Reggie Jackson
At the beginning of the season, I discussed how Reggie Jackson could be a great fantasy option as an injury-replacement for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook was expected to miss the first few weeks of the season and shocked everyone when he came back after missing only two games.
Reggie Jackson’s breakout party was delayed a little, but it certainly wasn’t canceled. As the Thunder’s sixth-man, Jackson has been putting up solid numbers off the pine. Over his last five games, Jackson has put up 14.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.6 steals, and 1.2 threes, while shooting a crazy efficient .518 from the field, .462 from deep, and hitting every single one of his free throws (9 for 9).
He has played 27.8 minutes per game over that stretch and looks to be locked in as a big part of the Thunder’s game plan. He’s a talented young PG and is worthy of owning in standard fantasy leagues as he continues to show steady improvement in his third NBA season.
Add Al-Farouq Aminu
Al-Farouq Aminu toyed with fantasy owners last year, having stretches of solid production, followed by drawn-out droughts where he disappeared off the map. He was off to an unremarkable season when two of his teammates, Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans, went down with injuries and opened up the floor for him.
With Davis out for four to six weeks with a broken finger and Evans likely out a few games with a sprained ankle, Aminu will be leaned on even more to produce for the Pelicans. Over the last three games (all without Davis), he has averaged 12.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 2.0 steals. Most impressively, he went for 16 points, 20 rebounds, and 3 steals last Wednesday against the Mavericks.
Perspective owners can’t expect that kind of production every night, but as long as the Pelicans are depleted, Aminu figures to do fairly well. It probably won’t result in season-long relevance, but he’s worth owning for now.
Buy Kyrie Irving
I believe in Kyrie Irving.
There are people saying he might not actually be as good as we once thought. Many owners who took him in the first round of fantasy drafts are jumping ship, completely dissatisfied with their choice.
Pounce, my friends. Pounce.
His 19.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.4 threes per game are great, but his value has been dragged down this year by his shooting and peripherals. He’s averaging 0.9 steals (down from 1.5 last year) and 0.3 blocks to go with 3.3 turnovers (15th worst in the league). He’s shooting only .394 from the field, .304 from three, and .784 from the line, down from career averages of .448, .379, and .849 respectively.
The high turnovers are common for a player with such a high usage rate (Kyrie is fourth in the league at 30.6), so that’s hardly an issue. His cold shooting numbers are considerably far from his career marks, so they scream for an eventual return to the mean.
A turnaround is coming.
Kyrie hit rock bottom on Friday night, missing all nine of his shots and scoring 0 points for the first time in his career. He followed that up by bouncing back to the tune of 20 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 three. Prior to the 0-point dud, he had managed to post double-digit points in every game he had played this season.
Which leads to another point: he has played in every game this season. Kyrie missed a total of 38 games over his first two seasons and has been stuck with an injury-prone tag (dating back to his time in college, when he only managed to play 11 total games due to ligament damage in his toe). I still don't think we're far enough into his career to write him off as brittle just yet. He's a tough guy and plays through a lot of nicks and bruises.
Between the drought, the one terrible outing, and the injury history, all the components are in place for a good buy-low offer. Having a cold stretch is not enough of a reason to completely abandon ship on a former first overall pick and all-star, so you should hit up an owner who might be prepared to.
Sell Andrew Bynum
In Volume 1, I told you to sell Andrew Bynum. Just consider this a friendly reminder that now is exactly the right time to do so.
Over his last four games, he has averaged 18.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 2.0 blocks, while shooting .554 from the field. He has done all that in only 25.3 minutes per game as a starter for the Cavs.
Those are numbers that are right in line with his last “full” season, when he played 60 games in 2011-12 and averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks on .558 shooting.
I don’t care. Fool’s gold.
He has still only topped 65 games once in his career (and that was seven years ago) and his knees caused him to consider retirement only a few short months ago.
He did not get a knee transplant, so no matter what way you slice it, he’s still a huge risk to miss a big chunk of games. I hate to bet against players and I really enjoy it when guys shed the injury-prone label and are productive, but I don’t think the short-term success is worth the long-term risk of being without him later on.
If he’s on your waiver wire, by all means, ride him until the wheels come off. Just know that they probably will and the smartest play would be to get someone productive and with a sustainable body for him while you can.
Add John Henson
The Bucks rotation has been very messy this year, due largely to injuries and partially to Coach Larry Drew’s seemingly ever-changing mind. The minute allotments seem to have settled down slightly and useful fantasy options are slowly emerging.
John Henson is playing very well and deserves to be owned in more than 50% of fantasy leagues (as he currently is on Yahoo!). With Larry Sanders still sidelined with a busted thumb and Zaza Pachulia missing time with a foot issue, Henson has been starting at C for the Bucks for the last five games.
During that time, he has posted huge averages of 14.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.8 blocks, while shooting .517 from the field. He really flashed his potential on Friday against the Wizards, when he had a ridiculous 19-point, 17-rebound, 4-assist, 1-block evening (shooting 8 of 10 from the field in the process).
He’s basically doing his best LARRY SANDERS! impression while the real one has been relegated to lower-case letter status. He’s worth owning until either of the other bigs come back and we see if they eat into his time.
Add Khris Middleton
You know what they say, one good Buck deserves another.
What, nobody says that?
Wait, what’s that? You say I spent hundreds of words in Volume 5 telling you that I hate taking players from the Bucks, because they’re all middle-of-the-road options that trade off useful production and are inconsistent?
Well, I must be a glutton for punishment, because two Bucks are becoming impossible to ignore. Other than Henson, Khris Middleton is another player that is making waves.
After sliding back and forth from the starting lineup to the bench to start the season, Middleton re-joined the starters eight games ago and hasn’t budged since. In his last four games, in particular, he has averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, and a ridiculous 3.0 threes (on .632 shooting from deep, no less). He has shot .511 from the field in that time and .857 from the line. Those are certainly numbers worth owning, at least for now.
His starting spot once belonged to Caron Butler, but Butler’s been out for six consecutive games with swelling in his left knee. Butler has a history of knee issues and is wearing down a bit at 33 years of age. If Middleton continues to shine, it’ll be hard to imagine Coach Larry Drew taking away his minutes.
Then again, this is the Bucks we’re talking about. In the meantime, keep throwing him in lineups until there’s a change.
Add Brandon Knight
Wait, did I say two Bucks? I meant three!
The sad thing is, I also think you should be watching “The Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo, as he develops and possibly becomes a factor down the road. But I digress...
Brandon Knight is creeping back up into relevance lately and I simply can’t ignore him, no matter how hard I try. I called him a drop in Volume 1 when he was dealing with a lingering hamstring injury and I stand by most of the original sentiment. He is still shooting an abysmal .348 from the field to go along with a pretty terrible 1.50 assist-to-turnover ratio. Not exactly PG numbers I want to own for an extended period of time.
Over the last six games, however, he has averaged 15.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.8 threes, on .405 shooting (still not great, but pretty much right at his career percentage). That’s good enough for consideration if you’re hurting at PG due to injury.
Just remember, Henson, Middleton, and Knight are all risk-laden adds and could slip back out of favor with their coach or in fantasy at any moment. I’m all for riding hot hands in the meantime though, if you need to.