• We are almost at the halfway point of the NBA regular season and that means we’re really into crunch time of the fantasy regular season. Some stars are returning to inject a bit of life into teams. For others, the injuries feel like they just keep piling up like a traffic from a highway wreck and no off ramp in sight.

    Regardless of how you’re feeling about your team this Sunday night into Monday morning, you’re going to want to try to stay ahead of the curve or make more adjustments. As the season progresses, you’re going to need to get more creative with the moves you make and we hope it isn’t because you are running out of IR spots. Whether you’re taking that celebratory morning sip of coffee or whether you’re still wondering how you ended up on the floor next to a bag of Wendy’s (yes, this actually happened), here are some pointers no matter what type of fantasy mood you’re in.

    Add(s) of the Night

    Norman Powell, SG/SF, Toronto Raptors – 31 minutes, 20 points, four assists, three rebounds, one steal, four 3-pointers, 8-of-14 FG

    Norman Powell’s return felt a bit overshadowed by the news of Pascal Siakam’s but you wouldn’t know that from the box score. Powell was a steady part of the Raptors offense and it speaks to the confidence the team has in him that he took 14 shots in 31 minutes after missing 11 games. It’s still possible Powell’s efficiency falls through the floor but if Sunday was any indication, his shoulder injury isn’t going to be the reason for it. The Raptors are starting to get healthy and Powell is going to maintain a key role regardless of who is suiting up for them.

    De’Anthony Melton, PG, Memphis Grizzlies – 20 minutes, 10 points, five assists, three rebounds, two steals, two blocks, one 3-pointers, 4-of-9 FG, 1-of-2 FT.

    At a certain point, you have to just acknowledge that some guys can just play. When that happens, you need to just set aside the minutes and know that the per-minute production will be there and then hope that the rest will work itself out. Melton is forcing himself into a bigger role with this Grizzlies team that is red-hot and already ahead of the rebuilding curve that most expected of them. Melton has an elite steal rate, is a good rebounder from the guard position, and has improved significantly from the stripe. His per 36-minute numbers looks like that of a future 1st rounder. He’s got a very long way to go to that level of playing time and output but for now we’ll happily accept a steady move up to the mid-20s for a guy most thought would be playing for scraps.

    Drop Zone

    We’re not saying that you have to drop any of these guys, only that you should at least consider it depending who’s on your waiver wire. Your mileage may vary based on league size and team build, but for the most part we’ll try to cut dead weight in the 12-team range.

    Troy Brown Jr.

    TBJ has carved out a nice 6th man role for the Wizards and found himself thrown into heavy minutes when the rest of the Wizards all decided to stop being healthy together. The problem for Brown is that in addition to falling apart together, the Wizards are getting put back together as well. With Washington’s version of the Killer B’s, Beal, Bryant, and Bertans, all returning back to the lineup, that other B could wind up losing all the usage he acclimated over the past few weeks. And bear in mind, the big minutes Brown was getting only amounted to just clearing the top-100. The floor here feels a lot further down than the ceiling.

    Injury Report

    There were many happy returns this Sunday and we begin with the reappearance of Kyrie Irving to the Brooklyn Nets lineup. It’s been two months since Kyrie left us with a shoulder impingement and the Nets desperately needed him back. It’s likely safe to get him back in yours as well but be mindful that the Nets may give him some games off here and there.

    Justise Winslow was back with the Heat for all of a few minutes and has left the team again with his back issues resurfacing. It may be a while before we see him on the court again.

    Malcolm Brogdon is questionable again for Monday as he deals with an illness right on the heels of being out with a back injury. It’s been a very frustrating stretch for Brogdon owners as they wait for him to get back into the Pacers starting unit.

    Domantas Sabonis has some knee soreness that resulted in him getting a “precautionary” MRI. The Pacers have been downplaying the injury but it wouldn’t be surprising if this kept him out a game or two.

    The Knicks painful season continues on as Marcus Morris remained out against the Heat with a sore neck.

    Frank Ntilikina also missed Sunday’s game with a sore groin.

    His fellow backup point guard Dennis Smith Jr. remains listed with a sore left oblique which I suppose is Knick-speak for ‘we can’t seem to get rid of this guy.’

    Mike Conley is traveling with the Jazz but remains out and still has no firm timetable on his return from a hamstring injury.

    Donovan Mitchell missed Sunday’s game against the Wizards with an illness so there’s nothing to worry about here.

    The Wizards are finally getting some good news with the return of Bradley Beal from a leg injury. The Wizards are going to be cautious with him over the next few games but he should return to his All-Star form soon.

