We start the New Year off with disappointing news about one of the NBA’s and fantasy’s best players. The Cavs announced on New Year’s Day that LeBron James would miss the next two weeks with knee and back strains, an absence that could reach as many at 10 games. The Cavs are hopeful that the two weeks of treatment, which will include anti-inflammatories, will help get James back to 100% and prevent further injury. James has been a durable player his whole career, never missing more than five straight games so the news is definitely rare.
You’re not going to find a replacement for James off waivers and will just have to wait out the two weeks until your star player is hopefully healthy and back in the lineup. For the Cavs, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will see upticks in fantasy value, as they are asked to carry more of the offensive load.
Love missed Wednesday’s game against the Bucks with back spasms, but is expected to return to the lineup on Friday against the Hornets. This could be a monster game for Love and Irving, as the Hornets won’t have Al Jefferson or Lance Stephenson (more on them later).
Sticking with the Cavaliers, they were granted an injury exception for the season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao. The Cavs will have $4.9 million to sign or trade for one player, whose salary does not exceed that amount. This is important because it could adversely affect Tristan Thompson’s value. He’s starting and playing big minutes now (15.3 ppg and 12.3 rpg over the last three games), but could see those diminish if the Cavs make a move for another big man.
The Cavs still have another trade exception from trading Keith Bogans back in September, which they still haven’t used. So while they’ve been granted another trade exception, there’s nothing to report yet. This is a situation to watch, as it could affect fantasy values in Cleveland.
The Charlotte Hornets have also announced that they’ll be without their best player for a couple weeks as well. Center Al Jefferson has strained his adductor muscle in his groin and will sit out a minimum of four weeks with the injury. Big Al will have plenty of time to lay on his gargantuan bed in the meantime.
Jefferson was Charlotte’s leading scorer and off to a great start in fantasy this season (18 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 1.1 bpg). He will be greatly missed on the Hornets, who are already missing Lance Stephenson, who has missed the team’s last seven games with a pelvic strain. Unfortunately, the Hornets have yet to provide a timetable for his return.
Bismack Biyombo will start for Jefferson, but does not have the same offensive skills as Jefferson. Biyombo put up 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in a start on the last day of 2014. This is the type of line we can expect from Biyombo. He started nine games last season, averaging 4.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg, and 1.3 bpg. There’s value to be had in blocks, but he just doesn’t score or shoot well enough from the line (career 50% FT shooter) to be a must own player.
Kemba has really stepped up his game in the last couple weeks. He’s had eight 20-point games in the last twelve, including a 42-point explosion. The field goal percentage will always leave something to be desired, but he’s contributing across the board. With plays like this, he’s even averaging 0.5 bpg as a point guard!
Walker is already owned, leaving Gerald Henderson as a strong pickup in leagues. He doesn’t shoot threes well, but has been a back end fantasy player in the past, averaging 14 ppg, 4 rpg, and 2.6 apg in 32 mpg as recent as last year. With Jefferson out for four weeks, Henderson should approach these numbers. He already put up 19/4/5 and 16/4/2 lines in the last two games.
For deeper leagues, Cody Zeller is a guy to keep an eye on. He was already starting prior to Big Al’s injury, but should see his minutes increase. In the past two games, he’s averaged 6 ppg, 6 rpg, 2 apg, 2 spg, and 1.5 bpg. Zeller won’t be dominant in any one category, but can provide all-around production, like his brother Tyler Zeller in Boston.
Lastly, guard Alec Burks will miss the remainder of the season, after undergoing should surgery this week. Part of the Jazz rebuilding plan, Burks was off to a solid start, averaging 13.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 3 apg. He can be safely dropped in redraft leagues, but at 23, remains a back end fantasy keeper in dynasty leagues.
The Jazz will insert Rodney Hood into the starting lineup in Burks’ place, but isn’t a recommended option, except in the deepest of leagues. He’s averaging 6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 3 apg in the last four starts.
Owned in 68% of Yahoo leagues, point guard Trey Burke should be the biggest beneficiary of the injury. He’s not shooting the ball well (36% from the field), but put up a 26/4/6 line against the Timberwolves. It’s this kind of potential for production that makes him the biggest pickup of the week.