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By Mike Barner, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
COVID-19 continues to be a problem in the NBA with multiple players entering the health and safety protocols on a daily basis. The league’s new quarantine protocol, which shortens the isolation period to six days, should help accelerate the return-to-play process, but there’s no denying that the virus has (once again) wreaked havoc on fantasy basketball.
While we tend to focus on the negative aspect of losing players for our fantasy squads, some of these absences have helped other players become viable fantasy options. The question is, can they stay relevant when their respective teams return to full strength?
Let’s examine some players who fit that exact scenario and discuss what to possibly expect from them moving forward.
Kemba Walker, New York Knicks
Walker’s tenure with the Knicks did not get off to a good start.
Through his first 19 games, he only averaged 11.7 points and 3.1 assists per game. Part of the problem was he averaged only 24 minutes per game. While he might benefit from a reduced workload because of his recent knee injuries, such a drastic decline in playing time really hurt his fantasy value. Then, he was removed from the rotation entirely, sitting out 10 straight games.
Just when it looked like Walker’s days as a viable fantasy option were over for the season, a COVID-19 outbreak forced him to not only play but return to the starting five. Across five games since, he’s averaged 22.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 4.0 three-pointers per game. While it will be difficult for him to maintain that level of production as the Knicks continue to activate players from the protocols, he’s played well enough to stay in an expanded role. Also, Derrick Rose (ankle) being out for eight weeks should help Walker’s case to remain a viable fantasy option.
Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have a deep roster, which hasn’t afforded Reddish a ton of playing time. The 10th overall pick in the 2019 Draft is only averaging 24 minutes per game for the season, leaving him with averages of 12.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.9 three-pointers.
With COVID forcing the Hawks to put more than 10 players in the protocols, they had no choice but to unleash Reddish. To say that he’s taken advantage of his added playing time would be an understatement. Across the last four games, he’s averaged 23.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 three-pointers across 36 minutes per game.
However, once the Hawks’ COVID outbreak passes, their depth could again be an issue for Reddish, who will compete with Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams for minutes. While his bright future might make him someone to target in dynasty leagues, you’ll need to temper your expectations for Reddish over the second half of the season in redraft formats.
Patty Mills, Brooklyn Nets
The Nets brought in Mills to add a playoff-tested veteran off the bench who can also help space the floor. He started off the season in a limited role, averaging 25 minutes over the first 14 games. Then, an injury to Joe Harris (ankle) opened up the door for added playing time.
After that, an outbreak of COVID left him as one of the driving forces of their offense.
With an average of 35 minutes over the last 11 games, Mills has been able to generate averages of 18.6 points and 3.9 three-pointers. His lack of contributions in other categories cap his upside, but he’s been a great addition for fantasy managers in need of points and three-pointers.
Alas, Mills’ days of being a significant fantasy option could be numbered. Not only was Kevin Durant activated from the protocols Tuesday, but so was Kyrie Irving. Irving has yet to play in a game this season because of his refusal to get vaccinated, but the Nets will reportedly welcome him back to the team and allow him to play in road games.
In those situations, Mills will be tough to roll with, so he might only be able to provide valuable fantasy contributions when the Nets are at home. That could still leave him with some value in deep leagues with daily roster moves, but he would likely be unplayable in most weekly formats, depending on how the Nets’ schedule breaks down on a given week.
Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
Bane has already solidified his place as one of the biggest steals of the 2020 Draft. He was selected 30th overall and averaged just 22 minutes per game during his rookie season. He showed excellent three-point shooting prowess, though, averaging 1.7 three-pointers per game and shooting 43.2 percent from behind the arc. The Grizzlies have increased his playing time to 30 minutes per game this season, which has helped him generate averages of 17.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 2.9 three-pointers. Even with the increased role, Bane has been able to maintain his three-point efficiency, topping 42 percent for the second straight year.
Bane has been aided by a couple of different situations, one of which was Ja Morant missing time with a knee injury. The team is now dealing with a COVID issue that has landed De’Anthony Melton and Dillon Brooks in the protocols. That has helped Bane score 28 and 32 points, respectively, over the last two games. His 32 points were especially impressive considering they came in a matchup against the Suns, who are one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Morant is healthy again, so once Melton and Brooks return from the protocols, Bane will be hard-pressed to approach 30 points a game on a regular basis. However, if he can continue to average around 30 minutes per game as he has been, his ability to rack up three-pointers will still make him an appealing fantasy option.
Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers
After averaging 30 minutes per game as a member of the Pelicans last season, Bledsoe has only averaged 27 minutes as a member of the Clippers. Add in his average of just 8.9 shot attempts per game and he’s only been an option in deeper fantasy leagues with his averages of 10.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
Going forward, the Clippers might be forced to play Bledsoe more. Reggie Jackson is currently in protocols, missing each of the last three games and likely at least two more. Bledsoe started each of those contests, averaging 17.3 points, 7.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.7 three-pointers. The key was, he averaged 34 minutes per game. Jackson’s return will almost certainly hurt Bledsoe’s value, but with Paul George (elbow) out for at least three weeks, Bledsoe should be a viable fantasy option for most of January.