The NBA regular season stretches across six months of the year—seven or eight including the playoffs—but can end at a moment's notice with a single injury.
Just ask the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder, who lost Derrick Rose (2012) and Russell Westbrook (2013) to torn ACLs in the playoffs in consecutive seasons. Both began the postseason as top seeds; the Bulls bowed out in the first round to Philadelphia, while the Thunder survived their first series with Houston before falling to Memphis in five games.
Perhaps not coincidentally, both players re-injured themselves this season, forcing their teams to use that old "next man up" sports adage. And while a team is almost never the same—usually for the worse—when one of its core members misses significant playing time, it provides an opportunity for relatively unknown players to establish themselves.
The basketball gods have been particularly merciless this season. According to CBSSports.com, 11 players have been officially declared out for the season, five more are out indefinitely, and another 10 won't return until March or later. Seventeen were starters or filling in for an injured starter.
With so many key players missing time, a number of unsung roster fillers have been thrust into big minutes. Some have balked at the responsibility, maintaining a so-so level of play that suggests they should return to the bench.
A select few, however, have risen to the challenge, doing their best to imitate the guy in street clothes whom the fans would rather see on court.
This list evaluates players based on a combination of their numbers before this season, the production they were asked to replace and the impact they had with increased minutes. A bigger sample size also helped players move up the list.
Without further adieu, here are this season's best injury replacements in the NBA.