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When Will They Be Back: On Long Term Injuries In Fantasy Basketball

On Friday, DeMarcus Cousins returned to the court after missing almost a full year with a torn Achilles. Cousins looked fine as he entered the Warriors rotation for the first time, starting and playing 15 minutes before fouling out. Cousins scored 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting and was 3-for-4 from deep, giving the Warriors an entirely new wrinkle -- three-point shooting from the five in a lineup that isn't the Hamptons Five. That could be huge down the stretch for the Warriors, who are already the title favorites but could also be the title favorites by, uhh, a larger amount?

Cousins got me thinking about other players who are currently out, and about when they'll be coming back, and about what that means for you, readers, in your quest to win in fantasy basketball down the stretch.

So, let's look at guys who are currently dealing with long term injuries and look at what their timelines look for and, thus, what you should do with them in fantasy.

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Fantasy Basketball Long Term Injury Updates

Clint Capela - C/PF - Houston Rockets

One of the more recent injuries on this list, Capela will miss between four and six weeks after having surgery on his broken thumb. That puts his return date after the All-Star Break. If you have Capela in your fantasy league, you've (hopefully) already committed to either stashing him in your IR spot or keeping him on your bench, since the Swiss big man is in the midst of the best season of his career.

Houston's incredibly shallow at the center position without Capela, as they have Nene, who is only able to play limited minutes at this point in his career, and then a pair of centers with promise who haven't offered enough in terms of production to play a part in the rotation (Marquese Chriss and Isaiah Hartenstein). Houston attempted to solve this by adding Kenneth Faried, who the Nets just bought out. Faried can do a lot of the rim-running that Capela can, and he could be lethal rolling to the basket in the pick-and-roll, though he's likely not going to be rebounding as well as Capela was. Still, Faried is worth an add right now in 12-team leagues.

Wendell Carter Jr. - C - Chicago Bulls

Carter is going to miss eight to 12 weeks with a thumb injury, and with the Bulls going nowhere, it wouldn't be a shock at all if Carter's rookie season is over. The Bulls have a lot of options that no one is going to love, including Bobby Portis, who isn't having nearly the offensive season he did last year, and Robin Lopez, who has been pretty hit or miss all year. There's also Jabari Parker, who the Bulls essentially gave up on earlier in the year but who recently worked his way back into the rotation. Parker can put the ball in the hoop, and even though he can't do too much else to help you at this point, he's worth a fantasy look if he's on waivers and you need to fill the Carter hole.

Anthony Davis - PF/C - New Orleans Pelicans

Davis is expected to miss a week or two with a finger injury. In the grand scheme of things, losing Davis for that long isn't a huge deal for fantasy owners, but it can definitely feel that way if you're been relying on him to help you win your weeks. With Davis out, the Pelicans will need to get more from their best players, and I'll be interested to see how Nikola Mirotic plays as his numbers have been all over the place in his five games since returning from his own injury. Also to watch for: How much playing time with Jahlil Okafor get, and will it be enough to make him a streaming option in 14-team leagues? Probably not, but you can add him to your watch list and reassess after we see a game or two of the Davis-less Pelicans.

Goran Dragic - PG/SG - Miami Heat

Dragic is out until at least the All-Star break with a knee injury and has played just 19 games this season. Justise Winslow has played well as the team's new point guard, and with Dragic not being part of Miami's future plans, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise to see Winslow hold down his current role even when Dragic returns. He'll be worth adding if he's on waivers in your league, but I wouldn't expect production at his previous All-Star level.

Markelle Fultz - PG/SG - Philadelphia 76ers

You'd be forgiven for writing Fultz off and assuming he was done this season. He's owned in just about 20 percent of leagues right now, and with reports that he didn't plan to play for the Sixers again, holding onto him felt like a mistake in re-draft leagues.

But Fultz has reportedly rejoined the team, with Woj reporting that he plans to continue his shoulder rehab with hopes of playing again for the Sixers this season. When that could be remains a bit of a mystery, and Fultz isn't going to step back into the starting role that he had when the season began, so while it's worth keeping an eye on Fultz and Fultz reports, it's not time to add him back to your team yet.

LeBron James - SF/PF - Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are lost without LeBron, but he should be back soon-ish. He should be back at practice this upcoming week and then, depending on how his groin responds, should be back on the court shortly thereafter. Maybe the big question right now for James owners is for those that are in leagues with weekly lineups -- do you activate him and put him back in your lineups in hopes he makes his return this week? The Lakers do start a four-game home stand on Monday, and Thursday's game against Minnesota could be a good spot to peg for his return. But LeBron is also LeBron, and he's not going to return until he's 100 percent sure it's the right time to return, so I'd probably leave him out of my weekly lineups unless we get some more definitive word before those need to be set.

Caris Levert - SG/SF - Brooklyn Nets

When Caris LeVert went down with a foot injury, it looked bad, but then came news that it wasn't quite so bad and that he'd possibly be able to return this season. LeVert recently returned to practice and has been seen shooting the ball pregame, so we're nearing LeVert's return. If he's still on waivers in your league, pick him up. His return likely means a little less shouldering of the offensive load for D'Angelo Russell and fewer minutes for Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier.

Kevin Love - PF/C - Cleveland Cavaliers

When will Kevin Love return? The original expectation was mid-January would be when Love returned from a toe injury, but recent reports suggest that time frame could be pushed back by at least a couple more weeks, if not an entire month. Love is still owned in about 90 percent of leagues, but if you're in the 10 percent where he's on waivers then we've probably reached the time where you should grab him as he starts to get back into practicing. If he stays a Cavalier past the trade deadline is obviously a major question mark, but for the next month or so you're safe to keep streaming Ante Zizic and Jaron Blossomgame.

Chris Paul - PG - Houston Rockets

Paul could return from a hamstring injury next week, per Mark Berman of KRIV. That's good news for Houston, who can then move either Austin Rivers or Eric Gordon back to the bench and can take a little of the pressure off of Harden, who has had to go wild in Paul's absence to keep Houston on the right track. Rivers feels like the most likely player to take a step backwards in terms of statistical contributions once Paul is back in the lineup.

Kristaps Porzingis - PF/C - New York Knicks

Porzingis won't be re-evaluated until mid-February, and the Knicks would be smart to just keep tanking and not risk Porzingis winding up with a lingering injury...except they also want to keep him happy. Porzingis is owned in roughly half of leagues, and grabbing him the first week of February in leagues where he's still available and then waiting for that mid-February update seems like a good idea, because a healthy Porzingis is instantly something like a top-30 fantasy guy, especially on a Knicks team that has a lot of holes and could really use him.

Isaiah Thomas - PG - Denver Nuggets

Thomas missed the mid-December date to return from his hip injury, and updates were few and far between until a Woj report that Thomas is targeting either February 11th or 13th to make his Nuggets debut. Figuring out how Thomas fits into a backcourt rotation that already has Monte Morris playing really strong will be interesting, but Morris can play some two-guard if you need it, with either Malik Beasley or Torrey Craig seeing a dip in their minutes. However it works out, Thomas is worth an add in most leagues.

Jonas Valanciunas - C - Toronto Raptors

I wouldn't expect Valanciunas back on the floor until mid-February at the earliest, which means the Raptors will continue to lean on the Pascal Siakam/Serge Ibaka frontcourt duo, with some Greg Monroe off the bench. While Monroe isn't someone who'll put up consistent numbers on a nightly basis, Siakam and Ibaka are great players to own during this Valanciunas-less stretch, and it's highly likely that both continue to perform at their current level even when Valanciunas is back.

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