NBA Metrics 101: Which Teams Have Been Hurt Most by Injuries?
There is plenty of room for debate in the NBA, but everyone can agree on one thing: Injuries are the worst.
Of course, your current hatred of injuries might also depend on who your favorite team is. If you're pulling for the Charlotte Hornets, you might be indifferent these days, as Buzz City has enjoyed a pretty clean opening salvo. But if you're rooting for the New York Knicks and are still waiting to see if Kristaps Porzingis will even play in 2018-19, your feelings could be a bit stronger.
To determine the squads with the biggest gripes, we're getting objective.
First, I looked at every single listed injury from the 2018-19 campaign with the assistance of Pro Sports Transactions. Then, I averaged the minutes per game and win shares per 48 minutes earned by each injured player over the last two seasons to see projected playing time and per-minute value.
Let's use Lauri Markkanen as an example.
The rising sophomore for the Chicago Bulls hasn't yet played in 2018-19 as he recovers from an elbow injury, so we can only use his 2017-18 statistics: 29.7 minutes per game and 0.079 win shares per 48 minutes. He's missed all 13 of Chicago's games (an estimated 386 minutes), which means the Bulls have lost out on 0.636 win shares.
Summing the scores of each injured player on every team gives us the teams' projected wins lost thus far. The higher the figure, the more prominent the placement in this countdown.
Also, note that we are not projecting for the future, merely evaluating what's already come to pass.
10-6: 76ers, Raptors, Mavericks, Nuggets, Thunder
10. Philadelphia 76ers
Injuries: Jerryd Bayless, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Ben Simmons, Zhaire Smith
Projected Wins Lost: 1.15
Ben Simmons missing time for the Philadelphia 76ers was less than ideal, but he only sat out a single game—a one-point overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons while he rested a balky back. So long as he, Joel Embiid and the newly acquired Jimmy Butler are all active, the Sixers will be just fine.
Of course, that doesn't mean Philadelphia hasn't endured a few other absences.
Wilson Chandler didn't debut until calendars had flipped over into November, while Mike Muscala sat out at the beginning of the campaign and broke his nose a few weeks later. Zhaire Smith, meanwhile, might follow in the long line of Philly first-years who don't play during their true rookie campaigns, though that doesn't affect the projected wins lost because we have no baseline for the man expected to (eventually) provide versatile defense and off-ball cutting on the scoring side.
9. Toronto Raptors
Injuries: Chris Boucher, Kawhi Leonard, C.J. Miles, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
Projected Wins Lost: 1.16
The Toronto Raptors have enough talent scattered throughout the roster that they can withstand brief absences from C.J. Miles, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright. Despite so many role players missing time with various maladies, they've still jetted out to a 12-1 start that places them ahead of every other squad in the Eastern Conference.
That makes it even more staggering that they've lost 1.16 wins, since that tally would be enough to somehow push them beyond a perfect record. Obviously, that's impossible in reality. But it's the theoretical takeaway for a team that has already let Kawhi Leonard rest four times in a season that's seen him average 24.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.4 blocks while slashing 48.4/41.7/88.3.
Toronto's only loss remains a dropped contest to the Milwaukee Bucks on Oct. 29, during which Leonard (and, to be fair, Giannis Antetokounmpo) didn't play.
8. Dallas Mavericks
Injuries: Harrison Barnes, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Smith Jr.
Projected Wins Lost: 1.18
Dennis Smith Jr.'s lone absence came in a loss to the red-hot Toronto Raptors. Devin Harris has only suited up in a pair of games. Harrison Barnes didn't make his season debut until the Dallas Mavericks had already split their first four contests.
And that leaves Dirk Nowitzki, who should still serve as a valuable presence whenever he begins his age-40 season. The future Hall of Famer is nursing a foot injury that could keep him out beyond the end of November, but using his 2017-18 efforts as a baseline makes him an important subtraction from the rotation.
Nowitzki no longer functions as a go-to volume scorer, and he's not a defensive savant impacting the game on the less glamorous end. But his sharpshooting alone forces defenses to pay him mind, which is the primary reason last year's iteration was still 2.5 points better per 100 possessions with the German 7-footer on the hardwood.
