By Jeff Stotts, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As the fantasy season nears the three-quarters mark this weekend, injuries continue to be a dominant storyline. While fantasy managers are gearing up for the postseason, several key players — from LeBron James to James Harden to Kyle Lowry — remain on the shelf.
In an effort to give managers some clarity as the playoffs approach, RotoWire’s Jeff Stotts breaks down some of the biggest injuries impacting the fantasy basketball landscape.
James Harden, Nets
Brooklyn welcomed Kevin Durant back to the lineup after a 23-game absence on Wednesday, only to have Harden replace him on the inactive list with the same injury. Harden has been battling a nagging hamstring for a while now, and a recent MRI revealed the ailment to be a low-grade hamstring strain.
Harden has been an ironman throughout his career, but the three longest absences of his career have come following hamstring strains. He missed six straight games during his rookie season with a right hamstring strain. A Grade 2 strain of the left hamstring during the 2017-18 season resulted in seven consecutive games lost. He suffered a Grade 1+ of the same hamstring the following season and missed three consecutive outings.
Now, the Nets will hold him out for at least the next 10 days, meaning Harden will miss at least five games. However, the report indicates he will be re-evaluated after the initial 10 days, not that he will return to play after that time. As a result, fantasy managers should brace for Harden to be out longer than the initially reported timeline, especially when you consider the conservative approach Brooklyn took with Durant.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Lakers
The King remains sidelined by an ankle sprain suffered on March 20 against the Hawks. It was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain, an injury a bit different from the “normal” ankle sprain. In most sprains, the ligaments located on the outside, or lateral aspect, of the ankle are sprained. However, a high ankle sprain, or syndesmotic sprain, involves a completely different joint, specifically the distal tibiofemoral joint.
Here, the ends of the tibia and fibula form the ankle mortise, an area fortified by a particularly strong ligament known as the interosseous ligament. Two more ligaments, the anterior and posterior tibiofibular ligaments, also help stabilize the area. These are the ligaments injured in a high ankle sprain. Treatment for these sprains is the same as a normal ankle sprain, but they generally take longer to heal. A complete recovery is vital to the long-term integrity of the ankle.
The average missed time for an isolated high ankle sprain is approximately 10 games but James’ absence is likely to extend beyond that number. The early expectation is that he returns in mid-to-late April, but things remain fluid.
Davis appears closer to returning as he works his way back from Achilles and calf injuries. Davis has missed 23 straight games but is hoping to come back when the Lakers return from their current, seven-game road trip. If that’s accurate, then an April 15 return against the Celtics seems like a plausible scenario.
However, fantasy managers should anticipate Davis being on a strict minutes limit early on while receiving routine rest days for the remainder of the regular season. The Lakers have their sights set on a title defense and know a healthy Davis and a healthy LeBron provide the best opportunity to repeat. The conservative approach creates a bit of volatility in the fantasy realm, but both players are too valuable to consider sending to the waiver wire.
Mitchell Robinson, Knicks
Any fantasy investors clinging to hope that Robinson can return and make contributions for the fantasy playoffs may want to rethink that strategy. Robinson suffered a fractured fifth metatarsal in his foot on March 27 in a win over the Bucks and underwent surgery two days later.
The metatarsals are the long bones of the foot located between the bones of the mid-foot and the bones of the toe. The fifth metatarsal sits on the outside of the foot and acts as an anchor for multiple muscles. Unfortunately, its positioning makes it a commonly fractured bone in professional athletes. Notable NBA players to suffer the injury include Durant, Brook Lopez, Ben Simmons, Chris Paul, and Aaron Gordon.
For fifth metatarsal fractures, the location of the fracture ultimately determines the expected recovery timeline. Typically, fractures occur near the base of the bone. Unfortunately, this area of the bone is very poorly vascularized, meaning it has a limited blood supply. As a result, fractures here often take a longer amount of time to heal or fail to properly fuse. Surgical intervention can stabilize the site and assist the healing process but comes with its own set of possible complications, including re-fractures and hardware failure. Durant, Lopez, and several others needed follow-up surgeries following their initial procedures to address fractured fifth metatarsals.
Even if Robinson’s recovery goes smoothly, his initial absence will be lengthy. The average missed time for recent NBA in-season fifth metatarsal fractures is approximately 39 games. New York had 26 games left on its regular-season schedule at the time of Robinson’s injury.
Nerlens Noel has taken over as New York’s starting center but his fantasy contributions remain limited to the defensive end of the floor. In five starts, Noel has averaged an impressive 2.4 blocks, 1.2 steals, and 6.0 rebounds per game. However, he’s scored just 4.0 points while averaging 2.0 turnovers per game
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks: The reigning MVP is currently sidelined with a sore left knee. He has missed two games already and is doubtful to play Thursday at Dallas. The description is a bit frustrating, as soreness is a symptom of some underlying issue or an actual injury. Without knowing the reason for the soreness, it is hard to speculate how long he will continue to sit or if his long-term health is at risk. He does have a history of injuries to this knee, including a capsule sprain suffered last season just days before the season was suspended. It is likely a case of Milwaukee exhibiting caution with its superstar, so those invested in Antetokounmpo simply must remain patient.
Stephen Curry, Warriors: The Golden State guard appears to finally be shaking off the lingering effects of a painful tailbone contusion. The injury sounds minor but contusions to the area can be very painful if the associated swelling lingers. Fortunately, Curry appears to be trending upward after sitting out six times in an eight-game stretch. He has averaged 39.0 points and 4.0 made three-pointers on 59 percent shooting in his last two outings and recently discussed upping his minutes with coach Steve Kerr.
Andre Drummond, Lakers: Drummond’s bruised toe appears to be healing, as he is slated to return to the starting lineup on Thursday against the Heat. While the injury isn’t overly concerning, keep a close eye on how the big man moves in his first few games back.
Josh Hart, Pelicans: The glass-cleaning swingman had put together a string of fantasy-friendly games for New Orleans, averaging 8.6 points, 1.2 steals, and a surprising 13.0 rebounds over his last five appearances. Unfortunately, Hart tore the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his thumb in the final game of that stretch and underwent surgery five days later. All in all, it will be difficult for Hart to return this season, so he can be safety dropped.