10 Early-Season Injuries Killing NBA Teams

Luke Petkac@@LukePetkacFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2012

10 Early-Season Injuries Killing NBA Teams

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    As many NBA teams (and fans) are finding out, early-season injuries can be a killer.

    There’s not much worse than watching a quarter of the NBA season slip by without one of your favorite players so much as touching the floor. Or watching the losses pile higher and higher, thinking: This would never happen if  ___ was playing.

    Well, 10 teams are feeling that exact same way right now. And it’s making them miserable.

    Here's a look at the sources of that misery.

    All stats current as of the conclusion of games on 12/12/12

No. 10: Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors

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    The Golden State Warriors actually haven’t been killed without Bogut this season. In fact, they’ve been pretty good.

    The Warriors sit at 15-7, good for fifth in the Western Conference. Their success this season is impressive, but it also begs the question: How good could this team be with Andrew Bogut?

    The Warriors are playing so well thanks in no small part to the surprisingly solid frontcourt pairing of David Lee and Carl Landry. Golden State is one of just six teams that ranks above average in both defensive rating (14th) and offensive rating (12th), which measure points allowed and scored, respectively, per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).

    But neither Lee nor Landry are known for their defense, and together they give up a lot of size to other teams. The Warriors have had to turn to rookie center Festus Ezeli to fill the hole in the middle. He’s been surprisingly okay defensively but is a complete non-factor offensively.

    Bogut, on the other hand, is arguably one of the five best defenders in the league when healthy (which is admittedly rare). But Bogut’s ability to score on the low block would also do wonders for the Warriors' offense.

    Teams would no longer be able to hedge away from Ezeli or Andris Biedrins to defend against Curry and fellow sharpshooter Klay Thompson. That would significantly open up the three-point line and would also clear up tons of space inside for David Lee.

    The Warriors have been pretty good, but Bogut could make them a whole lot better. He says that he’ll be suiting up again at some point this season. For the Warriors, that day can’t come soon enough.

No. 9: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics are a rather pedestrian 12-9 right now and sit at sixth in the Atlantic Division a quarter of the way through the season.

    There are a few reasons for that. The Celtics started the year playing uninspired defense, they have a lot of new pieces to kick around and they traditionally treat the regular season as more of a tune-up for the playoffs than anything else.

    But another reason is the absence of Avery Bradley, who in just his third NBA season is already one of the best defensive guards in the league (seriously, how many 22-year-olds have their own defensive mixtapes, or LeBron James praising their defense?).

    Courtney Lee, Bradley’s replacement at the moment, is a solid defensive guard in his own right, but he is not in the same stratosphere as Bradley.

    Plus, Lee’s offense has been lackluster at best this season. He’s averaging a career-low 5.6 points per game and just 28.1 percent shooting on threes, which are billed as his greatest offensive strength.

    Lee is a good backup, but he’s playing almost 24 minutes per game for the Celtics, which quite frankly is way too much.

    Bradley is apparently inching closer to a return, and hopefully we’ll see him in a Celtics uniform sooner rather than later. The defensive impact he has on this Boston squad can’t be overstated, and he’ll need some time to jell with Boston's new additions.

No. 8: Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers

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    Say what you will about Danny Granger—the Indiana Pacers need him. Yeah, he’s overpaid, and he’s not at all the franchise guy that the Pacers were hoping to get when they inked him to a five-year, $60 million extension.

    But his absence has also proven that he’s one of the few consistent options that the Pacers have on offense.

    The Pacers have looked like a local rec league team on offense this year, scoring just 99.5 points per 100 possessions, third-worst in the league. The combined record of the five teams they’re sandwiched between? 29-76. It’s been that kind of offense.

    David West is trying his best to make the Pacers look respectable, but Paul George clearly wasn’t ready to take the offensive reins yet, and Roy Hibbert has been just terrible (and that’s putting it nicely).

