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2013 Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Injury roundup

Fantasy Writer
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Last season was kind of a disaster in the NBA from an injury standpoint. By my count, no less then six players worthy of being drafted in the first two rounds suffered injuries that either cost them significant time last season, or threw their status for this year up into the air.

For some -- ahem, Andrew Bynum -- this injuries didn't come as a total shock, given their track record. And, while we didn't expect him to miss the whole season, Derrick Rose's recovery from knee surgery was always going to cost him a significant chunk of the season, at least, and Fantasy owners were able to plan accordingly. Other players, however, took Fantasy owners completely by surprise with injuries that cost them big chunks of last season and might even threaten them this year.

I have picked out the 10 biggest injury concerns heading into the season, to try to help you figure out the best way to go about targeting these players on Draft Day.

The lost seasons

Andrew Bynum, C, Cavaliers: Well, we got one healthy season out of Bynum. The irony for the oft-injured seven-footer is that his healthiest season in more than half a decade came during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, when injury concerns dogged nearly everyone in a compressed schedule.

Unfortunately, Bynum was never able to take the court last season while dealing with issues in both of his knees. And, quite frankly, we're not sure when he's going to take the court this season. While people covering the Cavaliers have maintained that he is working out hard at the team's facility, there is no timeline for him to begin basketball activities.

Questions about his work ethic have dogged Bynum for years, and his seemingly lackadaisical approach to rehabbing last season didn't help. Bynum's upside is enormous (career 16.3 points, 10.9 rebounds per-36-minute averages in his career), but he also hasn't played more than 65 games since 2006-07. If I grabbed a couple of strong centers early in that draft, I might consider taking a shot on Bynum this season, but almost certainly not before the 10th round.

Danny Granger, F, Pacers: Granger didn't just lose 77 games due to a knee injury last season; he might have lost both his starting job and his role as the Pacers' star. The emergence of Paul George has left Granger's role on the team in doubt, especially since Lance Stephenson stepped right in at shooting guard in the starting lineup, allowing George to occupy Granger's small forward spot.

Head coach Frank Vogel was decidedly noncommittal when discussing the possible makeup of his starting lineup at media day, but we can already assume Granger's days as the team's first (and sometimes only) offensive option are over. This is a deep team with a bunch of competent offensive options, and it was already starting to impact Granger's play pre-injury; in 2011-12, Granger averaged 18.7 points per game, his lowest total since 2006-07.

By all indications, Granger's knee is not going to be an issue at the start of the season. I still wouldn't look at Granger as anything more than a third forward beginning in the second half of the draft.

Kevin Love, F, Timberwolves: Love's insistence on unorthodox pushup methods limited him to just 18 games last season, and he was clearly never fully healthy when he played. Of course, it says a lot about his impressive abilities that 18.3 points and 14.0 rebounds per game in just 34.3 minutes is what he does when he's not at full health. And while those 18 games were nice for Fantasy owners, this was a guy who was going as high as No. 3 overall last season, so this was obviously a disastrous season.

Love suffered two broken hands during the season, and also had surgery to remove scar tissue in his left knee towards the end of the season. He should be fully healthy by the start of the season, but Love is now officially tagged with the "injury-prone" label. He is still well worth targeting in the first round -- you're not getting 25 points, 15 rebounds and two 3-pointers per game from anyone else -- but Love has not missed fewer than nine games since his 2008-09 rookie campaign, so plan accordingly.

Derrick Rose, G, Bulls: Ah, Derrick Rose. The source of much consternation from Fantasy owners -- not to mention criticism from every sideline M.D. who thinks it's OK to tell other people when and how to feel healthy -- is finally ready to play. Right?

Right. Though there was some talk about minutes restrictions at media day, there is no indication that Rose isn't going to start the season, nearly a year and a half removed from tearing his ACL. Media day did provide us with the hilarious assertion from Gar Forman that coach Tom Thibodeau is "very good at pacing a team." I'm pretty sure Luol Deng had already logged 750 minutes for the season by the time I wrote this.

It goes against Thibodeau's nature to limit any player's minutes, but that sounds like the plan, at least at first. Once Rose shoes he is back at something close to MVP form, however, expect the reins to be taken off. Rose will likely go in the second round of most drafts, which could end up being an absolute steal, even at the deep point guard position.

Midseason injuries

Rajon Rondo, G, Celtics: At this point, nobody seems to know when to expect Rondo back in the fold. He suffered a torn ACL in late January, and is almost certainly not going to be back in time for the start of the season. Beyond that, there hasn't been any indication as to when he could return.

