The 2016-17 NBA season has been entertaining one with the majority of teams in the league still fostering hopes for the postseason. As usual, injuries have influenced the standings as poor health has kept several contenders from solidifying their place in the standings and forced other would-be playoff teams closer to the lottery. Through 41 games the NBA has collectively lost a total of 2,052 games to injury or illness and over $189 million in salary. The total is slightly up from last year’s numbers at the halfway point but still lower than the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
A familiar face sits atop the rankings as the traditionally impressive medical staff of the Phoenix Suns has kept the team’s players on the court and out of the athletic training room. After a down year last season, the Suns staff has rebounded in a big way with the team conceding just 21 games to injury. The impact of the injuries has also been diminished as Phoenix ranks second in the league in salary dollars lost and minutes lost to injury.
The Golden State Warriors have used sustained health to remain the best team in the Western Conference with just 26 games lost to injury in the first half of the season. The total is particularly remarkably considering half of their games were automatically assumed when the team opted to draft Damian Jones, despite the fact that he tore a pectoral muscle during a pre-draft workout. Golden State previously employed a similar strategy when they drafted forward Kevon Looney in spite of his chronically problematic hips. The associated risk with these decisions is minimal for a top heavy team like the Warriors as the games lost does little to hurt the on-court product or bottom dollar, evident in the team’s top rank in dollars lost and minutes lost.
The Houston Rockets have also been fueled by good health despite gambling on Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson in the offseason. Both Gordon and Anderson had lengthy injury histories before joining the Rockets but missed a combined two games through the first 41 games of the year. The team has surrendered 30 games to injury at the midway point, a significant drop off from last year’s total of 77 games lost.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sit the Miami Heat. The amenities of South Beach have not been able to combat the injury bug as the Heat has lost a league-worst 163 games to injury or illness. The Miami medical staff, a historically well-regarded group, has been forced to deal with a wide range of assorted ailments including muscle, bone, and cartilage-related injuries. Furthermore the high total includes the 41 games attributed to Chris Bosh whose career remains in limbo due to a blood clotting issue.
The Philadelphia Sixers trail the Heat as they once again find themselves without their top draft pick. Including the 41 games lost to Ben Simmons’ fractured fifth metatarsal, the Sixers have now gone four straight years with a top draft pick missing the first half of the season. Fortunately the team is now reaping the benefits of their conservative approach with Joel Embiid and is optimistic Simmons will be available to play at some point this season.
In addition to Bosh and Simmons, nine other players did not play a game in the first half of the year due to injury, meaning 11 players were responsible for 22 percent of the games lost. Three of these players, Jared Sullinger, Delon Wright, and Brandan Wright have returned to action with Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton slated to return on Wednesday. However the return of these players is offset by the season-ending injuries to Sacramento’s Rudy Gay, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, and Miami’s Justise Winslow.
An in-depth look at the injuries themselves show that muscle-related injuries accounted for roughly 30 percent of all games lost, up 13 percent from the previous season. Bone injuries, like fractures and bone contusions, are also up from last year though the totals remain considerably lower than those of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns. Ligamentous injuries, specifically sprains, accounted tor a remarkably lower number of games lost in the first half of the season though that number will rise due to the ACL tears of LaVine and Cleveland’s Chris Andersen.
The second half of the season will act as an interesting setup for next year when health-specific items of the new collective bargaining agreement come into effect. A shortened preseason and an increased attempt to further reduce back-to-backs are intended to improve player health but it remains unseen how quickly those items will make an impact on games lost. For now teams will continue to utilize scheduled rest days and other treatment options to minimize the impact of the various injuries that inevitably occur.