By Jeff Stotts, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As we enter Week 14, injuries to significant players continue to mar the NBA season. However, even as missed games continue to pile up, the league gets one of its premier stars back this week. No, Zion Williamson has not played in a regular-season NBA game, but if the structure of the national TV schedule is any indication, Williamson is already one of the league’s top marketing assets.
Unfortunately, the Pels won’t be on national television Wednesday night, but that’s when we’ll catch our first glimpse of Williamson since mid-October. It’s anyone’s guess how he’ll be used or how many minutes he’ll play, but Wednesday night could mark a turning point for a Pelicans team that’s battled inconsistency — and its fair share of injuries — through the season’s first half.
New Orleans aside, several other teams are battling key injuries as we head toward the All-Star break. Let’s dive into what you need to know.
Chicago Bulls' Frontcourt
The Bulls frontcourt is currently besieged with injury. Forward Otto Porter continues to recover slowly from his fractured left foot and isn't expected back until the All-Star break. Teammate Wendell Carter Jr. joined him in the athletic training room after suffering a sprained ankle in a loss to the Mavericks on January 6.
The injury is being described as a high ankle sprain, an injury to a specific region of the ankle known as the distal tibiofibular joint. This important joint is situated at the bottom of the lower leg bones, where the tibia and fibula meet the talus of the ankle. A durable ligament known as the interosseous ligament stretches across the joint to connect the two lower leg bones.
Additionally, two more ligaments, the anterior and posterior tibiofibular ligaments, help stabilize the mortise of the ankle. If an injury to one of these stabilizing structures occurs, it is classified as a syndesmotic or "high" ankle sprain. High ankle sprains often take longer to heal than the more common lateral ankle sprain and Carter is expected to miss multiple weeks recovering. Look for him to return sometime after the All-Star break.
Daniel Gafford was elevated to the starting unit and was slated to see major minutes until he suffered an injury of his own. Gafford suffered a thumb dislocation Wednesday and is expected to miss two-to-four weeks. Fortunately, x-rays on the area were negative and any associated soft tissue damage will not require surgical intervention. The injury was accompanied by a laceration that will also need time to heal but shouldn't complicate his recovery.
Luke Kornet will gain fantasy relevancy by default as the last man standing. He's joined the starting lineup and scored in double-digits in four of Chicago's last six games. He was a non-factor in Monday’s loss to Milwaukee, but he started the game and was hampered by four quick fouls.
Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
Boston's starting point guard missed the team's loss to Phoenix on Saturday with a sore left knee. Normally, soreness isn't overly concerning but Walker has a long history of problems with his left knee dating back to his time at UConn. He suffered a torn meniscus in college and has undergone three knee surgeries on the joint since being drafted. A recent MRI did not reveal anything significant and Walker was back in the lineup Monday against the Lakers. However, it wouldn't be surprising to see him miss some additional time — or have his minutes monitored — moving forward. On Tuesday morning, Walker was added to the injury report ahead of Wednesday’s game against Memphis. Marcus Smart will run with the starters if Walker sits.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors guard has at long last settled on a target date for his return from a fractured left hand. Curry has not played since suffering a second metacarpal fracture on October 30. He underwent surgery to stabilize the break and underwent a second procedure in early December to have the implanted hardware removed. Now with the bone mended, Curry will begin to ramp up his basketball activities and expects to return to the court on March 1. Fantasy managers who invested in the former MVP now have a better idea of when they can expect him back, making it easier to decide whether to stand pat or consider trade options. The injury shouldn't have any long-term effects and he should be a valuable weapon for the final 22 games of the regular season.
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers played five games with Davis in street clothes as he worked his way back from a bruised gluteus maximus. A bruised backside may seem like a mild issue but the glute muscle group plays an integral role in leg stability. If the glutes are functionally limited, it can have a cascade effect on the lower leg, especially the knee. Davis, a player with a lengthy history of knee problems, cannot afford to place any undue stress on the area. He was back in the lineup Monday but was mostly ineffective against an underwhelming Celtics frontcourt. Davis finished with just nine points, four rebounds, two assists, and two blocks in 23 minutes of a game the Lakers lost by 32 points. Look for the Defensive Player of the Year candidate to be a bigger factor on Wednesday in New York.
DeAndre Jordan, Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn's veteran center did not play Monday due to a dislocated middle finger and isn't expected to back until he's reevaluated later in the week. Unlike Sixers big man Joel Embiid, Jordan's finger dislocation will not require surgery to fix and his absence shouldn't be too long. Consider benching him in most formats for the next seven days but don't rule out a return the following week.
Rookie Nicolas Claxton filled in adequately over the weekend, seeing 19 minutes against the Bucks. The rookie finished with 14 points, six rebounds, and three blocks. In Monday’s loss to Philly, he followed up with 15 points, four rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes.
Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets will be without Murray for the "foreseeable future" after he turned his ankle against the Hornets. X-rays on the area were negative and the injury is currently listed as an ankle sprain. Denver plays four games in Week 14, but it sounds like Murray will not be available for most, if not all, of the contests. Look for a more detailed update to come soon. In the meantime, Monte Morris and Torrey Craig will remain the starting backcourt for the Nuggets with Gary Harris (groin) dealing with a minor injury of his own.
CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Like Murray, the Blazers guard is hampered with an ankle sprain and was held out of Monday’s overtime win over Golden State. The injury has not been reported as anything more than a mild sprain, but it appears as though McCollum cannot be counted on for the week ahead.
The Blazers should get new addition Trevor Ariza in the mix Thursday night, but if McCollum sits again, both Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. could be names to target in DFS contests. Both players saw north of 40 minutes Monday night, but they each struggled from the floor, combining to shoot 9-of-30 overall, including just 2-of-19 from three. Even so, the workloads carry some appeal.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
The No. 1 overall pick in last summer's draft will make his NBA debut on January 22. Williamson has not played since suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee during the preseason. While his return is accompanied by notable excitement, look for New Orleans to keep close tabs on his minutes and incorporate routine days off for rest and recovery. The conservative approach will put a ceiling on his fantasy value in weekly formats but he should be a nice plug-and-play option in daily leagues.
For the gamblers out there, Williamson’s Rookie of the Year odds currently sit at +1100, via BetMGM. Given the impact he had during the preseason — plus the lack of other strong candidates outside of Ja Morant — betting Williamson could be enticing. But before you put down any cash, consider that the Pelicans have already played 44 games. Even if Zion were to play every night the rest of the way, that would put him at 38 games. Factor in the almost-guarantee that he’ll rest on certain nights — back-to-backs would seem most likely — and, realistically, the best-case for Williamson is probably closer to 30 games.
For reference, Joel Embiid played 31 games as a rookie and finished a distant third in the voting behind Malcolm Brogdon and then-teammate Dario Saric. In Embiid’s defense, he did garner 23 of 100 first-place votes, but it also must be noted that neither Brogdon’s nor Saric’s rookie years were nearly as good as Morant’s.
Even if he picks up where he left off in October and is immediately one of the most devastating finishers in the league, Williamson simply won’t have the overall body of work to mount a serious challenge to Morant, who already has 37 games under his belt. To put it bluntly: If you’re betting on Zion right now, you essentially need Morant to suffer a significant injury over the next few weeks.