General manager Danny Ainge has maintained that the team will be careful with Rondo's recovery, and that makes sense, since the Celtics are entering an (unacknowledged) rebuilding year. That works for them, but it could end up costing us one of the 10 best guards in Fantasy for half the season, if not more. The prospect of getting Rondo for 45-50 games is still enticing enough to make him worth a look in the middle rounds, though his numbers will likely be somewhat disappointing based on the lack of talent around him.

Anderson Varejao, C, Cavaliers: The Cavaliers are pinning a lot of their hopes on a return to prominence on the fragile bodies of Varejao and Bynum, making their season a true boom-or-bust proposition. For Varejao's part, his injury-prone nature has been tough to pin down, as he seems to suffer a new injury each season.

Varejao was limited to just 25 games last season due to a leg injury and then a blood clot in his lung, just another in a long line of freak injuries for the big man. The question is, since none of the injuries he has dealt with have been of a recurring nature, is it just bad luck, or is Varejao actually prone to injuries?

Unfortunately for Fantasy owners, that is an unanswerable question. What we do know right now is Varejao has been cleared to play, and will be a key fixture for the Cavaliers for as long as he can stand it. This guy is a double-double threat on a nightly basis, but the Cavaliers are suddenly very, very deep in the frontcourt, so don't expect much more than 30 minutes per game. I would target Varejao as a No. 2 center, though one with tremendous upside.

Lou Williams, G, Hawks: Williams suffered a torn ACL in January, and has not yet been cleared to return to training camp. He is probably in a similar place as Rondo in his recovery, though he will likely be more aggressive with the Hawks likely fighting for a playoff spot this season. Williams fit in really well with the Hawks last season, and is one of their only options at the shooting guard spot right now. He averaged 14.1 points and 3.6 assists per game in 39 appearances, and will likely fill a similar role whenever he is healthy enough to return.

Williams is by no means a high-end Fantasy option, especially on a Hawks team that doesn't need to rely on his scoring. Given his injury concerns, feel free to target him late in drafts, as a possible starting guard in December.

Late season, still recovering

Kobe Bryant, G, Lakers Throughout the offseason, Kobe talked to whichever LA-area media member he could find about the "unprecedented" speed with which he was recovering from his rupture Achilles. Now, with training camps set to open and about a month to go int he season, Bryant hasn't even been cleared to carry his full body weight while running on a treadmill. So, while it hasn't been confirmed, it appears very unlikely Bryant will be ready by the start of the season.

And, of course Bryant is unlikely to be ready for opening night. The guy tore his Achilles six months ago, and that is a notoriously difficult injury to come back quickly from. This isn't a criticism of Bryant, it's just acknowledging that he suffered a major injury and isn't recovering as quickly as his most optimistic hopes.

While I refuse to totally count Bryant out for the start of the season, Fantasy owners shouldn't expect it. Still, even if we assume he misses the first month of the season, Bryant isn't going to last beyond the third round in most Fantasy drafts.

Russell Westbrook, G, Thunder: I initially wrote this last Saturday, when all indications were that Westbrook would be healthy shortly after opening night, at worst. A few days later and Westbrook's whole outlook has changed, as he is set to miss at least the first month of the season while recovering from a cleanup procedure in his knee.

Now that we know Westbrook isn't going to be back for the start of the season, his Fantasy value can take a more concrete shape. And, frankly, this doesn't change it a ton. Oh sure, Westbrook is no longer a top-5 Fantasy option -- until he comes back.

There might be an adjustment period when Westbrook is able to take the floor, but the potential for huge numbers is too high to think this drops him too far on your draft boards. Even if Westbrook misses the first 15-20 games of the season, he's no worse than a third-round value, given how he should carry you once he returns.

Danilo Galinari, F, Nuggets: Gallinari's torn ACL cost him the final month of the season, not to mention the Nuggets' disappointing playoff slide, ending his season on a sour note. Fortunately, nearly everything we have heard since has been overwhelmingly positive, especially the recent news that Gallinari expects to be back by the end of November.

Even accounting for an adjustment period, that leaves Gallinari in line for 60-plus games, which should be a great sign for his Fantasy value. Gallinari finished second on the team with 16.2 points per game a year ago, and the Nuggets' tumultuous offseason saw them get rid of two wing options without finding many suitable replacements.

If Gallinari is at full health by, say, late December, Fantasy owners will be thrilled to have him around. Even assuming he is essentially useless for two months, Gallinari has enough upside for the final four months of the season to be worth targeting in the middle rounds, assuming he avoids a setback.

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Player News
Omer Asik ready to clean up in return to starting role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Last season was a rough one for Omer Asik, who had to deal with returning to a reserve role after really shining as a starter the previous year. He should be much happier with his role this season, as the Pelicans acquired him this offseason with the intention of installing him as the starting center.

