The NBA's All-Injured Team

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIMarch 14, 2014

The NBA's All-Injured Team

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    Injuries are commonplace in professional sports where the world’s elite athletes compete nightly at the highest level imaginable. The 2013-14 NBA season has been no exception to the norm, as numerous All-Star-caliber players have been forced to watch games from the sidelines.

    Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets and the recently shut down Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers are just a few of the names that are labeled out for the season due to varying injury woes.

    The Nets and Bulls have been able to overcome debilitating ailments to their stars, but the Lakers haven’t had enough depth to compensate.

    Even teams like Phoenix Suns (Eric Bledsoe) and Oklahoma City Thunder (Russell Westbrook) have been forced to play a significant chunk of games without their elite point guards—both guys have since returned.

    It’s not a positive sign that an entire 12-man roster can be formed out of the Association’s injured players. That fact is even more alarming when you realize this fictitious team would easily compete for a playoff spot in either conference when healthy.

    In a perfect world, every team would be at full strength at all times. Durability, however, continues to be a prevalent and integral part of the NBA.

Honorable Mentions

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    LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Portland Trail Blazers

    Portland Trail Blazers All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge is only an honorable mention on the all-injured team because he’s expected to be back in the near future.

    Aldridge suffered a lower back contusion on March 12 against the San Antonio Spurs, per Chris Haynes of Comcast SportsNet. He’s expected to miss two games before being re-evaluated.

    Trail Blazers fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief knowing that the MVP candidate won’t miss significant time. Nevertheless, Portland has sputtered by losing four straight games. His absence may drop Rip City further in the Western Conference standings.

     

    Nene, PF/C, Washington Wizards

    Year to year, it simply feels like a matter of time before 31-year-old Nene gets shelved with injury. The timing of his latest setback certainly wasn’t ideal for the Washington Wizards.

    After initial fears that Nene’s knee injury was going to be season-ending, per The Washington Post’s Michael Lee, the interior presence is expected to miss six weeks with a sprained MCL, according to Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney.

    The Brazilian center has been a barometer for the Wizards’ collective success. They need him to get back healthy as soon as possible.

     

    Nerlens Noel, PF/C, Philadelphia 76ers

    Rookie Nerlens Noel can only be considered an honorable mention for this team, because the youngster still hasn’t played a single NBA minute for the Philadelphia 76ers as he recovers from an ACL tear.

    Noel would provide the floundering Sixers with a huge boost, but as it stands, they’re just hoping for better lottery odds.

12. J.J. Redick, SG, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick was acquired last summer as part of the trade that sent Eric Bledsoe to the Phoenix Suns. The sharpshooter out of Duke was expected to help spread the floor around the core of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but a bulging disc in his back has kept him out of the lineup since Feb. 3.

    Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said in mid-February, “(It) could be three days, two weeks, three weeks. No one knows. There’s no set deadline on when he’s coming back. He could be back quick or it could take a while,” per the Los Angeles Times’ Broderick Turner.

    As it turns out, even Rivers’ modest prediction may prove far too optimistic. According to the Orange County Register’s Dan Woike, the Clips will determine in the upcoming weeks whether Redick should be shut down for the remainder of the 2013-14 season.

    The 29-year-old averaged 15.7 points, 2.2 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 30 games played for LA.

    The Clippers have played extremely well in spite of Redick’s absence, but his injury, coupled with the poor play from veteran swingman Jared Dudley, has ensured a negligible yield from the Bledsoe trade.

11. Steve Nash, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Steve Nash has been toiling with nerve root irritation in his back throughout the 2013-14 season. He’s played just 10 games so far as a result, and was shut down for the remainder of the season along with his backcourt teammate Kobe Bryant.

    “I’m not going to retire because I want the money,” Nash said, per a Grantland.com video documentary. “It’s honest. We want honest athletes.”

    Nash is under contract through the 2014-15 season to the tune of more than $9.7 million, per ShamSports. According to Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding, the Lakers are expected to give the 40-year-old point guard another chance at returning, rather than using the league’s stretch provision to waive him.

    Although Nash has been an injury-riddled shell of himself, he showed flashes of his usual brilliance on his 40th birthday. He posted a 19-point, five-assist, four-rebound effort on Feb. 7. Granted, it was against the hapless Philadelphia 76ers, but still.

    If Nash were healthy, I firmly believe he’d be making a meaningful impact as a 40-year-old. He can still shoot from anywhere and set up teammates for scores, but playing through pain has been a harsh reality.

10. JaVale McGee, C, Denver Nuggets

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    Checking in with the 10th roster spot on the NBA’s All-Injured team: the enigma that is JaVale McGee.

    The Denver Nuggets big man has spent more airtime on TNT’s Shaqtin’ a Fool segment than he has in highlight reels, which begs the question: Is McGee a reliable NBA talent when healthy?

