The 2015-16 NBA season is over and injuries once again helped shaped the narrative of an amazing year. The overall health of teams influenced playoff-seeding, lottery positioning, and ultimately played a role in the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the franchise’s first long-awaited championship.
As a whole, the league lost 4,496 regular season games to injuries, including games lost to bed bugs, severe testicular trauma, and other more common ailments. The 2015-16 total settles in lower than the two previous seasons and just below the league average (4,570 game lost) for the previous 11 seasons. Nine teams lost fewer than 100 games to injury, the highest number for an 82 game season in the InStreetClothes.com database that dates back to the 2005-06 season. Included in those nine were the league-best 23 total games lost to injury by the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 23 games lost marks the fewest number of games recorded since the league abolished the injured reserve list prior to the start of the 2005-06 season. It also signifies an impressive turnaround for a franchise that lost 224 games to injury in the previous season, including 55 games attributed to Kevin Durant and his foot injury alone.
The Los Angeles Lakers also finished with a remarkable improvement in health. After losing over 300 games to injury in each of the previous two seasons, the Lakers surrendered just 73 games to injury this year. The reversal was also marked by a sizeable decline in salary dollars lost to injuries. The $5.9 million lost this year is roughly one-fifth the size of their 2014-15 bill and one-eighth of the $44.3 million total amassed in the 2013-14 campaign.
Not every team was quite as fortunate as injuries down the stretch radically impacted the bottom line for multiple teams. The final 20 games of the regular season were particularly rough on the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans who combined to lose 275 total man games played to injury during the final quarter of the season. Multiple players on each roster sustained season-ending injuries including Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, and Jrue Holiday, resulting in the considerably high total.
The consequences of regular season’s injuries had a lasting effecting on the playoffs as several notable players, including Conley, Gasol, and Miami’s Chris Bosh never appeared in their respective team’s postseason run. Injuries accrued during the playoffs, including those to Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Hassan Whiteside, also negatively impacted team performance. The Golden State Warriors withstood six missed postseason games from Stephen Curry following ankle and knee injuries but struggled in the Finals after Andrew Bogut’s went down with bone contusions on his distal femur and proximal tibia. The total number of games lost to injury per playoff game was down (1.82) when compared to the 2015 playoffs (2.42). However as ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh and Baxter Holmes pointed out, games lost by rotation players (top seven players per team in minutes played per game) were at their highest totals in decades.
The importance of player health continues even with the Finals over as team are now preparing for Thursday’s NBA Draft. Multiple outlets have already reported numerous medical concerns about this seasons’ crop of talent. Selecting players ready to withstand the grind of the NBA season is a key component of minimizing total games lost. Last year’s first round picks combined to miss 367 total games to injury during the season or roughly 8 percent of the league total, the third highest total of the last 11 drafts. Look for teams to emphasize rookie health even more than ever as they look to maximize the production of a financially efficient addition to the roster.
Maintaining player health continues to evolve with the 2015-16 season showing small signs of progression. However considerable work still needs to be done to ensure sustained success in injury prevention and management. Look for all invested parties to examine various ways to guarantee the best talent is healthy and able to contribute to the 2016-17 NBA season.