By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
It’s Week 17 in the fantasy basketball season, which means the playoffs are almost here. We’ll have more on that later this week. For now, plenty is going on around the league to keep managers engaged and focused for the stretch run.
In this week’s observations, we’ll take a look at some key injuries — including an unfortunate Tuesday-morning development for Jamal Murray — as well as zero in on the players making headlines and trending upward in Week 17.
Nuggets lose Murray to torn ACL
The Nuggets’ worst fears were confirmed Tuesday morning when Jamal Murray was diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee. The injury occurred late in Monday night’s loss to Golden State as Murray drove to the basket and landed awkwardly on his left leg. As is always the case with an ACL tear, Murray will face a lengthy recovery period that will likely span in the range of eight to 12 months.
Losing Murray — an ascending talent amid the best season of his career — is obviously a crushing blow for Denver, which currently sits in fourth place in the Western Conference. The Nuggets’ postseason ceiling will have to be re-evaluated. Without Murray, can Denver truly measure up against the Jazz, Suns, or healthy versions of the Lakers and Clippers? Only time will tell, but the already-heavy burden on MVP-frontrunner Nikola Jokic’s shoulders will only increase going forward.
Looking at the Nuggets’ point guard depth, the players set to “benefit” — speaking strictly in a fantasy context — are Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo. Campazzo started three of the four games Murray missed before Sunday, while Morris started the other. From a workload perspective, Campazzo has had the edge of late, averaging 26.3 minutes over the last four games. His scoring comes and goes, and he’s a sub-40-percent shooter on the year, but Campazzo racks up steals at a high rate and can provide decent production in assists and threes.
Another name to monitor is Will Barton, who’s spent plenty of time moonlighting as a fill-in point guard throughout his career. During those four games Murray missed from April 6-11, Barton averaged 17.0 points, 4.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 2.0 threes in 34.3 minutes.
LeBron still three weeks away
Over the weekend, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that LeBron James could be back in action for the Lakers in roughly three weeks, per a team source. A high-ankle sprain has already cost James 12 games, and if that three-week timetable holds up, he’d be set to miss roughly 10 more. In a 72-game season, a 22-game absence will likely be enough to wipe James’ name out of the MVP conversation.
Allen, Nance set to play Wednesday?
Both Jarrett Allen and Larry Nance went through a full practice Tuesday and could return to action as soon as Wednesday night at Charlotte. A concussion has sidelined Allen since March 26 (eight games), while Nance has been battling a non-COVID illness that reportedly resulted in significant weight loss. The Cavs haven’t commented on either player’s status for Wednesday night, but if they are ultimately cleared to play, there’s a good chance they’d face an initial minutes restriction.
Allen will almost certainly step back in as the starting center, but Nance will likely work off the bench with Kevin Love healthy.
Speaking of Love, he appears to have moved past his minutes restriction after playing a season-high 31 minutes in Sunday’s 116-109 loss to New Orleans. Before Sunday, Love had been limited to 26 or fewer minutes in each of his first five games back. Since returning on April 1, Love is averaging 14.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 3.0 made threes (38.3% 3Pt) in 24.0 minutes per game. In that span, he ranks 83rd in eight-category total value.
Nurkic still facing restrictions
It’s been nearly three weeks since Jusuf Nurkic made his return from a wrist injury, yet through seven games he’s yet to play more than 22 minutes. The big man has started all seven of those appearances, playing between 18 and 22 minutes in each.
For fantasy managers, the minutes restriction has been frustrating, to say the least, and it appears Blazers coach Terry Stotts feels the same way. Following Sunday’s 118-103 win over Detroit, Stotts intimated that he’d consider starting Enes Kanter over Nurkic if the latter continues to have his workload closely monitored. Stotts stuck with Nurkic on Monday against the Heat, but the result — a 107-98 loss — may not have helped his case.
Kanter finished Monday’s game with 10 points and eight boards in 20 minutes. On Sunday, with Nurkic sitting out for rest purposes, Kanter set the franchise record with 30 rebounds, to go along with 24 points, in 37 minutes. On the season, Kanter has 34 double-digit-rebound games and 29 double-doubles, propelling him into the top-55 in eight-category leagues (total value).
