Injury analysis for fantasy basketball can be tricky, as the impact of an injury is highly dependent on the affected player’s schedule. Since weekly matchups are often decided on the number of total games played, even the mildest of injuries can significantly devalue a player. For example, the Bulls play a league-best five games this week, including back-to-back sets to begin and end the week. If Jimmy Butler were unable to get over the cold he’s currently battling, he would still have four other opportunities to contribute later in the week. The lost game would be unfortunate but Butler would still be worth playing, even in leagues that lock roster moves on Monday. Conversely, if Indiana’s Paul George or Denver’s Nikola Jokic were to miss a single game this week than they wouldn’t contribute at all, as both players are slated to participate in one solitary game during this week’s schedule. As a result, I would recommend pairing my analysis with Eric Johnson’s valuable weekly rankings. Eric does a good job of breaking down the week ahead and always provides a look at the number of games played for each team.
The Miami Heat
Through 30 games played, no team in the NBA has missed more games due to injury or illness than the Miami Heat. Collectively the team has missed 113 games, 17 more than any other team. Some of the games lost were expected as All-Star forward Chris Bosh isn’t expected to play this season due to lingering concerns about his blood clot problems. However, other key members of the rotation including Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters have missed substantial time with a variety of ailments.
Winslow is at the heart of the issues, having missed time with wrist and shoulder problems. The shoulder injury is significant, as the second-year forward underwent surgery late last week to repair a torn labrum in the joint. The labrum is a cartilage ring located in the shoulder that stabilizes the ball-and-socket joint of the area. While some players have been able to play through a torn labrum, surgery is often the best course of treatment if the damage is considerable. Winslow is expected to miss the remainder of the season recovering. However, by addressing the problem now, Winslow should be ready for the start of training camp next season.
A foot injury for Richardson has compounded Miami’s problem and cut into their backcourt depth. Richardson is currently managing a “soft tissue” injury in his left foot. An MRI revealed a sprained ligament in the area, though now significant bone damage was uncovered. He did not play in Sunday’s loss to the Clippers and is considered day-to-day. Despite the designation, I expect Richardson to miss at least a few more games, elevating the status of James Johnson. Johnson has taken advantage of the extra opportunities created by the team’s injury woes and developed into a real fantasy commodity. He’s produced like a top-75 talent over the last two weeks and excelled last week when he averaged 15.3 points, 2.7 made three-pointers, 5.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.7 blocks in Miami’s three games.
The Heat’s frontcourt has its own set of issues that include Bosh’s expected absence and injuries to Josh McRoberts and Hassan Whiteside. McRoberts’ time in Miami has been decimated by injury with a recurring stress-related foot injury being the latest ailment to sideline the forward. The problem began in last year’s postseason and resurfaced in the preseason. Now he’s dealing with another fracture in the area and has been ruled out indefinitely. Chronic foot problems for big men are a major red flag, and it’s hard to imagine McRoberts making much of an impact this season. Willie Reed and Derrick Williams will absorb any available minutes.
It’s not all bad news in South Beach, as Whiteside is back in uniform after missing four games with an eye injury. Whiteside suffered a retinal contusion when Boston’s Jae Crowder poked him in the right eye. The retina is a layer of tissue of the eyeball that is light sensitive and helps relay impulses to the brain to create our line of sight. While Whiteside’s retina did not detach, he did experience sensitivity to light and blurry vision. Fortunately, these symptoms have subsided enough to allow Whiteside to return to play. The big man opted to avoid donning protective goggles upon his return and will have a slight bit of elevated injury risk as a result.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: The breakout star of the season was unable to play Sunday after coming down with the flu. Illness continues to be problematic around the NBA as 21 different reports of illness-related problems have been surfaced since January 1. These reports have resulted in a total of 24 man games lost, including Antetokounmpo, Kevin Love and Kawhi Leonard. Antetokounmpo is expected back Tuesday but could struggle in his first game back as he rediscovers his rhythm. The Bucks play three times this week, but just once in the first four days.
Avery Bradley: The Celtics guard has already missed one game with a strained Achilles and is considered doubtful for Tuesday’s game in Toronto. A return later in the week is possible though he’s a risky play in weekly formats.
Donatas Motiejunas: After moving past his contract dispute with Houston, Motiejunas made his New Orleans debut over the weekend. He was efficient in 20 minutes of action, scoring 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including one made three-pointer. He added five rebounds, four assists and one steal. These numbers have to be considered a success for a player that hasn’t played since last April. However, don’t over-invest in Motiejunas just yet. The Pelicans will likely treat his return to the court conservatively and could provide routine days off. Furthermore, history shows that NBA players like Motiejunas who have undergone a lumbar microdiscectomy will likely report additional back-related problems at some point following surgery. For now he’s a lottery ticket at best with more value in deeper leagues than most standard formats.
Quincy Pondexter: The New Orleans swingman recently underwent his third knee surgery in the past year. Pondexter had been recovering from a cartilage transplant he had hoped would help him move past his long-time knee woes. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like he planned and he likely will miss all 82 games for a second straight season.