The Oklahoma City Thunder are barely afloat, holding one of the worst records in the entire NBA. Still, who actually believes that, even in the stacked Western Conference, the Thunder won’t make the Playoffs? The return of the elite talents like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will enable the team to overcome the rough start. In a similar way, the return of a player like this to your fantasy lineup can greatly improve your championship chances. One of the toughest things about fantasy basketball can be understanding the impact that injuries like these will have on players, and the subsequent impact on your fantasy roster over the course of the entire season.
Get into your playoffs, and you have a chance to win it all. This means that it is certainly possible to make some sacrifices early in the season for the long-term benefit of your team. It is most important to have your players for the final months and leading into the fantasy playoffs. These are dangerous waters to tread, and you can’t put your team in a big hole, but the rewards of such a careful strategy can not be underestimated. The advice here is not to tank like the Philadelphia 76ers; that distinction must be made. The point is that you can manage your roster to survive while waiting for the key piece to return.
When a player like Westbrook suffers an injury, your first thought should not be along the lines of “good thing I dodged that bullet during the draft.” Rather, it should be something like, “What is it going to take to acquire Russell Westbrook right now while his value is the lowest it will be?” With Westbrook apparently on track in his recovery, if you can still acquire him at any sort of a discount, you should consider it. He will be putting up elite numbers in no time. Durant, on the other hand, might still be available for a price you can handle.
Similarly, you might have avoided a player like Michael Carter-Williams before the draft. After all, there were questions surrounding his injury, and Philadelphia is tanking for top picks, so why would they rush him back? The same holds true with Victor Oladipo, who had been scheduled to miss the first couple weeks of the season. The reality is that the short couple of weeks that each of these promising young players missed will be long forgotten in no time at all. They could have been had for great value during drafts, relative to their point of returning to the court. With so much movement on the waiver wire early on, it would have been easy enough for your fantasy team to hold down the fort without them for a couple weeks. In this light, if another player of impactful value goes down for a projected 3-4 weeks, try and acquire them at a discount. It will be worth it.
In essence, the long con is often a better bet than the short con. This is where two once (and possibly still) elite players come into play—Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose. Both players aren’t going to take any risks with minor bumps and bruises, and have subsequently missed time to save themselves for later in the season. Even though Wade and Rose have looked elite at times on the court this season, fans look at the early missed time as a major negative. Because of this, both of these players can be had in a trade for what is likely pennies on the dollar (or maybe nickels on the dime).
To this point, Rose and Wade’s maladies are the type that could have been played through, but they are taking it slow in order to be healthy moving forward. You may be hesitant to trust them (specifically, their knees), but you may look back after the year is over and see that either or both were at their best during the most important time of the year—the fantasy playoffs. If the rest of your team can make up for occasional rest days, these are pieces that that will be well worth it. If you own either, you should stick with them because the payoff of such a decision far outweighs dealing them for what could very well be a far worse player by year’s end.
Up and Coming
Jimmy Butler has been phenomenal so far with the Chicago Bulls. Last season, the moniker “Jimmy Buckets” didn’t make much sense, as Butler shot to a tune of 39 percent. The new presence of Rose and Gasol ease the pressure on him, while he has simultaneously improved his game. The results have been spectacular. While his scoring is certain to go down slightly once Rose begins to play games on a consistent basis, Butler provides the Bulls with a much-needed secondary play-maker, and you can be confident in knowing that Butler is here to stay.
Tobias Harris showed a lot of promise during the second half of last season, and he’s carrying that over this year. With rookie Aaron Gordon lost to injury indefinitely, the 22-year-old Harris will likely see even more consistent minutes. Averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds per game, Harris is returning phenomenal value and is a definite target in all leagues.
In Utah, Gordon Hayward was rewarded this offseason with a max-level contract, and he has lived up to the hype, further increasing his scoring and field goal percentage and embracing what amounts to a superstar role. There’s no reason he can’t keep it up, and he should average right around 20 points per game while putting up around 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game. In Boston, Jared Sullinger has proven he is for real and even increased his scoring and rebounding numbers. Both of these players initially broke out last season, but they have proven this year that they are the real deal and even continued to improve.
Gorgui Dieng deserves to start every day, and while that’s not going to happen if Nikola Pekovic is healthy, he is actually going to get a ton of chances because Pekovic is often not healthy. Keep an eye on Dieng, and make sure to plug him into your lineup whenever Pekovic is having injury troubles. Even if Pekovic is starting, his minutes might be limited for a while, which means you still want Dieng in your lineup. His unbelievable late second half run last season is evidence enough that he is a player you want on your roster, and in keeper leagues he is definitely somebody to hold onto.
If Giannis Antetokounmpo is still on the waiver wire in your league for some reason, now is the time to snatch him up. Giannis is still going to have his up and downs, but his upside is far too high, and the Milwaukee Bucks appear to be giving him a long leash. His field-goal percentage is up to 53 percent (after 41 percent last year), and his numbers are going to be up across the board. He hasn’t shot much from three-point land yet, but he did knock in 35 percent of those last year and that might eventually work itself into Jason Kidd’s game plan.
Joakim Noah has clearly returned to form after leading the Bulls to a fiery shorthanded win over the Clippers, but it’s a shame there’s no fantasy value in him taunting Blake Griffin at the free-throw line from the Bulls bench. Ed Davis is taking advantage of his new chance and making a case to start for the Lakers; Terrence Jones started off strong but will remain sidelined for a while longer, and Anthony Bennett looks like he could eventually develop into a useful player after all. Kyrie Irving is still averaging a career low 5 assists after 10 games despite playing with LeBron James and Kevin Love, and Love is averaging 9 points fewer than last year; neither of these is surprising as the Cavaliers are finding their footing so owners will need to be patient. Swaggy P (Nick Young) is all the rage right now, with the Lakers 2-0 since his return; keep in mind that Young will put up points but not much else, and the Lakers are still bad at basketball.
Dan Hanna is SLAM’s weekly fantasy basketball columnist and a life-long Bulls fan. Follow him on Twitter @i_am_danhan. For advice on your fantasy team, post questions in the comments section.