Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Analyzing injury risk for Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins, more

A number of the key games for the NBA season have been revealed, and the entire schedule is slated for release later this week. That means Fantasy owners can start peaking at the calendar to see if their favorite players are adequately progressing through offseason rehab.

Let's take a look at some of the notable players hoping to be ready for Opening Night.

Kawhi Leonard, Raptors

The Kawhi saga finally ended when the Spurs sent the former Finals MVP to the Raptors in a trade package centered around DeMar DeRozan. Leonard spent most of the 2017-18 season sidelined by a quadriceps injury that ultimately led to conflict between Leonard's camp and the Spurs' medical team.

It was reported that Leonard spent the year battling a tendinopathy in the large muscle group known as the quadriceps. Unfortunately, the term tendinopathy can be a bit misleading, as it has become somewhat of a catch-all term for anything wrong with a tendon. This means the injury can be anything from tendinitis to an actual degenerative disease of the tendon. However, the chronic nature of Leonard's injury suggests it is more than a simple strain and could remain a problem entering his first season in Toronto.

It may take Leonard playing in the preseason before concerns about his health dissipate. Even then, a sustained stretch of good health would be needed for him to return to top form. Remember, Leonard hasn't truly looked like himself since last May. Fortunately, Toronto's medical team is a well-respected group and has had success in the past managing muscle-related injuries. As a result, Leonard remains a high-risk, high-reward selection in Fantasy drafts, change of scenery aside.

DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors

Cousins' decision to join the Warriors sent shockwaves through the NBA, as few would have predicted the reigning champions adding a talent of Boogie's caliber. However, a move to The Bay was an incredibly smart decision by the All-Star big man as he works his way back from last season's torn Achilles. A ruptured or torn Achilles tendon has historically been a career-altering injury. Few players have returned to their previous level of play following the injury, and Cousins' size could complicate his recovery.

However, the pressure for a quick return will be mitigated by Cousins' choice to join a proven team like the Warriors. If he had joined a would-be contender, the pressure to bring him back may have accelerated his rehab at the potential risk of his long-term health. Instead, the highly touted Warriors' medical team can slow-play his return to action knowing the team is well beyond capable of winning without him. With that in mind, the anticipated dip in productivity and likely prolonged recovery will limit Cousins' Fantasy value. While, he could be worth a stash for a late season boost, it will be risky to make Cousins an integral part of your Fantasy roster.

Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks

Porzingis' recovery could also be delayed, but for entirely different reasons. The big man suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) back on February 6 in a game against the Bucks. The tear was surgically repaired a short time later, and Porzingis has spent the last six months rehabbing and working on his associated biomechanics. NBA players, especially young ones, are more than capable of bouncing back following this once devastating injury. Porzingis' long-term prognosis is particularly promising since the damage was isolated to the ligament and did not involve any cartilage structures.

However, time remains key, and the average return to play following an ACL tear is roughly 11 months. As a result, expecting to see Porzingis in 2018 may be long shot. The Knicks' place in the standings by that time may also influence when he returns to action. If the team is struggling, which seems rather likely, they could opt to hold out the current face of the franchise for additional time beyond his full recovery. As a result, Porzingis remains a particularly risky investment.

Gordon Hayward, Celtics

Hayward's debut season with the Celtics lasted all of five minutes, as the forward suffered a gruesome ankle injury on Opening Night. Hayward suffered a dislocated ankle and broke the bones of his lower leg. Surgery was needed to repair the fracture site. A second procedure was performed in late May to remove the plate and screws in his fibula. Apparently, the hardware was irritating the tendons of the stabilizing muscles of the ankle.

Hayward's recovery was well-documented online, as videos of him dunking and performing other basketball-related activities emerged. He will be a full year removed from the injury when the Celtics tip off the season, and Hayward is expected to receive full clearance prior to training camp. Bone injuries often appear scary but can be less problematic than injuries to ligaments or muscles. With time, bone tissue can return to its original strength and players often are able to return to high levels of competition. However, don't be surprised if the team opts to give him routine days off throughout the year to ensure his long-term durability.

Kyrie Irving, Celtics

Hayward's injury was a visible and gut-wrenching one, though one of his teammates endured an equally scary injury late last season. Irving was unable to finish his first year with the Celtics following a pair of surgeries on his left knee. The initial procedure was required to remove a tension wire surrounding his kneecap. The surgical hardware had been previously inserted after Irving suffered a broken patella during the 2015 NBA Finals. The team hoped that removing the wire would alleviate recurring inflammation within the joint. However, testing performed after the surgery revealed a bacterial infection and a secondary procedure was needed to remove the surgical screws still present in the knee.

Irving then underwent intensive treatment to battle the infection that included the insertion of a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line. The PICC line was used to deliver medication and was the primary reason Irving was not able to make a return during Boston's extended postseason run.

Fortunately, the PICC line has been removed and, like Hayward, Irving is expected to be ready for training camp. With the hardware removed and the infection addressed, look for Irving to return to an All-Star level in 2018-19.

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