Fantasy Basketball: Analyzing injuries of stars like Kawhi Leonard

·6-min read

By Jeff Stotts, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Fantasy basketball draft season is just around the corner, and as managers begin to sort through rankings in preparation, it’s important to take note of players working their way back from injuries.

Whether it’s an injury lingering from the end of the 2020-21 season, or an even longer-term recovery, several notable players — including a three-time champion and a two-time Finals MVP — will be on the shelf to begin the year.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Thompson’s last NBA action came during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. The Warriors guard tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee in the loss and then, on the cusp of the 2020-21 season, tore the Achilles tendon in his opposite leg. He has spent the past two-plus years rehabbing some sort of major injury, and the Warriors are targeting a Christmas Day return for the sharpshooter. While we know when Thompson will return to the court, the question of how he will look remains. It will be over 900 days since Thompson last played in an NBA game and his combination of injuries is unique.

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11)
How will Klay Thompson look when he returns to the court? (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Since the 2005-06 season, only DeMarcus Cousins has experienced both a torn Achilles and torn ACL while playing in the NBA. While Cousins has struggled to return to his All-Star form since his injuries, it is hard to compare the two given their varying body types and styles of play. Thompson’s game should lend itself to a smoother return and his prolonged absence may play in his favor as his knee will likely be at 100 percent. By extending his Achilles recovery into December, the Warriors are giving him additional time to round into form, something that may have been gleaned from the success Kevin Durant recently exhibited after returning from his own torn Achilles.

The pandemic may have forced KD to prolong his recovery, but it helped him avoid the early season struggles players like Kobe Bryant and Wesley Matthews displayed after making quicker returns following the same injury. It’s not off base to think Thompson can return to an elite shooting level and be a productive fantasy contributor. However, the Golden State medical staff will likely keep a close eye on his workload, and anyone willing to invest in Thompson must be willing to stomach routine days off. If he does indeed return on Christmas Day, he’ll have already missed 32 games.

Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers / Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

Thompson isn’t the only star player working his way back from a serious injury. Both Leonard and Murray will miss substantial time this year after suffering ACL injuries last season. Murray’s ACL tear occurred on April 4 while Leonard’s partial tear was sustained during the postseason.

Though the degree of damage was different for both players, the procedure to repair the injury was likely the same. ACL repairs have become commonplace in the NBA with the average lost time for recent cases coming in at roughly 350 days. If Murray were to follow a similar timeline, he would be looking at a possible return during the final week of the regular season. A potential Leonard return wouldn’t come until the postseason.

As a result, it’s plausible that neither player appears in an NBA game this season, especially if their teams opt to manage them conservatively. Both will retain their value in keeper formats but should probably be avoided in season-long leagues.

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

The Raptors’ forward missed the final four games of the 2020-21 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The labrum is a fibrocartilage disc that helps stabilize the glenohumeral joint of the shoulder. It surrounds the head of the humerus (the ball) and helps keep it in the glenoid cavity (the socket). It can tear in a variety of patterns depending on the amount and direction of the force applied to the shoulder.

Some players can play through the injury without undergoing surgery, but the stability of the shoulder remains at an increased risk for an injury like a subluxation or dislocation. Siakam opted for surgery and went under the knife in early June. While the success rate for the procedure is high, it is accompanied by a lengthy rehab process. The Raptors estimated he will miss at least five months, making it very likely he is sidelined to begin the year.

He should be capable of returning to his prior self once cleared but he remains without a firm return date. Chicago’s Coby White and Atlanta’s Onyeka Okongwu also underwent labral repairs in the offseason and are expected to miss time to begin the year.

Fast Breaks

Kyrie Irving: The Nets' season ended with Irving in street clothes after he sprained his right ankle in Game 4 of their series against the Bucks. While Irving has sustained a laundry list of injuries throughout his career, his ankles have rarely been an issue. Before his three games lost last season, the dynamic guard had missed just one game with ankle issues. The joint should be fine moving forward but fantasy investors should not ignore the rest of his injury history. Irving’s prior knee issues — including multiple surgeries — as well as his problematic shoulder increase his level of inherent injury risk and must be factored into his draft stock.

Chris Paul: The veteran point guard made his first Finals appearance last season, but a wrist injury impacted his performance. He has since undergone surgery on the area and spent the offseason recovering. Paul is familiar with the process, having previously undergone three different surgeries for three different hand or wrist injuries at various points of his career. He’s returned to a high level of play each time and should have no problem doing so again. Look for him to be an active participant in training camp. Boston’s Jaylen Brown also underwent surgery on his wrist over the summer and, like Paul, is expected back for training camp.

Myles Turner and TJ Warren: Two key members of the Indiana frontcourt are working their way back from foot injuries. Turner has been cleared to return to basketball-related activities after suffering a toe sprain late last season. He did not require surgery and is on track to be ready for camp.

The same cannot be said for Warren, whose foot injury is not healing “at the pace previously anticipated.” Warren is working his way back from a stress fracture in the navicular bone of his foot. The navicular bone can be slow to heal, especially if the fracture occurs in an area that does not get a healthy amount of blood. Surgery can help but time remains an integral part of the recovery process. Warren remains out indefinitely, making him a risky fantasy investment as draft season fast approaches.

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