The Pelicans should have a fearsome frontcourt with Asik starting next to Anthony Davis, and Davis' presence should free Asik up to do the kind of work he excels at. Asik isn't a great offensive player, but he can be a dominant offensive rebounder, and should have many chances to clean up the boards with teams keying in on Davis offensively. Among players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the NBA, Asik is 22nd all-time in offensive rebounding percentage.

Asik had trouble staying healthy last season, but that was the first time he had ever missed a regular-season game in his career, so we can probably write that off as a fluke. He averaged a double-double with 1.1 blocks per game in 30.0 minutes per game two years ago, and should be capable of similar production as he returns to a starting role.

Asik should be viewed as a starting Fantasy option this season, though he may not have the upside of some other younger centers at this point. 


Tobias Harris' Fantasy value a mystery at this point
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Perception is a funny thing. Just ask Magic forward Tobias Harris, who enjoyed by far the most productive season of his career in 2013-14 but was somehow viewed as a Fantasy disappointment.

Part of that stemmed from Harris' issues with availability, as he missed 20 games and got off to a slow start to the season as a result. It really took until January for Harris to find his stride, but he averaged 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game from Jan. 1 on, without missing a contest.

Harris was probably better than the general perception of him a year ago, but the power of expectations hurt him. And now he enters his fourth season as something of a career crossroads, and it is hard to say just how Fantasy owners should approach him this season.

The Magic added Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon to the roster this season, further confusing what was already one of the most crowded frontcourts in the league. Harris can play both forward spots, but he is probably best used as a small-ball power forward; the presence of Frye, one of the league's elite stretch-fours certainly complicates matters for Harris, then.

At just 22, Harris still has a world of potential ahead of him. However, he probably profiles best as a reserve Fantasy option heading into the season, given concerns about his role.   


Hype may be too high for Giannis Antetokounmpo
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) No matter what he accomplishes in his second NBA season, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely to be a historical outlier, given his age. The question is, how much of a leap can the now-20-year-old take next season.

Only 15 players in NBA history have logged as many minutes in a single season as a teenager as Antetokounmpo's 1,897, so he is occupying fairly rarified air already. His age is a big part of why he is considered a big-time breakout prospect for Fantasy purposes, but he has a long way to go from a statistical standpoint.

Antetokounmpo was good for a 19-year-old rookie, but his season averages of 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game left a lot to be desired. It is easy to dream about a Antetokounmpo taking a big step forward, but that next step is never guaranteed -- for every Anthony Davis there is a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist whose development follows a slower, less linear path. 

Antetokounmpo was very good -- for a 19-year-old. However, Fantasy owners don't get extra points, rebounds or assists if the degree of difficulty is higher, so you are betting on Giannis taking a huge step forward at the age of 20. Antetokounmpo has become something of an internet darling, and his play in Summer League and the FIBA World Cup dominated much of the offseason discussion, which only helped build the hype to potentially unsustainable levels. 

He is a lottery ticket, for sure, but he is one that might not be worth the cost at this point. 


Improved jump shot all Jimmy Butler needs
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Bulls guard Jimmy Butler had the breakout season many expected from him a year ago, but there were still plenty of flaws apparent in his game as he finished his third NBA season. With a better team around him, Butler just might have enough help to vault him to stardom.

Butler's jump shot abandoned him last season, especially after a toe injury forced him to miss 11 games in November and December. He was shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range prior to the injury, but connected on just 39.3 percent of his shots overall and 27.1 percent from three-point range from that point on.

We can blame Butler's season-long shooting slump on the injury or his increased offensive role, but he should have neither excuse available for him this season. Butler should be healthy, and the Bulls added plenty of offensive firepower this offseason, in the form of Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott, not to mention a hopefully healthy Derrick Rose. Butler took 154 shots off the dribble last season, per Stats.NBA.com, and made just 30.7 percent of them. With a better team around him, Butler should get many more opportunities to shoot with his feet set.

Butler has the skill set to be a tremendously efficient offensive player, given how often he bullies his way to the free-throw line. Last season, Butler filled up the box score extremely well, but his poor shooting limited his Fantasy value somewhat. If a new role helps his efficiency, he could be one of the very best guards in the league in category-based formats. 


Lance Stephenson set for bigger role in new setting
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Though there were fits and starts, Lance Stephenson finally began to live up to his considerable promise last season. Now in a new home in Charlotte, will Stephenson take another step forward in 2014-15?

By the end of last season, the Pacers were a mess, and Stephenson caught plenty of the blame for that. Still, he might have been arguably the team's most consistent player throughout the season, averaging between 25.8 and 29.7 Fantasy points per game from before and after the All-Star break as well as the playoffs. For as much of a mess as that team was, Stephenson emerged as something of a rock, at least for Fantasy purposes.

