NBA Fantasy Lab: Time to pounce on injured players has come

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The year was 1987 and an award-winning commercial featured a young Matt LeBlanc (looooong before he was Joey on Friends) delicately positioning a bottle of Heinz ketchup on the roof of a building so that after taking his time getting down the stairs -- along the way popping his collar and sliding down a banister -- the bottle would finally pour its thick tomatoey goodness onto a just-bought, street vendor hot dog positioned ever so coolly behind his back. The slogan at the end of the commercial promised, "The best things come to those who wait." Hunt's ketchup never recovered.

Years later in 1996, a Guinness beer commercial later dubbed the "Best Beer Commercial Ever" promised, "Good things come to those who wait." The idea behind this ad was to reverse negative consumer opinion of the average two-minute process it takes a bartender to properly pour a pint of the tasty Irish stout. It's hard to argue against that notion with 10 million glasses of Guinness enjoyed per day.

The message in each campaign echoes the sage proverb "patience is a virtue." Clearly this is great advice, with practical application in fantasyland when it comes to injured players. If you are able to remain patient and wait out a productive yet injured player's lengthy absence, you will often be rewarded come playoff time.

But who is worthy of a wait? And whom should you cut loose? More important, when is the right time to add an injured free agent to your roster, especially at the expense of a healthy player who is producing in the meantime? Unfortunately, there is no overarching steadfast rule, as is often the case when dealing with injuries -- or pretty much anything else in fantasy basketball for that matter.

Waiting obviously worked out for Pau Gasol owners earlier this year, though that was a no-brainer. But were you willing to stay the course for Rip Hamilton or gamble on Mike Dunleavy? As Dunleavy's minutes restriction has been eased, he's delivered to the tune of 25 ppg, 2.5 3pg, 3 rpg, 3.5 apg and 1.5 spg over his last two games. Hamilton dropped 21 points, 4 boards and 4 assists in last night's game, just his second game since getting injured in the season opener. Both will prove their worth as the season continues.

Former All-Star Tracy McGrady finally reappeared in action Tuesday night, thanks in part to the absence of Trevor Ariza, who was serving a one-game suspension. Undoubtedly, T-Mac's best years are behind him, but he should have value in deeper leagues, if you're willing to deal with random DNPs, devastatingly low field-goal percentage and a potential late-season shutdown. The Lab isn't, with T-Mac having previously earned a permanent position on our Banned List, but someone in your league will roll the dice if they haven't already, which bring us full circle. Who should you hold on to and/or pick up and who should you toss aside and/or ignore?

While the messages from the commercials are useful, Abraham Lincoln has even more prudent advice, "Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle." So if there's a player you want on your team when the playoffs hit, and he's just chilling on the wire, the time to add him is now.

Blake Griffin, SF/PF, L.A. Clippers

The Lab will never forget Brandon Roy's rookie year. A heal injury suffered in just his fourth game had Roy out indefinitely, eventually costing the unproven rookie 19 games. Many owners cast him aside, unwilling to wait for his return, whenever that came, in favor of any old player off to a hot start. Following the All-Star break, the Rookie of the Year averaged 18.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.9 apg, 1.3 3pg and 1.1 spg. The owner in the Lab's main league held fast to Roy and rode him into the championship matchup (where he lost to yours, truly, but that's besides the point).

Griffin is this year's Roy. Even though he has yet to play an NBA game, the Lab has zero doubt that Griffin will provide an immediate impact upon his return and will be playing at an incredibly high level come March and April. Chris Kaman is already showing signs of wear and tear. Marcus Camby is the subject of trade rumors, and if he's not dealt, he won't block Griffin's minutes as a fragile old veteran in the final year of his contract. Griffin will play big minutes and he'll be double-doubling his way into your heart, not to mention the bushels of steals, blocks and assists he'll provide from either forward slot.