    In addition, Thomas Bryant returned from his stress reaction to the Wizards lineup. Expect him to be eased back into things but still safe to get back into lineups.

    Like we said, many happy returns and few happier then Pascal Siakam to the Raptors lineup. Give him a few games but he’ll be back to top form in no time.

    Norman Powell is also back from a shoulder injury and the defending champs are starting to get healthy again.

    But this is the injury section and not all news can be good news so Trae Young being out with hamstring soreness is a little worrisome. Young has been very banged up this year and with the Hawks dead in the water it wouldn’t surprise us if he rested here and there.

    Paul George also has some hamstring soreness and did not play against the Nuggets. PG-13 has missed some here and there with the ailment so expect the Clippers to remain cautious with him.

    Paul Millsap was ruled out against the Clippers on Sunday. There’s been some mixed signals about just how much more time Millsap may miss so keep your eye on news before determining next steps.

    In a tough blow for Hoop-Ball’s own Richaun Holmes, the Kings announced that his shoulder injury will keep him out for another 2-3 weeks before being reevaluated. Holmes has been a rock for both the Kings and fantasy teams everywhere so we hope all effected parties can hang on in his absence.

    But Marvin Bagley will be back from his foot injury, so silver linings we suppose.

    Bogdon Bogdanovich will be out on Monday with right ankle soreness so his potential trade out of Sacramento will have to wait a little longer.

    D’Angelo Russell made his return on Sunday to the Warriors lineup after a shoulder injury. If he can stay healthy we might get to see him and Steph play together sooner rather than later.

    A trio of Pelicans are all dealing with various body strains including Derrick Favors, Jrue Holiday, and J.J. Redick. All are questionable but since Redick and Favors are dealing with hamstrings they might be closer to sitting Monday out.

    D.J. Augustin is dealing with a knee contusion and is questionable for the Magic’s tilt with the Kings.

    Aaron Gordon’s mess of a season continues on as he continues to be listed as questionable with a calf tightness.

    Karl-Anthony Towns frustratingly remains listed as questionable dispute now missing the last 13 consecutive games with a knee sprain. We’ll consider him more likely out until we hear otherwise.

    Rajon Rondo is also questionable with a finger strain.

    Dante Exum also remains questionable with an illness and if it’s not one thing keeping him off the court it’s something else.

    LeBron James sat out Saturday with an illness but is probable for Monday so he just needed a day off. Proceed as normal.

    Finally, Anthony Davis is still dealing with a sore rear end and is in jeopardy of sitting, er, missing his third straight game.

    Through the Darkness of the Night

    Of all the players that came back on Sunday, none make me happier than the return of Kyrie Irving to the Nets. This is mostly because I am a Nets fan and make no efforts to hide my brazen homerism. But the reality was that the Nets needed a big shot of adrenaline and Irving gives them just that.

    Kyrie gets plenty of detractors but there’s absolutely no denying that Irving is one of the most electric players in the league in both fantasy and reality. He’s one of the few players who can singlehandedly change the outcome of a game with his scoring ability. The Nets know that full well after experiencing a seven-game losing streak where their offense was completely anemic.

    Even with the league trending this way for some time, the Nets have traditionally been among the more faster paced and higher scoring teams in the league. During their most recent losing streak their Offensive Rating was dead last in the league despite continuing to play at the 12th highest pace in the league. The Nets maintained their torrid pace of 3-point shots except they were dead last in 3-point percentage as well. Speed doesn’t always equal putting the ball in the basket. There needs to be some skill in that department as well.

    And that is where Kyrie comes in. The Nets undoubtedly needed his genius-level scoring ability but there’s no doubt fantasy teams did as well. Few guards combine his scoring volume along with outstanding percentages and can fill up the box score on any given night. The last couple of months have been a nightmare for Irving owners as the news was sparse about his return as is the Nets way of handling these situations. But now that he’s back, owners can breathe a sigh of relief and hope the hole he left on your teams didn’t knock you completely out of contention.

    No player is injury-proof but hopefully the two months off will mean we get a fully loaded Kyrie Irving for the remainder of the season. The Nets need him, fantasy teams need him, the league in general needs him. With so many stars hurt or likely to be rested toward the end of the season, a healthy Irving and the Nets fighting for playoff positioning could result in fantasy-MVP level of play for Irving owners. A healthy star of Irving’s caliber could be the a championship ace in the hole for fantasy teams when the games really start to matter.

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