Fantasy Basketball Injury Analysis: Stephen Curry goes down at the worst time

Jeff Stotts runs InStreetClothes.com, focusing on sports injuries. He will provide short- and long-term updates on various injuries around the league. As the Fantasy season comes to a close, he takes an in-depth look at key injuries around the league. 

 Kevin Durant

The defending champs suddenly look vulnerable with injuries decimating their starting unit. Klay Thompson is expected to miss at least two more games with a fractured thumb, and Draymond Green has been dealing with a painful pelvic contusion, as well as an illness. However, it's the team's two former MVPs who are ailing worst of all.

Durant has not played since March 16 due to an incomplete fracture in rib cartilage. The rib cage is made up of 24 ribs (12 on each side), the sternum, the thoracic vertebrae of the spine, and a specialized type of tissue known as costal cartilage. The costal cartilage of the first seven pairs of ribs connects directly to the manubrium and body of the sternum. However, ribs 8 through 10 attach to the costal cartilage of the ribs directly above them. The final two ribs, 11 and 12, do not attach to the sternum but remain connected to the spine.

Following a rib injury, the injured individual often reports sharp pain with activity, particularly with breathing and trunk rotation. In some cases, the sharp pain can linger for several days following the initial injury. Time is often the best course of treatment, and unfortunately cartilage often requires more time to heal than bone.

Most costal cartilage injuries occur to the upper ribs, generally closer to the chest. They occur more frequently in contact sports like the NFL or NHL but have occurred in the NBA. In recent seasons, multiple players – including point guard Deron Williams and forward Lamar Odom – have sustained significant rib cartilage injuries.

Fantasy owners in weekly formats may want to wait another week before activating Durant but it appears those in daily leagues can look forward to a late week return. Durant was a spectator for his fifth straight game on Sunday though the team is optimistic he can be back in uniform on Tuesday or Thursday. A mid-week return would be in line with the average missed time for other NBA players to suffer similar injuries. Look for him to return to action with protective padding surrounding the injury site. Fortunately, the brace shouldn't limit his motion or shooting mechanics.

Stephen Curry

The loss of Durant will be compounded by the absence of Curry. In his first game back from a sprained right ankle, Curry suffered a left knee injury when teammate JaVale McGee fell into his leg. Further testing on the knee revealed Curry suffered a Grade 2 medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain.

While the injury is significant, it appears Curry avoided any accompanying bone or cartilage damage. As a result, Curry will not require surgical intervention. The MCL is one of the four primary stabilizers of the knee, along with the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and cruciate ligaments (ACL and PCL). The MCL is responsible for supporting the knee during lateral or side-to-side movements. Warriors fans have become familiar with MCL injuries in recent seasons, as Durant missed 19 games last year after suffering a similar injury. Curry also missed time during the 2016 postseason with a low grade MCL sprain on the opposite knee.

Curry's injury in 2016 was a Grade 1 sprain, meaning the damage was minimal and the overall integrity of the ligament was intact. His latest ailment is more moderate and problematic. A Grade 2 classification indicates damage has occurred to the individual ligament fibers and is sometimes referred to as a partial or incomplete tear. Since the 2005-06 season, NBA players to sustain a Grade 2 MCL sprain have missed an average of 21 games played or roughly six weeks of action.

The current plan for Curry is to re-evaluate his status on April 14, the same day the NBA kicks off the 2018 playoffs. However, head coach Steve Kerr stated there's "no way" Curry takes part in the first round of the postseason.

As a result, Fantasy owners in single season formats can drop Curry without hesitation. Those in keeper leagues will have to weigh their options as the injury shouldn't have any long-term ramifications but will clearly prove costly for the remainder of the year. Quinn Cook is worth a flier for the Fantasy postseason. Cook has averaged 19.8 points, 2.8 made three-pointers, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.2 steals in Golden State's last five games.

Kyrie Irving

The Celtics are also feeling the wrath of the injury bug as their own All-Star point guard is expected to miss three-to-six weeks after undergoing knee surgery over the weekend. The procedure was necessary to remove a tension wire used as part of a previous knee issue. Irving missed the final five games of the 2016 NBA Finals after suffering a fractured patella (kneecap). The injury was significant enough to require surgery and the recovery forced him to miss the first 24 games of the following season. Aside from the occasional stiffness or soreness, the knee has been a relative non-issue until recently. Irving missed time in early March with tendinitis and the associated soreness lingered. It appears the wire, used to stabilize his previous fracture, was irritating the tendon. The Celtics opted to take a proactive approach removing the wire to alleviate the root of the problem.

Multiple players in the NBA, including Durant, Brook Lopez, Julius Randle, and Rajon Rondo, have had surgical hardware like pins and screws removed from previous injury sites. While foot injuries are the usual culprit, hardware removal from the knee isn't uncommon.

With the wire gone, Irving and the Celtics medical team can focus on addressing his symptoms and treating the effects of the tendinitis. A return in the early rounds of the playoffs is possible, though Irving will likely need to continue regular maintenance on the joint. Unfortunately, Irving's situation is comparable to Curry's. His Fantasy value for the remainder of the regular season is shot. Owners invested in Irving may not have to look far for a reasonable replacement. Terry Rozier has fared well as a starter, averaging 17.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. Rozier will get plenty of minutes with teammate Marcus Smart out of the year after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb.

Fast Breaks

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak showed no lingering problems from a sprained ankle sustained mid-week. The injury forced him to miss one game but he was back in the starting lineup on Sunday, playing 38 minutes in a win over the Spurs. The Bucks forward finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Plug him back in with confidence.
  • Devin Booker: On the one-year anniversary of his 70-point game against the Celtics, Booker was in street clothes with a sprained right hand. The third-year guard has missed four straight outings since sustaining the injury but is hoping to return by Monday. However, Booker remains a risky play moving forward as the injury could negatively affect his shot. Furthermore, the Suns have already begun making moves with the draft lottery in mind which could lead the team to take a particularly conservative approach with his recovery. Tread cautiously here for the remainder of the season.
  • Chris Paul: The Rockets point guard remains limited by lingering soreness in his left hamstring. However, Houston is expected Paul back on Tuesday when the teams faces the Bulls. Consider him day-to-day for now and don't be surprised if he receives a few games off for rest with the postseason approaching.
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