Occupational Hazard: How much longer for LeBron?
LeBron James, SF, Cavaliers: In my last column, I reported that James was a game-time decision for the Raptors' game last Friday. It's been four games since then and still no LeBron. So, what gives?
As a refresher, LeBron sprained the index finger of his left hand. The thought was that as this was James' nonshooting hand he would be able to bounce back fairly quickly. Clearly, the injury was a little more serious than the Cavaliers let on. The fantasy impact of James' injured digit extends beyond the best player in the game. Teammates Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden are finding open looks much harder to come by without LeBron acting as point forward. Indeed, the lack of a pass-first point guard, while inflating LeBron's fantasy value with his sharp increase in assists, is killing his team now that he is out.
So when will he be back? Danny Ferry has admitted to The Plain Dealer that LeBron's sprain was "more than a mild sprain" and that given the time of year the team would be cautious about bringing him back. Moderate sprains typically take somewhere in the neighborhood of four (and upward of six) weeks to heal. LeBron has been out a week and half already and I doubt the Cavs will sit him much longer if they keep losing every game he misses -- they are 0-5 since the sprain -- so my best guess is that we will see him back somewhere between two and three weeks from the date of the injury (Wednesday, Nov. 28). Look for LeBron to come back toward the end of next week as the Cavs have just two games between today and next Friday's matchup in New Jersey. I would risk activating him next week in the hopes that he plays two of Cleveland's three games.
Kevin Martin, SG, Kings: Any injury to the groin hurts, but this one hurts more than most. Martin was enjoying his best season yet, improving on last season's great numbers, averaging 24.5 points, 1.9 3-pointers, and a sick 8.4 free throws made per game. Now with a strain to his right groin he will miss 4-6 weeks, according to the Sacramento Bee. I would not expect Martin to make a speedy return. His game is so dependent on quick backcuts and weaving though screens that to risk reinjury would be foolish. His groin must be 100 percent for him to be effective. While he is out, the Kings are going to need scoring from other players. The player who should have been picked up as soon as the news was announced is John Salmons. We saw how well he performed playing for Ron Artest (20.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals), so he will be a great short-term fix. Look for Artest to start jacking closer to 20 shots per game and for his percentage (now at 48.3) to start dropping. Francisco Garcia will see some more run as well and is certainly worth an add in slightly larger leagues.
Tim Duncan, PF/C, Spurs: Fear not, Tim Duncan owners. This one does not appear to be that serious. Although Duncan fell to the floor and clutched his right knee in dramatic fashion Sunday in Portland, the San Antonio Express-News reports that the MRIs on his knee and right ankle came back negative. Yes, he missed Wednesday's game against the Mavs and, according to the Express-News' Jeff McDonald, coach Gregg Popovich said he is unlikely to play against the Jazz on Friday. McDonald also said in watching Duncan move and jab step, he did not look doubtful to him. Daily league owners should be by their computers 10 minutes before game time to see if Duncan is listed as a starter. If he misses the Jazz game it is extremely unlikely he would miss the Spurs' next contest, facing the Golden State Warriors.
Chris Bosh, PF/C, Raptors: It has been four missed games in a row now since Bosh strained his right groin in practice last Tuesday. According to the AP, Bosh has been stretching and working on strengthening the muscles around the groin and reports feeling better. OK, but how about your owners, Chris? How do you think they are feeling? Not well, my friend, not well at all. Bosh, despite feeling better, still cannot run at full speed and while he could be back this weekend, I would not be shocked to see him sit out until next Tuesday's game against Atlanta. The best indicator will be when and how he practices. Keep an eye out for the latest news as it becomes available.
Andrea Bargnani, SF/PF, Raptors: Bargnani has joined Chris Bosh on the sidelines with a hyperextended left knee suffered against the Wizards. Lori Ewing of the Canadian Press reported that while Chris Bosh participated in a light shootaround during Tuesday's practice, Bargnani did not practice at all. This indicates that he is further behind Bosh at this point and is not a safe start in weekly leagues next week. With him out, look for Anthony Parker, Carlos Delfino and Jamario Moon to continue their strong play. Strangely, Parker is owned in just 23.3 percent of ESPN leagues. Get on it kids; the guy can shoot and is a solid all-around value.
Larry Hughes, SG, Cavaliers: Hughes is practicing again and is looking at a Tuesday return to the hardwood, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. The Cavs are in desperate need of help on offense and, outside of LeBron, Hughes is the only player on the team capable of slashing and creating shots for himself and others. Tuesday may also be Anderson Varejao's first game back. Both are marginal fantasy plays -- especially Varejao -- but Hughes will be asked to create and score if James is still out.
Eddy Curry, C, Knicks: This one won't take too long. According to Newsday, Curry rolled his ankle in practice during a walk-through on Tuesday, spraining it and causing him to sit out Wednesday's game against the New Jersey Nets. Curry said the sprain wasn't serious and that he will be back for today's game against the Sixers.
Darko Milicic, PF/C, Grizzlies: First it was the sprained left thumb. After days of playing coy with the media (and the opposition), the Grizzlies unleashed Darko on the world and in his second game back, Darko sprained his left ankle. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Darko practiced on Thursday and is likely to play on Friday against the Clippers. Keep Darko on your bench for this one. He may not suit up and I don't like the matchup against The Manimal, Chris Kaman, with a gimpy ankle even if he does suit up.
Antoine Walker, SF/PF, Timberwolves: Walker's surprising fantasy relevance (11.1 points, 1.6 3-pointers, 4.3 rebounds and 0.9 steals) took a hit when it was revealed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he is struggling with a sore ankle. He has not participated in practices this week and missed Wednesday's game to see a doctor about the ankle. Walker is relevant only in deeper leagues, and in these only for his 3-pointers. Keep him on your bench and look for 3s and low percentages elsewhere on your team. With Walker's 23.5 minutes out of the lineup, rookie Corey Brewer stands to gain the most value, evidenced by his 18 rebounds in 44 minutes on Wednesday.
Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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