For one week this season, it feels like there are more stars returning from injury than ones getting hurt. However, that won’t console those who saw their players were added to the injury list. So we’ll start with the bad news first.
All-Star Jimmy Butler suffered an elbow sprain in Sunday’s game and will miss the next 3-6 weeks. Fortunately the injury will not require surgery, but that still puts him out for most, if not all of March.
Joining Derrick Rose and Butler on the sideline, Taj Gibson is out with another ankle injury. Out since suffering the injury in Friday’s game, he’s no longer wearing a walking boot. Gibson has a history of ankle injuries so the Bulls’ may want to be extra cautious with him, but Gibson should be considered day-to-day going forward.
With Butler and Gibson out, look for Mike Dunleavy Jr., Tony Snell, and Nikola Mirotic to pick up the slack. Dunleavy was already starting at small forward, but is in a bit of a funk lately (11-33 in prior five games), before exploding for 21 in Thursday’s game. Dunleavy is a streaky shooter so this is expected, but the higher upside pickup is Snell or Mirotic.
In the last six games, Snell has averaged 10.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and 2.3 3PT FGM. He’s scored in double figures in five of those games, while shooting 45% from downtown. Meanwhile, Mirotic has gone 29/9, 23/8, and 26/8, while knocking down a few threes and swatting a few shots in the last three games. Gibson won’t be out too much longer, but Mirotic shows how much promise he brings, once he gets those minutes. Snell and Mirotic make great short time adds and potential keepers for next season.
In Thursday’s game against the Mavericks, Wesley Matthews tore his achilles while driving to the basket in the third quarter. MRIs immediately after the game confirmed the injury and he will be out for the year. Matthews was having another fine season, as the Blazers’ third leading scorer at 15.9 ppg. C.J. McCollum, Steve Blake, and the recently acquired Arron Afflalo will fill in for Matthews. McCollum and Blake don’t excite me too much in fantasy, but Afflalo should start and put up similar numbers to when he was on the Nuggets. He is owned in 71% of leagues.
Kyle Lowry sat out his third consecutive game with a variety of minor injuries, including a possible dislocated finger. Coach Dwane Casey hinted that Lowry might be held out for the rest of the week. The injury might explain Lowry’s poor shooting in February: 34% from the field and 24% from downtown.
The rest may be short lived, but Greivis Vasquez is starting in Lowry’s place and has averaged 10.7 ppg, 8 apg, and 2.3 3PT in 34 mpg. The shooting percentages always leave something to be desired, but Vasquez has shown over and over again that he can have value when Lowry goes down. Owners needing a point guard who can dish out assists in bunches should look to grab Vasquez for at least this weekend.
Now that we got the bad news out of the way, there are a handful of must own fantasy players returning from injuries.
Russell Westbrook is about as tough as they come. On Wednesday night, he returned from a facial fracture after a one game absence. Donning a protective facemask, Westbrook messed around and got another triple-double, with 49 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. That marks his fourth in a row and second consecutive 40-point triple-double.
He’s the only player since Michael Jordan to record four triple-doubles in a row and becomes only the third player to have back-to-back 40 point triple-doubles. And he’s been dominating the box score well the past the last four games. Since the All-Star break in mid-February, Westbrook is averaging 33.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 11.2 assists.
Westbrook said the facemask was a nuisance, but feels like he can play through the injury. The triple-double streak came to an end on Thursday, but Westbrook still put up a 43/8/7 line. Even when Kevin Durant returns, Westbrook should continue to post top-ten fantasy lines and monster dunks.
Westbrook wasn’t the only player to have a monster game coming back from injury on Wednesday. Pelicans’ big man Anthony Davis posted 39 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 blocks in his first game back from a shoulder injury. He was able to play 42 minutes and barring a setback, should be a fantasy monster down the stretch.
His teammate Jrue Holiday isn’t as lucky. Although Holiday is out of his walking boot, he’s still having pain and swelling in his right leg. He’ll be re-evaluated soon, but it doesn’t sound like he’s close to returning. Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole will continue to be the point guards in his place.
The one-man highlight reel, Blake Griffin, is expected to be back playing for the Clippers sometime next week, with a chance to return on Sunday against the Warriors. Sunday will mark exactly four weeks since the injury so it appears that he hasn’t had any setback in his recovery from a staph infection in his right elbow. Griffin is pretty much universally owned so patient owners will be happy to have him back soon.
Though owners of Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan may be disappointed by Griffin’s return. With Griffin out since February 9, Paul has averaged 22 ppg, 12.7 apg, and 4.7 rpg in 11 games. Paul dished out double digit assists in all but one of those 11 games. Meanwhile, Jordan has averaged 15 ppg, 20.2 rpg, and 1.7 bpg. Yes, you read that right, 20 rebounds per game. He’s rebounding at a Dennis Rodman-esque rate.
I’m not saying to drop or trade Paul or Jordan. They are still must own players, but owners should expect their numbers to come down a little with Griffin back.
After undergoing surgery to repair his torn meniscus in January, Kemba Walker has been cleared to practice. Walker is day-to-day for now, with a return in the next week or two. It will all depend on how well his knee responds to practice. Walker’s ownership fell to 85% in Yahoo, but has already started to rise, as teams race to pick him up. He’s a must own player (18.8 ppg, 5.2 apg, and 1.2 spg prior to injury) so go get him before other teams realize the good news.
Paul George is still targeting a return in mid-March. He practiced last Thursday with the first team unit and was not limited. He will still need some time to fully come back, but the good news is that he’s back practicing. All owners should run to the waiver wire and stash George, if you haven’t already. He has top-20 upside, when completely healthy, and could be the difference maker in fantasy playoff matchups.
Kevin Love received an IV after Tuesday’s game, but was able to play on Wednesday night. Love believes that he may have had food poisoning, which might explain the poor shooting (12-29) in Sunday and Tuesday’s games. Despite receiving the IV, Love was able to play Wednesday and rebounded nicely, with 22 points and 10 rebounds on 6-10 shooting. Hopefully Wednesday’s game is a sign that the stomach bug has passed.
Tyson Chandler returned to the Mavericks’ lineup on Thursday, after resting his injured hip for three games. Hopefully the double-double machine is good to go the rest of the season.
Jamal Crawford sat out Wednesday’s game with a calf contusion. The Clippers have three days off so the benching was more of a precaution. He should be good to go for Sunday’s game.
Updating from last week, Darren Collison will be out approximately six weeks, after having surgery to repair a core muscle injury on Tuesday. Collison may return this season, but it’s looking like Ray McCallum and Andre Miller will finish the season at point guard. McCallum has been solid in the last five games, averaging 12 ppg, 3.8 apg, and 2.6 rpg.