I've received quite a few questions in recent weeks from owners in keeper leagues wondering how to handle their injured players. Because there are myriad ways to run keeper leagues, the answer quite often depends on league rules and how much it may cost to keep a player for next season. In some leagues, you simply need to own a player at season's end to be able to keep him for the 2014-15 campaign. In others, it will cost you a high draft pick or a chunk of your salary cap.
So, speaking in general terms, and looking at waiver-wire players who likely are out for the remainder of the season, I rank the top 10 in terms of expectations for the '14-15 season. Hopefully, this will give those of you in keeper leagues a good guideline when assessing their keeper values and in redraft leagues as you look ahead to next season.
1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: Hypothetically, there remains a chance that Irving will return this season, though we have every reason to be skeptical; just as we do about his ability to stay healthy at any point of an 82-game campaign. At this stage of his three-year career, Irving is averaging 20.8 PPG, 5.9 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.7 3-PPG, 44.7 FG% and 86.0 FG%. He turned 22 Sunday, so it's easy to see that he has top-five potential in Fantasyland. On the other hand, he played just 11 games during his lone season at Duke, and if he doesn't return this season, he will have averaged missed an average of 18.7 games per season as a pro.
With that tremendous upside, he absolutely is a top keeper. The question is how much you should be willing to invest in him. I'm a sucker for potential, so come next fall, I may be willing to draft him late in the first round with the intention of trading him as soon as possible. His keeper value should be in that first/second-round range. Ideally, come October, I will re-read my take on Derrick Rose below and not overreach on Irving.
2. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans: Entering the 2013-14 campaign, Holiday had missed just five games the previous three seasons, so I'm willing to write off the stress fracture in his leg as a fluke, even though it required surgery to repair. He will be 24 next season and has plenty of room to improve on his already impressive production, especially if he starts shooting more 3s (37.6 3-FG% but just 2.6 3-FGA per game for his career). I also wouldn't be surprised to see his field goal percentage rise over 45 percent as he and the Pelicans mature. He's worth a heavy investment in keeper leagues in my opinion.
3. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers: By the time he leaps for his first jump ball as a pro, it will have been more than 20 months since he tore his ACL. During his lone campaign with Kentucky, he averaged 10.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 4.4 BPG, 2.1 SPG, 59.0 FG% and 52.9 FT%. It may take a year or two before his offense kicks into gear, but at just 20 years old next season, Noel should be a very valuable keeper. The ACL is a concern, but huge block production in fantasy will make him worth consideration after the surefire studs are off the board in redraft leagues.
4. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks: As a player who didn't crank out any special stats like big block totals, Horford often flew under the radar. He was a darling in points leagues, though, because of his high-end FG percentage, quality assist production for a big man and consistent double-double tallies. Yet, two of his past three seasons ended early because of torn pectoral muscles, costing him a total of 124 games. Propensity for serious muscle injuries has to be a concern. I'd be inclined to draft Horford early and trade him before it's too late. He's a solid keeper, especially in points leagues, but tread cautiously.
5. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls: For those who have lost track of the count on his knee surgeries, he missed the 2012-13 campaign because of a torn ACL in his left knee and all but 10 games this season following surgery that repaired a torn meniscus in his right knee. I ate a big crow pie after touting Rose as a top-three pick this season. It was a harsh reminder of my general policy of avoiding injury-prone players unless they fall far enough in a draft. At this point, I wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot basket extension unless he falls to the mid-rounds next season. He's going to have to prove that he can play a full 82-game slate before I will go near him. As for his keeper value, he'll be just 26 when next season tips off, so the potential remains, but there must be at least 20 players I'd rather have right now.
6. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets: Maybe no player in the league is as perplexing to assess as Lopez. He's 7-feet tall but hasn't averaged even 7.0 RPG since his sophomore campaign. He didn't miss a single game during his first three seasons but has totaled just 96 games during his past three campaigns. In hopes of getting him through a full 82-game slate next season, Lopez had reconstructive foot surgery that shifted bones in his right foot and had a procedure that repaired a torn tendon and cleaned up his left ankle. The surgery on his foot was the fourth in three years. A healthy 26-year-old Lopez next season would be one of the better bigs in fantasy, capable of 20 PPG, 6-7 RPG, 2.0 BPG and great percentages. That makes him an intriguing keeper, but only at a price that matches the obvious risk.
7. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: My opinions regarding Bryant's health and age versus his fantasy potential are well-documented. I didn't buy him coming off a ruptured Achilles this season, and I won't be buying him next season coming off of knee surgery, either. Here are some numbers to consider when deciding whether he's worth a spot on your keeper roster: 36 years old, 1,275 games played, 24,374 field goal attempts, 45,567 minutes played. In other words, you'll have to have a thin roster or be able to keep him on the ultra-cheap to make it worth your while. Kobe Bryant may play again, but the Black Mamba is done.
8. Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Hornets: Anderson hasn't played a game since Jan. 3, yet there was a mid-March report that the herniated discs in his back remained an issue. Obviously, that's pretty concerning. As a power forward who can rack up big 3-point production, Anderson is a poor-man's Rashard Lewis. If he requires back surgery, though, his long-term value could be at risk. I'd keep him only if it is an inexpensive move.
9 (Tie). Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks and JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets: Both of these big men had lost seasons because of injuries, but they should be fully healthy long before next season tips off. As shot-blocking specialists, both of them are worth consideration as keepers on the cheap.