    At 26 years old, McGee is six years older than Andre Drummond, five years older than Anthony Davis, three years older than DeMarcus Cousins and two years older than Serge Ibaka.

    Although he’s an impressive physical specimen, he has yet to experience a breakout season as a pro.

    The inconsistent 7-footer underwent season-ending leg surgery in February, ensuring that he’ll have appeared in just five games for Denver during 2013-14.

    McGee still has a lot to prove as an NBA player, but the physical tools certainly aren’t part of the problem.

    For his career, he's averaged 8.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per contest.

9. Nate Robinson, PG/SG, Denver Nuggets

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    Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

    JaVale McGee isn’t the only Nuggets player out for the season due to injury, and spark-plug guard Nate Robinson won’t be the last on the list (stay tuned).

    Robinson averaged 10.4 points, 2.5 assists and 1.8 rebounds per game for first-year head coach Brian Shaw in just 19.7 minutes per game (his lowest total since 2010-11).

    He shot 42.8 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from beyond the arc—both of which were down from last season with the Chicago Bulls—before suffering a torn ACL.

    Despite a diminutive 5’9” frame, Robinson has overcome the odds and carved an NBA niche as a volume-scorer off the bench. He hasn’t always gained favor in the eyes of coaches, but there’s no doubt that he has the talent to compete at the highest level.

    At the very least, Robinson is an extremely exciting player to watch. He can catch fire from long range at any moment—evidenced by a pair of 24-point outbursts for Denver this season. That skill gives him the power to swing momentum for his team.

    His absence is just one more reason why the Nuggets are poised to miss the playoffs after a 57-win campaign in 2012-13.

8. Larry Sanders, C, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Nothing has gone right for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013-14—aside from attaining favorable lottery position in the 2014 NBA draft.

    After making analytics experts like Kirk Goldsberry and Eric Weiss salivate over his elite interior defense during a breakout campaign in 2012-13, Bucks center Larry Sanders has fallen off the NBA grid.

    Sanders tore a ligament in his right thumb during a bar fight in November, and has been sidelined once again after undergoing surgery to repair fractures in his right orbital bone.

    The interior force signed a four-year, $44 million extension with Milwaukee in August—a deal that has looked more and more egregious as he continues to miss time.

    In just 23 games played this season (20 starts), he is averaging 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. Those numbers are all significant dips from the 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks he averaged a season ago.

    When healthy, he is arguably the best interior defender in the Association. The “when healthy” part has become a big question mark, partly due to Sanders’ reputation as a loose cannon.

7. Ryan Anderson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Ryan Anderson of the New Orleans Pelicans was sidelined after a scary, freak injury occurred during a collision with Boston Celtics forward Gerald Wallace on Jan. 3.

    The 25-year-old sharpshooter suffered a herniated disc in his back and hasn’t returned to the court since.

    Anderson was shooting a scorching-hot 40.9 percent from three-point range to go with averages of 19.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game during a career-best season.

    Although he was proving to be a solid complement to penetrators like Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans were struggling to attain playoff position before the setback.

    Even so, New Orleans compiled a 12-10 record with Anderson in the rotation. It's 14-28 without him.

    The former first-round pick is a unique talent who can spread the floor as a 6’10” power forward. The Pelicans need him to get healthy as they continue to build toward a promising future.

6. Jrue Holiday, PG, New Orleans Pelicans

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    In a true “win now” move, the New Orleans Pelicans decided to trade Kentucky standout Nerlens Noel (the No. 6 pick in the 2013 NBA draft) along with a top-five protected first-rounder in 2014 for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday.

    The move hasn’t exactly paid off.

    Holiday played in just 34 games before getting shut down after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a fracture in his right leg—the same ailment JaVale McGee is dealing with.

    In those 34 contests, Holiday’s scoring efficiency was up compared to his All-Star campaign with the Philadelphia 76ers, but he was posting 14.3 points per game (down from 17.7).

    If New Orleans were given a mulligan, I’d wager that the front office would opt to keep the 2014 first-round draft pick. With the 11th-worst record in the NBA, the Pelicans are poised to be lottery bound once again, which stands to benefit Philly.

    While the deal quickly shifted to favor the Sixers, Holiday is still an All-Star-caliber point guard when healthy. He’s also just 23 years old (he’ll turn 24 in June).

    At the very least, NOLA has two solid players to build around in Holiday and Anthony Davis. Nevertheless, it needs its floor general healthy.

5. Starting Center: Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets

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    Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez played just five games in 2011-12 before a season-ending injury took over. He managed to appear in 17 contests this season before suffering the same fate.

    The talented 25-year-old is one of the best centers in the NBA when healthy. Unfortunately for Nets fans, the health variable has continued to stifle his promising pro career.

    There’s still hope for the future, though, as CBS Sports’ Ken Berger reported that Lopez “underwent an extensive surgical procedure” to reposition the bones in his foot and redistribute his weight to prevent a recurrence of injury.

