LeBron and AD headline NBA All-Injury Team
Injuries have always been a fact of life in the NBA, but they seem to be happening with increased regularity during the 2020-21 season. Blame it on the league’s condensed schedule or the trials of playing during a pandemic if you like, but players are crumpling on the court at an alarming rate.
And it isn’t just scrubs that are getting hurt. NBA All-Stars have missed 15% of all games this season, which is the second-highest rate in league history. Their absence is driving down TV ratings and wreaking havoc on teams’ playoff chances, as coaches cobble together makeshift lineups on a nightly basis.
We’ve been tracking the situation closely and have assembled our first annual NBA All-Injury Team to bring attention to the league’s plight. In order to qualify, players must have missed at least 25 percent of their team’s games this season.
Point Guard: James Harden (Brooklyn Nets)
Is anyone really surprised that James Harden has missed 18 games? The former MVP put on an alarming amount of weight in the offseason in a not-so-subtle attempt to eat his way out of Houston. The Rockets acquiesced, and sent him to the Nets, where he has become one of the league’s premier set-up men.
At the time of his first hamstring injury on April 1, "The Beard" was leading the league in assists at 11 dimes per game, while also chipping in 25.4 points and 8.7 rebounds. His all-around brilliance had Brooklyn on pace to achieve the best offensive rating in NBA history.
Unfortunately he suffered a setback on April 20 and is now out indefinitely. When asked about Harden’s prognosis, rookie head coach Steve Nash didn’t sound hopeful. "Back to square one," Nash said. "We'll rehabilitate him and get him back whenever we can. Who knows when that'll be, but we'll support James and we'll support our performance team in getting him back in his best condition as possible, and hopefully that comes sooner than later. But there's no guarantee.
Shooting Guard: Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors)
It seems hard to believe, but the last time Klay Thompson suited up for the Warriors was on June 13, 2019 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. That appearance ended not with a bang, but a whimper, as the five-time All-Star tore his ACL midway through the third quarter and had to be helped off the floor by his teammates.
Thompson missed the entirety of the 2019-20 season, and helplessly watched from the sidelines as his Warriors went from dynasty to dumpster fire, finishing dead last in the Western Conference with a dismal 15-50 record.
Just when it seemed Thompson would be able to return, the three-time champ tore his Achilles tendon in a pickup game on Nov. 19. It was a heartbreaking development, and one that has kept Thompson in street clothes for the second straight season.
Small forward: Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets)
The Nets are 43-22 and in second place in the Eastern Conference, but just imagine how much better they’d be if Durant hasn’t missed 23 straight games from Feb. 15 to April 5 with a thigh contusion.
The four-time scoring champ is averaging 27.6 points on 55% shooting from the floor and 47% shooting from deep, and has already scored 30 points or more 12 times this season. His presence lifts the Nets from playoff contender to prohibitive favorite.
Power forward: LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
So much for LeBron James being indestructible. The 17-time All-Star missed 20 games after suffering a high ankle sprain against the Atlanta Hawks in late March.
NBA injury: medial/high ankle sprain (syndesmosis injury) mechanism for Lebron James as foot twists out. Most require 2-6 weeks to return to play, obviously good signs he was able to play on momentarily (likely swelling then started to set in) pic.twitter.com/ggY5AvfvKE— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) March 20, 2021
The Lakers stumbled to a dismal 8-12 record in his absence, and plummeted from third in the Western Conference to fifth. That’s significant, since L.A. is now unlikely to have homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, and may even have to duke it out in the league’s play-in tournament.
Prior to his boo-boo, King James was averaging 25.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.9 assists, and was the prohibitive favorite to win his fifth MVP award.
Center: Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
It seemed inevitable the Lakers would suffer more injuries than any other NBA team after playing until Oct. 11, and that’s precisely what’s happened. In addition to losing James for a prolonged period, L.A. also had to solider on without Anthony Davis from Feb. 16 to April 22 due to a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis.
AD looked miserable in his return, scoring just four points in 16 minutes, but has been considerably better since. He erupted for 26 points in a narrow loss to the Wizards on April 28, and followed that up with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks two days later in a loss to the Kings.
Now that the Lakers are whole again, the real challenge will be rediscovering the chemistry and synergy that made them so fearsome prior to the All-Star break.
Honorable mentions: Spencer Dinwiddie (Brooklyn Nets), Kristaps Porzingis (Dallas Mavericks), Cam Reddish (Atlanta Hawks), T.J. Waren (Indiana Pacers)