The NBA's 2015-16 All-Injured Team

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2016

The NBA's 2015-16 All-Injured Team

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    It's an honor and a curse—one that's unfortunately easy to hand out every season.

    The injury bug never takes a break during the NBA calendar, and it strikes players at every point of the game's hierarchy. It has seemingly spared more stars in this campaign compared to recent onesKevin Durant, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Kobe Bryant just last season—but almost every club has been without a key contributor at some point.

    That is why we have enough talent to go two-deep at each position on the 2015-16 All-Injured Team.

    Eligibility was only extended to players either currently sidelined by a significant injury (think: multiweek recovery, at least) or those who have appeared in less than 75 percent of their team's games. From there, players were selected to either the first or second teams based on their individual statistics, team impact and overall recognition.

    It's hard to congratulate anyone for being on this list, so consider these as "get well soon" (or "welcome back") cards to our favorite ballers.

Second Team C: Joakim Noah

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    A dislocated shoulder not only ended Joakim Noah's 2015-16 campaign, but it likely closed the curtain on his nine-year tenure with the Chicago Bulls.

    The 30-year-old struggled mightily to adapt to new head coach Fred Hoiberg's offensive system. Noah lost both his starting spot and shooting touch (career-worst 38.3 field-goal percentage) and wound up averaging the fewest minutes he's played since his rookie year (21.9).

    With unrestricted free agency—and a massive salary-cap spike—awaiting him at season's end, Chicago's longtime emotional leader could find more money and minutes elsewhere.

    "Considering the five-year, $60 million extension Noah took in 2010 was a below-market contract the day he signed it, it would be in his best interest to chase a big pact before his body completely breaks down," wrote Bleacher Report's Sean Highkin.

    It's hard to say how much a healthy Noah would have helped the Bulls. They've played 0.4 points better per 100 possessions without him, and his absence cleared some of their frontcourt congestion.

    Nonetheless, his unique skill set saved him a roster spot; he was having a marvelous year on the glass (14.5 rebounds per 36 minutes) and as a playmaker (6.2 assists per 36). And he tied for Chicago's team lead with a 98 defensive rating.

Second Team PF: Nikola Mirotic

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    Former ACB League MVP Nikola Mirotic's star power is easy to spot. His scoring arsenal includes the potent combination of three-point touch and handles, both of which have helped him clear the 20-point mark 16 times since arriving stateside in 2014.

    As a versatile 6'10" forward, the 24-year-old should be one of the key cogs in Hoiberg's spread system. That could prove to be the case over time, but Mirotic hasn't mastered the art of NBA consistency. After an All-Rookie first-team debut, the sophomore had been shooting just 38.6 percent from the field and saw his player efficiency rating drop by nearly 20 percent (14.6, down from 17.9).

    Developmental time is still needed, and he just lost an indefinite chunk to a pair of surgeries: first an appendectomy, then a hematoma removal.

    "As far as a timetable for Niko to get back on the floor, we just don't know yet," Hoiberg said, per ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell. "But he had the complication, got it fixed. Hopefully we'll get him back soon."

    The Bulls need a healthy Mirotic if they're going to make any noise in the Eastern Conference. Even when his shots aren't falling, the threat they might is enough to stretch out a defense. Chicago has played like a top-10 offense with him (103.7 points per 100 possessions, would be ninth) and a bottom-five attack without (98.1, 28th).

Second Team SF: T.J. Warren

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    Much of T.J. Warren's NBA identity is still being formed. The Phoenix Suns sophomore forward has just 87 appearances under his belt and didn't hold a stable rotation role until late in his rookie year.

    But his primary big league calling is already clear: scoring.

    Warren was the Suns' third-best scorer (11.0 points per game) despite playing only the sixth-most minutes (22.8). For the second straight season, he shot better than 50 percent from the field. And he seemingly shored up his greatest offensive weakness by adding the long ball to his repertoire (40.0 three-point percentage, up from 23.8).

    For a Suns squad stumbling through a disastrous season, the 22-year-old Warren was one of the few bright spots. Now, he's just the latest in a long string of disappointments. He won't suit up again this season due to a fractured right foot.

    Though the Suns are clearly careening toward another lottery appearance, the loss of Warren still stings. Their priorities have shifted to cultivating young talent, and he's one of the most promising projects they have. He's one of only five perimeter players (13 overall) with at least 17 points per 36 minutes on 50-plus percent shooting (minimum 20 minutes per game).

