Occupational Hazard: Updates on Yao, Butler, G. Wallace
There are some big names to cover this week -- Yao Ming, LeBron James, Caron Butler -- and we will get right into it. I wanted to share one short anecdote before rolling in the gore. Wednesday night, I played in my semi-regular pick-up game at the local YMCA and nearly had a cataclysmic injury. I was positioned down low for a defensive rebound when an offensive player tripped over his defender and fell into my right leg. My knee was locked and for a split second I was sure I was about to suffer serious damage. Luckily, my sneakers were not gripping the floor that well and my feet slipped out from under the impact. This meant the force of the blow was transferred to my slipping feet instead of my knee. A teammate who saw the collision was sure I was going to be crushed. I wasn't and we went on to win that game.
The incident reminded me of how random many basketball injuries are. If I am wearing brand new kicks with great grip, I might be writing this with a knee brace on and bitter tears rolling down my cheeks. (Hey, I never said I was tough.) Instead, it's all good. There are some injuries, as we shall see, that are predictable, but most are random, wrong-place, wrong-time incidents that can topple a fantasy season. The key is to be able to react well after they occur, because prevention just isn't in the cards.
Yao Ming, C, Rockets: Yaouch! Yaowza! OK, obligatory, hackneyed fantasy writer puns over with. Are any of us surprised by Yao going down for the season with a stress fracture in his left foot? Perhaps you were lulled into complacency after so many months of solid play. Perhaps the sweet percentages blinded you to the reality that Yao's nickname may change from the Great Wall of China to China Doll. This season marks the third in a row that Yao has suffered a major injury. According to the Houston Chronicle, the specifics of the fracture are that Yao "developed microscopic cracks in the tarsal navicular bone -- the bone that attaches the ankle to the midfoot -- in his left foot." He had been feeling discomfort since the All-Star Game. Looking ahead, Yao will have to decide on surgery or not. The Chronicle reports that surgery would have the best chance of improving Yao's long-term health. Both surgery and resting in a brace would have a four-month recovery time. Clearly, Yao is questionable for the Olympics this summer. Do you think the host Chinese team wants him back? He should be even more questionable in your drafts and auctions next season. Once a late-first-round selection, Yao will certainly fall. I think he will be selected about the same time as Marcus Camby, another notoriously injury-prone player who has actually suited up more than Yao the past three seasons.
Caron Butler, SF, Wizards: Fixture: a familiar or invariable present element or feature in some particular setting. I'd say that definition accurately describes Butler's hip in this column. This week there is an update, however. The Washington Post reports that he has suffered a partial labral tear in his troublesome left hip. It has been 10 games and counting for Butler and with this news, you can count him out next week as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, the labrum of the hip is cartilage that "provides stability and cushioning for your hip joint, allowing the ball of your thigh bone (femur) to move smoothly and painlessly in the socket." In his Washington Post blog, reporter Ivan Carter reported that, after speaking with trainers and doctors, he found that "there is a real difference of opinion as to whether surgery is an effective way to repair a labral tear." He also wrote that surgery was never mentioned as an option for Butler and that the team is optimistic he will have an unspecified period of rest, which Carter speculated could be between one and three weeks. Plan on sitting Butler for at least next week and check in here as we have more updates.
Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, Bobcats: As you are probably well aware, Crash is out with a concussion suffered last Friday. According to the Charlotte Observer, the diagnosis was a Grade 3 concussion, the most severe. Grade 3 concussions are defined by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons as ones that "involve post-traumatic amnesia for more than 24 hours or unconsciousness for more than five minutes. Players who sustain this grade of brain injury should be sidelined for at least one month, after which they can return to play if they are asymptomatic for one week." They association goes on to say, "Following repeated concussions, a player should be sidelined for longer periods of time and possibly not allowed to play for the remainder of the season." Uh oh. This is the fourth concussion Wallace has suffered in four years. The Observer's David Scott reported on Tuesday that Wallace was visiting a neurologist. My guess is we will not being seeing Wallace for a while. Observer columnist, Rick Bonnell suggests that starting Wallace at power forward will inevitably lead to more injuries; he will consistently give up 20-30 pounds in such matchups. It's a convincing argument and one has to wonder how Sam Vincent will use Wallace when, and if he, comes back. Regardless of position, I am curious to see if this latest and most severe concussion will change Wallace's style of play. If he "tones it down," I have to think we will see a reduction in value. This may be bad for fantasy owners, but the only choice for Wallace.
