Fantasy life can be brutal. No matter how well you construct a team, the way the season plays out can be markedly different.
For my fantasy basketball draft in October, I had set the stage for a pretty darn good fantasy season, and it started out strong. After the first six weeks of the season, I was sitting at a record of 34-20 (.588) despite having my most expensive player (Kawhi Leonard) still on the shelf with his ongoing injury. I also had Isaiah Thomas in an IR spot. With both players waiting in the wings, I had visions of a glorious season that would only get better over time.
The injury bug hit me hard
Around that point in the season, things went from good to not-so-good. Players started getting injured. Right after a solidly-performing Dewayne Dedmon went down, his teammate, up-and-coming John Collins, also got injured. I had both on my roster at the time, but because both of my IR spots were occupied with Thomas and Leonard, I decided to drop Dedmon. Fortunately, Collins returned to the lineup soon thereafter. Still, little did I know that my fun ride coming to an end.
Over the next two months, Mike Conley, Evan Fournier, and Myles Turner also went down. Fournier was out for a couple of weeks in December, but Conley went down in mid-November and has remained out to this day (two-and-a-half months, although his return is imminent). Turner has been out since early January. Another player I picked up in late November, Austin Rivers, started to perform incredibly well for a short period of time, only to get hurt in late December (still out). I had enough and dropped him yesterday.
The reason why these injuries hurt so hard was that my two available IR spots were already filled with players who needed them. I drafted Thomas for $17, knowing that he was going to be out until around December or January. Although I got him at a discount, I realized right away that I still paid too much for him. Not only was the prospect of him fully recovering from his injury up in the air, but I was uncertain how he’d perform in the system on his new Cleveland team. Could he do what he did in Boston with a new cast of players who were better than him? Since his return, the answer to this latter question has been no. His averages have taken a hit compared to last year with decreases in points, assists, and 3-point production.
But my biggest heartache of the season has been Leonard. He was my top player drafted (and most expensive at $49) and he was supposed to be my studliest player who could seal the deal on my fantasy championship. I expected him to miss the first week or so of the season, but this expectation turned into a pipe dream when he continued to be sidelined week after week after week. Finally, in mid-December, he returned to the San Antonio lineup, but he was on a time restriction and didn’t always play on back-to-back days, which meant I was really struggling to get production out of his roster spot. About a month later he was shut down again and remains on IR. So far this season, he has played in only nine games, and the question has been floated whether the Spurs should shut him down for the rest of the season. Good grief.
The drama surrounding Leonard has taught me three important lessons:
- Be extremely careful about drafting players who are injured at the beginning of the season. Do homework and make sure that there is a definite timetable for a return.
- Remember that players who return from injury may be given serious limits for several weeks after returning. If a player is great but only plays ever other game, this means that the production from that player’s roster spot is cut in half and that it would have been better to use that spot for a player who was merely good rather than great.
- Generally avoid players on teams with enigmatic coaches. Leonard’s situation was complicated by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich‘s lack of explanation/vagueness about the nature of the injury, which meant it was hard to gauge what to do from a fantasy perspective. Whether Popovich or Bill Belichick, it’s not a good idea to draft players on teams with coaches who are rather unpredictable.
Can my team bounce back?
I am currently sitting in fifth place in the league with a record of 66-60 (.524). Fortunately, I have been able to ride the wave of my team’s early successes this far. My draft strategy has also paid dividends as my broadly-talented roster, rather than a talent-concentrated roster, has preserved my team from death due to the injury of a few good players. Still, injuries are dragging down my team because I have more injured players than I have IR spots to put them in. Since I can’t exactly drop injured players who can’t be put on IR, I have to put them on the bench, which effectively means I am carrying dead weight. It’s been like this for a while.
As my players are healed, I can potentially mount my comeback. The best news for my team is that it has a high likelihood of getting better over time just by waiting things out (assuming more players don’t get injured). If the season were to end today, I would make the playoffs (six team playoff). Since I am the fifth seed right now, I think it’s safe to assume that I can make it.
Fantasy seasons are like marathons, not races; you weather the periodic storms for a long-term approach rather than short-term gains. Let’s hope that I cross the finish line stronger than I am performing now.