Second Team SG: Eric Gordon

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    After making 78 appearances as a rookie, Eric Gordon has missed significant time in every subsequent season. He nearly changed the narrative this year by playing in each of the New Orleans Pelicans' first 41 games, but he fractured his right ring finger during the 41st and hasn't been seen since.

    Gordon, like many of his teammates, had been having a frustrating 2015-16.

    His points per game (14.9), field-goal percentage (41.0) and player efficiency rating (13.1) were at the second-lowest levels of his career. His assists (2.7) were his fewest ever. His three-point shooting was down to a two-year low (37.7 percent), and that number could be most important since 53.4 percent of all his attempts come from outside.

    But even at his current level, he's an above-average floor-spacer. And given this offense's need to clear driving lanes for its slashers and flight paths for Anthony Davis, Gordon filled an important role.

    The Pelicans have been 2.7 points better per 100 possessions with him than without. Given their minusecule margin for error, sitting 5.5 games outside of the playoff picture, they'll feel every second of Gordon's absence.

    "Losing Gordon...makes the hill the team is climbing even steeper," wrote CBS Sports' James Herbert. "He is one of the few Pelicans who can stretch the floor, and his absence will make things harder on superstar Anthony Davis."

Second Team PG: Jarrett Jack

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    Jarrett Jack couldn't change the Brooklyn Nets' fortune. He's never been that type of transcendent talent.

    But the 32-year-old provided direction for a franchise that badly needed it. As an offensive quarterback and emotional leader, he held together what could have easily been a splintered locker room.

    Brian Lewis of the New York Post explained the point guard's importance shortly after he suffered a torn ACL:

    Jack averaged 12.8 points and a team- and career-high 7.4 assists. That doesn't begin to tell the tale of his importance to this team. Jack was the only player to come to Brook Lopez's defense Saturday after he was horse-collared and thrown down by Boston's Jared Sullinger, or to check on Thaddeus Young when he dove into the front row for a loose ball.

    There's no way to replace the leadership lost, and Brooklyn has struggled just to recoup Jack's production. Third-year floor general Shane Larkin and journeyman Donald Sloan are averaging a combined 12.3 points and 8.0 assists.

    With no real hope for the playoffs, no incentive to tank and few players locked up long term, this could be the league's most fragile situation. Jack made sure it didn't crack.

First Team C: Al Jefferson

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    The Charlotte Hornets have opened up their attack and let the long bombs fly since losing starting center Al Jefferson to a pair of injuries sandwiched around a five-game suspension. His absence has also allowed lottery picks (past and present) Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky to accelerate their development.

    With Jefferson plodding toward unrestricted free agency—he's been shelved since late December after suffering a torn meniscus—the Hornets may be drawing up their future plans without him.

    "Jefferson has done a lot of great work in Charlotte, but this year has been his worst," wrote Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer. "It will surely be his last year for the Hornets, too. I can't see any way that the Hornets re-sign Jefferson."

    But is the team actually better without the big guy? That seems debatable. He's one of its few players capable of consistently creating his own looks, and the offense—while more three-happy—has averaged 0.9 points fewer per 100 possessions without him.

    His numbers are undoubtedly down. Neither his points (12.5 per game) nor his rebounds (6.1) have been this low since 2005-06.

    But he was also logging just 25.2 minutes a night. Stretch his numbers out to a per-36-minute scale, and he was going for 17.9 points and 8.7 boards—marks that aren't too far removed from his All-NBA third-team effort in 2013-14 (21.8 and 10.8, respectively).

First Team PF: Blake Griffin

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    Through this season's first 30 games, Blake Griffin's numbers were spectacular.

    His nightly line of 23.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists hadn't been produced in more than a decade. Add 50.8 percent shooting to the equation, and these were stats unseen since Charles Barkley's 1992-93 MVP campaign.

    But that season feels worlds removed from where Griffin's is now.

    He was first forced off the floor by a partially torn quadriceps tendon. Just as it appeared he was nearing his return, reports surfaced he had broken his hand during an altercation with a Clippers assistant equipment manager. That added an initial four to six weeks to his recovery window, and further discipline could be coming from the league office.

    The Clippers, incredibly, haven't missed a beat since losing Griffin. They have the fifth-best winning percentage (.789) and own the third-highest net efficiency rating (plus-9.2 points per 100 possessions) over that stretch.

    But this saga has produced an unwanted distraction for a group with championship aspirations.

