The Biggest Injury Question Marks Heading into NBA Training Camp
Injuries are the saddest part of the story of basketball. Often times the difference between greatness and just another disappointing career isn't how a player performs in a game or how hard he practices. It comes in a sad, split-second moment on the court when a player goes down.
Several key players are entering the 2012-13 season with major injury questions.
Some of these players won't be back until the middle while others will be back at the start. However there is a possibility their injuries could recur, or cause problems through the season.
These are the players whose injuries are the biggest concerns entering the season.
Iman Shumpert's Knee
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When Iman Shumpert went down with a torn ACL within hours of Derrick Rose's injury, it was almost surreal.
While Tyson Chandler had his own vast impact on last year's greatly improved Knicks defense, it can't be ignored what Iman Shumpert contributed on that end of the floor, as he was on the court with the Knicks' best defensive lineup.
According to Synergy Sports he gave up just .68 points per play on isolation plays, indicative of a hard perimeter player to get around.
His timetable to return is about the same as that of Rose's: around eight months. But once he returns, will he be able to cut the same and stay in front of players as adeptly?
Being that the best defense is to force opponents to take outside shots, Shumpert's defensive abilities have a value that doesn't show up in the box score. If he can get back up to full speed he could bolster the Knicks for a plyaoff run, but if not, they will have a hard time replacing his loss, particularly with the depature of Landry Fields.
Chauncey Billups' Achilles
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Chauncey Billups was a key to the Clippers improvement last year, and Los Angeles never quite got over his loss.
While the Clippers were 14-6 with Billups on the court they were a mere 26-20 without him. That's a difference in winning percentage of 14 percent.
According to advanced stats from NBA.com, the Clippers scored more efficiently and had a more efficient defense while Billups was on the court. The team was a plus 6.4 per 36 minutes while he was on the court; they were only a plus 1.6 while he was not.
He had a tremendous impact on the team's success, and now the Clips will have to wait until November to get him back because of the Achilles tendon he tore last year.
Once he returns, though, how far back will the 35-year-old guard be? Injuries don't heal as well when you're 35 as they do when you're 25.
Luol Deng's Wrist
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Luol Deng injured his wrist during last year's season. He toughed it out until the end of the year, and then, rather than having surgery, he toughed it out a little longer to play for his country in the London Olympics.
This was a somewhat controversial decision as Deng is getting paid $13.3 million to play for the Bulls next year, and if his wrist keeps him out this could bring a bit of backlash.
On the other hand, the things that make Deng who he is—his loyalty and willingness to do whatever it takes for his team—are the same things that compelled him to play for his nation. In other words, to ask him to not play for his country—which saved both him and his family form political persecution—is to ask him to not be the same kind of player he is for the Bulls.
Wrists can heal; slaying that fundamental part of his character cannot.
In the Olympics he was using both hands—something which he didn't do with the Bulls following his injury. These injuries can heal on their own without requiring surgery. Kobe Bryant's did.
There is time between now and the start of the season for the All-Star's injury to heal completely. If it doesn't, he may require surgery at the beginning of the season which would leave the Bulls without either of their All-Stars for an extended period of time.
For the Bulls to be in the playoff hunt, they'll need Deng to be at his best to carry the team until Rose returns. But until that happens, his injury is a big question mark heading into the season.
Jeff Green's Heart
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Jeff Green's psychological heart is not an issue, but his physiological heart kept him out of the NBA for the entirety of last season.
He has proven that the former is fine in his recovery from his surgery to fix the latter. Gary Dzen of the Boston Globe quotes Green as he recounts his compelling story of that ordeal.
"I view things differently now," said Green. "I don't take a lot of things for granted. After the procedure, just doing a situp was hard. Walking from door to door was hard. Catching my breath was hard. All the things that I do now were taken away from me. A procedure that only took a couple hours."
Green has been preparing himself for his return to the court, but you can't prepare for the NBA game without playing in the NBA game.
If Green can get his rhythm back before long, if he can return to the player he was before or even be better, then the Celtics can contend for a title with Green at the power forward and Garnett at the center.
Otherwise, the Celtics could struggle should Garnett be forced to man the power forward spot while a pair or rookies learn the hardest defensive position in the NBA.
Ricky Rubio's Knee
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Last year Ricky Rubio absolutely ignited the Minnesota Timberwolves and their fans with his electrifying plays. People who had questioned what kind of NBA player he would make recanted faster than a Richard Nixon voter.
