Fantasy Basketball: How to play the waiting game with injured NBA stars

Injuries are an unfortunate reality in sports, and the NBA is no different. However, "load management" introduced a unique problem for the Association that is less prominent across other leagues. And the NBA's policies around transparency and injury disclosure are inconsistent, to say the least. Still, those playing fantasy basketball have to navigate daily through ambiguous injury designations and last-minute absences.

But for those that play in season-long leagues, the ability to stash injured players in IL or IL+ spots offers much-needed flexibility to keep your roster afloat while players are out of the lineup for extended periods of time. Several players are sitting in street clothes for various reasons, and to be clear, I won't be advocating for selling any of them for peanuts.

Instead, I'll give the latest update on their health and provide a glimpse into the trade market if fantasy managers get the itch to make moves.

Chris Paul - PG, Phoenix Suns

One of the most frustrating situations in fantasy basketball has to be with Chris Paul. I talked about him on Tuesday and mentioned how the Suns have been pretty tight-lipped about his heel injury. He's been out since November 7, missing 14 games in the process and yet, there'd been no official timetable for his return. He was listed as questionable on the injury report for over a month, only to be eventually ruled out. Phoenix Suns GM James Jones said, "Chris is close, he's coming back, he'll be back …" but again, nothing concrete with a definitive timeline.

So you can imagine my reaction this morning — waking up to see that Chris Paul expects to play tonight versus the Boston Celtics (barring any setbacks).

The conspiracy theorist in me figured that Paul would return during the Suns' upcoming four-game road trip. The Suns have the best record in the West but they're only 4-6 on the road this season. And it's quite the string of away games, facing the Pelicans twice, the Rockets and Clippers; just about every team Chris Paul has played for.

Fantasy managers have been patiently waiting for Paul to make it back and on Wednesday they'll get their wish. Cameron Payne's month-long run comes to an end in shallow leagues but keep an eye on him since Paul is turning 38 this year and is becoming an injury risk late in his career. But Paul shouldn't have much of a ramp-up period as Suns' GM James Jones said the organization wants him to be 100 percent before returning. If Paul struggles in a few games, he'd be a solid buy-low target if you're in need of elite assists and steals.

LaMelo Ball - PG/SG, Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets are in shambles without their star point guard, and after missing his first 13 games of the season with an ankle injury, his return to play was short-lived after aggravating that same ankle on November 16 versus the Pacers.

He only made it back for three games before a freak accident forced him to miss the following eight games for the Hornets. He's been ruled out ahead of Wednesday's contest against the Nets, but by all accounts, he's making strides in his rehabilitation. Here's a video of LaMelo getting shots up before Tuesday's game versus the Clippers:

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And here's LaMelo running and moving laterally at Hornets practice on Wednesday:

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There are no reports of him taking on contact or joining in 5-on-5 drills yet, so that is likely a hurdle he'll have to clear before returning to action. The Hornets are currently 7-17 this season, 13th in the Eastern Conference and likely headed to the 2023 Lottery. But there is a lot of season left, and the Hornets need to be cautious with their most prized asset, especially after re-injuring the same ankle in such a short period of time.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but if I had LaMelo on my fantasy team, I'd continue to hold. He was likely a late-first or early second-round pick, so don't bother selling low. When he returns, he'll see an uptick in scoring with all of the injuries in Charlotte, along with the usual assists, steals and threes that fantasy managers can expect.

In terms of the trade market, the only trade I saw that made me think, "Hmm, I'd consider that," would be for Zach LaVine. And honestly, I doubt anyone with LaVine would make a move with Ball's return so murky.

Karl-Anthony Towns - PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves

Finally! A player with an actual timeline to return to action! Karl-Anthony Towns will miss four-to-six weeks with a right calf strain that he suffered on November 28. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, he'll be able to recover fully and return sometime in January.

Doing some back-of-the-envelope math based on the Timberwolves schedule, the short end of KAT's timeline (four weeks) has him missing 13 games with a potential return versus the Heat on December 26. That seems too early, so if KAT is looking at a six-week absence, he'll miss about 20 games with a reasonable return date around January 9.

Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves is a fantasy star
Fantasy managers should expect Karl-Anthony Towns to return in the coming month. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Missing upwards of 20 games is significant, but at least fantasy managers did not lose KAT for the season. And there's ample time to stream players to compensate for his loss. Kyle Anderson is a valuable streaming option in 12-team leagues, and Naz Reid is worthy of a look as well.

The only trade I saw for KAT that piqued my interest was for Brandon Ingram. But he's also injured, so that doesn't help anyone in the near term. I'd be willing to move Towns for the right deal because I don't trust the Timberwolves to figure out how to play two big men in the same lineup. KAT will be coming off an injury, and his numbers are nearly down across the board this season when playing alongside Rudy Gobert. So, if there's anyone on this injury list that I'd be looking to move, it'd be Towns.

Desmond Bane - SG/SF, Memphis Grizzlies

Budding star Desmond Bane was diagnosed with a Grade 2 sprain of his big toe on November 15th. The injury occurred on November 11 versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, right when Bane was approaching (what seemed to be) mid-season form. Bane is averaging 24.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.8 3PM (all career-highs) with 47/45/91 shooting splits. He's still 23rd in per-game value, but because he's missed three weeks of hoops, he's fallen to 128th in total value.

The good news is that Bane shed his boot, but the three-week mark for re-evaluation passed five days ago, and the latest information from Grizzlies HC Taylor Jenkins is not ideal:

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I did some additional research because the lack of details surrounding Bane's injury has me concerned. Dr. Rajpal Brar provided some insight into the type of injury that Bane is dealing with and, in simple terms, it's turf toe. Turf toe typically has a recovery period of 4-6 weeks, so if that is indeed Bane's injury, and assuming he's healing properly, we should expect to see him return on December 23 versus the Suns or on December 25 versus the Warriors.

Since I have a lot of exposure to Bane, and he's been playing at an All-Star caliber level, I have no intentions of divesting my shares. And assuming all is well on his road to recovery, he's only a few weeks away. But here are the top trades I saw involving Bane recently:

Desmond Bane for Kyrie Irving

Desmond Bane for Bradley Beal

Both are fair trades, but I'd still opt for Bane's upside given that Beal's missed several games to injury and Kyrie Irving, well, is Kyrie Irving.

Tyrese Maxey - PG/SG, Philadelphia 76ers

Another rising star this season, Tyrese Maxey, was heating up before sustaining a foot injury against the Milwaukee Bucks on November 18. He fractured his left foot; initial reports had him missing 3-4 weeks. He'd taken on a more prominent role as a playmaker in the absence of James Harden, averaging 5.8 assists in the six games he played without Harden. But for the season, Maxey is 66th in per-game value and 151st in total value after missing a few weeks.

The Sixers organization has been forthright about Maxey's prognosis since he was injured. Here is Sixers HC Doc Rivers' comments after the Bucks game where Maxey went down:

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While Doc couldn't reveal the number of games Maxey could miss, a few games were better than the nothing burger the Phoenix Suns provided regarding Chris Paul. Getting back on track, Maxey said to reporters on November 21 that he expects to get his boot off in a week.

Maxey was right on time, as he shed his boot on November 28, and reports came in this afternoon that he returned to practice. Here's a video of Maxey running for the first time since his injury:

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It's important to note that Doc Rivers said, "He's still a ways from sprinting and jumping." While Maxey is progressing well, his four-week timetable is nine days away. If he's not sprinting or jumping yet, we can conservatively expect him back in early January.

Maxey's value is undoubtedly higher when Harden is off the floor, and now that Harden is back, this is a compelling window to see what's available on the trade market. Maxey was a top-50 player before getting injured, and fantasy managers would net the most in return by packaging him with a healthy player. For example, here's a trade I thought was pretty even for both parties in terms of value:

Tyrese Maxey and Terry Rozier for D’Angelo Russell and Lauri Markkanen

Markkanen is the best player in the deal, and you're absorbing Russell, who is playing better with KAT out of the lineup.

So my advice with Maxey is to hold your position and wait it out unless you can package him with another player. The only straight-up offer that was remotely interesting was for Mikal Bridges, but Bridges (22nd in per-game value) is not a realistic option at the moment.