Lou Williams, PG/SG, Philadelphia 76ers

Yes, Allen Iverson is back in Philly, but Sweet Lou is still the team's starting PG once he returns from a broken jaw. Jrue Holliday is a temporary fill-in, and as the youngest player in the league, he's not quite ready to ascend to the starting lineup. With Iverson either sitting out due to injury (the 34-year old has a stress reaction in his shin and just had his knee drained) or taking somke minutes at point guard, Williams should be able to score more easily or generate some easy dimes, basically producing the way he was before the broken jaw. Sure, it might take him a while to get back up to speed after losing so much weight with his jaw wired shut and sitting on the sidelines for eight weeks, but he's young and will be seeing all the minutes he can handle late in the season when the Sixers are out of playoff contention. Due back a week or two before the All-Star break, make sure he's on a roster before word hits the street that he's practicing, probably in early to mid-January.

Marreese Speights, F/C, Philadelphia 76ers

And since we're talking Sixers, now is the time to make your move for this second-year stud. Coming off a partially torn left MCL, Speights is ahead of schedule and is already practicing. He's saying things like his left knee feels just like his right knee, which is about as reassuring as it can get. Already playing more minutes than Sam Dalembert when he went down, Speights should quickly find himself back in the groove as the Sixers' first big man off the bench, with a possible move into the starting five given Eddie Jordan's incomprehensible disdain for starting Elton Brand and the distinct possibility that Dalembert will be traded. The 13.0 ppg on 60.5 FG% and 81.3 FT%, with 6.4 rpg and 0.9 bpg in just 23 mpg is mesmerizing.

Andris Biedrins, C, Golden State Warriors

Sticking with the big men, Biedrins is due back in a week, possibly two, depending on his soreness level after testing out his, um, pelvis in practice. The Lab has seen the injury listed many ways, either as a back, groin or abdomen injury, when in reality his injury has been diagnosed as "osteitis pubis," an injury most common to rugby or Australian rules football players. The recovery time is usually four-to-six weeks, but the pain can linger for much longer. Even with the possibility of more missed time in the future, Biedrins needs to be rostered due to Golden State's severe lack of big men. For reasons not known to the sane (i.e. not Don Nelson), minutes once were hard for Biedrins to come by and he still managed double-double averages each of the last two years. Now he'll have as many minutes as his pelvis can handle. You'll have his 60.5 career shooting and 1.5 bpg average over the last three years.

Tyrus Thomas, SF/PF, Chicago Bulls

A lighting rod of controversy both in Chicago and across fantasyland, Thomas has the power to enrage or elate his fans, owners and loathers when he's playing. The situation in Chicago is a mess, and Vinny Del Negro is on the brink of being fired. He's seemed to have earned a reprieve until Thomas returns in about two weeks, slightly longer than originally anticipated (for Thomas, not VDN). Suffering a broken left forearm that now carries a metal plate, Thomas should have no ill effects or setbacks upon his return, something that you can't say about a ligament or muscle injury. After breaking both bones and having two metal plates and 12 screws surgically inserted in my own left forearm, I know this to be true. If he wants to keep his job, VDN should give Thomas his starting job back immediately over either Taj Gibson or Brad Miller or whatever flavor of the day he has starting at PF at that time. After the All-Star game (no need to jinx him with the word "break") last year, Thomas averaged 12.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.2 spg and a category-difference-making 2.1 bpg in just 30 mpg as a 22-year old. Expect equal or better numbers once he hits his groove in the season's back nine.

Kevin Martin, SG, Sacramento Kings

Wrist surgery to repair a hairline fracture has kept Martin out for several weeks and will likely keep him out several more. He's due for a CT scan on Dec. 30 and then it will probably be two more weeks until he's back in live action. That said, if he's on your wire, you need to scoop him up right now. Even if the five games he played this year is a small sample size, you can't let 30.6 ppg, 3.4 3pg and 85.7 FT% on 9.8 FTA sit there unclaimed, no matter how small your league. There's little doubt those numbers will shrink some, but paired with a dynamic force in Tyreke Evans, he'll have plenty of open looks and might just keep those numbers somewhere close to where they reside now, which is in top 10 player territory.

