Ranking the NBA's Most Damaging Injury Absences So Far

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2014

Ranking the NBA's Most Damaging Injury Absences So Far

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Please make it stop. 

    The injury gods are clearly mad at the NBA, but teams have already made so many sacrifices during the 2013-14 season. If you're looking for one of the players that has been sent to appease these angry deities, you might as well just close your eyes and point at an All-Star roster. 

    Chances are, your finger will land on one. Hell, you might misfire, point in between two stars and still be surrounded by correct answers. 

    It's too much. 

    In fact, there are so many injuries that we can rank the most damaging absences while only focusing on the ones that are currently affecting teams. Absences like Anthony Davis' for the New Orleans Pelicans were damaging, but they've been survived, and the teams in question have now moved forward. 

    Cross your fingers and hope your favorite team or player doesn't pop up during the remaining portion of this article. You probably won't be too lucky, though. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Unfortunately, the NBA has been beset by such a rash of injuries that it's impossible to highlight only 10 of them. 

    Not only were there plenty of big blows that affected teams during only the 2013 portion of the season, but there are also plenty of minor maladies that don't exactly help out the Association's 30 squads. 

    Anthony Davis missed New Orleans Pelicans games with a broken hand, Tyson Chandler was kept out of action for the New York Knicks thanks to his fractured right fibula and Larry Sanders' thumb forced him out for the Milwaukee bucks. Andre Iguodala also suffered a hamstring injury that set back the Golden State Warriors for a brief spell. 

    However, we're talking about current injuries, the ones that are still holding teams from their full potential. And those that leave players day-to-day aren't going to make the cut either. These injuries aren't significant to displace any of the featured ones, but they're still worth honorable mentions: 

    • Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans (cervical stinger, unknown return date)
    • Omer Asik, Houston Rockets (knee contusion, early January return)
    • Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets (broken hand, late January return)
    • Carlos Delfino, Milwaukee Bucks (foot surgery, out for season)
    • Jordan Farmar, Los Angeles Lakers (hamstring injury, early February return)
    • Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets (torn ACL, mid-January return)
    • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats (broken hand, early January return)
    • Carl Landry, Sacramento Kings (torn hip flexor, mid-January return)
    • JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets (stress fracture, out indefinitely)
    • Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers (nerve problems, early February return)
    • Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers (torn ACL, out for season)
    • Emeka Okafor, Phoenix Suns (herniated disk, out indefinitely)
    • Jermaine O'Neal, Golden State Warriors (wrist surgery, out indefinitely)
    • Quincy Pondexter, Memphis Grizzlies (stress fracture, out for season)
    • J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers (fractured hand and torn elbow ligament, mid-January return)
    • Jeff Taylor, Charlotte Bobcats (torn Achilles, out for season)
    • Metta World Peace, New York Knicks (knee surgery, mid-January return)

10. Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns

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    Injury: Sprained knee

    Expected Return Date: Mid-January

    Eric Bledsoe was in the midst of a breakout season, both for himself and the Phoenix Suns. Thanks to the combination of his excellence and the growth of Goran Dragic, the Suns were firmly in playoff contention, even in the tough Western Conference. 

    A sprained knee is now set to keep him out for at least a week, though. That might not seem like a big blow, but head coach Jeff Hornacek told Paul Coro's Suns Blog on AZCentral Sports, "We don’t want to rush him back." 

    For a team like the Suns, one struggling to prove its legitimacy while keeping pace with the rest of the playoff contenders, any prolonged absence from a star is a big blow. Bledsoe's knee injury might be minor, but there's no telling how cautious the team will be when bringing back such a key part of the future. 

9. Steve Blake, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Injury: Torn UCL

    Expected Return Date: Early February

    Steve Blake's absence is tough for the Los Angles Lakers, both because the team was completely out of point guards at one stage of the 2013-14 campaign (you may have noticed that Jordan Farmar and Steve Nash were both listed in the honorable mentions), and because Blake was playing so well. 

    Though he still managed to fly under the radar—strange for an L.A. player—Blake was averaging 9.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game at the time of his injury. Well, kind of, as he played through the pain in his elbow before being diagnosed with a torn UCL. 

    The Lakers don't have high hopes this season, but losing the most consistent point guard, especially when coupled with a dearth of replacement options, is still a tough injury to deal with. 

8. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

    Injury: Sprained MCL

    Expected Return Date: Early January

    The only reason Marc Gasol and his sprained MCL don't rank higher is the timing. 

    Especially because he's told Chris Vernon, an ESPN radio host in Memphis, that he's hoping to shatter the doctors' expectations, Gasol isn't going to miss much more time. He'll soon be back in the lineup for the Memphis Grizzlies, playing his trademark brand of defense and providing versatile offense. 

    That said, Gasol might not make a huge difference for the Grizz, even when he does return. 

    His defensive effectiveness is largely predicated on timing and an intuitive understanding of the rotations. That hasn't made his time under Dave Joerger easy, leading to a large regression from the performance he boasted during his Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2012-13. This injury only makes it tougher to bounce back. 

7. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

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    Injury: Torn ACL

    Expected Return Date: Late January

    Even if Rajon Rondo wants to play in the D-League before debuting for the Boston Celtics, he still isn't too far away from suiting up for the first time during the 2013-14 season. 

    The All-Star point guard has been out since tearing his ACL midway through last go-round, and ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg reports that he's traveling with the team during the five-game road trip that ends on Jan. 11. Maybe he'll make a surprise return? 

    Regardless, Rondo will make a huge impact when he's back in a C's uniform. Boston has struggled to score points with any semblance of consistency, yet the team still sits just shy of a playoff berth in the weak Eastern Conference. 

    Though he won't make the Celtics into contenders this year, Rondo's return almost guarantees Boston will be a postseason team. 

6. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Injury: Knee fracture

    Expected Return Date: Early February 

    Kobe Bryant missed the start of the 2013-14 season as he fought his way back from a tough Achilles injury. After debuting against the Toronto Raptors, he played six games before going down with what looked like a hyperextended knee.

    When it was revealed that he'd actually fractured his lateral tibial plateau in his left knee, he finished the first comeback with six games played, averaging 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists per contest while shooting 42.5 percent from the field. 

    Now he'll be making a second comeback, returning to a team that has played with undeniable heart and a significant disadvantage in the talent department. It should go without saying that the Mamba is quite important to the Los Angeles Lakers.

5. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Injury: Separated shoulder

    Expected Return Date: Early to mid February

    It was just an innocent play. 

    Chris Paul dribbled around a DeAndre Jordan screen, collided with Monta Ellis and fell to the floor. Then he landed awkwardly and retreated to the locker room before emerging with a sling and a separated shoulder. 

    All of a sudden, everything changed in the near future, putting a lot more pressure on Blake Griffin and Darren Collison to keep the Los Angeles Clippers near the top of the Western Conference standings. When CP3 went down, L.A.'s better team (it still feels weird to write that) had a 23-12 record, leaving them just four games shy of the conference-leading Portland Trail Blazers (it feels weirder to write that). 

    Assuming CP3 misses at least a month, as should be expected, it'll be tough to avoid letting the gap grow. And since every advantage is needed when the West's playoffs roll around, that's problematic.

4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Injury: Arthroscopic surgery

    Expected Return Date: Late February

    Russell Westbrook's injury could be devastating for the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

    Although Kevin Durant is quite clearly the team's best player, everything depends on Westbrook's explosiveness and unpredictability. He's the best ball-handler on the team, and he relieves so much of the pressure Durant faces. 

    Scott Brooks isn't much of a creative mind, and the team doesn't have anyone who can fill the void he leaves behind, so it's imperative that Westbrook returns at full strength after the All-Star break. The Thunder can't afford to slip much, especially because they're in such great shape to make a legitimate run at the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. 

3. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

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    Injury: Torn pectoral muscle

    Expected Return Date: Out for season

    The Atlanta Hawks were cruising along, sitting pretty at No. 3 in the Eastern Conference. Even though they didn't have the talent to truly challenge the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, they were still in great shape to earn a high playoff seed and make some serious noise. 

    Then Al Horford tore his right pectoral muscle, making it the second time in three seasons he'd suffered such a devastating injury. 

    Losing the big man when he was in the midst of one of his finest seasons is a huge blow. Despite Jeff Teague's impressive play at the point, Paul Millsap's dark-horse run at an All-Star bid and Kyle Korver's heroics from beyond the arc, Horford was quite clearly the Hawks' best and most important player. 

2. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Injury: Broken foot

    Expected Return Date: Out for season

    Brook Lopez might not be as big a name as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or Deron Williams. But despite his relative anonymity for a player with an All-Star appearance and this much skill, he was quite clearly the best player on the team. 

    Jason Kidd's offensive systems basically revolved around feeding BroLo the ball in the post and waiting for him to score, and the 7-footer was emerging as an increasingly solid defender. Then he broke his foot.


    Without Lopez, the Nets are basically hopeless. They may turn their putrid season around enough to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs—only because just about every team is awful—but you can toss any hopes of this being a contending team out of the window. 

1. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

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    Injury: Torn meniscus

    Expected Return Date: Out for season

    Even though Derrick Rose wasn't playing as well as Brook Lopez when he went down for the season, his injury was even more negative because the Chicago Bulls were actually a competitive basketball team. Although he's been out for a while, the Bulls still are in line to earn a playoff berth, and it's not unlikely they'd have emerged as a contender by now if he'd remained healthy. 

    Rose is a former MVP, but now there are questions about his long-term prospects. 

    He wasn't particularly effective returning from a torn ACL, and another knee injury could severely impact his future. Maybe he'll regain all of his athleticism and explosiveness after two major injuries, but maybe he won't. Maybe he'll recover his mental fortitude, but maybe he won't. 

    Uncertainty is the name of the game now, both for Rose and the Windy City's basketball squad.