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How to handle NBA players coming back for the homestretch

Tons of fantastic players are banged up but still have a chance to return in time to make an impact this season. Antonio looks at the best of them and their chances at a comeback.

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

We crossed the 75% mark of games played this regular season. With just a quarter of the season to go, it’s officially homestretch time. Whether you are vying for a championship or “fighting” for a top-of-the-order pick in your dynasty league’s upcoming draft, one thing is clear and will never change: dealing with injured players is key to succeed at whatever you want to accomplish.

Rostering an injured player that doesn’t have a clear path to coming back, well, let’s call that a proper tanking move. Landing or keeping one of those now-on-the-shelves players expected to arrive on time for the final 15-20ish games of the year, though, might turn into a bona fide league-winning move if you’re into that. Thus, this list.

I printed the full injured report from the NBA. I positioned it right by my left side. I went through it top to bottom checking each and every one of the names it contains. I created a spreadsheet in which I input all of those players. I highlighted the most interesting ones, and now I’ll share the list will you so you know what’s popping and who is going to matter ROS. That’s what we do over here. Because we truly care about you.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Simmons (BKN) — Out until at least: Mar. 13

Most probably the best player in this least. Ben Simmons will undoubtedly come back at some point, though at this point the exact date is more of a fantasy built inside the minds of Nets fans rather than an actual thing. We’re a little over a week from hitting Sunday 13th, and it’s very obvious Brooklyn won’t force Simmons into playing unless he confirms he’s good to go. The Nets need all of the help they can get (KD is coming back as early as Thursday 3rd), so rest assured the minute Ben is available he will rack up minutes, opportunities, and fantasy points.

Kyrie Irving (BKN) — Pending NYC change in mandates

This is just getting weirder by the minute, but here is a full breakdown of the situation by James Herbert over CBS. This is kind of cheating, though, as Irving is not really injured nor has he missed ample time of late (he’s alternated games, yes, but not stay off the court for a long period of time). Irving is always going to hand you fantasy goodies, but this home/away split he’s stuck into can surely drive one mad. TLDR: The vax mandates might or might not change soon, so Kyrie being a bona fide must-play guy ROS could happen, or could not happen. It’s a matter of waiting and trusting things get pretty around Gotham so there is no risk in lifting some bans and allowing Kyrie into games.

Joe Harris (BKN) — Mar. 15

Joe’s agent might have slid into my DMs because just mere hours ago he dropped a report about Harris' status confirming the worst-case scenario: ankle surgery and four-to-six months of recovery. Expect Harris back next season, per the report, but forget about watching him any time soon.

Alex Caruso (CHI) — Mar. 17

The return is inching closer, but that date is the best-case scenario when it comes to Caruso’s comeback as it’s the earliest day in which Chicago said they would re-evaluate Caruso’s wrist. With the fantastic play of guards Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu, and the superb record the Bulls are currently at, odds are they don’t risk this biscuit and let Caruso heal for as long as possible with sights in a deep postseason run.

Lonzo Ball (CHI) — Mar. 15

Read Caruso’s blurb above, only changing his name for Ball’s and the word “wrist” for “neck”.

Patrick Williams (CHI) — Mar. 15

Pat played just five games at the start of the season while not even making it healthy to November. It’s been months, for real, since the last time we saw the young kid doing it and, if you ask me, I’d say the (regular) season is over for him. Chicago has thrived with its current available roster and I don’t think P-Will is needed this soon—nor most probably through the playoffs given how established the rotation already is and the risk involved in a rushed comeback.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (DAL) — Apr. 10

Timmy has been out for more than a month with a fracture in his left foot for which he underwent surgery. Even if he makes it back to the court in time for a couple of games he won’t just be worth that much in daily fantasy contests, let alone full-season leagues.

Denver Nuggets v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Michael Porter Jr. (DEN) — Mar. 20

Don’t get overly excited, but it looks like it is happening. Nikola Jokic has been balling in a basketball wasteland for months and even then he is arguably the MVP of the season. Welp, if you like that version of The Joker, you’re going to love the one that is about to come when MPJ comes back to help Denver ROS. Of course, the impact won’t probably be incredible, but MPJ would instantly become the third-best player on the roster (keep reading at least one more blurb below) the minute he’s back. MPJ logged nine starts before getting out of Nov. 6 game against Houston just seven minutes in the affair. He was averaging a 10-6-2-1 in 30 minutes to start the year.

Jamal Murray (DEN) — Mar. 25

Very similar to MPJ’s blurb above. Murray could make a miraculous comeback before the postseason and while Denver should have enough to make it there, odds are Murray still gets some playing time to ramp up a bit in time for the playoffs. Don’t bank on a sublime set of performances (or even one), but you know Murray is a bona fide star(ter) in this league and plays next to the best big man in the Association, which never hurts.

James Wiseman (GSW) — Mar. 12

Don’t do it. Be wise and don’t bet on this man. Believe me.

Draymond Green (GSW) — Mar. 16

Dray is and will never be a true fantasy basketball impact player. It is what it is. He can give you a little bit of everything, but not a lot of anything. That said, he will be back in a matter of days to help solidify the Warriors' No. 2 seed given the recent push by Ja Morant and the Grizzlies. Dray is putting up a nightly 8-7-7-1-1 line with 53/28/60 shooting splits. Watch out for those turnovers, though, because they’re hella high at 3.1 TOPG.