Welcome back, KD
Kevin Durant returned from a 23-game injury absence Wednesday against the Pelicans, playing 19 minutes off the bench and finishing with 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and six turnovers. He followed up with 22 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and eight turnovers in 24 minutes Saturday against the Lakers.
It’s been a long year for Durant’s fantasy managers. After immediately re-establishing himself as a top-10 value early on, injuries got the best of the two-time Finals MVP, who’s appeared in just 21 games this season. That places him outside the top-120 in total value, but in terms of per-game value, he ranks fifth behind only Nikola Jokic, James Harden, Stephen Curry, and Joel Embiid. If Durant can stay healthy going forward, he could swing fantasy leagues in favor of managers who held him on IR since early February.
Key injuries to monitor
Seemingly every player in the league has been banged up at one point or another, and the injuries continue to pile up in Week 17.
Kawhi Leonard will miss a second straight game Tuesday night due to soreness in his right foot. The issue isn’t believed to be serious, but it will be worth keeping an eye on before Friday’s game at Philadelphia.
Victor Oladipo did not join the Heat on their current, four-game road trip that finishes up Friday night in Minnesota. Oladipo tweaked his right knee on an uncontested dunk against the Lakers on Thursday and is set for further evaluation. It’s the same leg in which Oladipo suffered a torn quad tendon during the 2018-19 season. He’s been limited to just 52 appearances over the last two seasons.
Richaun Holmes departed Monday night’s game against the Pelicans with a right hamstring injury and did not return. A top-35 player on the season, Holmes’ status is unclear for Wednesday’s game against Washington.
Terry Rozier is likely to miss Tuesday night’s game against the Lakers due to tendinitis in his left knee. He hasn’t missed any time since early February, so the tendinitis appears to be a recent development. PJ Washington has already been ruled out of Tuesday’s game, so the Hornets are on course to be without four regular starters.
The league’s leading shot-blocker, Myles Turner, will miss a fourth straight game Tuesday night. Indiana appears to be handling his status on a game-to-game basis as he battles a sprained ankle.
Tatum, Fox among big names on the rise
Boston’s Jayson Tatum has climbed up to 11th in eight-cat total value this season, thanks in large part to a post-All-Star-break surge. Over his last 17 games, Tatum is averaging 27.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.4 threes and 1.1 steals to go with a 49-40-92 shooting line. He has double-doubles in each of his last three games, headlined by a 53-point, 10-rebound eruption against the Timberwolves on Friday night. Since the break, Tatum ranks fourth in total value.
One spot ahead of Tatum since the break is Jimmy Butler, who continues to dominate at both ends of the floor for Miami. After Sunday night’s four-steal, two-block effort, Butler now has multiple steals in six straight games. He’s averaging 2.3 thefts per game, to go with 22.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists, since the break. Butler is shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 83.9 percent at the line in that stretch, though he’s still providing virtually no value as a three-point shooter (0.6 3PM/G; 22.5% 3PT).
De’Aaron Fox posted his third 40-point game of the season Monday night in New Orleans, finishing with 43 points, six rebounds, six assists, and five three-pointers. Fox’s ascent dates back to February, but since the All-Star break, he ranks 13th in total value behind 28.9 points, 6.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. Fox’s overall field-goal percentage (50.0%) is strong, but he’s hitting just 30.7 percent of his threes and remains a below-average free-throw shooter (75.7% FT) for a point guard. Removing free throw percentage from the equation, Fox would rank ninth in total value for the season.
Injuries contributed to a slow start for Bogdan Bogdanovic, but he’s scored in double-figures in 13 of his last 14 games and ranks inside the top 40 since the All-Star break. Over his last 10 games (all starts), Bogdanovic has averaged 19.3 points, 4.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 3.6 made threes while shooting 48.6 percent from downtown. With Trae Young sitting out Sunday against Charlotte, Bogdanovic finished with a season-high 32 points (8-16 3PT) to go with three boards, three assists, and two steals.