By Brandon C. Williams
James Harden Fantasy Basketball owners, you can begin to embrace the horror.
The NBA’s leading scorer (32.3 points per game) and pacesetter in PER (30.6) will be sidelined indefinitely with a grade 2 hamstring strain sustained in the Rockets’ New Year’s Eve marathon win over the Lakers. As of now, the eternal optimist would suggest Harden would return to the lineup on January 18 when the Rockets host the Timberwolves, but hammies being hammies, Harden could possibly be out longer, as the more unnerving news is that Harden’s owners could be looking at a scenario where he could be out for as much as six weeks.
(Click the link for all the medical stuff. I can’t say I’m House or Trapper John, so I’ll let the story speak for itself)
So…how the hell do you replace one of the three best Fantasy Basketball players? Well, you don’t replace Harden. Rather, you find ways to survive.
Options from the current Houston roster
Let’s play the optimist card and say Harden will be out for 2-3 weeks. With that mindset, the best in-house option the Rockets have would be recently-signed Gerald Green, who has averaged 14 points in his last two games since beginning his second stint with the hometown team. Green’s True Shooting Percentage of 67 percent comes from way too small a sample size, but Green has shown he can fill up the basket in his 13-year career. Unless your league is either very deep or has a first-come, first-served waiver wire, Green is probably still available (one percent ownership in CBSSports.com leagues. Trust me, that will change significantly).
Chris Paul on first being injured and now James Harden: “The idea was to play together.” (On will he approach things In a different way with James out?) “It’s business as usual but I may average 30 points.” (On the addition of Gerald Green): “Huge.” pic.twitter.com/FYPiQpCMgK
— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) January 2, 2018
Much of the scoring will fall upon Chris Paul, Eric Gordon and Clint Capela (the latter is a sneaky good down the ballot MVP candidate), with Ryan Anderson also getting his share of the 21 field goal attempts Harden has averaged this season. All four will see their Fantasy values take a steady climb, with Paul easily the big winner as he becomes the quarterback of the second highest scoring offense in the Association. Watch Paul’s Usage Rate – currently at 24.1 – look more like the CP3 of 2015-16 when he recorded a career-best 28.1 UR.
Sifting through Free Agency
As for what else is on the Fantasy streets, I’d look at Pistons point guard Ish Smith and Timberwolves point Tyus Jones. I mentioned both in the Waiver Saviors section of my weekly Fantasy Hoops Planner on RotoExperts, but I’ll give you the Cliff Notes:
Smith is now owned in 78 percent of CBSSports.com leagues and has looked impressive in his first two starts since replacing injured starter Reggie Jackson. He’ll give you modest scoring and assists totals but won’t bring anything to the table in the three-point department (20 percent accuracy, kids). Jones is currently at 50 percent ownership in CBSSports.com leagues as he handles the point for the injured Jeff Teague for the next 2-4 weeks. While he won’t score much, he will provide assists and steals. Jones is a 47 percent shooter and a respectable 39 percent from beyond the arc, so he’s capable of scoring if needed.
I’d take a flier on Heat guard Tyler Johnson, who is averaging over 15 points per game in his last 10 and comes off a 31-point outing against the Magic on New Year’s Eve Eve. He’s an 88 percent free throw shooter who is available in 46 percent of CBSSports.com leagues. Johnson is also getting heavy minutes of late (35.2) and will continue to get his share of shots in South Beach. His teammate, Wayne Ellington (18 percent in CBSSports.com leagues) is more of an option in deeper leagues and is shooting 45 percent from 3-point range over the past two weeks.
For Harden owners, now isn’t the time to panic. Yet. He’s been known as one of the most durable players in the league and the optimistic side suggests The Beard will be back near the end of the month. However, if it looks like Harden’s return date is closer to after the All-Star Break, the time to break off Plan B (as in finding a player who can bolster either your scoring or assists in his absence) will have to be considered. Either way, this isn’t the ideal news neither the Rockets nor Harden’s Fantasy owners wanted to open 2018 with.