    The surgery was also performed on former NBAer Zydrunas Ilgauskas, per Berger. The procedure essentially saved the Lithuanian’s career, as he played 11 seasons after the fact—making two All-Star appearances over that stretch.

    As fans, few things are worse than wondering what could have been. Lopez is a fiery competitor, though, so don’t be surprised if he comes back at an All-Star level after a surgery that has worked for another NBA big man in the past.

4. Starting Power Forward: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

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    Atlanta Hawks alpha dog Al Horford underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn right pectoral muscle in December, and it doesn’t appear as if he’ll return for the postseason like he did the first time he suffered a similar ailment.

    “It’s the third one to happen in basketball, and I’ve had two of them,” Horford said, per Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    “It’s my right side and my shooting arm. I need to feel 100 percent confident with it. It’s just going to be a little bit slower,” he said.

    The 27-year-old was in the midst of a career year in 29 games before the injury. He averaged a career-high 18.6 points per game to go with 8.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 blocks per game.

    The Hawks were 16-13 with Horford, and while they continued to fight without him, they’ve struggled to stay afloat. Atlanta now clings to the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference with a 28-35 mark.

    Horford is one of the best interior players in the NBA, but rare injuries have been alarmingly common for him in recent years.

3. Starting Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets

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    Losing Andre Iguodala and head coach George Karl last summer was going to test the Denver Nuggets' resolve moving forward by default. Three season-ending surgeries, however, have ensured a frustrating season for first-year head coach Brian Shaw.

    Danilo Gallinari hasn’t played in an NBA game since April 4, 2013, when he suffered a torn ACL against the Dallas Mavericks. He was on track to return at some point in 2013-14, but those hopes were dashed when it was reported that the Italian small forward underwent a second surgery to reconstruct the injured ligament in his left knee, per The Denver Post’s Christopher Dempsey.

    The 25-year-old has a sweet shooting stroke given his height, but fans haven’t been treated to it in quite some time. Even though Gallinari hasn’t even been absent for a calendar year, it feels as if it's been much longer.

    Denver will likely have to set its sights on 2014-15 as its playoff chances slip further away. Hopefully Gallinari will be able to get healthy after two huge setbacks, because he's truly a fun player to watch.

2. Starting Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Los Angeles Lakers future Hall of Fame shooting guard Kobe Bryant has faced more adversity in the past two years than he had in the previous 16 seasons combined.

    An Achilles tear last April, coupled with a fracture in his left knee he suffered in December, has backed “The Black Mamba” into a corner.

    The adversity has forced Bryant to lash out.

    According to the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan, the hobbled veteran ripped Lakers’ management by saying the following:

    Oh, yeah, let’s just play next year and let’s just suck again. No. Absolutely not. It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform, no excuses for it. Right? You’ve got to get things done.

    Same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court, it’s the same expectations I have for them up there.

    Some may argue that Bryant isn’t in a position to complain, considering he signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension in November without appearing in a single game. He's also played just six games due to injury (which has led to the team’s struggles due to a lack of depth and talent).

    The 35-year-old has since been shut down for the remainder of the season.

    Kobe’s frustrations are nearing a tipping point. That isn’t a good recipe for the Lakers’ brass, because it needs to fill out a viable 12-man roster this summer to keep Bryant happy.

    He may never return to All-Star-caliber form. If you ask me, it's simply not feasible that he will. But there are those who continue to put stock in Bryant’s work ethic and overall desire to win.

1. Starting Point Guard: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

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    I’m sick of seeing Derrick Rose on the sidelines in street clothes.

    Critics will point to his paycheck and ask how someone could feel bad for a multimillionaire, but the fact of the matter is D-Rose has been denied the opportunity to do what he loves because of factors that are completely out of his control.

    He was finally back in the starting lineup after missing the entire 2012-13 season. The 25-year-old was admittedly rusty—shooting a career-low 35.4 percent from the field—but seeing him in uniform just felt right.

    Of course, Rose’s stint didn’t last. He played just 10 games before another knee injury—this time a torn meniscus—put him on crutches.

    Although the floor general is a man of few words with a mellow demeanor, the respect he’s earned in the locker room speaks volumes about his standing as a good teammate.

    With regard to receiving “MVP” chants in Chicago’s 95-88 overtime win against the Miami Heat on March 9, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Joakim Noah said the following, per Bulls.com’s Chuck Swirsky (h/t USA Today’s Mike Foss):

    I don’t like it. No, I don’t like it.

    Because our MVP is not playing. We have one MVP and that’s Derrick Rose. It’s not about MVPs, it’s about rings, and one day I hope that we can get one here.

    That’s all I want. I don’t care about none of that stuff.

    Noah deflected MVP praise to his injured point guard out of respect, which is rare to see in pro sports.

    Rose may never return to MVP-caliber form, but at this point it's fair to say that fans just want to see him healthy.