LeBron James, SF, Cavaliers: The news is good news here. LeBron is unlikely to miss any time with his sprained right ankle. He hurt it on Wednesday night against the Celtics and missed the end of the second quarter before coming back in the second half. James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that this sprain did not feel as bad as the one he suffered last month, which caused him to miss one game. In that case, the sprain was worse (according to James) and the Cavs had back-to-back games. With this injury, he has a day off in between games. Unless his ankle tightens up on him before the game, I don't see LeBron missing any time.
Jason Richardson SG/SF, Bobcats: Apparently, there is some debate about whether J-Rich will suit up for Friday's game. According the Charlotte Observer, Richardson and his coach, Vincent, are at odds about his swollen eye and scratched cornea, suffered in Wednesday night's game against the Knicks. Richardson says he is playing no matter what. Not so fast, according to the coach, who told the paper, "I'm definitely not playing him if it's swollen." As of Thursday, Richardson's eye was nearly swollen shut and covered in a bandage. Don't count on Richardson playing tonight. Vincent has said he will not risk any long-term injury despite the Bobcats' desperate need of scoring with Wallace already sidelined. If J-Rich sits, look for Matt Carroll to get plenty of shots.
Mike Miller, SG/SF, Grizzlies: The back isn't back yet. Plan on being without Miller for a few more games at least. After the Phoenix game coach Marc Iavaroni told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, "We are looking at several more games. He has made progress, but we don't want to rush it." Miller's back spasms have been bothering him since the middle of last week. Looking ahead at the Grizzlies' schedule, and guessing they won't force Miller into a back-to-back set when he first returns, my best projection is that Miller will make his return Wednesday at home against New Jersey. Until then, enjoy the scoring and 3-pointers of Juan Carlos Navarro.
Brandon Roy, SG, Trail Blazers: Jason Quick of the Oregonian, the go-to guy for all things Blazers, reports that Roy is listed as doubtful for tonight's game. His sprained right ankle is still bothering him, and the team is not going to force the issue. He has missed two games so far, but it looks likely that he will be back next week. Obviously, check the Oregonian's Web site over the weekend to get a sense of Roy's readiness, but I expect him back. Nate McMillan told the paper that if Roy does sit, he will use the same starting line he has the past two games with Martell Webster at shooting guard and Travis Outlaw at small forward.
Samuel Dalembert, C, 76ers: While he is not 100 percent, Dalembert is still rolling out there. If you have been wondering why the numbers have been a little off this week, it is because Dalembert has been playing with a strained left quad and mild sprained ankle. Obviously, neither is that serious, but his owners should keep an eye on the situation should either injury be aggravated.
James Jones, SF, Trail Blazers: In the same blog entry that he reported on Roy, the aforementioned Quick quoted Nate McMillan saying of Jones, "He's most likely going to go, but we are going to keep our options open and list him as a game-time decision." If you need 3-pointers and Jones is on your bench or the waiver wire, his sore left knee looks ready to go.
Devin Harris, PG, Nets: Harris came out firing for his new team Thursday night. He didn't start and logged just 21 minutes, but scored one point for each minute played in a highly efficient display. It is safe to assume that Harris is now fully recovered from his ankle sprain. Given the spark he provided to the Nets, and how poorly Marcus Williams shot (3-for-11), it won't be long before Harris claims the starting gig.
Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at GuyLake@TalentedMrRoto.com.