    Hibbert is putting up 9.5 points per game and sporting a true shooting percentage of 40.9 percent (via Basketball-Reference), which is right up there with offensive legends like Samardo Samuels and Greg Stiemsma (kidding, of course). Also, he was just recently obliterated at the rim by Russell Westbrook. Keep in mind, this guy just signed a big extension.

    At 11-11, the Pacers are just barely staying relevant in the Eastern Conference playoff conversation. It might take Granger’s return for them to stay that way.

No. 7: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks are completely built around Dirk Nowitzki, so it makes sense that they’d miss him a bit on the court. And if they don’t get him back soon, there’s a legitimate chance that they’ll miss the playoffs.

    After starting the year at a red-hot 4-1, the Mavericks have gone 7-10 and have fallen to the eighth spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. The Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and, yes, the Los Angeles Lakers all have the talent to step on the gas and leave the Mavs in the dust.

    O.J. Mayo’s rise (including this 40-point explosion) has been a fun story so far this season, but Mayo isn’t a franchise player. He can only take this Dallas team so far. If they’re thinking playoffs, then they’re going to need Dirk.

    Dirk is scheduled to be out for a while longer. That’s unfortunate, because he’s going to have to play himself into shape (much like last season) and also get acclimated to all of the Mavericks’ new pieces.

    None of that can happen unless he gets onto the court. Every day that he spends in street clothes could cost the Mavericks dearly by the end of the season.

No. 6: John Wall, Washington Wizards

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    The 3-16 Washington Wizards are the worst team in the league. That alone is probably enough to show how badly John Wall’s injury has hurt them.

    But Wall’s absence hasn't just affected the Wizards’ record—it's affected Wall’s own development.

    The Wizards have made a conscious effort over the past year to clear the shelves of their talented but immature players and bring in smarter veterans.

    They got rid of JaVale McGee (who has looked good in Denver but really needed a change of scenery), Nick Young and Andray Blatche and brought in guys like Nene and Emeka Okafor.

    It was a move made almost solely to surround Wall with some solid, hard-working basketball players rather than head cases. Washington sacrificed long-term flexibility (cap space) with the hope that Wall’s improvement would offset that loss.

    Except now Wall’s hurt and isn’t scheduled to return anytime soon. Plus the Wizards stink. So the deal is looking really bad.

    The Wizards need Wall on the court as soon as possible so that they can finally help him develop as a player. Maybe they’ll even win a few games in the process.

No. 5: Eric Gordon, New Orleans Hornets

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    It’s been almost a year since Eric Gordon was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans, and since then he’s played a total of nine games. Nine.

    The real problems between Gordon and the Hornets started last summer, when Gordon signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns and essentially begged the Hornets not to match it. According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, Gordon said, "Phoenix is just where my heart is now."

    Of course, the Hornets matched the deal, and things have been rocky ever since. Gordon has yet to play this season, and it’s resulted in a few people insinuating that he’s faking an injury so that he doesn’t have to play for the Hornets.

    That’s not a good sign for New Orleans. Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Gordon make up a nice young core for the Hornets, and the last thing that they need is for the city to start turning against Gordon.

    The Hornets would love to have Gordon on the court again for his play alone, but it doesn’t hurt that it might stop the media from taking potshots at him as well.

No. 4: Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Deep in the back of their minds, Philadelphia 76ers fans had to be a little worried about something like Andrew Bynum’s bowling incident.

    After all, Bynum has a track record of being both injury-prone and one of the most unpredictable and bizarre people in professional sports. Bynum’s setback isn’t a huge surprise (unlike his hair).

    The 76ers are playing decent basketball right now (they’re 12-10), but their big-man rotation currently consists of Lavoy Allen, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown. Of the four, only Young ranks above average in terms of player efficiency (PER).

    It seems fair to say that Bynum would be an upgrade. In fact, Bynum would make this Sixers team a genuine threat in the East.

    Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday appear to have grown exponentially this season (with Holiday even getting some slight MVP recognition). You think there’s a single team in the Eastern Conference that would want to face this team in the playoffs if it had a healthy Bynum? Not a chance.

