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In Street Clothes

Covering sports injuries from the perspective of a certified athletic trainer and backed by analytics.

Reviewing the Injury Totals for the 2017-18 NBA Regular Season

When the Phoenix Suns made DeAndre Ayton the first selection in Thursday’s draft, the 2017-18 season officially came to a close. The year was filled with bizarre storylines that included secret tunnels into locker rooms, thrown bowls of soup, and multiple social media gaffes. Unfortunately, the 2017-18 campaign was also marred by injury. The problems began on opening night when Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome ankle fracture just five minutes into the game.

It didn’t stop there as Brooklyn’s Jeremy Lin ruptured his patellar tendon in his first outing, number one selection Markelle Fultz missed substantial time with a “scapular muscle imbalance” in his right shoulder, and Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard appeared in just nine games largely due to a mysterious quadriceps tendon problem. Multiple All-Star players, including DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles), Kyrie Irving (hardware removal and infection), and Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL), also saw their seasons cut short by injury. In the end, the number of games lost to injury or illness for the year surpassed 5,000 for the first time, making it the highest total since the NBA moved away from the injured reserve prior to the 2005-06 season.

The Oklahoma City Thunder led the league in fewest games lost for the second time in three years. The team finished with 63 total games lost with nearly 70 percent of those games attributed to guard Andre Roberson. Roberson, the Thunder’s top defender, suffered a torn patellar tendon in late January and missed the time’s final 33 outings.

The Toronto Raptors led the league in fewest minutes per game lost and fewest salary dollars, continuing a trend of good health for the organization. Entering the season the Raptors had ranked as a top-five overall medical staff and sustained that success despite the team opting to draft OG Anunoby, a talented rookie who entered the NBA coming off a torn ACL. Anunoby was cleared to play before the start of the season and was a key part of a five-man unit that ranked third in total minutes played during the regular season. This continuity helped propel the Raptors to 59 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

On the opposite end of the spectrum sit the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans lost a league-worst 340 total games to injury or illness, with nearly half of the total linked to two players. Center Alexis Ajinca (knees) and rookie Frank Jackson (foot fracture) did not appear in a single game this season, combining to miss more games than 13 NBA teams. Solomon Hill’s hamstring injury and Cousins’ torn Achilles further elevated New Orleans’ final total, limiting the team’s roster. Fortunately, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday appeared to put their injury woes behind them and still managed to lead the team back to the postseason.

For the fourth straight year, muscle-related injuries accounted for the highest percentage of games lost with a big uptick in tendon injuries. Ligament injuries, like sprains, were a close second with ankle sprains unsurprisingly leading the way. Severe ankle sprains to Reggie Jackson, Glenn Robinson III, and Dion Waters were particularly costly for their respective teams.

The ramifications of these injuries and others will carry over into the offseason as medical concerns exist for many of the top free agents. Teams will want to examine both Leonard and Cousins before heavily investing while Paul George is recovering from scopes on both his knee and elbow. Injuries could also impact restricted free agency with Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Jabari Parker, and Zach LaVine each carrying their own set of medical concerns. So while the sun has set on the 2017-18 season, look for the effects of an entertaining, yet injury-riddled, campaign to continue to resonate around the league.