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Identifying Potential Health Risks in the 2015 NBA Draft

The 2015 NBA draft is days away and teams are starting to narrow down their list of realistic options. After a season that saw a substantial number of lottery picks succumb to injury, a player’s health could ultimately serve as the deciding factor in where a player is taken in the draft. Let’s take a look at several prospects that have their fair share of injury risk.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Center, University of Kentucky

The concerns surrounding Cauley-Stein’s left ankle are well-documented. He sprained the ankle during the 2014 NCAA tournament and ultimately needed surgery to address a fracture in the area. The surgery involved the insertion of surgical hardware, including a pin that may have been inserted at a less than ideal angle. To compound the issue, it isn’t even the first area on the leg that the 7-footer has had surgically addressed. Cauley-Stein underwent knee surgery on his left knee for a bone chip of his patella during hist freshman season. Two weak spots on a kinetic chain can prove to have damaging long-term effects on an individual, especially big men.

The final red flag on Cauley-Stein’s injury report is centered around his comments in December of 2013 when he revealed he is a sickle cell trait (SCT) carrier. A SCT diagnosis means an individual inherited an isolated sickle cell gene from one parent and a normal gene from the other. Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a genetic condition that affects the red blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen. While not as severe as SCD, people with SCT can still experience episodes of pain and can be vulnerable to health issues in areas of low oxygen or high elevation. Former NFL safety Ryan Clark had SCT and was not able to play when his team traveled to Denver following a scary incident in which he was forced to have both his spleen and gall bladder removed. Cayley-Stein’s SCT appears to be well managed but it’s another significant factor that could effect his draft stock.

RJ Hunter, Guard, Georgia State University

While Hunter is perceived as a potential sleeper on draft night, he does have an injury history that could cause teams to pause. The risk is not associated with the reportedly minor shoulder injury Hunter suffered while working out for the Hornets but instead his left foot. Hunter developed a stress fracture in the foot as a junior at Pike High School. The injury resurfaced during his freshman season at Georgia State. While he has managed to avoid surgery so far, stress fractures in the foot can be very problematic. Given the recent problems players like Joel Embiid and Kevin Durant have had with stress-related injuries of the foot, insuring Hunter is not a risk for an additional injury is worth investing for any team interested in drafting the two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year.

Chris McCullough, Forward, Syracuse University

The 6-10″ freshman took a risk entering the draft after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee in a game against Florida State in January. McCullough underwent surgery in February and has spent the last four months rehabbing. He did not participate in of the drills or scrimmages at the Draft Combine but did sit for interviews.

The fact that so much of McCullough’s game is built around his explosiveness and athleticism, the decision to enter the draft following an injury that often saps those attributes is puzzling. The recent success of Spencer Dinwiddie could have played a factor in the decision but Dinwiddie had a more proven track record before he tore his ACL in college. At this point McCullough appears to be a long-term project for an established team rather than someone that can make an immediate impact.

Rashad Vaughn, Guard, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Like McCullough, Vaughn opted to enter the draft despite a knee injury that shortened his lone collegiate season. Vaughn suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in mid-February and missed UNLV’s final nine games. He also missed a game earlier in the season after experiencing back spasms.

The meniscus injury was the second of his career having entered UNLV recovering from a meniscus tear in the opposite knee. The injury prevented him from participating with the U18 National Team last summer.

If two knees with cartilage damage wasn’t enough, Vaughn managed an undisclosed left knee injury that sidelined him for two months while at Findlay Prep. That injury came on the heels of a “bad” ankle sprain suffered at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy. Each of these injuries would be problematic on their own but when amassed together they considerably elevate Vaughn’s inherent injury risk.

Cliff Alexander, Forward, University of Kansas

Alexander endured a bumpy year in Lawrence last year. It started in the summer when he suffered a “severe” ankle sprain during workouts. As the regular season began and progressed, Alexander battled several multiple bumps and bruises including a sternum contusion, a sore right wrist, and lingering back soreness. While he would not miss a game to injury, he was ultimately forced to miss Kansas’ final eight outings while the NCAA investigated his mother’s initiation of pre-NBA draft loan processing.

Alexander’s luck didn’t change much after making himself draft eligible as the 6’8″ Chicago native suffered a “mild” medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain during a pre-draft workout with the Lakers. Any team considering drafting Alexander will have to determine if he has simply been unlucky up to his point or if he carries elevated injury risk.

Every player comes with their own bit of injury risk but gauging the varying degrees each player carries is crucial to long-term success.  InStreetClothes.com will provide injury information on each prospect pick-by-pick during Thursday night’s draft. Just follow @RotowireATC on Twitter for the live coverage.

One thought on “Identifying Potential Health Risks in the 2015 NBA Draft”
  1. watch sports on mobile June 26, 2015 on 3:33 am

    Interesting post… One comment though, since Jordan retired (i got lazy), 15 out of the 18 NBA champions had a legit center. So, its pretty clear that quality big men are associated with championships.

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