    But that’s not even the biggest reason that Bynum’s injury is killing the 76ers. Bynum is in the final year of his contract. He might have some shaky knees, but there’s almost no doubt that someone will throw a max contract his way. There’s a genuine chance that he never plays a game for the 76ers.

    If the 76ers don't get to the playoffs and convince Bynum that Philly is the place to be, he may just collect his money and go his merry way. That would kill the 76ers.

No. 3: Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Ricky Rubio is scheduled to return pretty soon, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    Rookie point guard Alexey Shved has actually done a fairly good Rubio impersonation in Ricky's absence, but he’s not Ricky. And now that the Kevin Love bombshell has hit the organization, the Timberwolves need Rubio more than ever.

    The Timberwolves actually looked playoff-bound for a short while last year. Of course, Rubio went down not long after that point, and the rest is history. Today, Minnesota is 10-9 and one of many teams straddling the line between the playoffs and the lottery.

    As Love told Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski:

    I'm looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven't been to the playoffs—or it's been one playoff berth—well, it's going to be tough to say, “Oh well, I'm going to stay here and continue to rebuild."

    Basically: We need to start winning, or I’m gone. Rubio’s absence gave the rest of the Western Conference a leg up on the Timberwolves, something the Wolves can’t really afford. It’s going to be up to Rubio to change that.

No. 2: Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Who expected Steve Nash to make this list? Everyone? Yeah, that’s about right.

    The Los Angeles Lakers are running out of excuses for their poor play. But they’ll play the “Steve Nash will make everything better” card until he’s back on the court.

    When asked how long it will take Nash to fix the Lakers offense, head coach Mike D’Antoni told USA Today’s David Leon Moore: "Give him an hour and a half."

    But the real problem facing the Lakers isn’t the offense (107.8 points per 100 possessions, good for eighth overall), but the defense (16th overall) and the lack of effort and fun that's spreading through the roster like a plague.

    Knowing that, it’s easy to say that Nash, a poor defender by any metric, won’t help the team. And he probably won’t from a defensive standpoint.

    But at the very least, Nash can improve the offense (he’s the reason D’Antoni is in Los Angeles in the first place) and, more importantly, get the Lakers to have fun again.

    Here’s the thing: There’s not a single player in the league who doesn’t want to play with Nash. He’s an unselfish, great teammate, and he knows how to get guys the ball in spots where they can succeed. He plays genuinely fun basketball. And really, isn’t that what the Lakers need right now?

    The Lakers are getting visibly, openly frustrated with each other on the court. If nothing else, Nash can absolutely improve upon that. Whether that translates to wins…only time will tell.

No. 1: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

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    Who else? The Chicago Bulls are staying afloat in the Eastern Conference, sitting in fourth with a 12-9 record. But all anyone really cares about is the return of Derrick Rose.

    There’s no need to explain how important Derrick Rose is to Chicago. The Bulls’ philosophy over the past few seasons has been simple: a lot of defense and a lot of Derrick. And it’s worked.

    But the real reason that Rose’s injury is so scary is that it could have serious long-term ramifications for Chicago. Some players come back fine after tearing their ACLs. Baron Davis tore his during his freshman year at UCLA and didn’t miss a beat.

    But other guys—guys like Tim Hardaway—come back effective, but not the same. They lose their explosiveness. And explosiveness is the one thing that Rose can’t afford to lose.

    Because no star player in the league has a game as predicated on athleticism as Rose.

    That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the truth. The strength of his game is the fact that he can get to the rim at will. His first step is unparalleled, and he uses a variety of vicious, ankle-destroying cuts to carve a path to the basket. That’s how he excels.

    What if that gets taken away? Can he change his game on the fly the way that Chris Paul did after he came back from injury? Can he become more cerebral—master the little nuances of the game that he never had to when he could just obliterate defenders off the dribble?

    Maybe Rose comes back 100 percent from injury. Maybe he loses a step but adjusts his game accordingly. Or maybe he’s never the same. We don’t know yet. And that’s just killing the Chicago Bulls.