7. Denver Nuggets
Injuries: Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Isaiah Thomas, Jarred Vanderbilt
Projected Wins Lost: 1.3
This would be one of those projections that's misleadingly low, as the wins lost stem almost entirely from Will Barton. The high-scoring swingman is a versatile contributor who's vital to the Denver Nuggets' offensive efforts, and he's responsible for 1.23 of the 1.3 wins lost while recovering from an adductor muscle injury.
Still, we're remaining entirely objective.
That means Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt don't exist for our purposes, as neither rookie has made his NBA debut. It also means Isaiah Thomas is grading out terribly, dragged down by his futile performances for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers during a year in which he was fighting through hip issues and may not have truly been ready to step foot on the court.
We don't really know when Porter and Thomas, in particular, will make their Denver debuts. But at least they'll be joining a team that's already experiencing plenty of success in the brutal Western Conference.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
Injuries: Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Russell Westbrook
Projected Wins Lost: 1.37
Steven Adams has already returned from his early-season calf tightness. Russell Westbrook missed time at the beginning of the year recovering from arthroscopic surgery in his right knee. And while he's now battling a left ankle sprain, his presence back in the starting five should be imminent.
Andre Roberson has no such luxury.
Last we heard, ESPN.com's Royce Young reported that the defense-first, defense-second wing had suffered a setback in the rehabilitation of his left knee, which will keep him out until a re-evaluation in early December. A clear timetable could emerge at that point, but we still might not have any guarantees about when (or if?) he'll debut in 2018-19.
That's bad news for a team that saw its net rating dip 6.8 points per 100 possessions when Roberson wasn't on the floor last year.
5. Houston Rockets
Injuries: Michael Carter-Williams, Marquese Chriss, James Ennis, Eric Gordon, James Harden, Brandon Knight, Nene, Zhou Qi
Projected Wins Lost: 1.5
Raise your hand if you're a member of the Houston Rockets, and you've already missed time due to injury during the 2018-19 season. We're not even counting the outings that didn't feature Chris Paul after his suspension for the fracas with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Actually, on second thought, don't raise your hands. Even that simple movement might lead to more maladies for a squad that has had serious trouble avoiding them.
Houston has experienced more than its fair share of issues during a 5-7 start to the season, placing it well behind the pace necessary to match last year's top-seed-earning endeavors. The offense has struggled to find any semblance of rhythm while Paul and Eric Gordon search for their shots. The defense sometimes seems dispassionate, failing to contest opponents' looks or box out to prevent second-chance opportunities. Carmelo Anthony's time with the team already seems like it's coming to an end, per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon.
But the injuries do deserve some of the blame.
Most significantly, the league's reigning MVP has watched from the sidelines during three separate outings—a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and a victory over the Brooklyn Nets. That's an immediate recipe for disaster, though we can't just overlook so many of the other key pieces failing to jell or operate at full strength.
The Rockets still have plenty of time to right the ship, but health might have to come first.
4. Miami Heat
Injuries: Goran Dragic, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Jones Jr., Dion Waiters, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow
Projected Wins Lost: 1.54
Though quite a few rotation members have sporadically donned dress clothes during the 2018-19 season, no absences have been more impactful than Dion Waiters' and James Johnson's. Neither has logged even a single minute for the Miami Heat.
Waiters is still without a timetable to return as he rehabs the ankle injury that's plagued him for quite some time. That same troublesome joint prevented him from rekindling his magical end to the 2016-17 campaign last year, limiting him to just 30 appearances as he attempted to find a missing shooting stroke and was unable to create nearly as much space off the bounce.
Johnson, meanwhile, is recovering from a hernia. But the 31-year-old's production is less theoretical than Waiters', which requires some belief after his ankle has hindered him for so long. Bouncing between small forward, power forward and small-ball center, he has consistently managed to impact the proceedings with some combination of drive-and-kick creation and all-around defensive acumen.
Together, they account for 0.84 of the projected wins lost to the injury imp thus far. And considering the Heat, still boasting a roster construction comprised of excessive numbers of above-average players without much star power, have stumbled out of the gates to the tune of a 5-7 record, that's a rather significant figure.
