The NBA season can be a grind with 82 games including back-to-backs and tons of travel. As sports science is evolving, the link between fatigue and injury is now undeniable, and teams are somewhat mitigating their risk by having players rest, which earns them the controversial “DNP-Rest” tag on box scores, which often surprises fantasy basketball owners.
Some disagree with this practice as it deprives fans of an opportunity to see their favorites perform, oftentimes after they have already purchased tickets. Still, others maintain that it’s simply a sign of the times, that in an era when athletes are taking care of the bodies (and thereby maximizing their earning potential) like never before, the rest revolution is a positive step towards increasing longevity.
Regardless of where you fall in the rest debate, the reality is that the practice does appear to be here to stay, and as the season winds down we should expect to see more of it. It makes plenty of sense, as teams want their players at 100 percent when the playoffs begin.
For fantasy basketball owners, however, having your star player rest can be a punch to the gut. Whether you are in the playoffs in a H2H league or just getting down to the wire in roto, you have to be able to adapt on the fly when someone decides to take a night off.
Here are a few high-profile candidates to rest a bit down the stretch and who you can count on to replace them:
LeBron James- While some don’t agree with the rest revolution, LeBron James has been a proponent of it, even recently making comments about how he deserves to take a game off every now and then. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a tight race for the top spot in the East with the Boston Celtics, but they know they can win on the road if need be and that having James healthy is more important than home court advantage. As such, it shouldn’t surprise fantasy basketball owners to see James in street clothes a few times before the season ends. Obviously, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love see their value go up when that happens, but if the Cavs elect to rest their entire big three, which they created an uproar by doing recently, then the guy I like is Channing Frye, who has the ability to get threes, boards, and blocks. He won’t come close to replacing James, but no one can.
LaMarcus Aldridge- Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs practically pioneered the DNP-Rest revolution, using it as well as minutes restrictions to prolong the careers of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. LaMarcus Aldridge will be 32 in July, and he has averaged nearly 35 minutes per game in March after missing two contests due to a heart issue. The Spurs appear to be all but locked into the second seed in the West, so it would make a lot of sense to allow Aldridge to take it easy before the season comes to an end. Veteran David Lee has been the main benefactor whenever Aldridge has been out, and can do some damage in a pinch.
James Harden- Similar to the Spurs, the Houston Rockets are now fairly well-settled into the third place spot in the Western Conference. My personal pick for MVP, James Harden has yet to miss a game and is averaging 36.5 minutes a night. That’s a heavy burden for him to carry, so coach Mike D’Antoni would be wise to consider taking a bit of the load off over the last few games. If Harden rests, expect former Laker Lou Williams to pick up the ball-handling and scoring slack, and as fantasy owners have seen this season, Sweet Lou can absolutely blow up on any given night.
Marc Gasol- The Memphis Grizzlies are fairly set to win at least the seventh seed in the West, and while they could attempt to catch up to Oklahoma City for the 6th spot, it doesn’t seem like the difference between getting the second-seeded Spurs or third-seeded Rockets is enough to make expending the extra energy worth it. At 32 and apparently dealing with a left foot issue, it makes all kinds of sense to give Marc Gasol a few nights off. The main beneficiary may depend on matchups, but Zach Randolph and Brandan Wright are the two guys I would keep my eye on, with Wright having the most upside if he can get a substantial amount of extra minutes.
Al Horford- The East is an absolute dogfight right now and it seems that passing the Cavaliers in the standings means something to the Boston Celtics, so they may opt to keep their foot on the gas pedal straight through the finish line. Should they decide to ease up, however, resting Al Horford a game or two would be a smart move. He was the Celtics’ prize free agent signing last summer and should play a big role in the team’s playoff success. The only problem is that coach Brad Stevens tends to handle games where Horford is out by committee, but depending on the matchup, Jaylen Brown and Amir Johnson could both deserve a long look.