What to do about long-term injuries
Nothing takes the wind out of your fantasy sails like losing a player or two to injury. Anyone who had Greg Oden or Danny Granger when they were felled this season can attest to that. To make matters worse, it's bad enough when a player is not producing stats for you, but you'll also have to decide what to do with that player. Do you drop, trade or hold on to him?
When assessing the effect of a player's health on his fantasy potential, I've found that there are several types of players:
* Young and not up to the grind yet. Even great, talented athletes have to build up a tolerance for the long season. As a result, many players battle injuries their first few years, then rarely miss games as veterans. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is the perfect example.
* Always dinged up. This is the trickiest category, because it runs the gamut from guys like Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson, who will play through just about anything, to guys like Larry Hughes, who seem to miss games haphazardly.
* Injury-prone players who still produce. Marcus Camby is the quintessential example. You know he'll be great when he plays, and you know he's not going to play more than 60 games most seasons. The only question for a player like this is whether he's worth having for only 60 games?
Let's take a look at some NBA ballers who are battling long-term injuries.
Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers: "Greg Oden = Sam Bowie" is what a friend of mine recently wrote. It's a pretty natural comparison, considering Bowie's all-time bust status and that both players were drafted by the Blazers. Do you think Rip City fans would rather have Kevin Durant running alongside Brandon Roy right about now? With 270 pounds weighing on two badly damaged knees, it's hard to expect anything good from Oden when/if he returns next season.
Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers: A torn plantar fascia is expected to keep Granger out until at least mid-January. It's hard to get a read on Granger's long-term health; he missed just six games in his first three seasons, but since taking on the primary scoring role for the Pacers, he has battled knee and foot injuries. At 26, he's heading into his physical prime, so Granger could shed the health problems, but for now you have to assume he's a significant health risk. With his talent, that makes him a solid buy-now prospect if your team needs to take a big risk to win.
Richard Hamilton, Detroit Pistons: Rip played a single game before an ankle injury knocked him out for more than a month. Then he played two December games before being felled by a strained hamstring. He's in great shape for a 31-year-old, but if you combine the fact that he didn't top 72 games the previous two seasons with these recent maladies, it makes you wonder if he's going to be dinged up the rest of his career. Regardless, once he gets up to speed, the Pistons will give him plenty of run in the hope they can deal him before the deadline. Ironically, a trade probably would diminish his value.
Kevin Martin, Sacramento Kings: He was limited to just 61 games two seasons back and only 51 last season, and now he's been out since fracturing his left wrist in early November. He's reportedly begun shooting, which is a good sign, but it's not clear exactly when he'll be back in the mix. While I'm tempted by his scoring, 3-point and free throw production, his poor field goal percentage and brittle body will make me think twice about having him on my rosters for the foreseeable future.
Francisco Garcia, Sacramento Kings: Wrist surgery likely will keep Garcia from making his season debut until the All-Star Game approaches. The Kings have been leaning on Omri Casspi and Andres Nocioni at small forward, so Garcia will have to earn his minutes once healthy. After performing so well late last season (check his splits), I think Garcia will carve out a healthy niche eventually. That makes him an interesting add to help down the stretch in deep leagues.
Travis Outlaw, Portland Trail Blazers: Yet another Blazer in pain. Outlaw underwent surgery in mid-November to repair a stress fracture in his left foot. He was expected to miss three to five months of action, which means he'd be back somewhere between mid-February and mid-April. If he can make it back, Outlaw could be a nice fantasy asset late in the season. Keep in mind that he'll be a free agent this offseason, so he'll be motivated to get back on the hardwood as soon as possible.
Yao Ming, Houston Rockets: It's really no surprise that a guy who is 7-foot-6 and 310 pounds would have never-ending foot problems. Honestly, it's far more surprising that a guy his size could move so deftly around the basketball court. Obviously, Yao won't play this season, and only time will tell whether he can lace up for the 2010-11 season opener, much less get through another 82-game slate. As far as keeper leagues go, I would hold onto him only in very deep leagues or where it costs me little to dub him a keeper. He'll be 30 next year, and the odds are going to be stacked as heavily as his 310-pound body against him.
Retro Roto: Antonio McDyess
There's one more type of injured player I didn't mention earlier, and that's a star whose physical talent is robbed at a relatively young age, but who has a high enough basketball IQ to become a serviceable veteran. While we can only hope that guys like Granger and Kevin Martin don't end up having to follow this trail, that's exactly what happened to Antonio McDyess.
Those of you who have played fantasy hoops for just a few years know McDyess as a guy capable of posting regular double-doubles in points and boards, while hitting more than half of his shots. But about a decade ago, he was a young, high-flying star for the Nuggets before a knee injury sapped him of his amazing leaping ability.
He was a fantasy monster during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season when he averaged 21.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals, while hitting 47.1 percent of his shots. He had another quality season the next year, exploding for 20.8 ppg, 12.1 rpg and 1.5 bpg, while draining 49.5 percent of his field goal attempts.
However, in 2000-01, McDyess ruptured the patella tendon in his knee and was never the same. In fact, after averaging 17.8 ppg during his first six campaigns, he never managed even double-digits after the injury. Still, he was able to carve out a niche as a rebounder who could knock down shots from midrange and finish at the rim.
Take a look at this video to remember Dice at his max, when he was one of the best in-game slammers of his day.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.