10 Injured NBA Stars Who Will Have the Biggest Impact Upon Return

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

10 Injured NBA Stars Who Will Have the Biggest Impact Upon Return

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    It seems that the beginning of this season, no matter how thrilling it's been so far, has been seriously marred thanks to injuries.

    Think about it. We have no idea how good the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Hornets and Washington Wizards can be thanks to them missing players of huge importance.

    Whether it's a guy who's going to come in and completely transform the team (a la Derrick Rose) or a guy who is going to add yet another dimension to the team, like Avery Bradley for the Boston Celtics, the league is riddled with injuries up to this point.

    In the next month or so, we're going to see the return of a flurry of high-caliber players, which is really going to give us an idea of what the makeup of the league is.

    So after seeing Pau Gasol return on Dec. 18 and post 10 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks en route to a Laker win, let's discuss 10 upcoming returns and how much of an impact they're going to make when they revisit the hardwood.

    All return dates are based on CBSSports.com's injury report.

Eric Gordon

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    Expected Return: Late December

    The New Orleans Hornets are sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference, and they've been without arguably their best player for the duration of the season.

    In fact, the Hornets have only seen Eric Gordon lace up for them nine times since January, and he was supposed to be the key piece they landed in the Chris Paul trade.

    New Orleans is going to continue to have a hard time for a month or so, as Gordon has played with the majority of these guys just nine times at the most; the rest (save Al-Farouq Aminu) he's yet to play with.

    The biggest positive they'll get from the return of Gordon is that they won't have to start Austin Rivers, who has been more of an inconsistent disaster than anything else so far this season.

Andrew Bogut

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    Expected Return: Late December

    The Golden State Warriors are inexplicably sitting near the top of the Pacific Division out in the Western Conference, all without the help of their big man in the middle, Andrew Bogut.

    With Bogut out, David Lee has stepped up on the offensive end, and Festus Ezeli has been their starting center.

    Golden State has blocked just 82 shots as a team this season, and with Bogut in the middle, the team will finally have an intimidating interior defender to send shots back when guys get past the first line of defense.

    What's most amazing about the Warriors' strong start is that they've completely bought into Mark Jackson's preaching about defense, giving up just 98.4 points per game.

    If Bogut can smoothly transition into the lineup once he does come back, they won't really need him to do much with the ball, just as long as he's blocking shots and keeping guys out of the paint.

Amar'e Stoudemire

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    Expected Return: Late December

    The argument is going to continue to rage until Amar'e Stoudemire comes back and actually plays a few games, but people seem to have mixed feelings about his return.

    Obviously, Carmelo Anthony has been a terrific power forward for the New York Knicks this season. Moving him out of that spot would be foolish if Amar'e is going to come back at anything less than 100 percent.

    However, if Amar'e is going to be at full strength and play like every bit of the offensive presence he has been in the past, then the Knicks offense should have no troubles.

    The biggest problem seems to be defensively, where the Knicks have been struggling a bit as of late.

    Stoudemire is not going to come in and suddenly make them one of the league's most formidable defenses.

Danny Granger

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    Expected Return: February

    It didn't seem like it would be one of the most derailing injuries of the early part of the NBA season, but the Indiana Pacers have really missed Danny Granger.

    His absence forced the Pacers to grow up on the fly, and they struggled to do that early on.

    Along the way, they've gotten better, but they still seem to be nowhere near the team that nearly beat the Miami Heat in the playoffs last season.

    Adding Granger (sometime in February) to this team that has been forced to go through some hard knocks makes them suddenly get deeper and adds a legitimate playmaker. That's going to be just what the doctor ordered.

Avery Bradley

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    Expected Return: Early January

    The Boston Celtics have been a low-scoring bunch for years now, but they've always counted on their defense to keep them close and give them a chance to win late in games.

    This year, however, Boston's defense has been nothing more than average, and it's lacking the springy youth that Avery Bradley gave them last season.

    Sure, he's not going to give them the huge boost on offense, but he's a fast guy with whom Rajon Rondo can run the fast break, and he can guard guys on the perimeter like nobody's business.

    At the very least, if the Celtics would have had Bradley from the start of the season, they would be more than a .500 team at this point.

Steve Nash

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    Expected Return: December 22

    Let me reiterate what has been said about 4,320 times so far since Steve Nash went down in the second game of the year: Even though the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled mightily since Nash's injury, Nash isn't going to help the defense.

    Sure, he's going to give the offense a reason to live, finding the open man and even helping out Kobe Bryant at times, but that defense is going to have to get better on its own.

    Nash will be the savior of the offense; there's no doubt about that. He brings continuity (eventually) and gives them somebody through whom to run the offense, and he isn't going to be in isolation 22 times a game.

    While the Lakers have struggled to even near .500, once Nash comes back they should be able to turn the corner and put the nastiness behind them, so long as they start giving more effort on defense.

John Wall

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    Expected Return: Late December

    The Washington Wizards are so bad that they might actually be making John Wall heal more slowly. It's physically revolting to watch this team play at times, something Wall is forced to do almost every day.

    Once Wall is comes back, however, they at least have a person around whom to center the offense, rather than hoping that somebody can pick up the slack on any given night.

    Here's a little secret: Jordan Crawford and Kevin Seraphin have done a terrible job picking up that slack.

    Wall isn't going to turn this team into a playoff contender, and he's going to have a tough time dragging them out of the basement.

    What he does bring, however, is a reason for people to come to Wizards games, and that's a victory in itself.

Andrew Bynum

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    Expected Return: Early January, at the soonest

    The only thing Andrew Bynum has been able to do for the Philadelphia 76ers over the course of the season is look hilarious with his whack-fro while sitting on the bench.

    Bynum's debut for the 76ers is going to bring them a lot in terms of filling holes, but it also might solve a few hidden problems.

    He's a scoring presence in the post, which is something they've been without to this point, but he's going to change the philosophy of this team once he's completely healthy.

    Bynum is capable of holding down the post on his own, so the likes of Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Jason Richardson can become shooters and slashers, rather than isolation men and penetrators. That leaves Thaddeus Young time to learn the high post, something for which he seems to be built.

    Additionally, Bynum takes pressure off the likes of Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown, all of whom have struggled as the season has dragged along.

Dirk Nowitzki

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    Expected Return: Late December

    It's weird to see, but the Dallas Mavericks are under .500, and their streak of playoff seasons is in danger of coming to an end.

    Of course, we can't give a definitive answer to that until we see Dirk Nowitzki come back, which could completely change the culture of this team.

    As it stands right now, the scoring load is heaped upon O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and the rest of the team by committee.

    Dirk allows the Mavericks to play more of a spaced-out game, as he and Kaman can play an interesting game when they're on the floor together. Plus, it's going to take a bit of the defensive pressure off Mayo, who has seen opponents' best defenders for the majority of the season.

    Nowitzki isn't going to help them improve their defense, which is crouching just above the basement of the league, but perhaps this team can run and gun with him and just outscore teams for the rest of the season.

Derrick Rose

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    Expected Return: Mid-January, at the earliest

    If you're not excited for the return of Derrick Rose, then you either hate the Chicago Bulls or you're a crotchety old man who hates it when point guards take on the scoring load, rather than doling out assists for the duration of games.

    Rose will immediately make the Chicago Bulls watchable again, and it takes pressure off of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, who have had the challenge of masking how terrible Carlos Boozer is all on their own.

    Let me put it out there in the simplest way I know how: Chicago is going to be upgrading to Derrick Rose after starting Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson for the duration of the season. If they don't get better, then the world makes no sense.