The NBA season recently started and with it, daily fantasy basketball season. But how are you expected to field a solid fantasy squad when so many big-name players are either out with injury, or returning from major injury? With such big names sustaining major injuries in just the past few months, a concept well known to the sports medicine for years has now become mainstream: “load management.” Even if these players were to rebound quickly, and without setback, it remains to be seen if they will return to their normal, preinjury minutes. Here’s a quick overview of some of the elite names that can make or break your fantasy team.
Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets – Ruptured Achilles
Durant is expected to miss all of the 2019/20 basketball season after rupturing his Achilles during game 5 of last season’s Finals. The Achilles tendon is a band of fibrous tissue that connects the muscles in the back of the calf to the heel bone. A rupture can be a partial tear, but usually refers to a complete tear of the tendon.
Pre-Injury: Durant is one of the most complete and dynamic offensive players the League’s ever seen. He’s just one of just nine professional players to join the 50-40-90 club (players who average 50% field goal shooting, 40% three-point shooting, and 90% free throw shooting over the course of a season) and is a consensus top three player. In his final year with the Warriors, Durant played the most games he has since his 2013-14 MVP season (ahem, load management). GP last four seasons: 280 regular season, 66 playoffs
Post-Injury: Historically, NBA players not named Dominique Wilkins have struggled to return to their prior playing level after an Achilles rupture. Since the Achilles directly affects walking, running, and jumping, players often see a decrease in explosiveness and agility. Further complicating Durant’s return is that he’ll be 32 years old the next time he steps foot on the hardwood competitively. While 32 isn’t considered an advanced age for the average person, it’s up there in basketball years.
Fantasy Outlook: If you’re in a one-and-done league, you should skip Durant. For those in keeper leagues, he’s an intriguing mid-draft or buy-low candidate if you can acquire him via trade. Even if he doesn’t reach his pre-injury peak, he’s still talented enough to be an impactful offensive weapon.
Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers – Bilateral Shoulder Surgery
George underwent surgery in May to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder and about a month later, he had a second surgery to repair a labrum tear in his left shoulder. As per OrthoInfo, “the rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that come together as tendons to form a covering around the head of the humerus. The rotator cuff attaches the humerus to the shoulder blade and helps to lift and rotate your arm… The humeral head rests in a shallow socket in the shoulder blade called the glenoid. The head of the upper arm bone is usually much larger than the socket, and a soft fibrous tissue rim called the labrum surrounds the socket to help stabilize the joint.”
Pre-Injury: Last season, George was a top five fantasy producer and finished in the top three of voting for Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year. He’s an efficient 20-point scorer who fills most categories on the stat sheet.
GP last four seasons: 312 regular season, 22 playoffs
Post-Injury: George has already confirmed he will be out until November, barring setbacks. This confirmation is in line with the 4-6 month return-to-sport timeline typically seen post-rotator cuff repair. In spite of their lofty goals following the acquisitions of George (and Kawhi Leonard), the Clippers would be well-served to try and ease his workload with a minutes restriction.
Fantasy Outlook: His early season availability is a concern, so it’s a gamble to draft him early in the first round. But if he’s available in the back half of round one, you should select him.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors – ACL Tear
The Warriors had a rough run during last season’s Finals; after losing Durant to a ruptured Achilles in Game 5, Klay Thompson went down with a torn ACL in Game 6. As described by EXCEL’s own Brianne O’Connor, “the anterior cruciate ligament (or ACL) is one of the four major static stabilizing ligaments of the knee. The ACL, in particular, helps control the motion of the tibia (shin bone) from sliding forward on the femur (thigh bone). This ligament really is the key to keeping a knee stable while making movements such as pivoting and cutting.”
Pre-Injury: Thompson is a 5x All-Star and a veritable iron-man, having averaged 76 regular season games over his eight-year career. He is one of the league’s premier 3-point shooters, ranking 16th in 3-point shots made (4th among active players).
Post-Injury: While Thompson is expected to make a full recovery and has an outside chance to return after the All-Star break at the earliest, he will most likely miss the entire regular season (if not the entire season including the playoffs). With Durant bolting Golden State for the Brooklyn Nets, Thompson will have a larger role in the Warrior’s offense as the second option behind Stephen Curry. That said, it may be smart to sit out the entire season given the sheer number of his games played over the past five seasons.
