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NBA Injury Analysis: Wait Until Next Year

Jeff Stotts

Jeff Stotts works as a Certified Athletic Trainer (MAT, ATC, PES, CES). He won the 2011 Best Fantasy Football Article in Print from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Those still alive in basketball leagues have likely managed to stay healthy, an impressive feat in this lockout-shortened season. Over the finals few days of the season expect plenty of players to get days off to rest in anticipation of the playoffs. Some dinged up players like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade may play light minutes to shake off any rust or maintain a rhythm but don't count on their usual production.

Those less fortunate to still be fighting have already begun to shift their focus to next season, particularly in keeper leagues. Let's took a look at several players with significant injuries that could ultimately affect their draft position next year.

Dwight Howard
The tumultuous Howard saga comes to an end for this season, as Magic center will need surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back. He is expected to miss four months, ending his hopes of a second gold medal in this summer's London Olympics. However, barring any serious setbacks, expect Howard to remain one of the top options at the center position, thanks largely in part to his surgeon and the technique utilized.

Dr. Robert Watkins, a renowned spinal surgeon, will carry out Howard's surgery. Dr. Watkins has worked and consulted with numerous professional athletes including Peyton Manning, David Wright, and Tracy McGrady. Dr. Watkins' approach is designed to be minimally invasive, meaning the damage and work done on the neighboring muscles and soft tissue is kept to a low degree. A small incision is made at the site of the injury and small camera and tools are utilized to repair the damage. By minimizing the damage to the muscle, Howard will be able to rehab almost immediately and his level of pain will be lower.

The surgery is a no-brainer for Howard. For a player of his stature it was imperative that he took care of the issue immediately to insure it did not become a chronic issue. Given Howard's nearly spotless injury history (8 missed games in his first seven season) and his impressive physique, it seems likely Howard will be back and ready to go for the 2012-2013 season. If that's in Orlando, remains to be seen.

Al Horford
Horford has played in just 11 games this season after tearing his left pectoral muscle in January. Surgery was needed to repair the torn muscle and he has spent the last several months vigorously rehabbing. He has returned to full-contact practice, participating in three-on-three. There is hope he can play for the Hawks in the postseason but he will need time to improve his conditioning and adjust to the speed of the game.

Horford appears right on track in his recovery and any reps he can get in the postseason should be viewed more as a final step in the rehab process. Horford and his Domican Republic teammates failed to qualify for the Olympics, meaning the big man will have the entire summer to focus on being ready for the start of next season. He remains just behind Howard, Kevin Love, and Andrew Bynum in terms of elite fantasy bigs.

Ricky Rubio
Rarely do NBA rookies live up to the hype. However Rubio exceeded expectations, despite the anticipation that has been building for nearly three years. He appeared in 41 games and averaged 10.6 points, 8.2 assists, and 2.2 steals per game before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) in his left knee. The surgery was considered a success but when Rubio will be available remains in doubt.

Pacers forward David West tore his ACL in late March of 2011 and was cleared to return to basketball activity in October, roughly six months later. However I don't anticipate Rubio returning quite as quickly. For starters, Rubio's damage was more extensive. Second he's a speedy guard that relies of his lateral quickness. He will need additional time to insure both the ACL and LCL are completely healed before he will be able to return to his usual self. I expect him to be a limited participant in training camp and preseason, with an outside shot of playing opening night. However don't be surprised if he misses time at the start of the year. The injury will likely scare some potential fantasy suitors off, leaving the Spanish phenom available to opportunistic owners.

Stephen Curry
This season was unfortunately more of the same for Curry owners as his surgically repaired right ankle limited him to just 26 games. He sprained the ankle several times and strained the tibialis posterior muscle in the same joint. The stability of the ankle is clearly still compromised and likely was all season. The surgery may have helped but Curry aggravated the area in an exhibition game before the start of the year. He barely played in the team's season opener and was a spectator just two games later.

Curry has a renewed focus on rehabbing the ankle and will rest for additional month before attempting to return, likely during Summer League play. Focusing on rehab and assuring the surgical repair is still intact should increase the likelihood of him being the face of the Golden State franchise. However he remains a risky pick for fantasy owners looking for an anchor in the first rounds of their drafts.

Andrew Bogut
Bogut's availability should help Curry shoulder the offensive load in Golden State. A fractured ankle has prevented Bogut from sporting a Warriors jersey since being traded from Milwaukee. The fractured left ankle did not require a trip to the operating room but did keep the Australian center off court and in a walking boot for an extended period of time. He has stated he won't play for the Australian national team in the Olympics if the ankle isn't 110 percent. Like Howard, Rubio, and LaMarcus Aldridge, sitting out London and focusing on rehab would likely be in Bogut's best interest. Bogut has a lengthy injury history that includes the ankle, a severely dislocated elbow, a back injury, and a significant wrist sprain. Bogut's value is directly tied to his health and, given its up-and-down nature, he remains an extremely risky pick.

Jeff Stotts is a Certified Athletic Trainer, MAT, PES and the Injury Analyst for You can follow him on twitter @RotoWireATC.