    "I'm not satisfied with anything," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, per ESPN.com's Mike Wells. "I'm talking about a non-basketball issue right now. No, I'm not satisfied with anything right now."

    Perhaps due to the outside noise, the Clippers have reportedly discussed dealing Griffin with the Denver Nuggets, sources told Sporting News' Mitch Lawrence, and the Philadelphia 76ers, league sources told Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico.

First Team SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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    Even without a reliable jumper, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist entered this season on the cusp of a breakthrough.

    Last year, he posted personal high marks in points (10.9), rebounds (7.6) and player efficiency rating (15.1). His 3.63 defensive real plus-minus ranked 12th overall and second among small forwards behind Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard.

    But Kidd-Gilchrist's takeoff plans were seemingly scrapped by a preseason shoulder injury and subsequent surgery. His six-month recovery window was thought to have effectively ended his campaign.

    It didn't. Less than four months after going under the knife, he returned to action and immediately provided 13 points, seven rebounds and 33 minutes of suffocating defense. He's since made two other appearances, posting a double-double each time out and acing Charlotte's toughest defensive assignments.

    "I knew how hard he had worked on his conditioning," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said, per Bill Kiser of the Charlotte Observer. "To be honest, I was surprised at how long he was able to play. I just thought it would take him a while to play so well, but he's worked so hard and it's obviously showing."

    The sample size is immediately tiny, but Kidd-Gilchrist's impact already appears massive.

    The Hornets are allowing only 90.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor—which would easily lead the league—and just snapped a 17-game losing streak to LeBron James. If Charlotte had its perimeter stopper all season, it could be improving its playoff position right now instead of scrapping for an invite.

First Team SG: Manu Ginobili

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    After taking a knee to the most sensitive of sweet spots, Manu Ginobili found himself aligned with one of the worst two-word phrases imaginable: testicular surgery. According to a San Antonio Spurs release, he is "out indefinitely" and will miss "at least one month."

    The Spurs are perhaps better equipped than anyone to handle the loss of a regular. They have the league's second-highest scoring bench (41.7 points per game, via HoopsStats.com) and 11 different rotation players averaging at least 5.8 points.

    Still, they'll miss the supersub. He has one of the widest on-off disparities of any Alamo City hooper (plus-17.0 with him, plus-12.6 without) and, as Yahoo Sports' Dan Devine explained, the 38-year-old had been enjoying a strong bounce-back effort:

    He's been so excellent for the Spurs this season after struggling for much of last season. Ginobili's been very productive in limited minutes, averaging 10 points, 3.3 assists, three rebounds and 1.1 steals in 19.7 minutes per game, posting his highest 3-point shooting mark in five years and ranking third in the NBA among shooting guards in ESPN's Real Plus-Minus statistic.

    San Antonio is constructed in a way that makes it hard to panic about the loss of any single player. But with Tim Duncan fighting a nagging knee issue and Ginobili joining him on the pine, the Spurs are at risk of losing precious ground in their battle for the Western Conference's No. 1 seed.

First Team PG: Eric Bledsoe

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    Eric Bledsoe wasn't tagged "mini-LeBron" for his otherworldly athleticism alone. The explosive 6'1" point guard also often saturates the stat sheet in King James-like fashion.

    In fact, Bledsoe and James are two of the 11 players to average at least 17 points, five assists, four rebounds and one steal since the start of 2013-14. And Bledsoe had upped the ante this season, posting personal bests in points (20.4), steals (2.0) and player efficiency rating (20.6) and matching his previous high in assists (6.1).

    But, as has often been the case during his career, the injury bug spoiled his run. Bledsoe had season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus in December—his third major knee problem in six NBA seasons.

    The Suns probably weren't a playoff team with him. They were 12-20 at the time of his injury and sported a subpar net efficiency rating during his floor time (minus-2.2, would be 19th). But they were at least competitive then, which they haven't been without him. They have the league's worst record (2-17) and net efficiency (minus-15.1) since he went down.

    "I don't think it (the effort) is anywhere where it needs to be," Brandon Knight said, per Paul Coro USA Today. "With us being undermanned and not having everybody available to us, guys have to play harder than what they usually would. I don't think it's really there right now."

    The Suns have already made a coaching change and embraced a youth movement. They could be one of the league's most active teams approaching the deadline. Those aren't necessarily bad things, but Bledsoe's injury may have reshaped this franchise's present and future.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and current through games played Feb. 4.