Injury advice for Rubio, Nash, etc.

One of the more challenging aspects of fantasy hoops (and writing a weekly rankings column) is figuring out how to deal with injuries. With no IR in most league formats -- and seemingly countless injuries affecting top players each season -- owners are forced to make tough waiver-wire decisions on a regular basis.

The Top 130

Note: Brian McKitish's top 130 players are ranked for their fantasy value from this point forward in the 2012-13 NBA season. Previous rank is indicated in parentheses.

1. Kevin Durant, OKC (1)
2. LeBron James, MIA (2)
3. Kevin Love, MIN (3)
4. Chris Paul, LAC (4)
5. Russell Westbrook, OKC (5)
6. Kobe Bryant, LAL (9)
7. James Harden, HOU (6)
8. Serge Ibaka, OKC (8)
9. Deron Williams, BKN (7)
10. Nicolas Batum, POR (11)
11. Josh Smith, ATL (12)
12. Carmelo Anthony, NY (13)
13. Dwyane Wade, MIA (10)
14. Jrue Holiday, PHI (14)
15. Stephen Curry, GS (23)
16. Al Jefferson, UTAH (15)
17. Marc Gasol, MEM (16)
18. LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (17)
19. Rajon Rondo, BOS (18)
20. Damian Lillard, POR (19)
21. Kyrie Irving, CLE (51)
22. Brandon Jennings, MIL (20)
23. Dwight Howard, LAL (22)
24. Anthony Davis, NO (32)
25. Rudy Gay, MEM (24)
26. Ty Lawson, DEN (26)
27. Joakim Noah, CHI (34)
28. Kyle Lowry, TOR (21)
29. Greg Monroe, DET (25)
30. Paul Pierce, BOS (29)
31. Al Horford, ATL (27)
32. Mike Conley, MEM (35)
33. Zach Randolph, MEM (31)
34. Monta Ellis, MIL (30)
35. Anderson Varejao, CLE (49)
36. DeMarcus Cousins, SAC (33)
37. Kemba Walker, CHA (40)
38. Paul George, IND (44)
39. David Lee, GS (43)
40. Goran Dragic, PHO (28)
41. Chris Bosh, MIA (38)
42. Ryan Anderson, NO (48)
43. Kenneth Faried, DEN (36)
44. Brook Lopez, BKN (41)
45. Paul Millsap, UTAH (45)
46. Raymond Felton, NY (56)
47. Wesley Matthews, POR (46)
48. Roy Hibbert, IND (47)
49. Blake Griffin, LAC (50)
50. Ricky Rubio, MIN (81)
51. Pau Gasol, LAL (39)
52. O.J. Mayo, DAL (53)
53. Dirk Nowitzki, DAL (37)
54. Tim Duncan, SA (54)
55. Luol Deng, CHI (58)
56. Andre Iguodala, DEN (42)
57. Steve Nash, LAL (52)
58. Tony Parker, SA (57)
59. Kevin Martin, OKC (61)
60. Andrei Kirilenko, MIN (69)
61. Joe Johnson, BKN (60)
62. Danilo Gallinari, DEN (63)
63. Omer Asik, HOU (64)
64. Kevin Garnett, BOS (59)
65. Klay Thompson, GS (66)
66. Jeff Teague, ATL (67)
67. Evan Turner, PHI (75)
68. J.R. Smith, NY (62)
69. George Hill, IND (73)
70. Tyson Chandler, NY (82)
71. Mo Williams, UTAH (72)
72. Brandon Knight, DET (79)
73. John Wall, WSH (65)
74. Gerald Wallace, BKN (84)
75. Marcin Gortat, PHO (55)
76. Dion Waiters, CLE (76)
77. Carlos Boozer, CHI (77)
78. Andrea Bargnani, TOR (70)
79. Jameer Nelson, ORL (87)
80. Tyreke Evans, SAC (78)
81. David West, IND (96)
82. JaVale McGee, DEN (86)
83. Manu Ginobili, SA (83)
84. Thaddeus Young, PHI (93)
85. Nikola Pekovic, MIN (71)
86. Jamal Crawford, LAC (92)
87. Greivis Vasquez, NO (91)
88. Marcus Thornton, SAC (68)
89. Arron Afflalo, ORL (88)
90. Jason Richardson, PHI (95)
91. Lou Williams, ATL (97)
92. Amare Stoudemire, NY (94)
93. Glen Davis, ORL (100)
94. DeAndre Jordan, LAC (85)
95. Jeremy Lin, HOU (74)
96. J.J. Hickson, POR (98)
97. Nene Hilario, WSH (89)
98. Derrick Favors, UTAH (99)
99. Larry Sanders, MIL (126)
100. Ersan Ilyasova, MIL (109)
101. DeMar DeRozan, TOR (101)
102. Chandler Parsons, HOU (102)
103. Patrick Patterson, HOU (104)
104. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, CHA (80)
105. Gordon Hayward, UTAH (108)
106. Kawhi Leonard, SA (111)
107. Chris Kaman, DAL (106)
108. Ray Allen, MIA (112)
109. Jason Terry, BOS (110)
110. Luis Scola, PHO (115)
111. Rodney Stuckey, DET (120)
112. Antawn Jamison, LAL (130)
113. Robin Lopez, NO (NR)
114. Jason Kidd, NY (125)
115. Byron Mullens, CHA (90)
116. Andrew Bynum, PHI (107)
117. Metta World Peace, LAL (117)
118. Ramon Sessions, CHA (103)
119. Eric Gordon, NO (NR)
120. J.J. Redick, ORL (114)
121. Jordan Crawford, WSH (NR)
122. Ben Gordon, CHA (127)
123. Chauncey Billups, LAC (105)
124. Derrick Rose, CHI (124)
125. Nikola Vucevic, ORL (128)
126. Andre Drummond, DET (NR)
127. Markieff Morris, PHO (NR)
128. Luke Ridnour, MIN (118)
129. Gerald Henderson, CHA (NR)
130. Andray Blatche, FA (NR)