While he got much-deserved attention for the T-Wolves' vast offensive improvement, that told only half the story. Rubio did make the team exciting to watch—and there's really no measurement for "excitement"—but the truth is the T-Wolves offense scored 101.3 points per 100 possessions with Rubio on the court and 101.6 without him.
That's a pretty small difference, and it doesn't mean their offense was better without him. It does, though, bring to light where Rubio made his biggest contribution: His impact on defense was tremendous, as Minnesota gave up 7.2 fewer points per 100 possessions with Rubio on the court.
He's recovering from surgery to be repair a torn anterior cruciate and torn lateral collateral ligaments to his left knee. He could be back in January or even December.
With the other pieces the T-Wolves have added in Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko, they have a team that could push for the second round of the postseason next year. They'll need a fully recovered Rubio to do so, though, so eyes in Minnesota will be fixed on the return of last year's rookie sensation.
Dwight Howard's Back
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Everything, as always, is sunny in Los Angeles now, especially since "Superman's" trade to the Lakers, but dark, ominous clouds could ruin the Lakers hopes of a championship season.
According to Sam Amick of SI.com:
Howard may miss the start of the regular season, and the question even after he returns is whether a 6-foot-11, 264-pound, 26-year-old who relies so heavily on his athleticism will be the same specimen after having a herniated disk repaired and fragments removed on April 21. Chances are that Howard will be just fine, but this whole dream season could be swapped for a reality check if he's not the same player.
Howard is most likely going to have a spectacular season, and has a great chance of donning his first championship ring.
Yet back injuries are also one of those chronic things that can flare up again and again, and it's not hard to picture the Lakers trying to make room for both Howard and Nash to lie down on the sidelines, ala Larry Bird.
Chronic back problems could sideline Howard this season and, as a result, sideline the Lakers' championship aspirations.
This will be worth monitoring throughout the year.
Derrick Rose's Knee
Derrick Rose is unquestionably the biggest star in the NBA who will be starting the season on the sidelines.
He's the youngest MVP in league history and his number topped the NBA in jersey sales last season.
In fact, there's so much interest in Rose's progress that Adidas has sponsored a series of documentaries entitled The Return to chronicle his recovery. The first, Believe, can be viewed above.
There are some big questions about his injury since his explosiveness—that athletic feature which makes him so special—is the very thing that could be compromised by the injury.
There are some factors that work in his favor. He has a tremendous work ethic. He is young. Treatment for these kinds of injuries has progressed a long way. Players like Jamal Crawford have fully recovered.
There's even some suggestion that Rose could come back better than ever since, as he recovers, he will be compelled to work on his jump shot, easily the weakest aspect of his game.
Tim Hardaway, the uncle of his girlfriend, had to recover from the same injury and believes that Rose will have a better jumper when he comes back, according to Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
''He can only do three things,'' said former NBA point guard Tim Hardaway, who missed the 1993-94 season after suffering a similar injury. ''He can dribble—not run and dribble, just dribble walking up and down the court; he can shoot a bunch of free throws; and he can shoot a bunch of set shots like he's playing H-O-R-S-E every day, all day.
''But that's going to make him better. If you shoot 1,000 jump shots a day, 1,000 free throws a day, you're going to get better. That made my shot better. It really made my jump shot and free-throw percentage better.''
Hardaway saw his effective field-goal percentage jump from .491 to .510 in his first year back from his injury, so he's not just spouting off.
There's also a report from Sam Amick of SI.com that Rose's upper-body strength is improved. This could help him finish when he's fouled on his way to the basket.
According to data from Synergy Sports, this could be a huge development. For instance over the last two seasons he's attempted 794 free throw attempts but only 63 of those were and-ones. That means that he's only finishing the shot when he's fouled around 15 percent of the time.
By comparison, Russell Westbrook has attempted only 522 free throw attempts but 102 of those were and-ones, meaning he made 30 percent of his shots while being fouled in the act of shooting.
Improving his upper-body strength will help Rose to tear through contact and finish shots, which should get his rate closer to that of Westbrook's.
On the downside, Rose could join the list of players like Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill who saw their career's fall into that unfortunate category of "what could have been." On the upside he could be better than ever once he gets himself back into game form.
Partly because of his enormous star status, and partly because of the range of potential outcomes, Rose's injury is by far the biggest question mark entering the 2013 NBA season.