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Offseason Beat

Five Guys: Injured stars set to return

by Steve Alexander
Updated On: June 16, 2020, 4:02 pm ET

It sounds like we may get the NBA back in action around July 31, although details are still being worked out on what exactly it will look like. There’s a lot of talk about 22 teams, some pool play and then some playoffs. I don’t have any idea if fantasy leagues will resume (or how they would without all 30 teams playing), or if new leagues will be started to run throughout the playoffs. But if you’re going to play any type of fantasy hoops the rest of the way this season, here are some guys who may be back from injury and might be ready to make an impact.

Ben Simmons – Simmons has reportedly been “outstanding” in rehabbing his back injury and should be ready to rock and roll when play resumes. Due to his preexisting condition with nerve impingement in his back, Simmons has been able to rehab at the Sixers’ practice facility for the duration of the shutdown and could even come back as healthy as we’ve ever seen him. “He’s been outstanding,” coach Brett Brown said. “It could be a little bit of a silver lining of this pandemic [for the Sixers], being able to get somebody as important as Ben back into our team." An interesting side note regarding his return is that it sounds like Shake Milton will take over at point guard and Simmons will start alongside Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson and Milton. Simmons, who has primarily only played point guard thus far, could end up being a heck of a point forward. He still appears to be terrified of shooting 3-pointers and they may never be a part of his game, and his free throw shooting is atrocious. But if you discount those two flaws, or play in a points format, there’s a lot to love about Simmons. And I can’t wait to see what the Sixers look at with him playing primarily off the ball.

Malcolm Brogdon – Brogdon went down (again) on March 4 with a left quad injury and was listed as “week-to-week” on March 7, and then the season was shutdown about a week later. Brogdon used his quarantine time to ride a stationary bike and run the hills in his back yard, and has since declared himself 100 percent healthy. But it’s already been an injury-filled year for Brogdon, who missed games with the quad, a concussion, an illness, a hand injury, and a back injury after playing the first 12 games of the season. Additionally, his numbers took a bit of a hit once Victor Oladipo got back into the mix and started playing better. The Pacers are currently the No. 6 seed in the East and will need Brogdon healthy and productive if they’re going to make a run. I don’t imagine he’ll have any restrictions upon his return.

Jonathan Isaac – Isaac suffered a severely sprained left knee and bone bruise at the turn of the calendar year and only started running again on May 22 and that was on an antigravity treadmill. He says he’s feeling strong but has also said that he will only play in the postseason if his knee is “110 percent” and if the organization is comfortable with his return. The good news is he didn’t need surgery and the shutdown has given him a lot of extra time to recover. The bad news is that the No. 8 seed Magic probably don’t have a realistic shot at winning a title this year, so it would make sense for the Magic to hold him out until the new season starts, hopefully around Christmas. In his 15 previous games before the injury, Isaac averaged 11.6 points, 6.9 boards, 1.3 dimes, 1.7 steals and 2.3 blocks in 30.6 minutes per game and the breakout was happening before our eyes. He’s going to probably be a third-round pick in fantasy drafts for the upcoming season and is worth stashing again this year until we see what happens in Orlando.

Jusuf Nurkic – Nurk Alert was on the verge of returning just before the pandemic and our last blurb on him from March 9 stated that no decision had been made on how many minutes he would play in his season debut on March 15. Unfortunately, that game never happened so we’re still awaiting Nurk’s return from a broken left leg suffered way back in March of 2019. It sounds like the Blazers will likely see their season resume and will fight to get into the playoffs, but how much Nurkic will play or be involved remains to be seen. Hassan Whiteside has played well this season but will have to take some kind of hit with Nurkic returning, while I don’t expect Nurkic to make a huge impact. The good news is that he’ll have had an additional three and a half months to recover and rehab, and should be good to go when the Blazers play in late July or early August. The bad news is that Whiteside isn’t going away (at least until next season) and it’s going to be hard for Nurkic to make a big dent. If you’re in a playoff fantasy league or want to add him to your regular league’s roster, go for it. But the Blazers don’t appear to be going very far in the West (assuming they actually get in at all), which hurts Nurk’s value in playoff leagues, and I like him better as an add if your standard league will somehow carry on this season.

Kevin Durant – Durant’s ruptured Achilles tendon was expected to keep him out for the entire season and that hasn’t really changed. However, with an additional three months to rehab and recover and the Nets currently sitting as the No. 7 seed in the East, anything is possible. Adrian Wojnarowski recently said on a podcast that KD is still not expected to play this season, but then rephrased his wording to say that he hasn’t heard that the Nets were planning to play KD if the season resumes. My guess if that if the Nets’ medical staff clears him and he has something to play for, we’ll see Durant sometime in August or September. He’s at least worth a stash in any format, just in case.

Bonus: Guys whose teams aren’t likely to play when the season resumes, but it’s not set in stone.

Karl-Anthony Towns – Towns was literally a disaster for his fantasy owners due to a left wrist injury that eventually became a fracture and had him listed as day-to-day, seemingly forever. He was shut down 10 days before Christmas, came back a month later, played for another month and then was finally shut down for good in February. In the end, he played in just 35 games and the guy who was always looked at as an ironman became one of the biggest fantasy disappointments of the season. Towns then tragically lost his mother, Jackie, to the coronavirus and then saw the death of George Floyd and destruction of his city that followed soon after. Despite all of that adversity, Towns was said to “desperately” want to play again this season as of February 22. And while I’d like to get a look at KAT and D’Angelo Russell running the floor together as much as anyone, the 19-win Wolves aren’t likely to be included when the season resumes, assuming the league is only going to bring back 22 teams. Given how difficult and tragic 2020 has been for KAT, I fully expect him to come back with a vengeance for the 2020-21 season.

Blake Griffin – Griffin had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee back in January but has since fully recovered and says he’s ready to go. The Pistons are 20-46 and aren’t likely to resume their season in Orlando, but as I said earlier, the specifics of what teams will return to finish the season are still not known. If the Pistons are somehow included, Griffin would be worth a look in any fantasy format. He does have the potential to stunt the growth of Christian Wood, though, so it would make sense for the Pistons to try to move Griffin in the offseason, assuming there will be one.

Clint Capela – Hawks GM Travis Schlenk has basically been begging to finish the season in order to get a chance to see Trae Young, John Collins and Clint Capela play together. The Hawks traded for Capela and his plantar fasciitis plagued right foot/heel back in February and are dying to see him play with his new teammates. Capela doesn’t sound like he’s at 100 percent still, but he’s healthy enough to get out there and run with the boys if the league will let him. But the Hawks have won just 20 games this season and it appears that they will be on the outside looking in when the season resumes. If that isn’t the case and the Hawks end up in Orlando with the other 29 teams in the league, Capela’s going to be a very hot commodity in fantasyland.

Steve Alexander

Steve "Dr. A" Alexander is the senior editor for the NBA for Rotoworld.com and a contributor to NBCSports.com. The 2020-20 NBA season marks (at least) his 20th year of covering fantasy hoops for Rotoworld. Follow him on Twitter - @Docktora.