On The Mend: NBA Players Returning from Injury
As any seasoned fantasy drafter knows, the key to putting together any big board is to find “value.” If you’re in a categories league and punting FT% then Rudy Gobert and Russell Westbrook value skyrocket. Conversely those aforementioned players’ value tanks in a scenario where the game plan is to be competitive in FT%.
Another scenario where you’re likely to find a bevy of under-valued options lies with players returning from injuries. In leagues that utilize playoff formats, and especially those with expanded versions, this strategy is even more sound. If you’re willing to wait on potential production, there are a number of guys headed into the 21/22 season that may outplay their draft position.
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NBA Injuries: Players on the Mend
This group of players could very well outplay their draft position.
Caris LeVert – SG/SF Indiana Pacers / Rank: 70
Two teams and two injuries later, LeVert now in Indiana has recovered from his kidney surgery to remove a mass but is still questionable to start the season due to a stress fracture in his back. Through his injury split season, the G/F averaged 20.2 ppg, 5.2 ast, 4.6 reb, 1.2 stls, and .6 blks.
His current fantasy ranking could see him land as late as the 7th round in some drafts. LeVert should be slotted at starting SG for the Pacers, playing 30+ minutes a night, and paying dividends to fantasy owners. There is a good chance he could end up in the fantasy top 50 if can stay healthy, and produce like he’s capable.
Pascal Siakam – SF/PF/C Toronto Raptors / Rank: 58
Siakam is returning from shoulder surgery on a torn labrum and should be available in early November.
With the departure of Kawhi Leonard after the Raptors NBA championship in 2019, Siakam was lauded as the fantasy favorite to pick up the statistical slack. While his scoring numbers bettered, and three-point efficiency jumped in that season, he had a coming back down to earth campaign in 20/21.
Currently rated in the high 50s / low 60s draft position, this very much seems like the fantasy floor for a guy who is the undoubted best most complete player in Toronto. If the forward is able to get his 3 pointers made back over 2 a game and bring his scoring average to the 24 to 26 all while continuing to contribute a steal and 7 boards a game there is no reason he can’t end up as a top 40-50 fantasy contributor.
D’Angelo Russell – PG/SG Minnesota Timberwolves / Rank: 67
Russell has struggled to stay on the court for the better part of 2 seasons. The Ohio State product missed almost half of the 20/21 campaign with a right quad issue early on, and eventual knee surgery. He is slated to start at PG for the young, rebuilding, and arguably exciting Timberwolves squad.
The 7th year guard is still only 25 and is likely to be the main ball-handler and distributor for Minnesota. His ranking across multiple sites is anywhere from 65 to the mid-100s. At his best he could be a top 40 player averaging 23 pts, 7 ast, 4 reb, 3.5 3pt made, and 1.4 stls. But even if he is an average version of his healthy self Russell is a high-risk high reward option on the first 5 rounds, but a relative steal thereafter.
T.J. Warren – SF Indiana Pacers / Rank: 120
Warren has 5 separate instances of “foot” or “right foot” listed under his injury report since August 2020. The forward only played 4 games last year, but Indiana is hopeful to have their starting SF back at some point in early November. Warren is a career 50% shooter and should average near 20 a game if he’s healthy. He leaves a little to be desired shooting threes and in rebounding, but going as late as he should in most drafts makes him a very attractive late-round pick-up.
So You’re Saying There’s A Chance
These guys aren’t a sure thing but could be diamonds in the rough in the late rounds.
Victor Oladipo – SG Miami Heat /Rank: NR
The guard should return in early November but will be fighting for minutes alongside Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Max Strus. Head, shoulders, knees, and toes… Name a region of the body and Oladipo has had an ailment there in the last two years. It would be shocking to see him not in the top 100 if he’s totally healthy and worth a last-round flier pick, due to low risk and potentially high reward. The guard bet on himself with a one-year deal and will be looking to showcase a breakout campaign.
Chuma Okeke – PF Orlando Magic / Rank: 106
A starter, if not by talent then by necessity, I give you Chuma Okeke. The 6’8 forward suffered from hip and ankle injures last year, and into the preseason. He offers an intriguing value in steals at 1 a game from the PF spot, and potentially 1.5 threes. As long as Jonathan Isaac remains out he should be a viable option at the end of most rosters.
