As the fantasy basketball playoffs begin, many owners are likely down a key contributor or two, as injury problems have spread like wildfire across the Association in recent days.
At this point in the season, if a player is facing a multi-week absence and you don’t have an IR slot at your disposal, you almost certainly have to cut bait on him. Maximizing the number of games played from each roster spot is critical in playoff matchups, making it difficult to advance if you’re consistently racking up goose eggs from any players.
Since so many fantasy-relevant injuries have popped up over the past week, let’s take a brief look at each, including advice on whether you should drop those players and which of their teammates may stand to benefit from their absences.
Jae Crowder, SF, Boston Celtics: On Sunday, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Crowder will “be out a couple of weeks, minimum,” with a high ankle sprain, according to Jay King of MassLive.com. Given that uncertain timetable, owners are under no obligation to keep him on their rosters, as the C’s will likely ease him back into action once he’s able to return. Evan Turner (55.8% owned) and Marcus Smart (29.3% owned) will be the primary beneficiaries among Boston players who are widely available, making either worth a pickup if you’re a Crowder owner who’s suddenly scrambling.
Mike Conley, PG, Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies announced Saturday that Conley will be out with left Achilles tendonitis for the next three to four weeks, making him droppable in all non-keeper leagues. Lance Stephenson (46.2% owned) has thrived in Conley’s absence, averaging 17.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 0.8 steals over his past four appearances, all of which came sans Conley. That said, he missed Monday night’s contest against Houston with a wrist injury, giving Ray McCallum (6.1% owned) and/or Briante Weber (2.5% owned) short-term fantasy appeal for those in deeper leagues.
Blake Griffin, PF/C, Los Angeles Clippers: According to Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, “Griffin’s injured quad, which kept him out since Dec. 26, is the main reason he’s yet to be cleared to return, not his surgically repaired right hand.” Head coach Doc Rivers confirmed that report prior to Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, telling reporters, “[Hand]-wise, he’s fine. But he just doesn’t feel right yet. … I would say the hand is ahead of the quad,” per ESPN.com’s Andrew Han. If your league doesn’t have an IR slot, there’s no reason to hang onto Griffin at this point unless you’re effectively guaranteed a spot in the fantasy finals. Assuming you can live with his night-to-night inconsistency, Jeff Green (42.2% owned) will continue to shoulder a heavier role with Griffin sidelined.
Gordon Hayward, SG/SF, Utah Jazz: Hayward missed his first game of the season Monday night with plantar fasciitis, but according to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, “Hayward has been dealing with this pain for a while.” Until a more concrete timetable for his return emerges, owners should hang tight with him, but those in weekly leagues hopefully benched him upon hearing he’d miss Monday’s win over the Cavaliers. Rodney Hood (67.6% owned) feasted against Cleveland with a team-high 28 points, while Shelvin Mack (21.3% owned) chipped in an impressive 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting, 10 assists, seven rebounds, three triples and a steal in 37 minutes. If Monday’s performance is a sign of things to come, owners should rush to the wire to scoop up Mack for as long as Hayward remains sidelined.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors: Jonas Valanciunas lasted only 10 minutes against the Bulls on Monday before suffering what the team described as a “left hand contusion.” X-rays came back negative, according to the team, which is a major relief considering the big man broke that same hand earlier this season. According to Josh Lewenberg of The Sports Network, Valanciunas is expected to travel with the Raptors to Milwaukee for Tuesday’s contest against the Bucks, but Bismack Biyombo (12.7% owned) would be a great play if JV misses any time.
Elfrid Payton, PG, Orlando Magic: Payton has missed Orlando’s past two games with a right elbow strain, and he’s no guarantee to play against Denver on Tuesday. According to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel, Payton did not practice Monday, and his status is “uncertain.” If he sits out for a third straight contest, C.J. Watson (0.3% owned) would be a deeper-league play so long as Brandon Jennings sits out as well; otherwise, both can likely be ignored.
Pau Gasol, PF/C, Chicago Bulls: On Sunday, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported a swollen knee would sideline Gasol for Monday’s game against Toronto and Wednesday’s tilt against Washington. The following day, CSN Chicago’s Vincent Goodwill reported, “Gasol responded well to treatment on his knee,” but noted his “status [is] still unknown for Thursday.” With Taj Gibson laboring through a hamstring strain, Nikola Mirotic (49.1% owned) and Bobby Portis (7.1% owned) have suddenly become the two healthiest frontcourt players in Chicago.
Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic: A groin strain has kept Vucevic out for Orlando’s past four games, and according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, his timetable to return remains unclear. “They want me to rest it for a few days,” Vucevic told Robbins, “and I’ll do some stuff to strengthen that area and strengthen my core.” Deep-league owners in need of rebounds and blocks could turn to Dewayne Dedmon (0.4% owned) for as long as Vooch is out.
Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, Golden State Warriors: On Saturday, Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears reported Iguodala would be out for the next two weeks (at a minimum) with a sprained left ankle. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr told reporters that getting Iguodala healthy for the playoffs is “the main thing,” so even once he returns, he could be in for limited minutes at first. With that in mind, owners shouldn’t hesitate to dump Iggy. While there’s no clear replacement for him on the Warriors, Marreese Speights (0.4% owned) has been exceptionally hot of late.
Norris Cole, PG, New Orleans Pelicans: Cole missed his fourth game in a row Monday night with a lower back injury, leaving his owners in a pinch. Given the decimated state of New Orleans’ backcourt, the Cleveland State product has mid-round value when healthy, but the extent of his injury remains unclear. If he’s not back by Wednesday, owners very well may have to cut bait and give Toney Douglas (1.5% owned) a sniff, particularly after he went off for 22 points, eight assists, five boards, four triples and three steals against Golden State on Monday.
Jahlil Okafor, C, Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers announced Friday that Okafor has a partially torn meniscus in his right knee, effectively ending his rookie campaign. He’s droppable in all non-keeper leagues. Nerlens Noel, meanwhile, suddenly has the look of a playoff difference-maker, as the Sixers’ frontcourt is extremely banged up. So long as the Kentucky product remains healthy, he’ll be Philadelphia’s starting center moving forward, which is a role he thrived in at the end of last season, too.
Robert Covington, SF/PF, Philadelphia 76ers: After a stomach-churning moment Friday that resulted in Covington being stretchered off the floor, the Sixers forward was taken to a local hospital and placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol. He thankfully avoided a catastrophic injury and pledged to be back “soon,” according to Brian Seltzer of the team’s website, but the fact he temporarily blacked out after catching an inadvertent kick to the face from teammate Jerami Grant doesn’t bode well for his immediate availability. Both Covington and Grant have already been ruled out for Tuesday’s game against Brooklyn, boosting the short-term appeal of Hollis Thompson (7.1% owned).
DeMarre Carroll, SF, Toronto Raptors: Finally, we’ll end on a positive note. According to Lewenberg, Carroll “is targeting a late-March return to the Raptors lineup” and “could be back in two weeks.” There’s not much sense in picking him up before the fantasy finals unless that timetable shifts, but if you open up a commanding lead in your semifinal matchup, he’s a name worth considering if he’s still sitting there on your league’s waiver wire at that time. (He’s currently owned in just 28.6% of leagues.)
All player rankings via ESPN’s Player Rater and are current through Monday, March 14.