A memorable All-Star Weekend has ended and NBA teams are gearing up for the final push towards the postseason. While Sunday’s game was reinvigorated by a new format, the unfortunate impact of league-wide injuries was apparent. There was Anthony Davis donning the jersey of sidelined teammate DeMarcus Cousins while three other members of Team LeBron were also unavailable due to injury. An injured Aaron Gordon was a spectator and not a participant in the Dunk Contest while a knee sprain kept rookie Lonzo Ball out of the Rising Stars Game.
It’s no secret injuries have been an issue for the 2017-18 NBA season. ESPN’s Rachel Nichols recently discussed the impact injuries have had on the season and trade deadline while Bleacher Report’s Tom Haberstroh took a detailed look in the sudden rise of injuries.
The InStreetClothes.com/SMART Injury Database also shows an increase in games lost to injury. Entering the All-Star break just over 3,700 games had been lost to injury, up 28 percent from the previous season through the same number of games played. If games lost to injury continue at their current pace, the league total will cross the 5,000 mark for the first time since the inactive list was eliminated prior to the 2005-06 season.
Pinpointing an isolated reason for the uptick is impossible. Haberstroh astutely mentioned a shortened preseason and an increase in pace as potential influences. Timing is also key as early season injuries to Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Lin have drastically impacted the elevated totals. In the last 13 seasons, only two players, Nene (ACL in 2005) and Julius Randle (tibia fracture in 2014), had endured season-ending injuries in their team’s season-opener before both Lin and Hayward accomplished the feat this year.
Injuries accrued in the 2016-17 season have taken their toll as well as games attributed to the previous injuries of Zach Lavine, Jabari Parker, Tony Parker, and Isaiah Thomas account for nearly 4 percent of the total games lost. Offseason injuries have also inflated the total as players like Alan Williams, Solomon Hill, and Cameron Payne are still waiting to make their 2017-18 season debuts.
Through 50 games played, the New Orleans Pelicans have already lost over 200 man games to injury or illness. The league-leading total is largely due to the season-long absences of Hill, Alexis Ajinca, and rookie Frank Jackson. Sadly, Hill’s impending return will be offset by the loss of Cousins, insuring the team finishes with a lofty total. Significant injuries to players like Brandon Knight, Seth Curry, Rodney McGruder, and Mike Conley are the primary reason the Suns, Mavericks, Heat, and Grizzlies join the Pelicans near the bottom.
On the opposite end of the rankings sit the Oklahoma City Thunder who have surrendered a mere 24 total games to injury or illness. Unfortunately, Andre Roberson’s ruptured patellar tendon will almost single-handedly double this total with Roberson set to miss all 23 of OKC’s remaining games. Joining the Thunder atop the list is the Lakers, Trail Blazers, Knicks, and Raptors.
Financially, NBA teams have lost a collective total exceeding $328 million salary dollars to injury and illness. The Clippers have been hit the hardest, surrendering over $24 million. The reoccurring glute injury for Danilo Gallinari is the biggest culprit behind this high sum, accounting for 39 percent of the money lost. Conversely, the Pacers and their well-respected and acclaimed medical team have lost the least amount of salary dollars to injury.
The types of injuries causing the most problems remain soft tissues ailments, specifically muscle and ligamentous injuries. While the number of incidents remain on par with years past, the games lost to these injuries is higher. A significant portion of these games missed is based on the severity of the problem with multiple ankle and knee issues requiring surgery. Players like Glenn Robinson III, Jon Leuer, and Thabo Sefolosha have all missed substantial stretches of the season recovering from these types of injuries. Surgery rates are also on the rise with the 2017-18 numbers already equal to the total from the previous year.
Injuries to prominent stars including Cousins, Conley, Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Love, and Kawhi Leonard insure the injury totals for the season will remain high for the final seven weeks of the regular season. The impact of these injuries is bound to influence what is shaping up to be an intriguing stretch run and postseason. While the numbers remain concerning, look for the NBA to continue searching for plausible solutions to insure the short-term and long-term health of its players.