At this point, it's best to read official injury reports with the same skepticism you'd reserve for a story in The National Enquirer.
Or the New York Post.
I submit as Exhibit A the headlines out of Salt Lake concerning Mo Williams' thumb injury. Initial reports listed Williams as "day to day," which quickly turned into "out indefinitely." Then came the dreaded "seeking a second opinion," finally leading to "surgery needed, out 6-8 weeks."
That progression is eerily similar to what we got from the Knicks after Raymond Felton hurt his hand.
New York was similarly vague when discussing Amar'e Stoudemire's season debut. The rumor mill was abuzz that STAT would rejoin the team at the Staples Center on Christmas Day … before Stoudemire himself stepped up to say that wasn't happening. He finally did return a week later, but he has said that he's only about 80 percent healthy. Stoudemire may have pushed for an early return to help compensate for the losses of Felton and Rasheed Wallace (foot).
What's a fantasy owner to do?
Getting an understanding of common basketball injuries and the associated recovery times is a great first step – Jeff Stotts' weekly column here at RotoWire is required reading. Jeff's explanations will enable you to look at some of the press releases with a more critical eye. Of course, that assumes that the information in said press release has some basis in reality, and that isn't always the case.
You'll also want to keep an eye on the waiver wire – just to see what sort of players might be available should the need arise. That will be a big factor when dealing with injuries; in a shallow league, it makes little sense to hang on to a Williams or Felton through a two-month absence when a Jamaal Tinsley or Jason Kidd is there for the taking. In a deeper league, it might make more sense to try and get by with your bench until those starters are available again.
Many Happy Returns
The other half of the injury equation: what to do when guys come back? Some players come back from a long-term injury and dominate – Kevin Love, for example. But it's far more common to see injured players eased back into their teams' rotations gradually. Don't expect guys like Stoudemire – or John Wall, or Eric Gordon, or Iman Shumpert, or Avery Bradley, or Derrick Rose – to play at anything approaching their career norms right away.
It appears the Knicks will use Stoudemire off the bench for the time being, but that doesn't necessarily mean he won't produce. He might actually be better off with the second unit, working with J.R. Smith or Pablo Prigioni as a pick-and-roll finisher when Tyson Chandler is on the bench. Shumpert could end up pushing Ronnie Brewer for playing time, and may wind up in the starting lineup before the season is out.
Gordon impressed in his season debut, scoring 24 points in 25 minutes against the Bobcats on Dec. 29. But that total dropped to 11 (in 24 minutes) against the Hawks on New Year's Day, and he sat out the next game to rest his surgically-repaired knee. Proceed with caution.
Wall is finally participating in practice, but it will be a while before his conditioning is up to par. It's not yet clear when he'll return, and he probably won't be a full-time player when he does.
Bradley returned to the Cs this week, scoring four points and racking up a steal in 20 minutes against the Grizzlies. You might want to overlook that somewhat unimpressive debut; Bradley has real upside. Courtney Lee hasn't been effective in Doc Rivers' defense. Bradley could wind up replacing Lee in the rotation or maybe even allow Danny Ainge to move Lee in a deal for much-needed frontcourt help.
Picks for the Week
All percent-owned stats are from Yahoo! Your league's mileage may vary.
Darren Collison (76%) – Collison was dumped in a lot of leagues when Rick Carlisle pulled him from the starting lineup. He's been playing very well since winning the job back, averaging 18.0 points and 5.2 assists in his last five games.
Larry Sanders (69%) – The near double-double average (8.4 points, 9.8 boards in his last 10 games) and center eligibility should be enough reason to overlook Scott Skiles' unpredictable distribution of minutes.
Matt Barnes (42%) – Barnes has been very effective in a limited role for the Clippers. Unfortunately, the presence of Caron Butler probably means his role will stay limited. He isn't playing enough to merit regular starts in most leagues, but watch Vinny Del Negro's rotations closely. Be ready to make a claim if Barnes gets an extended opportunity.
Andray Blatche (22%) – Kris Humphries sustained what appeared to be a fairly significant ankle injury during Wednesday's surprise win over the Thunder, which could give Blatche (and 4%-owned Reggie Evans) an opportunity to step up.
Amir Johnson (19%) – Johnson has a significantly increased role with Jonas Valanciunas on the mend. He's averaging 11.3 points, 7.0 boards, 1.3 blocks, and 1.1 steals in 28.7 minutes a game over his last seven.
John Salmons (16%) – Tyreke Evans (knee) seems a pretty good candidate for the lead in the next "injury a lot more serious than originally reported" story. Salmons has been scoring in double digits with Evans on the shelf, and that arrangement could be in place for a while.
Charlie Villanueva (5%) – Has Lawrence Frank finally gotten this guy straightened out? Villanueva was averaging 15.5 points (on 55.8 percent shooting), 5.8 rebounds, and 3.5 treys in four games before his flagrant-2 on Isaiah Thomas got him ejected from Tuesday's game and suspended for Friday's game.
Fab Melo (1%) – Monitor this rookie's progress closely. The Celtics are impossibly thin in the frontcourt. Melo has played well for Boston's D-League affiliate in Maine and was on his way back to the big time, but an apparent concussion may delay his ascent a bit.
Charlie Zegers (@charliezegers) covers fantasy basketball for RotoWire and hoops in general on About.com.