Danny Granger, SG/SF/PF, Indiana Pacers

The hardest player to accurately assess on this list, Granger is a top-five fantasy stud when healthy. The injury he suffered -- torn right plantar fascia near his heel -- isn't an easy one to recover from. Right now Granger may speak optimistically about coming back early, but he has no way of knowing that and is almost assuredly going to be wrong considering the overly generous four-week timetable haphazardly being tossed about. The recovery time is more likely to be double or even triple that if, you know, history and non-team doctors have anything to say about it (7-12 weeks). That means he should be back at minimum anywhere from just before the All-Star break to sometime in March.

There's no doubt Granger can carry your team in the playoffs if he makes a full recovery, but will anybody want him playing if Indy is out of the playoff picture in March? How effective will he be after such a long layoff? And will he be capable of playing in back-to-back games, or subject to the soul-crushing random DNP in your playoffs?

In the Lab's main league, Granger was dealt a week after his injury from the first place team, who subsequently lost 8-1 in his absence, to a team on the fringe of the playoffs for players of near equal value but not quite. The thinking here is that the first-place team gets immediate relief and stays relevant with the production from the players he received, while also putting all of the risk on the fringe team. The fringe team gambled that he'll be back on the shorter end of the spectrum and will be able to tread water long enough that when Granger returns, he can ascend the team to new heights not possible before and possibly lead him to a championship. Take from that what you will, but if the Lab had to make a call, they'd prefer to jump ship and let Granger's waiting game be someone else's problem. By no means can you cut him, but if you can find decent value in return with a trade, you have to give serious thought to making the move.

If you're holding onto these guys, you shouldn't be:

Tayshaun Prince, SF, Detroit Pistons

A fringe fantasy player at best when healthy, Prince's best fantasy asset was his ability to stay healthy and play every game of his career. Now that that streak is over and other players are filling his void (Charlie Villaneuva and Jonas Jerebko), you can find replacement level players who will be better than him.

Leandro Barbosa, PG/SG, Phoenix Suns

An energizer bunny and electric scorer off the bench, Barbosa was struggling mightily this year with injuries to both wrists before a severely sprained ankle sidelined him. Due back a little after Christmas, Barbosa's three-point ability isn't needed in the same way as it was before he was injured, thanks to the emergence of Channing Frye and Jared Dudley. His playmaking skills were never strong as the backup PG to Steve Nash, and now that Goran Dragic has settled into that role nicely, he won't be relied on there, either. As a backup with two of his three major roles reduced (quick scoring being the third), there's no reason to jump on him or hold onto him. Take a wait and see approach to find if he recaptures any of the magic he had a couple of years ago.

Rudy Fernandez, PG/SG, Portland Trail Blazers

Hopefully you cut the cord when the back surgery was announced, if you hadn't already. No need to hold onto a fringe player like Fernandez.

Yao Ming, C, Houston Rockets

Early rumors of his return this year were quickly dismissed by GM Daryl Morey. This isn't going to be another Elton Brand situation, in which Yao may or may not be back for the end of the year.

Two years ago, Brand worked hard to come back form an Achilles tendon tear and managed to play six meaningless games for the lottery-bound Clippers. Why? He was an impending free agent who needed to prove he was healthy enough to warrant a big-money contract. Brand did enough to trick the Sixers into giving him a ridiculously huge contract and cost the Lab a fantasy championship that year. Yao has reportedly given indications he won't be opting out of his contract after this year, and Morey won't foolishly let him play after reconstructive foot surgery, especially with just one more year left on the deal after this season.

Greg Oden, C, Portland Trail Blazers

Keeper leaguers, it's not worth it. There are other fish in the sea. Dynasty leaguers, maybe, given how young he still is. But do you want to rest the fortunes of another season on his porcelain-like knees? The Lab wouldn't.