Let’s take a look at some trade candidates and some noteworthy trends in season-long ESPN points leagues as well as some DFS insight for Thursday night.
The LeBron Break Is Coming
It’s remarkable what LeBron James is able to do at his age and his per-game fantasy numbers are as reliable as ever. However, he suffered a left adductor strain and it could be the start of a shaky stretch for LBJ.
James has displayed a pattern of playing through injuries and being strategic with his time off during the regular season. During the 2014-15 season, LBJ took a post-Christmas extended absence (also known as his Ohio State Bowl Game vacay) before spending the next three seasons in Cleveland playing through aches and pains to shake off any narrative that he doesn’t care about the regular season.
His time in Los Angeles paints a different picture.
- 2018/19: James suffered a left groin strain on Christmas Day against the Warriors and has another post-holiday PTO stint, missing 18-straight games over the next month before coming back on January 31 for a primetime matchup against the Clippers on TNT. The Lakers would skid down in the standings during LBJ’s debut season in Lakerland and James missed nine of the final 14 contests, including the final six games after Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka put out a joint statement that they’ve consulted with the team doctors to do what is “best for the future success of both LeBron and the Lakers” and shut down the future Hall-of-Famer for the season.
- 2019/20: After an offseason that saw the team trade for Anthony Davis, LBJ battled through groin, back, and elbow injuries, while clearly gunning for an MVP award. The season was shortened because of the pandemic, though he played in 60 of the 63 games before the stoppage while ranking among the league leaders in minutes played per contest. Some speculate the break helped rejuvenate a 35-year-old LBJ and aided him on his title run.
- 2020/21: James missed just one game over the first 41 contests before suffering a high ankle sprain on a Thursday night, TNT primetime matchup against the Hawks. He would play in only two of the ensuing 28 games because of the ailment. With two games to go in the season, the Lakers had a path to avoid the play-in tournament and James returned to deliver two victories (it wasn’t enough as Portland also won out and earned the No. 6 seed). The month-and-half break didn’t help LBJ advance, as the team lost in the first round to the Suns.
- 2021/22: Following a shortened offseason, LBJ missed 10 of the first 16 games, including eight straight with an abductor strain. After a midseason game in Brooklyn, he missed five games with knee soreness before returning for a home, nationally televised game against the Knicks. The Lakers continued to slide in the standings and near the end of March, their hopes to land a top-6 seed were all but gone. LBJ played in just two of the final 10 contests with knee soreness and an ankle sprain while the team missed the play-in tournament entirely.
LeBron has a pattern of pushing through injuries when the situation dictates it, though few signs point toward the situation warranting it this year. The Lakers are off to a woeful start after an offseason of trade rumors and those are unlikely to conclude until, at the earliest, December 15 (the date many offseason acquisitions are eligible to be traded). It’s not hard to envision the Lakers taking a cautious approach with LBJ until some of the trade restrictions around the league are no longer grid-locking paths for their other two pricey veteran stars.
Suppose the Lakers take this route. How many games back will they be in the standings when LeBron finally returns healthy? And there’s the tail-end-of-the-season risk: LBJ has missed significant time during the final month of the season every year since he joined the Lakers with the only exception being the pandemic shortening the season. If the Lakers are where we project them to be in the standings come March, why wouldn’t Rob Pelinka & Co. opt to continue that trend to help ensure that the final two years of LBJ’s contract are more fruitful?
LBJ is still a great fantasy asset in season-long leagues. He’s still in the top 20 of rankings, falling to No. 18. Although, with his recent history and the situational risk in Los Angeles, he’s a major sell-high candidate at this time…even if it appears you could be selling low.
- Pascal Siakam: We went into great detail about Siakam’s rise to fantasy stardom in last week’s Fantasy Hoops. The forward was subsequently ruled out for two weeks with an adductor injury. This makes the buy-low window even more appealing. Siakam is currently no. 13 in our Top 300 and that’s factoring in the injury absence.
- Devin Vassell: The buy-low window on Desmond Bane was slammed shut and depending on your league, Vassell’s may also be closed as well. The Spurs wing is averaging career-highs in points (20.9), assists (4.3), and field goal percentage (46.2).
- Josh Giddey: The point guard has been disappointing for those who invested a top-60 pick in him. His slow start, coupled with the chatter about a potential Shai Gilgeous-Alexander trade, makes the former No. 6 overall a great trade option for fantasy managers that can afford to play the long game.
Thursday Night DFS
- Bradley Beal will miss his third straight game, as he remains in the COVID protocols, and Jordan Goodwin will again likely receive extended play. Goodwin averaged 43 fantasy points during the first two games where Beal was sidelined. It’s worth noting that the Mavs (30th in PACE per 100 possessions) and the Wizards (27th) are among the slowest-paced teams in the league, something that should always be factored in when projecting traditional stats.