This season has been no different on the injury front, as top-50 talents like Derrick Rose, Ricky Rubio, John Wall, Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bynum, Eric Gordon, Danny Granger and Amar'e Stoudemire (debatable if the last two are still top-50 caliber when healthy) have yet to step foot on the court this season. And that's not even counting the in-season injuries to players like Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Steve Nash and Kawhi Leonard.

With a number of the above players hoping to come back before the end of December, it could be a very happy holiday season in the fantasy hoops world. Irving and Davis owners won't even have to wait that long as both are expected to return to their respective lineups this week. I don't know about you, but I sure could use Irving's 22.9 points, 5.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.8 3-pointers per game as well as Davis' 16.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 2.2 blocks per night right now.

Here's a look at the rest of the list. (And for the record, I'm shocked that I'm writing an injury column in December without having to mention Stephen Curry.)

Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves -- Rehabbing from knee surgery, Rubio is slated to make his much-anticipated return sometime within the next two weeks. Rubio was a dynamic fantasy player last season, posting 10.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 2.4 steals and 0.8 3-pointers per game while shooting 82.8 percent from the free throw line in 31 starts as a rookie. Reports that his lateral quickness and conditioning are still a work in progress should keep our expectations grounded for at least the first few weeks after his return. I expect the Wolves to bring him along slowly, so don't get discouraged if his minutes are limited at least initially. Remember, at 100 percent, Rubio is a top 30-35 fantasy option. His return will likely render Luke Ridnour useless in all but the deepest of fantasy leagues, but he should have a positive impact on the rest of the Minnesota lineup thanks to his slick passing skills.

Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks -- Dirk's recovery from a knee injury is coming along slower than originally expected; although he's started to run and shoot, he's still a few weeks away from returning to game action. At this point, we're probably looking at a late December or early January return for the Mavs big man. Nowitzki, who averaged 21.6 points, 6.7 boards, 0.7 steals and 1.3 3-pointers in a down year last season, is not quite the fantasy force he once was, but he's still a top-30 player when healthy. Conservatively speaking, we should expect him to be back at full strength and cutting into O.J. Mayo's 15.3 shot attempts sometime in mid-January.

