NBA Injury List: Who, How and Maybe Why
With the staggering number of injuries to critical players that have occurred within the last few weeks, one has to consider how the modern NBA game is played. With the game’s increased speed and athleticism, the physical demands on knees and ankles are perhaps greater than ever before. With an 82-game schedule that includes 4 games in 5 nights and 7 games in 10 nights, it’s not surprising that the number of injuries is on the rise.
At what point will the NBA recognize that the game would better be served to shorten the schedule to 70 games and avoid the ridiculous stretches of the season which don’t allow players the time to rest and recover? The player’s union does not want to see so many of its players’ careers lost or limited due to torn ACL’s. A slight reduction in player and coaching salary would make up for some of the income lost from 6 fewer home games per team.
Do we, as fans, want to continue to see an 82-game regular season, if it costs our favorite players entire years or more off of their careers? The argument that “injuries are just part of the game,” is an old and decrepit one. Certain injuries are unavoidable, but others, especially the lingering, nagging injuries can be minimized by the league changing its often insane scheduling policy. Instead of asking teams to go on 7-game road trips, where they play 4 games in 4 different cities over 5 nights, the league needs to recognize the cost. When several of the most exciting players the league desperately wants to showcase at the most important time of the NBA year (the playoffs), are relegated to fancy suits and crutches and several more are limping around at 75%, one would hope that the fans would demand a change to the scheduling. and giving many of the over-30 NBA stars a chance to survive the season in order to be closer to their most healthy for the most important games of the season: the playoffs.
By continuing to play an 82-game schedule without much week-to-week balance, the NBA is wearing down its players and leaving teams unnecessarily depleted.
Here’s a list of recent NBA players who have suffered injuries and a speculative rundown on how likely they were to occur:
1. Kobe Bryant’s ruptured Achilles tendon (out for year, maybe more)
Kobe’s 17-year career has been incredibly demanding. His body has taken a pounding, he’s taken 215,914 free-throw attempts, and 1,248,315 field-goal attempts. Perhaps the critical number is the total of 8,214 playoff games. Bryant’s been dealing with knee and ankle issues throughout the last few years, even going to Germany and having a procedure done with platelet-rich plasma that seemed to give him a new and improved knee over the last year.
Still, Mike D’Antoni played Kobe an insane number of minutes down the stretch. Bryant sat on the bench for a total of 17 minutes in the last 7 games of the season leading up to the injury. Knowing the Lakers absolutely had to make the playoffs or his reputation as a coach would be irrevocably damaged (if it hasn’t already been). There was a question of whether or not D’Antoni had any say in Kobe’s minutes, as if Kobe would not have allowed D’Antoni to rest him. If that’s true, Kobe ground himself down to the bone. Either way, it’s not shocking that Kobe’s Achilles simply gave out on an attempted drive (no contact), given the number of impossibly quick first-steps he’s made in his career. Add in the fact that he willed himself unceasingly in pursuit of a playoff berth in the last few weeks of the regular season, and the injury might have been expected.
2. Tony Parker’s sprained ankle (active, but not 100%)
For the last decade, Parker’s game is all about quickness and lateral movement. At age 30, it’s not a surprise to see him deal with ankle problems. Parker has been the lone spur among the vaunted trio of himself, Duncan and Ginobili to stay healthy over the years. Parker has been able to play reasonably well on the injured ankle, though the Lakers guards are not exactly capable defenders. Parker will have the luxury of avoiding tough defensive guards by facing either Golden State or Denver in the second round.
3. Kenneth Faried’s sprained ankle (active, but not 100%)
Faried expends as much energy on the court as a few entire teams do. He is ferocious on the glass, sprints up and down the court at full speed, chasing down opponents for blocks, and beating his man to the rim for alley-oops. Like Gerald Wallace, Faried’s game is impossibly agile for a 6’10” power forward. He will be lucky to avoid injuries throughout his career. After missing Game 1, Faried struggled in limited minutes in Game 2. Games 3 and 4 were more productive for Faried, averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes. Still, Faried doesn’t have the same life and leaping ability as he’s had in the past. While Javale McGee and Kosta Koufos have struggled to avoid foul trouble, and deal with Golden State’s pick-and-roll, a healthy Faried would give George Karl some relief from his team’s inability to stop Golden State’s well-oiled offensive displays in Games 2, 3 and 4.
4. Steph Curry: sprained ankle (active, for now)
Steph’s ankles have both been a nagging problem since his rookie season, but he refuses to let them stop him. Curry’s left ankle, having been surgically repaired, is surrounded by a brace at all times, which keeps it from twisting once it starts to turn. The right ankle was the one he twisted badly in Game 2. The injury came on a traffic dribble, but without contact to another foot. It was the latest in a line of Curry ankle tweaks, and had Warriors fans holding their collective breath again.
Before Game 3, Curry was listed as questionable, but with the help of painkillers played a brilliant game. He did the same in Game 4 at Oracle, buoyed by the deafening home crowd. In his first home playoff games as a professional, Curry would not be denied. After a pass-first first half in which Curry’s hamstring was tightening up, due to the ankle issue, Curry spent halftime on an exercise bike with a heat wrap on the hamstring. Apparently, that was all he needed to get loose, as Curry’s 22-point third quarter (8 of 11) was magnificent, draining threes, pump-faking Nuggets out of their shorts, and leading the Warriors to a blowout win.
5. Russell Westbrook’s lateral meniscus tear (out for year)
The aggressive play by Patrick Beverly led to the knee injury. The debate rages on about whether the play was fair or dirty. It was unfortunate, but unintentional, and it is possible that Westbrook could have avoided it by staying low and calling timeout with his back slightly turned and in a bent-knee position, rather than remaining vulnerable and upright.
6. Danilo Gallinari’s anterior cruciate ligament (out for year)
He was driving toward the hoop and landed awkwardly. No injury past. Doesn’t play a particularly demanding brand of basketball, but bad luck is bad luck.
7. David Lee’s torn hip flexor (out for year)
Pure bad luck on the landing. David Lee drove the hoop with determination, absorbed contact from a Denver big man and landed awkwardly on one leg. As soon as he hit the floor, it was clear something was wrong. Playoff basketball means contact on penetration goes up exponentially, but there was nothing about Lee’s game or the play that might have led to the injury.
8. Tiago Splitter: sprained ankle (due back by 5/5)
Splitter rolled his ankle in Game 4 and is likely to miss a full week, though the Spurs may have to wait a few days until the Golden State-Denver series concludes.
Critical players who have been absent for much of this season and the playoffs because of injury:
- Derrick Rose, Bulls, anterior cruciate ligament
- Rajon Rondo, Celtics, anterior cruciate ligament
- Jared Sullinger, Celtics, lower back
- Danny Granger, Pacers, anterior cruciate ligament
- Lou Williams, Hawks, anterior cruciate ligament
- Amare Stoudemire, Knicks, (though his absence has helped New York this season)
Among this list, Rose, Rondo and Stoudemire have always played extremely aggressively and are constantly putting incredible pressure on their knees, with quick jumps, twists and turns in the lane, and generally play at a faster speed than most other NBA players.
Williams also plays at a break-neck speed, but has been more of a shooter than a penetrator in his young career.
Sullinger’s back issues were well-documented in college, while made him available to the Celtics late in the 2012 draft.