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One of the biggest questions heading into the fantasy basketball season is where to draft already injured NBA stars.

Players such as Isaiah Thomas, Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine provide a ton of fantasy value, but will likely begin the season on the injury list. Where you select injured players could either sink your team or give you a huge boost to end the year.

Today we'll discuss whether you should stash injured players in your league, and if so, where you should select them in your draft.

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Know your League and Rules

It may seem obvious, but the most important thing to know before drafting injured stars is how your league is set up.  First and foremost, it is key to know if your league has an IR spot.  If there is a spot on your roster that will certainly be a bump for any injured player heading into the season as you could retain a roster spot while the player in injured.  In leagues without IR spots using an active roster spot on a player such as Parker could be a huge hindrance as the season wears on, especially if your team picks up any further injuries along the way.  In non-IR leagues you should likely bump players heading into the season down at least one, if not two, rounds from their draft position.

The next thing to consider in you league settings is the scoring system.  In a rotisserie league, injured players can cause a much larger issue as you would spend a high round pick on a player that is essentially giving you no output. As an example, if you draft Isaiah Thomas and he misses the first 30 games of the season you are losing roughly 750 points, 200 assists and 60 three-pointers made.  If you picked up a player such as Derrick Rose to fill in for Thomas, over 30 games you may lose roughly 350 points, 75 assists and 40 three-pointers, which would drastically set your team back over the long season.  In roto leagues, it simply does not make a ton of sense to draft an already injured player early, as the potential of missed time could simply be too much to overcome.

In head to head (H2H) leagues, drafting an injured player can sometimes be the key to success. In H2H leagues replacing an injured player can be far easier to do. Each match-up, usually a week long, can be filled in with replacement level players, or you can simply punt specific categories while your star is out of action. For example, if you draft Jabari Parker your team would be missing out on his 20.1 points per game, but also consider as a forward his 0.4 blocks per game are extremely low.  Perhaps while he is out, you plug in a player such as Nerlens Noel at forward who may only score 10 points per game, but could provide upwards of 2.0 blocks per night and you have effectively swapped the types of categories you will win each week until Parker returned.

What is also a positive in H2H leagues with early season injuries is that you make your money in the playoffs.  Because of that, you could look to simply make the playoffs and then have a stronger roster at that point in the season.  Zach LaVine, for example, has a current average draft position (ADP) of 80.2.  If you take him you are not likely to get much if any production from him through the first half of the season, but if he returns to full health mid-season, he is a player who was a top 40 fantasy player for parts of last year.  Although you may find yourself down in the standings, adding a top 40 player for free in the middle of the year would give your team a tremendous boost over the competition in the fantasy playoffs.


Drafting Handcuffs

Drafting handcuffs has been a very popular practice in fantasy football for years.  It should also be on your mind for fantasy basketball as some players production will take a major spike with injured players out.

Drafting backups is especially important in daily lineup leagues as replacement players can be huge help over the entire season.  The trick in fantasy basketball is to find the players who will fill in huge roles for injured stars. One such situation could pop up in San Antonio, where point guard Tony Parker and his 20.2% usage rate will need to be replaced to start the season.  Young Dejounte Murray had a usage rate of 23.7% while Parker was not on the floor last season.  If you can target a player such as Murray who provides value while the starter in front of him is out, you can essentially use two late picks to draft a player who could be a top round pick if he was fully healthy.


Where Should You Draft Injured NBA Stars This Year

Isaiah Thomas, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Perhaps the biggest star that heads into this fantasy basketball season already injured is Isaiah Thomas.  Last year in Boston, Thomas set career highs in points and three-pointers made while on his way to being a top 15 fantasy player.  Now in Cleveland, we still have no word on if or when Thomas will start the year. Currently Thomas' ADP is at 21.6 which is simply too high for a player we have no information on.  Thomas is almost assured to miss at least a few weeks if not a month minimum to start the year which could see 10-20% of his season gone.  The other thing to consider with Thomas is that Cleveland is a virtual lock to be a top four seed in the Eastern Conference, which means the team will not only have little reason to rush him back, but also may be willing to give him time off throughout the year.

If you are determined to get a point guard in that range Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, and Eric Bledsoe all provide a similar type of value and are entering the year with a full bill of health.  If Thomas falls to the late third or early fourth round he may be worth a flyer, though. Also of note, Derrick Rose is an ideal handcuff to Thomas and is a must pick in the late rounds for Thomas owners looking to build toward the end of the year while not sacrificing everything early.

Jabari Parker, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks

Unlike Thomas, we know that Parker will begin the season on the bench after tearing his ACL last February. Those type of knee injuries tend to take roughly a year to recover from, so look for Parker back around the All-Star break.  That would give Parker roughly 27 games, or one third of a season, to produce for your fantasy teams.  What is great about those 27 games is that Milwaukee appears poised to make another run at the playoffs and would need Parker in there as much as he could be down the stretch. As mentioned above, he could be the swing piece that takes your team from the middle of the pack to a powerhouse in a H2H league.  However, in the same way with just a third of the season to produce, it may be a little too late in roto leagues.

The other issue for Parker owners is that there is no clear-cut backup plan for Parker in terms of who picks up his stats. The young Thon Maker and a full season worth of Khris Middleton should eat up most of his stats, but will not be directly affected.  In H2H leagues his current ADP of 75 may be about right for what he could eventually provide (20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds last year), but in roto leagues his all-around game is not as strong and should be avoided unless he falls outside of the top 100 picks.

Zach LaVine, PG/SG, Chicago Bulls

This season is a true season of unknowns for LaVine. Like Parker, he will start the year on the sidelines with a torn ACL. Unlike Parker, LaVine is on a new team and his role is undefined.  Last year in Minnesota, LaVine showed he could be a fantasy star with 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.6 three-pointers made per game.  Now in Chicago, LaVine could possibly be in line to be the center piece of their rebuild. LaVine is said to be ahead of schedule and thus could make his return to the lineup at the half way point of the season, and at that point Chicago may have already moved on from Dwyane Wade.

The current Bulls roster only has two players who scored over 11 points per game last year, Wade and LaVine, so a scoring load could certainly be heaped on LaVine early.  The only issue to be aware of is his stellar rate from deep could be hurt if asked to up more shots this year.

Of these three injured players, LaVine may have the most upside for where he will be picked, which currently sits around 75. Between his injury, and possibility that the Bulls tank late in the year, it is certainly a risk to take LaVine but in all types of leagues there may be too much upside to pass on if he makes it to round seven or eight.


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