By Mike Barner, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The start of the NBA season is rapidly approaching, which means we’re getting into the thick of peak fantasy basketball draft season. Sometimes, it’s the players that you don’t pick that can actually help you win your league. Let’s look at a few big names that might be best left alone while compiling your squad.
Anthony Davis, Lakers
There’s no question Davis is one of the most talented players in the league, but he has seen his production decline since joining the Lakers. After averaging at least 11.1 rebounds per game in each of his final three seasons with the Pelicans, he hasn’t averaged more than 9.9 per game with the Lakers. His scoring numbers have also declined, thanks to him playing alongside LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. Still, it’s difficult to complain too much about a player who averaged 23.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.3 blocks per game last season.
The reason to avoid Davis is not because of his production; it’s because of his inability to stay healthy. He only played 40 games last season and has appeared in 76 games the previous two seasons. Going back even further, he has played fewer than 60 games in three of the last four seasons. Given it will likely take at least a mid-to-early second-round pick to acquire him in most fantasy drafts, his injury history makes him too risky.
Leonard also makes this list because of injury concerns. He didn’t play at all last season while recovering from a torn ACL, which came on the heels of him appearing in only 52 games during the 2020-21 season. Over the last five seasons combined, Leonard has appeared in just 178 games.
All reports are that Leonard enters this season healthy. The Clippers have a talented roster and have high hopes of making a deep run in the playoffs. If they are going to achieve their ultimate goal of winning a championship, they will need Leonard to be healthy when it matters most. Expect them to be conservative with Leonard throughout the season, often sitting him for at least one half of back-to-back sets. With the best-case scenario being that Leonard plays in 50-to-55 games, using an early selection on him might not be wise.
Green is a better real-life player than a fantasy asset. When he’s at his peak, he can control a game on both ends of the court. He's one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA. Offensively, while he doesn’t have a great stroke, his stellar passing ability is vital to match alongside shooters like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. He dominated at times in the playoffs last season, helping the Warriors bring home yet another championship.
The problem with Green, for fantasy purposes, is he’s a non-factor in terms of points scored. He hasn’t averaged more than 8.0 points per game in the last four seasons. The Warriors don’t look for him to score much, leaving him with a usage rate below 15.0 percent in three of those seasons. While he won’t hurt fantasy managers on the boards, he’s averaged below 7.5 rebounds per game in each of the last four seasons as well. Last season, he averaged just 2.1 more rebounds per game than Curry.
The appeal of Green is his ability to rack up assists in bunches as a big man. Also, he’s a valuable source of steals, with at least 1.2 per game every season since his rookie campaign. However, his name recognition has contributed to his Yahoo ADP of 78.3. That’s before players like Jamal Murray and Collin Sexton.
Another concern with Green is he just finished a lengthy playoff run and will turn 33 in March. If the Warriors want to repeat, they will need Green healthy during the playoffs. That means they might not push him during the regular season, potentially limiting his playing time and/or giving him more days off.
Gordon Hayward, Hornets
Hayward was excellent in his first season with the Hornets, averaging 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.9 3-pointers during the 2020-21 campaign. However, he only appeared in 44 games, once again dealing with injuries. Given his track record, giving him 34 minutes per game that season might not have been wise.
The Hornets pulled the reigns back on Hayward a bit last season, limiting him to 32 minutes per game. That didn’t help him stay healthy, though, with him only playing 49 games. The reduction in minutes also hurt his production, leaving him with averages of 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.8 3-pointers per game.
The Hornets could really use a healthy Hayward this season, with Miles Bridges still going through a legal issue. Bridges hasn’t re-signed with the team, and not only is his season in doubt but so is his entire career. The problem is Hayward has done nothing to prove he can stay healthy, failing to appear in more than 60 games since the 2018-19 season. He will also turn 33 in March, so expecting this to be the season he can stay on the floor might be too much to ask.