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NBA Trends and Injuries: Replacing MVP-Level Talent

We’ve reached the final month of the fantasy basketball regular season, and the postseason is creeping closer. Every injury is that much more significant now, with any extended absences possibly continuing into the fantasy playoffs. The recent injury to LeBron James, for instance, has come at the absolute worst time for fantasy players, as they now must navigate their postseason run without their best player.

On the bright side, however, these unfortunate injuries do lead to increased opportunities for others. There will always be one, or multiple players ready to step up in their teammate’s absence, and the next fantasy postseason hero could be born at any moment. So let’s take a look at some players who are trending up due to these unforeseen circumstances, as any of them could end up being the piece that helps carry your fantasy team to glory.

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NBA Trends and Injuries

Los Angeles Lakers

G/F LeBron James

As mentioned above, LeBron James suffered a high right ankle sprain in Saturday’s game against the Hawks and he is expected to miss several weeks. This is obviously a major blow to both the Lakers and every fantasy roster with James on it. The four-time league MVP was having a typically dominant season with averages of 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game. With the Lakers also still without Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol however, there are now more than enough playmaking opportunities for Lakers players to step up.

G Dennis Schroder

Dennis Schroder will need to step up for the Lakers in a big way until either half of the James/Davis dynamic duo is able to return. Schroder is the best remaining playmaker on Los Angeles, and his 22.4% usage rate this season is the highest on the team excluding James and Davis. Schroder is having a solid season thus far with 15 points, 3.5 boards, and 4.6 assists, but he has proven to be capable of more in the past. His points per game each of the past three seasons were 19.4, 15.5, and 18.9 as a top offensive option for the Hawks and Thunder, so these inflated numbers are more than a possibility over the next few weeks. Schroder is trending up as the Lakers likely top option on offense for the foreseeable future.

F Kyle Kuzma

The fourth-year forward out of Utah has become a regular in the starting lineup of late, playing 34+ minutes in each of the team’s last three games. In this time, Kuzma has flashed his across-the-board production with a 13/6/6 line followed up by a 16/10/7 line, averaging 3 threes and a steal as well. Kuzma should share most of the playmaking duties with Schroder until James or Davis is fit to return, meaning more strong stat lines are on the horizon.

G/F Talen Horton-Tucker

While he is no guarantee for a boost in production in the same way as Schroder or Kuzma, Horton-Tucker’s stock could trend up in a heartbeat with a strong performance. The 20-year-old has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year, including an 18/10/4 line just nine days ago. Horton-Tucker’s usage rate has spiked to 26.6% in the three games since James went down, and consistent minutes in the mid-20s could be all he needs to truly break out.

Charlotte Hornets

G LaMelo Ball

LaMelo Ball underwent surgery yesterday after fracturing his right wrist over the weekend. Ball will be re-evaluated in four weeks, meaning he will likely be out for the remainder of the fantasy basketball season. It’s a tough break for the rookie of the year favorite who was averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2 threes per game. While no longer an asset to fantasy rosters this season, Ball does have a good chance to return in time for the NBA postseason, as the Hornets are somewhat surprisingly in control of the fifth seed in the east.

F/C Cody Zeller

While not as impactful of a loss as LeMelo Ball, Cody Zeller has also missed the last two games due to left shoulder bursitis. He is questionable to return tonight, and could be looking at limited minutes if he is able to suit up. Zeller’s potential extended absence is not a huge loss for fantasy teams, but the available minutes do provide some extra opportunity to their veteran backup center.

F/C Bismack Biyombo

Bismack Biyombo has started each of the games that Zeller has missed this season, playing minutes in the mid 20s on these occasions. The former lottery pick has proven to be a useful fantasy contributor over the past few seasons, specifically for boards and blocks, when given a large enough workload. With the Rockets giving up the most rebounds to opposing centers in the last two weeks, he should provide strong short-term value at the very least, with potential for a longer stint of fantasy value.

G Devonte’ Graham

Devonte’ Graham is the biggest beneficiary from the LaMelo Ball injury, as he will now take over as the team’s starting point guard for the foreseeable future. Graham had been the odd man out to this point, with Ball, Rozier, and Hayward carrying the offensive load, but that should all change now. He will likely see his minutes rise up into the 30s and the ball should be in his hands much more often as the starting point guard. As a result, Graham’s underwhelming 13.1/2.7/5.2 line thus far should begin to trend up closer to last season’s production, when he posted a strong 18.2/3.4/7.5 line. As our own Mike Omelan discussed, he should be one of your top waiver wire priorities if he’s still available for some reason.

Golden State Warriors

G Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry is expected to miss a minimum of one more week after an MRI revealed inflammation in the point guard’s tailbone. The two-time MVP has been putting up MVP-like numbers once again with averages of 29 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.4 steals, and an incredible 4.7 threes per game. The Warriors will likely try to get their leader back on the court as soon as possible with the team currently 1.5 games out of the playoffs, so he hopefully won’t be out of the lineup for too long.

G Jordan Poole

In the meantime, Jordan Poole has been shooting the lights out of the ball in the last month, and Curry’s absence means more shots coming his way. The second-year guard out of Michigan returned to action on March 4 and has put up 20.9 points and 3.3 threes per game on a ridiculous 54.5% shooting and 88.2% from the line. He is also averaging 37 minutes per game in these last three games that Curry has missed, and there is no reason to believe this won’t continue until Steph returns to action. Poole is trending up fast, and if he keeps playing like this, coach Steve Kerr will be hard-pressed to find more minutes for the sophomore even after Curry does return.

Brooklyn Nets

G Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving has announced that he has to deal with a personal family matter and will miss at least the team’s next three games as a result. In typically mysterious Kyrie fashion, no other details of his absence have been provided. His birthday was yesterday, so perhaps that has something to do with it? Either way, the Nets will now be without Irving, Kevin Durant, and Landry Shamet for the next few days, meaning some role players will need to step up and help James Harden.

G Bruce Brown

“What can Brown do for you?” The third-year guard has been a terrific role player for this stacked Nets lineup, but has also shown capable of stepping up into a larger role when needed. Brown had a strong six-game stretch leading into the all-star break in which he averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.3 steals in 30 minutes per game, and he could reach those numbers again while Irving remains away from the team. Aside from a tough matchup with the Jazz tonight, upcoming games against Detroit, Minnesota, and Houston present great chances for Brown to put up some strong stat lines in the coming days assuming Brown’s minutes keep trending up.

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