The NBA's All-Injured Team
Just to be clear, there's a link, however light, between the two. Modern medicine has done wonders to extend both the length and the quality of the careers of the former, but has yet to eradicate the suffering of the latter. Injuries are, have always been and likely will always be a part of basketball, if for no other reason than the sheer physical demands that are part and parcel of the game itself.
According to Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling, major injuries aren't any more prevalent than they used to be. This comes contrary to the perception created by the significant setbacks that have hindered—if not outright derailed—the careers of All-Stars and franchise cornerstones in recent seasons.
As it happens, you could field an awesome team from the pool of players who either have or will have missed two or more consecutive weeks of games on account of injuries in 2013-14. Some, like Phoenix Suns phenom Eric Bledsoe, have sat out at least a fortnight in total, but not yet as a single chunk of time—and hopefully never will. A host of others (most notably Dwyane Wade and the San Antonio Spurs' Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) have been withheld from action on occasion for strategic and preventative purposes.
Even with those disqualifications, this squad was all too easy to put together. Get well soon, guys. The Association isn't the same without you.
Point Guard: Chris Paul
Also on the Depth Chart: Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash
Up until Jan. 3, Derrick Rose would've been the choice—perhaps not an easy one—to start at point guard on the All-Injured team. After all, he's the only floor general in basketball who's both been named an MVP and should still have his best years ahead of him (sorry, Steve Nash!). Rajon Rondo may be the only champion of the bunch, but he's yet to (have the opportunity to) show that he can be the singular star of a competitive NBA squad.
Forgive Chris Paul, then, if his bona fides don't include any trophies beyond Rookie of the Year. And excuse him for having yet to lead a team to the conference finals.
But you'll be hard-pressed to find significant dissent on the notion that Paul is the best point guard in basketball today. He's leading the league in assists by a landslide and is within striking distance of his sixth steals title in seven years. Few players command as much respect and have as much and as steady control over both ends of the court as he does on any given night.
His three-to-six-week absence on account of a separated shoulder could be calamitous for the Los Angeles Clippers' quest to claim a slice of home-court advantage in the Western Conference. Without Paul, the Clips will lend the starting point guard spot to Darren Collison, a career backup who, despite his experience with filling in for CP3 dating back to their days as teammates with the New Orleans Hornets, is more understudy than facsimile.
As good as Blake Griffin is and as great as he's quickly becoming, the Clips are still Paul's team—a point that figures to be driven home by the time CP3 returns to the lineup.
Shooting Guard: Russell Westbrook
Also on the Depth Chart: Bradley Beal
You could argue that Russell Westbrook is more point guard than shooting guard. He's the Oklahoma City Thunder's chief ball-handler and distributor, with a build (6'3, 200 pounds) that would run on the smaller side among swingmen.
In truth, Westbrook fits the general description of "guard" more so than one pertaining to either spot in a traditional backcourt. He ranks among the league leaders in both assists (7.6) and turnovers (4.4), with a usage rate (32.2 percent) that's bested only by DeMarcus Cousins' (33.7 percent) among qualified players, per NBA.com.
But Westbrook is anything but a pass-first type. If anything, he's more of a scorer who can and must pass as part of his duties. Westbrook's average of 21.3 points per game would be the 12th-highest in the NBA if he'd played enough to be in the running for the scoring title. His 17.9 field goal attempts per outing would place him seventh, just three spots behind teammate and three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant.
Durant has had to shoulder a massive load since Westbrook's last knee operation. His line of 32.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists has helped OKC to four wins in six tries over that span.
The two losses served as a reminder of just how integral Westbrook is to what the Thunder do. Both defeats, to the Portland Trail Blazers and the Brooklyn Nets, came at home and by close margins. Both also featured the Thunder building up double-digit leads before running out of steam down the stretch.
There's no way to know for certain how those outcomes would've been affected by Westbrook's presence, though it's not at all far-fetched to suggest that OKC would've had an easier time hanging on to win in each instance had Westbrook been able to contribute.
