The first half of the 2013-14 season of the NBA has been one defined by injury. No one seems immune to the problem as role players, rookies, MVPs, and All-Stars have all been bitten by the injury bug.
The second quarter of the season actually saw a small dip in injuries compared to the first quarter. After losing 1,187 games to injury to start the year, the second quarter number dipped to 1,120 games lost. As of Martin Luther King Day, the combined total of games missed sits at 2,306 and drops the rate of injuries for the year to a more respectable number. The current pace would put this season’s total 350 games higher than last year but just 200 games ahead of the league average for the last five seasons. The number wouldn’t even be the highest, falling just short of the 4,626 games missed during the 2008-09 season.
The cost of these injuries also improved and the league is currently on pace to lose $297 million to injury this year, down nearly $25 million from last year’s total. However this number will continue to grow with Kobe Bryant still sidelined and Al Horford, Brook Lopez, and Derrick Rose all expected to miss the rest of the season. Furthermore the Nuggets recently revealed Danilo Gallinari will miss the remainder of the year after conservative treatment on his torn ACL was “insufficient” and a reconstruction surgery would be necessary. This announcement insures the league will have at least one player miss 82 games and cost the Nuggets just over $10 million.
No team struggled with health in the second quarter like the Los Angeles Lakers. The biggest injury occurred to Bryant, who suffered a fractured tibial plateau. He joined teammate Steve Nash on the sidelines and was soon accompanied by Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, and Xavier Henry. As a team, the Lakers lost 91 games to injury bringing their yearly total to 133. Only the 76ers and Bucks have missed more games but it’s the cost of the Lakers’ injuries that stands out. The team has lost a league-worst $19 million to injury, nearly $9 million more than the Nuggets, the second team on the list. Over $13 million is due to Kobe and he’s already the 5th most expensive injured player over the last five seasons.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the league’s best team also put together the best second quarter. The final games of Danny Granger’s recovery from offseason knee surgery and a lone missed game from Lance Stephenson are the only four games the Indiana Pacers lost to injury. Indiana (28) has the 3rd lowest total for games missed trailing only Oklahoma City (20) and Toronto (21). San Antonio and Cleveland round out the top five.
One of the more remarkable turnarounds is Portland who has missed just 40 games to injury this season with 32 of those games belonging to CJ McCollum. After years of ranking in the bottom tier of games missed to injury, the Trailblazers named Geoff Clark their new head athletic trainer and hired Dr. Chris Stackpole as Director of Player Health and Performance. The new staff has produced and Portland sits at 6th in the league for fewest games missed. Cost is also way down as the team ranks 2nd in fewest dollars lost with just a little over $1 million lost. Portland is the only team in the league to start the same starting unit for each of its games this season largely in part to the work put in by Clark and his staff.
While the current injury rate does appear to be on par with previous seasons, a closer look at the numbers does reveal a somewhat alarming trend. If an isolated injury that results in a player missing 10 consecutive games or more is considered significant, then the NBA has averaged 104 significant injuries in each of the last five seasons. However this year alone there have been 73 documented significant injuries and we’re just at the midway point of the season. Last year only 88 significant injuries occurred and that includes five players who missed at least 80 games. This year nine players have missed at least 40 games and that number will expand as Horford, Lopez, Rose, and others continue to sit.
There is sound reasoning for portion of the injuries. Previous studies indicate that certain injuries are more likely to occur during preseason and training and that an increased rate of injury to start the year is normal. However the numbers still remain high and do not currently include players who suffered recent significant injuries like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, and Andrea Bargnani.
It will be interesting to see what the second half has in store as the Western Conference remains congested and the Eastern Conference wide open. Health will surely factor in to determining the eventual champion with several teams already fading due to injury. Hopefully the onslaught of significant injuries will subside but based on how this season has progressed there’s no guarantee.