Kevin Durant's Foot Fracture: The Fantasy Basketball Fallout
Fantasy basketball season is a mere two weeks away, and you probably just finished jiggering your rankings to get them just right. Your draft is in a few days, and you have the number-one overall pick lined up. Kevin Durant is in your sights, and you’ve got nothing in the world to worry about; the Slim Reaper will soon be yours.
Then Sunday happens. Sunday bloody Sunday. Durant has a fractured foot; a Jones fracture to be more precise (which had nothing to do with Perry Jones III, it turns out). Surgery is possible and early timetables range from six to eight weeks, with some reports signaling 10 as a minimum for the surgery option.
But we have no choice but to pick up the pieces and move on. With that in mind, let’s quickly explore the fantasy fallout of this depressing injury news.
When to Draft Kevin Durant
Durant was the consensus number one pick coming into this season and with good reason; he has finished as the number one option in nine-category leagues in four of the last five seasons (and only fell to number three during the one outlier in 2011-12). He's essentially the only player in the league that contributes positively in eight of the nine standard categories, with turnovers being the only place that he has the potential to drag you down (in eight-category leagues that don't count turnovers, he's essentially a fantasy god).
And now we're in a situation where he is almost certainly going to slip past number one. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are fine choices in that range and are entering the season healthy, making them nearly impossible to ignore. Even Stephen Curry and Chris Paul will be hard to pass up if you're picking third or fourth and can't stomach up to two months of no production from your first-round pick. As of right now, fantasypros.com's consensus rankings of 18 experts has Durant slipping past all four of those guys to be the fifth pick, and that's probably a fair range for him.
Then again, if you absolutely want to draft him first, it's hard to fault you for it. KD is a special fantasy player. Nowhere else in the draft will you come close to finding 32.0 points, 2.4 threes, 7.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game, to combine with 50.3% shooting from the floor and 87.3% from the line in one package. Even with the 3.5 turnovers per game, Durant's the kind of guy worth waiting for. If you're in a head-to-head league, grabbing him at your first chance and building your team in a way that lessens the bleeding for the first one to two months of the season could certainly prove to be worth it in the end.
When to Draft Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka
Both Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka had compelling cases as first-round picks before the news of Durant's injury, but now they're undeniably guys you take in the first ten picks or so. They were set to have their typically excellent fantasy seasons as it was, but the bump they'll receive in the first couple of months while trying to make up for Durant's missing 20.8 shots per game and league-leading 33% usage rate will make them even more exciting to own.
According to nbawowy.com, there were only 39 minutes that Westbrook played without Durant last season, but his usage rate was at a ridiculous 44.9% during that time (compared to 33.6% in the 2,064 minutes the two played together). Sure, it's a small sample size, but the bump in usage for Westbrook is all but certain to happen, even if it's not exactly that high. More usage typically means more counting stats and better fantasy returns, so Westbrook quickly becomes one of the more interesting early picks for the added upside this news brings.
Durant hasn't missed many games in his career, so it's hard to exactly project Westbrook's role over an extended period of time without him. That said, it's almost certainly going to be the Thunder's first real chance to see what happens when you #LetWestbrookBeWestbrook. He was already a solid source of points, threes, rebounds (for a point guard), assists, steals, and free throw percentage. He leaves a little to be desired in terms of field goal percentage and turnovers, and doesn't exactly block a lot of shots, but his positive aspects should only become more positive as he gets all the minutes and possessions he can handle. Draft him somewhere in the four to nine range of the first round without hesitation.
As for Ibaka, his case for being a first-round pick was something that some people questioned going into the season, but now it would seem unwise to let him slip out of the top 10. In 212 minutes without Durant last season, Ibaka had a usage rate of 22.7%, a sizable bump from the 19.8% he had in 2,454 minutes with him. Once again, more usage means more counting stats and more fantasy goodness.
The knock on Ibaka as a first-round pick tends to be his modest scoring and rebound numbers and those are bound to reach new heights without Durant around. Throw in the elite blocks and field goal percentage to go with low turnovers and the occasional three-pointer and Ibaka becomes a pick you can make in the eight to ten range of round one and feel great about. His numbers might dip a bit when KD returns, but not enough to keep you from confidently making him a first-round selection.
Which Role Players Will Step Up in Durant's Absence?
For now, trying to decide which bench players on Oklahoma City will step up and have the chance to become fantasy relevant in Durant's absence will be like throwing darts. The starting shooting guard position was already up for debate going into the regular season and now both wing positions are up for grabs. That combination of players will come somewhere from a list that includes Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson, and Lance Thomas.
Jackson is the most obvious choice as someone to target in upcoming drafts as a late-round upside piece. He currently has an O-Rank of 158 on Yahoo and ESPN is projecting him at 75 (updated to reflect the Durant news). Some people might be inclined to pick him early for a sure-to-be increased role, but in a 27-game period where Jackson started in place of Westbrook last season, he only ranked 112th in nine-category leagues, according to basketballmonster.com.
The assist (5.0 per contest during that period) and steal (1.4) upside was nice, but he only ranged from average in points (14.8), threes (1.1), rebounds (3.7), and free throw percentage (81.8%) to pretty bad in blocks (0.0), field goal percentage (41.9%), and turnovers (2.5). If his price gets driven up prior to the late rounds with the Durant news, he's probably not worth it based on what we already saw him do in a bigger role last year. If people forget about him, however, he'll make for an interesting flier in the 100 to 150 range.
The biggest problem with Jackson is true of everyone on the list; none of them is a sure thing to start. Any of the six guys listed above could have either of those two jobs come opening night and coach Scott Brooks could definitely take a hot-hand approach if no one runs away with either position. Jackson might be the best player of the bunch, but he's a crucial part of the second unit and he might have to stay there to keep the bench contributing positively while the starting lineup is clearly depleted.
For argument's sake, let's take a look at everyone's per-36 numbers from last year (along with their per-36 fantasy rank) to see who could stand to benefit the most from earning a starting spot:
|Player (per-36)||Per-36 Rank||PTS||3s||REB||AST||STL||BLK||FG%||FT%||TOV|
No one on the list really inspires a boatload of confidence, nor does anyone stand out as a must-own player just yet. For now, the best move seems to be to stick everyone here on your watch list and keep a close eye on the situation to see if someone emerges. At best, you'll have someone who is a temporary option or a Durant handcuff until the MVP returns anyway, so don't burn a decent draft pick on anyone here outside of Jackson in the late rounds. If you absolutely want a dart to throw, I'd say Lamb emerges as a somewhat productive option, but don't quote me on it.
Get well soon, KD. Our fantasy squads need you.