Small Forward: Kobe Bryant
Also on the Depth Chart: Andre Iguodala, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Danilo Gallinari
Like Westbrook, Kobe Bryant doesn't fit neatly into the mold as a small forward. He's spent the vast majority of his time during his 18-year pro career operating as a shooting guard.
The Black Mamba, though, isn't exactly your prototypical off-ball shooter, like Ray Allen or the aforementioned Bradley Beal. Rather, Bryant has functioned more as a playmaker and a passer than he has a standstill shooter while sliding over to accommodate three-guard lineups now and then.
Perhaps it would've been more fair to give this spot to Andre Iguodala, whose return from a hamstring injury preceded the Golden State Warriors' current nine-game winning streak. Or, perhaps we should've acknowledged how much better the Charlotte Bobcats were before Michael Kidd-Gilchrist broke his hand and/or how different things would be for the Denver Nuggets if Danilo Gallinari had never torn his ACL.
But none of those guys move the needle nearly as much as Bryant does. He's the most widely recognized NBA superstar this side of LeBron James, and though his contributions might not have been enough to keep the Los Angeles Lakers from languishing in the lower rungs of the Western Conference, the time lost to injuries in his left Achilles tendon and left knee haven't done the Purple and Gold any favors.
Power Forward: Al Horford
Also on the Depth Chart: Anthony Davis
In time, Anthony Davis will deserve this spot over Al Horford, though fans of the New Orleans Pelicans and of the NBA in general can only hope that the 'Brow won't be on the shelf long enough to "qualify" for this particular team.
Fortunately, Davis is healthy and contributing again. The same can't be said of Al Horford, who, in late December, sustained his second season-ending pectoral injury in three seasons.
Horford was and still is the last member of the Atlanta Hawks' former nucleus who's survived the first two summers of the Danny Ferry regime. Joe Johnson was shipped to the Brooklyn Nets in 2012, and Josh Smith was allowed to walk to the Detroit Pistons in 2013.
Now that Horford, a two-time All-Star, is down for the count, the Hawks must lean ever more heavily on Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver to carry them through, with the likes of Elton Brand and Pero Antic picking up more minutes in Horford's stead.
Luckily for Atlanta, the East is bad enough to make the prospect of the Hawks cracking the playoffs for a seventh straight season sans Horford not only a possibility, but a downright probability.
Center: Marc Gasol
The last two bigs to be named Defensive Player of the Year have both missed significant time for their respective squads, as has another who was in the mix for the award last season—and all to devastating effect.
The New York Knicks went 6-14 between early November and mid-December while Tyson Chandler was recovering from a broken left fibula. The Memphis Grizzlies have been slightly better in their 20 games (8-12) without Marc Gasol, who sprained his knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 22. At one point, the Milwaukee Bucks lost 11 games in a row while Larry Sanders was sidelined by a hand injury suffered during a bar brawl.
But at least Chandler is back, albeit now with an upper respiratory infection, as is Sanders, though the Bucks have dropped four of five with him back in the lineup. The same can't be said for Gasol, whose return could still be weeks away.
The Bucks are wallowing in the NBA's cellar, but neither the Grizzlies nor the Knicks are entirely out of the playoff hunt, per se. Memphis is five-and-a-half games back of the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth spot in the Western Conference, while New York has two-and-a-half games to make up on the Detroit Pistons in the East.
The biggest difference? Aside from the difference in gaps and healthy personnel, the Knicks can also count on the sheer putridity of their conference to keep their hopes alive, wittingly or otherwise. The Brooklyn Nets have seen their hopes similarly buoyed, despite the loss of Brook Lopez to yet another foot injury.
The Grizz, on the other hand, have a much more competitive field to leapfrog before they can so much as sniff their fourth straight postseason.
Who else belongs on the All-Injured squad? Let me know on Twitter!