3. New York Knicks
Injuries: Tim Hardaway Jr., Isaiah Hicks, Kevin Knox, Courtney Lee, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kristaps Porzingis, Lance Thomas
Projected Wins Lost: 1.65
Missing Tim Hardaway Jr. (for a single game), Isaiah Hicks, Kevin Knox and Emmanuel Mudiay messes with the New York Knicks' depth during a season in which head coach David Fizdale seems bound and determined to split the minutes equitably throughout a roster filled with unanswered questions. But playing without Courtney Lee and Kristaps Porzingis invites an entirely new set of challenges.
One year removed from averaging 12.0 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 45.4 percent from the field, 40.6 percent from downtown and 91.9 percent at the stripe, Lee hasn't yet taken his three-and-D talents to the hardwood. He's instead recovering from a nerve issue in his neck, one that prevents him from strutting his stuff and building up trade value before he's inevitably shopped around prior to the February trade deadline.
Porzingis isn't at 100 percent, either.
Working his way back from the torn ACL that shortened his previous go-round, he's making headlines for his running activity rather than his on-court performances, as evidenced by the "controversy" over whether he could take off at full speed. Responding to the big man's Instagram posts showing him on the track after claims that he wasn't sprinting, Fizdale said the following, per ESPN.com's Ian Begley:
"We had a great talk about it. He's working his tail off. I think ... he took it personally. It got to him that people would think that.
"I think maybe when he heard me say, 'Hey we're taking it slow' and all of that stuff—that's what we're doing —but at the same time, he [doesn't] want people thinking that he's not busting his hump, because he's killing it."
One thing is more certain: The Knicks are not "killing it" without their unquestioned best player and one of their most important complementary options.
2. Atlanta Hawks
Injuries: Justin Anderson, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon, Daniel Hamilton, Alex Poythress, Omari Spellman, Taurean Prince
Projected Wins Lost: 1.88
Believe it or not, this is mostly about the absence of John Collins, who has single-handedly accounted for 50.5 percent of the Atlanta Hawks' projected wins lost. You might not think of the rising sophomore as a game-changing force after a rookie year in which his 24.1 minutes per game led to All-Rookie Second Team berth, but his per-minute impact is quite significant.
During that first season out of Wake Forest, Collins averaged 15.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes while slashing 57.6/34.0/71.5. He rarely turned the ball over, played an athletic brand of defense that involved both rim-protection and switches onto smaller players, and he rarely took shots outside his comfort zones.
According to FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO forecast, Collins grades out as a future All-Star who was worth $9.5 million during his rookie campaign. Better still, he's projected to be worth $15.9 million in 2018-19 before skyrocketing to $25.6 million in 2019-20.
Of course, that's if he actually plays.
Except for Justin Anderson (leg), the rest of the injured Hawks have worked their way back into live action. Collins is still waiting for the green light as he continues working on his left ankle, though word from Atlanta reporter Kevin Chouinard indicates that he's progressing as we move deeper into the year.
1. Golden State Warriors
Projected Wins Lost: 2.24
This is just unfair.
The Golden State Warriors won 11 of their first 13 games while somehow losing 2.24 projected wins to injuries. Stephen Curry (one game) and Draymond Green (two games) have both stepped out of the starting lineup for brief spells, while a number of role players have struggled to remain on the court.
Oh, and there's this DeMarcus Cousins guy.
While the All-Star center continues working past the Achilles rupture that ended his brief tenure with the New Orleans Pelicans, the Warriors just keep rolling. But imagine what might happen if he recovers even 80 percent of his former glory by the end of the 2018-19 campaign. Five-out lineups featuring him, Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Green will haunt opposing coaches, even as that quintet is trying to build chemistry on the fly.
Should we remove Cousins from the picture, uncertain of how he'll play after the Achilles injury, the Warriors' score would drop to 0.97. But that still means only the other nine featured squads, the Brooklyn Nets and the New Orleans Pelicans would have suffered more ill effects from injuries.
Yes, you're interpreting this correctly. We really might not yet have seen the best version of the Dubs, even if they're already torching most foes.