By Jeff Stotts, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
On the eve of the NBA preseason, Jeff Stotts checks in on the key injuries around the league that fantasy players should monitor.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Westbrook’s recent knee surgery is setting up to be the most impactful injury of draft season. The Thunder guard underwent a “minor” knee scope in mid-September and is yet to receive clearance to resume full basketball activities.
The procedure marks the fourth surgery on Westbrook’s right knee, but the first since the 2013-14 season. While the distance between surgeries is a positive, the quantity of procedures remains worrisome. The initial surgery repaired a torn lateral meniscus — the shock absorbing disc located on the outside area of the knee. He then had two follow up procedures, including one to address a frayed stitch at the injury site. His most recent surgery was necessary after he reported swelling and tightness in the joint.
It’s likely Westbrook underwent a debridement, in which the problematic tissue is removed. While excising the tissue now will provide Westbrook with immediate relief, it could negatively impact his long-term health. This is particularly true when paired with Westbrook’s uniquely frenetic style of play.
The Thunder’s top-rated medical team will reevaluate Westbrook in a few weeks and should hopefully provide a more definitive timeline on his expected return. An opening night appearance remains possible but it wouldn’t be surprising if he misses a few games as a precaution to start the year. Westbrook remains a top-10 fantasy option but does come with a discernible degree of inherent risk — more so this season than in years past.
Lonzo Ball, Lakers
The second-year guard did not partake in Los Angeles’ first practice session as he continues to recover from offseason meniscus surgery. The knee injury occurred late last season and Ball initially opted for conservative treatment, undergoing PRP injections on the area. However, surgery was ultimately needed and it sounds like Ball underwent a debridement procedure, similar to the one Westbrook just required.
The Lakers are pleased with his progression and plan on him receiving full clearance in the near future. Still, the team appears committed to managing his rehab protocol carefully, limiting his participation in certain drills. It appears this will also carry over into the beginning of the regular season as veteran Rajon Rondo is slated to start at point guard. Don’t let the injury and apparent demotion fool you — Ball remains poised for a bounce-back year after an inconsistent rookie campaign and could be a steal for an opportunistic fantasy owner.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
The former league MVP has gotten off to a slow start in training camp as he battles lingering soreness in his ankle. Nowitzki underwent surgery in the offseason to remove a sizeable bone spur that was limiting his range of motion in the joint. This isn’t Dirk’s first ankle surgery as the Big German underwent a similar procedure way back in 2002. With the osteophyte gone, Nowitzki should have easier time moving up and down the court.
Time has clearly slowed him down, but Dirk remains a top-100 talent, even with his likely move to the bench. Look for him to be gradually worked back into the mix as the preseason unfolds.
Dion Waiters, Heat
The Heat guard has not played since December 2017 after undergoing surgery to repair a ligament injury in his ankle. He also addressed a pre-existing foot fracture at that time. Unfortunately, his recovery is expected to extend into the regular season, with team president Pat Riley stating that it’s “unlikely” Waiters is available to start the year.
It seems likely the bone-related injury is more of a concern than the ankle repair. Waiters fractured his navicular bone; a bone that has historically been slow to heal for basketball players. Joel Embiid missed the first two seasons of his professional career recovering from stress-induced fractures to the navicular, while a fracture of that same bone cost Michael Jordan most of his second season in the NBA. Fantasy owners would be wise to look elsewhere for the immediate future.
Omer Asik, Bulls: The center is out indefinitely with inflammatory arthritis. The chronic condition can wreak havoc on the joints, causing the individual to experience functionally limiting pain. Asik’s condition could easily be linked to another chronic disorder the big man manages — Crohn’s disease.
Asik was diagnosed with the inflammatory bowel condition prior to last season after a long bout with intestinal issues. Individuals who suffer from Crohn’s are more prone to arthritis, particularly at a younger age. The setback is unfortunate for the veteran big man but further strengthens the chances that Wendell Carter sees heavy minutes as a rookie.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kings: The 26-year-old guard has undergone two surgeries on his left knee since the conclusion of the 2017-18 season and is expected to miss the start of the year. The first procedure was needed to address a small meniscus tear while the follow up was necessary after he injured the knee playing for the Serbian National Team. Bogdanovic nonetheless remains a serviceable fantasy option despite the setback, especially for owners targeting a consistent three-pointer shooter in the later rounds of drafts.
Devin Booker, Suns: The star guard is making good progress in his return from recent hand surgery. Booker has a ligament repaired at the base of his pinkie at a joint known as the fifth metacarpophalangeal joint.
He recently had his sutures removed and could be back a bit sooner than the six-week window initially provided. As a result, it remains possible for Booker to be in uniform when the team plays the Mavericks on October 17.
Malik Monk, Hornets: After a thumb injury limited his time in summer league, Monk is now dealing with a pelvic contusion. Fortunately, the injury appears mild and the team remains optimistic he will be available for their first preseason matchup against the Suns. Like Ball, Monk is set for a breakout season after an underwhelming start to his career.
Michael Porter Jr.: The rookie forward fell into Denver’s lap on draft night, largely due to concerns about his back. Porter has undergone multiple surgeries to address a lingering disc issue in his spine. He is reportedly making progress, but it’s likely that the Nuggets take an extremely conservative approach with his recovery, especially given their depth in the front court. Porter’s value is higher in keeper or dynasty formats but remains limited in standard leagues.