T.J. McConnell (IND) — Mar. 12

TeeJay Mac could only play 24 games before getting out of basketball courts around the nation all the way back on Dec. 1. He wasn’t starting games back then and he won’t be doing so when he’s back given that 1) Malcolm Brogdon is now healthy after missing a month-plus of games, and 2) Indiana traded for PG-of-the-future Tyrese Haliburton. That said, T.J. is a legit off-the-pine performer expected to log some 24 MPG while posting above-average fantasy points and per-minute efficiency marks.

Los Angeles Clippers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Myles Turner (IND) — Mar. 12

With Indiana sucking and vying for a top-of-the-lottery pick next summer, are we sure they’ll risk bringing Myles back for a measly couple of weeks? I am not convinced, folks. The Pacers decided to kick Domantas Sabonis out of town in a move that looked to me as the one to make Turner the face of this team along with Haliburton going forward, so it’s not that you want to screw it all by playing Myles a bunch of minutes in a few meaningless games, see him mess with his left foot or any other part of his body, and find yourself looking like a walking meme. Not really seeing this comeback happening.

Paul George (LAC) — Mar. 15

Not happening in the regular season.

Norman Powell (LAC) — Apr. 1

Definitely not looking good after being labeled out indefinitely a couple of weeks ago.

Kawhi Leonard (LAC) — Apr. 10

Not coming back in the regular season nor the postseason. Nope.

Anthony Davis (LAL) — Mar. 25

Do you know this thing about the Lakers? The one about losing every game, I mean. Well, the Lake Show isn’t so much so of late, and there is still a chance Los Angeles completely misses on making it to the play-in, let alone the playoffs. AD has been out since the ASW (Feb. 16) and is definitely expected back before the regular season comes to an end. I don’t need to explain anything regarding Davis’ value for the games he plays, and you can safely assume he’ll be out there whether he has to do so on on one log or none at all.

Kendrick Nunn (LAL) — Mar. 19

It’s been a full no-show season for Nunn in Hollywood, and that doesn’t look like changing after one setback after another has hit Kendrick through the campaign. I’m not convinced LA is in a position to play an absolute newcomer to the system (though things can’t get any worse, I guess?) so you can kick Nunn’s ass out of your squad.

Victor Oladipo (MIA) — Mar. 7

Miami is out there fighting for that coveted No. 1 seed in the East, and although that’d be very sweet to achieve the truth is that there is just no way they risk another injury happening to Vic just to play him on a large role. Dipo is coming back next Monday per reports, but we’ll see how much the Heat is willing to keep him on the court. Vic has been way worse than in his early days, so it’s not that like you should be losing your head about adding/retaining him.

Pat Connaughton (MIL) — Mar. 15

Patty had played 54 games after he went down back on Feb. 10 and has yet to return. If the earliest date for his estimated return rings true, that’d mean he’d have been out for a month-plus. Pat went through the knife to fix his hand, but Woj reported he should be back before the regular-season finale. With the Bucks almost locked into a top-4 seed in the East (1.5 games above CLE and BOS) I’d guess only a critical situation (dropping to the seventh/play-in spot) would take them to force Connaughton into late season games.

Brook Lopez (MIL) — Mar. 20

Definitely not expecting Brook back this regular season, only perhaps when the playoffs hit and even that feels like a stretch.

New Orleans Pelicans v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Zion Williamson (NO) — Apr. 1

Nope.

Larry Nance Jr. (NO) — Apr. 1

The setback hit Nance as it was announced one week into February. Zion is not coming back this season, the Pelicans should keep focusing on the future (yes, even after landing C.J. recently), and Nance should not get forced into this lost season even if NOLA ends making the play-in—only to ultimately lose 4-0 to Phoenix in the first round or whatever.

Derrick Rose (NYK) — Mar. 16

The Knicks stink, better believe me on that front because I know what I’m talking about. Rose is maybe or maybe not coming back because 1) it’s the Knicks and Thibs head coaching so never say never when it comes to old-ass veterans playing in NYC and 2) he’d be better served if getting shut down for the remainder of the season and fully thinking about a summer-long recovery looking ahead at the 2023 campaign. Not worth the gamble.

Jonathan Isaac (ORL) — Mar. 28

Not buying a return, much less for a franchise with sights on a top-3 draft pick and still right in the middle of a deep rebuilding effort.

Chris Paul (PHO) — Apr. 1

Phoenix might “risk” Booker to keep that No. 1 seed in its possession, but I’d say forget about CP3 making any sort of comeback before the postseason gets rolling. It won’t happen. Paul will eventually come back in the playoffs because he is MF Chris Paul, but that’s it. Once he’s back, though, make sure to run with him at the point, of course.

Devin Booker (PHO) — Mar. 8

He’ll be back and he’s a bona fide performer even playing at a 50% of his capacities. D-Book will cook once he’s back, potentially as soon as the middle of next week. We dig.

Jusuf Nurkic (POR) — Apr. 1

Nothing to really play for this season in the PDX, so I’d guess it’s over for Nurk. Even if he comes back he might play what? Two, three games tops? Nah...

Damian Lillard (POR) — Mar. 26

This is the earliest date Dame’s been given for a re-evaluation, so yeah, he’s probably sitting the remainder of the season, attending the draft lottery to see where Portland lands, and hope for sunnier days in 2023, whether he experiences them in Oregon or elsewhere.