Markelle Fultz – PG Orlando Magic / Rank: 123
After being one of many Orlando Magic starters with season-ending injuries, he is due to return to action at the start of the season. He is likely to backup Jalen Suggs and Gary Harris at both guard positions, splitting time with Cole Anthony. Fultz’s value comes with his usage, and if he isn’t playing 25 plus minutes he likely isn’t rosterable, save for deep leagues.
Mid Season Returns
Second Half Surge
Long-term solutions for a playoff push, but owners will have to be patient with their return timelines.
Klay Thompson – SG Golden State Warriors / Rank: 82
Klay is slated to return in January after two and a half years sidelined with a well-publicized ACL tear followed by an Achilles rupture. Thompson is an absolute stat winner in three-pointers made, elite FT shooter, and a plus defensive stats guy when he’s healthy. If your fantasy league allows more than one IR spot, Thompson as a late-round pick should be a no-brainer.
Jonathan Isaac – SF/PF Orlando Magic / Rank: 62
Isaac Originally hurt his knee in January of 2020, then tore his ACL while in the bubble. That brings us here, some 19 months later, with Orlando still cryptic about his return, and no official timetable set. Most insiders and outlets project his return in November or December but with harsh minutes restrictions. It may be until 2022 to see his full return.
The Orlando swingman showed amazing potential in the 19/20 season getting as high as the top 30 in some fantasy circles. He averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds, but his real contribution came with 2.3 blocks and 1.6 steals a contest. His current ranking may actually be about right, especially if his real contribution doesn’t come until the new year. That being said, having a healthy Isaac come fantasy playoff time could mean a sixth-rounder producing third-rounder stats.
John Wall – PG Houston / Rank: 81
Even after his return from two years out Wall spent the majority of last year dealing with a litany of injury issues. Now, the guard is said to be healthy, but holding out. Much like Victor Oladipo in the prior season, Wall has no interest in being a part of the Rockets’ rebuilding process. Houston, for their part, has a mutual interest in offloading Wall, but easier said than done with his annual salary of $44+ Million until 2023.
It’s hard to see any team who could take on that salary and actually be interested in his services. I wouldn’t clamor for Wall’s services, but if he gets traded to a team that intends on starting him he could put up fantastic numbers, even if that doesn’t equate to his team winning.
Other Players of Note
Jaylen Brown – SF/SG Boston / Rank: 35
Brown should be ready to go near the beginning of the season after breaking his wrist in the playoffs last year. With the exit of Kemba Walker, he should bear more of the offensive brunt. His rank in the mid-30s will likely see him be taken by the third round. He’s a great option, but not a ton of value in his return to action.
Clint Capela – C Atlanta / Rank:32
Much like Brown, I expect Capela to warrant that ranking and even get picked sooner across many formats. The Hawks big man dealt with a Bevy of issues last year and is questionable for their opener with an Achilles injury.
Mitchell Robinson – C New York / Rank: 113
The Knicks have yet to set a return date, month, or year for Robinson. They’re being extremely tight-lipped about their 4th year Center who hasn’t played since March. Could be worth a last pick stash for blocks down the stretch, but will likely go widely undrafted.
Thomas Bryant – C Washington / Rank: NR
Bryant tore his left ACL in January and is expected back sometime prior to 2022. He flirted with top 60-70 status last year before going down for the season.
Jamal Murray – PG/SG Denver / Rank: 59
The Nuggets starting PG isn’t due back until April of 2022, and his current rank isn’t likely to reflect on where he gets drafted. There are some people saying he could be back as early as January, and the uncertainty certainly adds to the allure to draft him. Much like Klay Thompson, if you have the IR space, and a well-built roster Murray should help any team during the fantasy playoffs.
James Wiseman – C Golden State / Rank: 109
Wiseman has no timetable for return after tearing his meniscus in April. Golden State will be overly cautious with the second-year center. It is unlikely he will be much of a fantasy contributor well into 2022. Certainly worth nothing more than a last pick and stash.
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