JJJ, Caris LeVert among anticipated returns

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Yes, the All-Star Game is happening, and yes, Team LeBron is going to win the game. I don’t make the rules. And while we’re all looking forward to Sunday night’s festivities, what’s to come after the break is even more thrilling.

A bunch of players have fallen victim to the injury bug this season including Christian Wood, D’Angelo Russell and T.J. Warren, just to name a few.

These are the guys that have taken our IL spots right now as we patiently wait to see them on the court again and simultaneously pray that they lead us to the fantasy playoffs.

We’re all in this together, as they say in High School Musical.

The good is news, however, many of those players are set to return after weeks or months on the sidelines and in the case of one Memphis Grizzlies center, a season debut is on the horizon.

Let’s take a look at five hampered players who could put up some major numbers after the All-Star break.

Baby come back!

C.J. McCollum - Had it not been for his fractured left foot, the Blazers shooting guard would be playing in the All-Star Game this weekend. He was putting up career-high numbers across the board in points (26.7), assists (five), steals (1.3), 3-pointers (4.8), field-goal percentage (47%) and 3-point percentage (44%) through 13 games. Yeah, that’s how incredible McCollum had been before getting hurt. He was playing his best basketball since entering the NBA in 2013, having scored 30+ three times including a 44-point outburst in which he hit the game-winning triple with 6.9 seconds left in overtime. He recorded over 10 assists in two of his 13 contests and though Portland has managed to go 13-9 without him, they surely want him back in the lineup, and it appears that could happen soon. The Blazers announced Thursday that McCollum has been cleared for contact practice and will be re-evaluated late next week. This is good news and we’ll always take that.

Caris LeVert - We saw LeVert light up his opponents as a member of the Nets, but what we really want to see is him make his Indiana Pacers debut and more importantly, be 100% healthy. The former Michigan Wolverine was a part of the James Harden trade that momentarily landed him in Houston before being redirected to Indiana with Victor Oladipo then finding himself in a red-and-white jersey. And the trade might have LeVert’s life, as a physical check-up would reveal he had a kidney mass. The shooting guard has since had surgery and is expected to make a full recovery and also play basketball during the second half of the season which could be as soon as this month. In 12 games with the Nets this year, LeVert was averaging 18.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and six assists on 44/35/77 shooting splits. He scored at least 20 points in seven contests including his last five before the trade and dropped 43 points vs. the Grizzlies on Jan. 8 after going 15-of-23 from the floor, 7-of-9 from deep and 6-of-6 from the line. If you’ve been stashing him, hang on just a little bit longer. LeVert is going to come back on a mission and make the Pacers a legit threat in the East. The possible return of T.J. Warren would make them even more dangerous, too.

De’Andre Hunter - It was reported Friday that Hunter didn’t need a second PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection in his knee, meaning he’ll be back a bit sooner than expected. The Hawks forward has been increasing his workload and will be checked out again on March 19 and by then, we’ll know when he’ll be back on the court. Before suffering the setback, the sophomore stud was producing top-60 numbers in 9-cat by posting a nightly 17.2 points, 5.4 boards, 2.2 assists on 51% shooting in 18 games. He poured in seven 20-point outings and scored in double figures in 17 of the 18 games he played in. And the one game he didn’t reach that mark was the one that he suffered the knee injury. Hunter is Atlanta’s third-leading scorer behind Trae Young and John Collins and his strong finishing ability and underrated perimeter defense are needed for the Hawks and fantasy managers who avoided dropping him in standard and deep leagues. The 23-year-old is sitting on over half of Yahoo waivers at the moment and I recommend following updates on his status closely over the next couple of weeks.

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Christian Wood - Like C.J. McCollum, Rockets center Christian Wood might’ve been suiting up for his first All-Star Game if not for injury. Through 17 games, the former Detroit Piston was boasting career-high averages of 22 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.5 blocks while shooting 56% from the field and 42% from the beyond the arc. He ranked 16th in 9-cat over that span and was making a case for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award — something that’s still attainable for the undrafted 25-year-old. It’s not just that Wood can hoop, but since he last played on Feb. 4, when he re-injured his ankle, the Rockets have lost 13 games in a row going into the break and have the third-worst record in the league at 11-23. But thankfully for Houston and Wood’s fantasy managers, their now-franchise player is expected to be back next week which could be as soon as Thursday, March 11 against the Kings. I’m excited and hope you are, too.

Jaren Jackson Jr. - He has yet to play a second this season and the timetable for his return has been as unclear as a fogged-up window. Seriously, when is he coming back? JJJ’s rehab for a left meniscus tear has been going well and he’s slowly been increasing his work in practice. But at this point, he could be back next week or in four weeks for all we know. The Grizzlies are sitting at .500 with a 16-16 record halfway through the season and whenever JJJ is cleared to play, they’ll make a push to secure a playoff spot like they did last year in the bubble. In 2019-20, Jackson Jr. tallied 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 2.5 triples on 47/39/75 shooting splits. He’s a solid finisher and can stretch the floor as a perimeter threat. The seven-footer is also Memphis’ second-best player and will benefit Ja Morant in a major way once he’s able to play. Please come back soon JJJ.