Injuries continue to be a common theme in the NBA, and as depressing as they can be, some do at least provide opportunities for other players to step into larger roles. Let’s highlight five players who have moved into more prominent roles and discuss their fantasy basketball outlooks moving forward.
Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets
It looked like Sengun was primed to take off this season after the Rockets dealt Christian Wood to the Dallas Mavericks. However, he inexplicably came off the bench in the first three games of the season behind Bruno Fernando and Usman Garuba. He was moved into the starting five in the sixth game of the season, but he still only averaged 26 minutes through his first 34 games.
Finally, the Rockets have started to play him more. Over the last 11 games, he has logged an average of 34 minutes. Part of that has coincided with the absence of Kevin Porter Jr. (foot), who has missed eight straight games. Sengun has the ball in his hands more with Porter out, which is good because he is one of the better passing centers in the league. His expanded role has resulted in him averaging 20.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks since Porter went down. His contributions in terms of points and assists will likely decline once Porter gets healthy, but he may have finally locked himself into a heavy dosage of playing time for the duration of the season.
Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
Kessler was one of the players that the Jazz acquired in the trade that sent Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The rookie was known for his shot-blocking prowess in college, but he entered the season stuck behind Kelly Olynyk for playing time. Still, he showed promise, averaging 6.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks over his first 40 games.
Olynyk then went down with an ankle injury, which pushed Kessler into the starting lineup. He has taken the job and run with it, providing 11.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks over eight games. The Jazz have been falling down the standings in the Western Conference, so if they look to move Olynyk at the trade deadline, Kessler could hold onto a starting job for the remainder of the season. Even if they don’t trade him, Kessler has likely earned himself more playing time and possibly a full-time starting gig.
Tre Jones, San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs decided to dive deeper into a rebuild during the offseason by trading Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks. It freed up the starting point guard spot for Jones, who showed promise when given added playing time last season. He is averaging 30 minutes per game this season, putting up 13.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals.
As good as his overall numbers are, Jones has been better in the scoring department since Devin Vassell (knee) went down. Since Vassell was injured, Jones has averaged 15.1 points, with 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.2 steals over 12 games. Vassell likely won’t be back until after the All-Star break, and the Spurs should take a cautious approach with him once he does return. Jones could eventually see a slight decline in his scoring contributions, but he should remain a valuable fantasy option.
Thomas Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers didn’t enter this season with much depth up front. That was concerning, given that Anthony Davis had played fewer than 60 games in three of the last four seasons. He then suffered a foot injury in the middle of December, putting the Lakers in a difficult position at center. They turned to Bryant, who had seen inconsistent minutes with the second unit.
Bryant gave the Lakers everything they could have hoped for and then some. Over the next 20 games as a starter, he averaged 15.4 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 61.4% from the field and 81.3% from the free-throw line. If you were lucky enough to grab him off the waiver wire, he has been a valuable source for production.
As good as Bryant has been, his time as someone to roster in fantasy might have ended. Not only did Davis return Wednesday against the Spurs, but the Lakers also added to the frontcourt by acquiring Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards. With them both available, Bryant had only eight points and five rebounds over 21 minutes. He may struggle to play much more than that on a nightly basis moving forward.
T.J. McConnell, Indiana Pacers
The Pacers got off to a surprisingly hot start this season with Tyrese Haliburton at the helm. The young point guard took his game to another level, putting up 20.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 10.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 3.0 3-pointers over 40 games. With him playing so well, and even Andrew Nembhard showing some promise, minutes weren’t abundant for McConnell.
Things turned on a dime for McConnell when Haliburton suffered a knee injury that has sidelined him for the past eight games. Even Nembhard (illness) has missed both of the last two games. McConnell has exploded with more playing time, averaging 16.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.9 3-pointers since Haliburton got hurt. Amazingly, he also shot 67.5% from the field while not missing a single free throw. For those who added McConnell, ride the wave for as long as you can, because once Haliburton returns, McConnell should revert to limited minutes.
Mike started covering fantasy sports in 2007, joining RotoWire in 2010. In 2018, he was a finalist for the 2018 FSWA Basketball Writer of the Year award. In addition to RotoWire, Mike has written for Sportsline, Sports Illustrated, DK Live, RealTime Fantasy Sports, Lineup Lab and KFFL.com.