GP last four seasons: 309 regular season, 83 playoffs
Fantasy Outlook: Klay is projected to return shortly before most fantasy leagues begin their playoffs, so he’s a risky selection because he’ll very likely be on a minutes restriction and a bit rusty when he does come back. As such, he can be drafted in the very latest rounds in both keeper and one-and-done leagues. If undrafted, keep an eye on Klay’s progress as the season progresses as the risk in picking him up on the waiver wire could be worth the reward as Thompson usually contributes across multiple categories, making him valuable in both head-to-head and roto formats.
Demarcus Cousins, Los Angeles Lakers – ACL Tear
Unlike his former Warriors teammates who were hurt during the team’s Finals run, Cousins tore his ACL during the offseason shortly after signing a free agent deal with the Lakers. The injury is the latest setback in a string of significant injuries Cousins has suffered over the past two seasons; he ruptured his Achilles in January 2018 and partially tore his quadriceps muscle in April 2019—all three injuries occurred to the left leg.
Pre-Injury: Before his initial 2018 injury, Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. He was able to return to play after his Achilles rupture and looked solid (16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists) despite a reduction in minutes (down to 25.7 minutes from 36.2 in 2018). Cousins’ production post-quad muscle tear was a bit more bleak: in five finals games, Cousins only played more than 20 minutes once in route to averages of 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds.
Post-Injury: The Lakers applied for a disabled player exception, which means they don’t expect Cousins to return this year. He only signed a one-year deal with L.A., so he’ll once again be a free agent at the end of the season. It’s difficult to project what Cousin’s production may look like upon his return without knowing what team he’ll be on and the role he’ll be expected to play. You also have to wonder about a player of his size (6’11” and 270 pounds) and the successive nature of his lower body injuries. It is difficult to directly link his quadriceps strain to his Achilles repair the year prior. That said, there may well have been some lingering weakness in his quadriceps over the summer. Quadriceps weakness can significantly impair the dynamic stability of his knee, perhaps contributing to his ACL rupture.
GP last four seasons: 215 regular season, 8 playoffs
Fantasy Outlook: Cousins should be skipped in one-and-done leagues, and there should be hesitation about picking him up in a keeper league.
Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks – ACL Tear
Pre-Injury: In two-and-a-half seasons with the New York Knicks, Porzingis emerged as one of the most exciting young players in the league. His offensive skill set paired with his 7’3” frame made him an elite prospect and he was starting to make good on the immense hype around him before an ACL tear derailed his first All-Star season.
Post-Injury: Porzingis hasn’t played since January 2018, but early footage of his return looks especially promising. Dallas is expected to exercise caution and hold Porzingis out in back-to-backs early in the season. Porzingis poses a conundrum. Outside of Derrick Rose (who also had meniscus involvement with his ACL injury), most elite players would have been back on the hardwood by now. Because there are no other 7’3” Latvian Unicorns playing NBA-level basketball, (and no comparisons regarding the rehabilitation, recovery, and return-to-sport following ACL reconstruction in this demographic), it remains to be seen if he can return to his preinjury, “Unicorn-ness.”
GP last four seasons: 186 regular season (only has played in three NBA seasons and the Knicks were nowhere near a playoff berth).
Fantasy Outlook: This is a case of “what’s exciting on the court may not translate in the fantasy game.” Porzingis is a bit of a gamble in roto leagues because of his limited contribution outside of scoring. His rebounding numbers have always been underwhelming given his size and he’s not a particularly adept playmaker. If the Mavericks do limit his minutes or hold him out of games, it’s hard to justify a draft position other than a mid- to late-round flyer.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers – Quadriceps Tendon Rupture
A quadriceps tendon rupture is not commonly seen in NBA athletes. The two most notable instances are Charles Barkley (the injury ultimately ended his career) and Tony Parker (who was able to return to play, but in a reduced role). The quadriceps tendon attaches the quadriceps muscles to the patella and helps straighten the leg.
Pre-Injury: In his first full season as a starter, Oladipo posted career highs in scoring, steals, field percentage and three-point field goal percentage. The improvement earned him an All-Star berth and made him 12th overall in fantasy production for the 2017-18 season.
Post-Injury: Indiana has yet to confirm Oladipo’s return date, though a December return has been rumored. The Pacers will ease him in whenever he does come back, so expect a minutes restriction and several missed games due to “load management.”
GP last four seasons: 250 regular season, 12 playoffs
Fantasy Outlook: It’s worth noting that Oladipo’s production took a bit of hit before he was injured last season as he battled knee soreness. His game is predicated on his elite athleticism—more so than Durant and Thompson—so his fantasy bust potential is high. He could be worth consideration in a later round.
NOTE: Excel Physical Therapy has not treated any of the above athletes and the information featured reflects general guidelines. Recovery times vary.