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Healed or Hurting? Notable Fantasy Basketball Players Returning From Injury

Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

With the NBA season just a few short days away, odds are there will be lots of fantasy drafts taking place over the weekend. There are many things to consider when building out your team and it's no secret that a player's injury history remains a serious determining factor.

More often than not, guys are able to get back to their pre-injury form pretty easily. After all, we are talking about the greatest athletes in the world here. But there is a risk, albeit a small one, when choosing a player coming off of a serious injury. I'm not a doctor, so I won't sit here and tell you all of the intricacies that come with all of these ailments, but it is worth noting which players will be making their return to the court next week.

Here are five notable players returning from serious injuries.

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Zion Williamson, PF - New Orleans Pelicans

This is no secret. Zion and his health have been the subject of scrutiny for the last two seasons. The criticism seems fair when you remember he's missed 142 regular season games throughout his first three seasons. For reference, that's almost as many games as LeBron James has missed over his 19-year career (173).

On a more positive note, all reports are that Zion looks great and will be out there on opening night. He's looked good in preseason and it's led to his blended ADP of 31.1 heading into the season. Even still, the asterisk next to his name will remain until he can get through a season without suffering a serious injury/setback.

 

Ben Simmons, PG - Brooklyn Nets

Simmons and Zion have a lot in common. Both sat out last season with injuries and both have undergone plenty of scrutiny from the public over the last few years. Just like Zion, Simmons is back out there and appears to be fully healthy after undergoing back surgery over the offseason. He's had some up-and-down moments in the preseason but that's to be expected after not playing an NBA game in over a calendar year.

At the end of the day, Simmons is an elite player. I know it's not the popular opinion of the day, but it seems that his public perception has allowed his ADP to hover outside the top-80 for most of the offseason before settling inside the top-70 in recent days.

Playing alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Simmons has a nightly triple-double upside and will contribute elite numbers on defense. Sure, there is a risk. But at this point, his cost is well worth the reward.

 

Jamal Murray, PG - Denver Nuggets

It's been a frustrating couple of years for Murray. After lighting up the NBA Bubble in Orlando back in 2020, a torn ACL forced him to miss the last year and a half of basketball. There was some chatter that he could have returned for last year's playoffs but ultimately the Nuggets chose to play it safe with their point guard.

Now set to return this season, it's unclear what type of restrictions, if any, Murray will be under. It certainly doesn't help matters that he picked up a hamstring injury during the preseason. Because of this, he carries a bit more risk than the other guys on this list. Unlike Simmons and Zion, Murray has a quality backup behind him in Bones Hyland. All the more reason for the Nuggets to be cautious to begin the year.

 

Kawhi Leonard, SF - Los Angeles Clippers

Oh Kawhi, you've got to love him. I mean it when I say the NBA is a better product with him on the court. Lucky for us, that will be the case this season as he returns from a one-year absence. There's no question Kawhi is a top-10 fantasy asset when he's healthy. Even with all of the load management charades over the last couple of years, he still somehow finds himself among the league's elite.

For example, he finished inside the top-10 in both 2020 and 2021 despite playing less than 60 games in both seasons. There are not a lot of players who can do that. Looking ahead to the present day, many have the Clippers as favorites to come out of the West now that Kawhi and Co. are healthy.

Sure, you may have to deal with some rest days here and there, but all signs point to Kawhi getting back to his ways early and often. By season's end, there's a good chance he'll be considered a steal at his blended ADP of 33.

 

Damian Lillard, PG - Portland Trail Blazers

Lillard has been one of the most durable players in the league throughout his career, so it was surprising to see him shut down for the year after only 29 games last season. Now that he's officially back, it's easy to wonder how he'll perform on the court. After all, he was largely a disappointment in the games he did play to begin the year.

Fortunately for him and fantasy managers, it sounds like abdomen surgery was a good thing. In the last year, Dame has alluded to the ailment as a reason for his poor play last season. Now that it's addressed, he should be expected to finish where he usually does -- in the upper echelon of fantasy superstars.

With Portland set to be more competitive this year and CJ McCollum no longer in the picture, Lillard has a top-three upside if things break his way this season. The fact that he's commonly available in the second round is laughable considering he finished third in total value during his last healthy season.



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