The Hornets are actually built in a somewhat similar way to the Pacers, so there wont' be much of a stylistic shift for Stephenson to get used to. Per MySynergySports.com, 11.8 percent of the then-Bobcats' possessions ended in post-ups, actually down from the 13.2 percent mark the Pacers' posted. Stephenson struggled at times with his post-entry passing, though his off-target feeds might find their mark more often when being lobbed in to the soft hands of Al Jefferson, as opposed to Roy Hibbert.

The Hornets might lean even more heavily on Stephenson than the Pacers did, since Indiana liked to spread the ball around with their starting five. The Hornets, on the other hand, look to be extremely top-heavy, and Stephenson will get plenty of chances to be the second or third option. We have him projected for 29.1 Fantasy points per game, and consider Stephenson a borderline top-50 Fantasy option for this season.  


Move to Houston won't alter Trevor Ariza's trajectory
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Trevor Ariza parlayed a career-year into a lucrative free-agency contract with the Rockets this offseason -- stop me if you've heard this story before.

Ariza was largely a disappointment in his first stint with the Rockets, though it did lead him to the best per-game numbers of his career. Still, Ariza was obviously miscast as a primary offensive option the last time he was in Houston, and that won't be a problem this time around.

Ariza joins a Rockets team with two established stars, and will likely spend much of his time trying to fill the departed Chandler Parsons' role. That should suit him nicely, as Ariza has just enough of an off-the-bounce game to serve as the team's third ballhandler when the shot clock gets deep. Ariza attempted 11.1 field-goal attempts per game last season, and should see a boost given Parsons' role; he attempted 13.3 shots per game.

Ariza's improved three-point shot seems legitimate, as he is shooting 38.6 percent from long range over 738 attempts since 2012. However, he will no longer have John Wall feeding him for juicy corner 3-pointers; Wall to Ariza was the league's most productive corner-three combination last season. His shooting numbers may take a hit with his move.

Even acknowledging the loss of Wall's help, we know the Houston offense is set up to get every player the most efficient shots possible, so Ariza shouldn't see much of a dip in his efficiency. His ability to fill up the box score makes him a perfect No. 2 option at forward in category-based leagues, especially now that he is a high-volume shooter. 


Despite new role, don't write off Isaiah Thomas entirely
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Suns guard Isaiah Thomas might see one of the biggest dropoffs in his Fantasy value from last season to this, as he joins the crowded Suns' backcourt.

The Suns might have three All-Star caliber guards in the backcourt now, with Thomas likely to backup Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe this season. That should put a serious dent in Thomas' value; Thomas finished 13th in Fantasy scoring among guards a year ago, but is projected to finish just 43rd this season.

Still, Thomas is definitely someone you'll want to add to your team when drafting, and almost certainly before the rest of the No. 4-type guards he is grouped with. Thomas is likely to see his numbers fall off from the 20.3 points and 6.3 assists he averaged a year ago, at least at first. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him end up starting upwards of 25 games throughout the year, given Bledsoe's injury-proneness. Bledsoe has missed at least 25 games in two of the last three seasons for knee issues.

Thomas probably profiles as more of a bench option for Fantasy purposes next season, but you'll be targeting him much earlier than nearly any other reserve. His upside as a handcuff option for either Bledsoe or Dragic is sky-high, and will make him well worth your attention on Draft Day. 


Eric Gordon cleared for contact
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Eric Gordon has been cleared to take part in full-contact offseason drills ahead of training camp, The Times-Picayune reports.

Gordon underwent season-ending knee surgery last April, but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. 


Jrue Holiday cleared for contact ahead of camp
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday was able to participate in full-contact offseason drills last week, the first time he has done so since undergoing season-ending surgery last January.

"Getting out playing has been a joy," Holiday told The Times-Picayune. "I've been running and jumping and stuff, but getting my rhythm back on the court is definitely a big thing right now for me."

The Pelicans open training camp Sept. 30, and Holiday is not expected to have any limitations as the team prepares for the start of the season. Holiday averaged 14.3 points, 7.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season prior to the injury.


Kent Bazemore focused on conditioning in recovery
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Newly signed Hawks guard Kent Bazemore did not pick up a basketball until August, preferring to focus on conditioning in his recovery from foot surgery in April.

"I think the injury was definitely a blessing," he told the Daily Press, "because I was able to step away from the game of basketball. I took myself out of my element all summer. I did stuff I'm not used to doing."

Bazemore signed a two-year deal with the Hawks this offseason, and is expected to compete for playing time on the wing immediately, as he is fully recovered from the surgery. 


 
 
 
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