Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic.
Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's Jim McCormick, Joe Kaiser and Kyle Soppe, and DFS expert Renee Miller.
When healthy, Kawhi Leonard is a sure-fire top-10 fantasy player, but he's seen only sporadic game action since returning from his quadriceps injury, and now he's out with a shoulder injury. Should fantasy managers acquire him on the cheap or trade him away before it's too late?
Renee Miller: Leonard is a rare player in the NBA, and I'm holding or acquiring him if I can. I understand the concern of injury upon injury here, but I also understand the Spurs operating with an abundance of caution with such a unique talent as Leonard.
It's not uncommon to experience small muscle tears like the one he's now dealing with in his shoulder. The truth is that heavy weightlifting induces muscle tears too; the rebuilding and repairing of those tears is how we get stronger. I believe this new shoulder injury is as minor as the team is indicating, and with one of the best medical staffs in the league, I trust he's in good hands.
Fully healed, I expect there to be no stopping Kawhi from getting back to his torrid production of the past two seasons. He's been a healthy player for his first six seasons, peaking last year with around 25 PPG, 6 RPG and 3.5 APG, so I reject the idea that he is suddenly an injury risk.
In the four games before the shoulder strain, Leonard was back to scoring around 20 points per game. Most importantly, he had four steals in each of the past two and three blocks in his most recent game. The defensive "hustle" stats tell the story of an aggressive player for whom the 20-point offense has been icing on the cake. A little patience with Leonard will be worth his multi-category production in a week or two.
Joe Kaiser: Based on what we saw from Leonard after his return last month, this isn't a player you want to be trading for any time soon. We've seen with Joel Embiid just how frustrating it can be to have an elite player who continually misses time as the team gives him regular rest, and that's what is happening with Leonard, too, though without the elite production (15.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1 BPG, 1.4 3PG).
Now you add in partial tear of his left shoulder, and we're talking about a guy who may not be able to match his current numbers once he returns to the court. The only way I'd trade for Leonard is if another fantasy manager is willing to give him away for pennies on the dollar.
Kyle Soppe: It's always a matter of the price point, but I'd be more likely to invest in him at this point than to cut ties. I understand the risk that comes with him from a health perspective at this very moment, but the odds are good that the team with him rostered is fading quickly and is thus open to moving him at his reduced value. I just can't pass that opportunity up.
In his three seasons prior to this one, Leonard was playing nearly 33 minutes per game and, albeit only an eight-game sample size, if you extend his current averages to 33 minutes a night, you're looking at 23.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 4.1 blocks-plus-steals. I'm fine with not calling him an elite fantasy player this season, but the upside outweighs the risk at his current asking price in most leagues.
Jim McCormick: The Spurs are 24-10 sans Leonard in the lineup this season. The team is undoubtedly better with Leonard in the lineup, but they also sport a pace for 58 wins under such conditions, creating a unique scenario that affords the team time to get their superstar right. Given how LaMarcus Aldridge has capably handled a significant surge in usage with Leonard out this season -- enjoying opportunity and production rates that mimic his best days in Portland -- the stress to replace Leonard's offensive influence is lessened.
This all said, I want to leverage these narratives in trade talks for Leonard, as this is still a two-time Defensive Player of the Year who has enjoyed a somewhat historic offensive evolution over the past four seasons. Leonard could be dominating or resting come the stretch run, thus he's somewhat of a distressed asset.
The fact this is his second significant injury of the season is disconcerting, but it also opens up a window to land a first-round talent at fourth-round pricing. There are a lot of "ifs" involved in dealing for an injured superstar, but I'll almost always pursue a sizable discount on a player with Leonard's pedigree and potential.
There is real risk and some potential for regret baked into a deal for Leonard, especially on a team that has proved to be successfully patient already, but if I can deal say Otto Porter Jr. or Jayson Tatum in some package for Leonard, that's a potential league-winning move for me come March.