Steve Nash, PG, Los Angeles Lakers -- Nash, who has been out with a leg injury, hopes to return sometime within the next two weeks. He's missed his return date a few times already, but all indications point to him being back on the court fairly soon. Nash has only played in two games for the Lakers this season, so we still don't know exactly how they'll gel as a team once they are completely healthy. I think it's safe to assume that he'll still be a big-time contributor in assists and 3-pointers upon his return. Pau Gasol, meanwhile, is expected to be back in the lineup this week but continues to move down in the rankings, not just because of his knee injury but also due to his poor production alongside Dwight Howard to date.

Amar'e Stoudemire, PF/C, New York Knicks -- Amar'e is getting closer to making his season debut, and you can bet that his role upon his return will be much debated in New York as the Knicks are off to a fast start without him. Owned in 74.3 percent of ESPN.com leagues, STAT should probably be picked up in all leagues at this point, even if his return date isn't set in stone. For all of his troubles last season, he still managed to average 17.5 points, 7.8 boards, 1.0 blocks and 0.8 steals in just 32.8 minutes per game, so he should still be productive even if his role is slightly reduced this season. Look for Stoudemire to settle in at around 30-32 minutes per game after the New Year, and be prepared for his return to negatively impact Tyson Chandler's sudden scoring binge.

Kawhi Leonard, SG/SF, San Antonio Spurs -- After missing a month with a quad injury, Leonard is expected to be back in action within the next two weeks. The steals specialist, who averaged 10.6 points, 5.4 boards, 2.0 steals and 1.0 3-pointers per game prior to the injury, is owned in just 41.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues. With his upside and potential in steals, owners should grab him now before it's too late.

John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards -- We are already well past the initial eight-week time frame given for Wall's return from a knee injury, and while there are some reports that he'll return in time for the holidays, there's still no official timeline coming from the Wizards. This situation is becoming increasingly frustrating for those owners who have held onto Wall for this long, particularly when the 2-15 Wizards have little incentive to rush their prized possession back onto the court. The good news is that Randy Wittman insists that there have been no setbacks in Wall's recovery. Still, I'm not going to expect anything from Wall until January at the earliest. Let's cross our fingers that it's not any longer than that, because there are plenty of fantasy owners who could use his per-game averages of 16.3 points, 4.5 boards, 8.0 assists and 1.4 steals.

Andrew Bynum, C, Philadelphia 76ers -- If Wall owners think they are frustrated, imagine how Andrew Bynum owners feel? With Bynum "out indefinitely" and seeing that he is owned in only 49.2 percent of ESPN.com leagues, some fantasy players are beginning to wonder if they will ever see Bynum on the court this season. I still have Bynum tentatively listed at No. 116 in the top 130 and will continue to rank him until after his next MRI (Dec. 20), simply because he has incentive to get back on the court (contract year) and is a top-20 player when healthy. If we don't hear any concrete news by then, I'll be ready to drop him out of the ranks.

Eric Gordon, SG, New Orleans Hornets -- Gordon has said that the pain in his knee is subsiding, and the Hornets expect him to be able to return at some point in December. Unfortunately, his official return date is still up in the air. There's certainly enough talent here to warrant a speculative pickup (43.9 percent owned), but I still worry about Gordon's ability to remain on the court once he returns. It really is a shame, because Gordon is a very good fantasy player when healthy; he averaged 20.6 points, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 3-pointers in just nine games last season and would have considerable value if he could ever find a way to overcome his injury issues.

Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls -- Rose has begun sprinting and cutting on his surgically repaired knee, which can only be good news for the 59.9 percent of you who have stashed him in ESPN.com leagues. But let's not get carried away here. The Bulls have said that Rose won't return until he's 100 percent healthy, and at this point, he's still a long way from helping fantasy owners. The target date for Rose owners should be right around the All-Star break; if he returns by then, he could pay major dividends in the second half of the season.

Danny Granger, SF, Indiana Pacers -- Granger is progressing well from his knee injury, but he's still not expected to be back on the court until February at the earliest. He's owned in only 23.8 percent of ESPN.com leagues, so let's keep an eye on his recovery as we get closer to his return date.