Which NBA Teams Have Actually Been Hit Hardest by Injuries?May 3, 2021
Which NBA Teams Have Actually Been Hit Hardest by Injuries?
Perhaps more than any other season in NBA history, 2020-21 has been a war of attrition.
The unprecedented health and safety protocols introduced as an effort to affect the spread of COVID-19 had a league-wide impact, but injuries have felt ubiquitous too.
Several superstars, including Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard (just to name a few), all missed significant time. Joel Embiid's legitimate MVP candidacy was derailed by a 10-game absence in March and April. The Denver Nuggets' title hopes took a major hit when Jamal Murray went down for the season with a torn left ACL.
There was some concern that the condensed schedule that came as a result of last season's hiatus may be to blame, but the league claims, through ESPN's Baxter Holmes, that we're not seeing anything terribly unusual:
"Citing internal data, a league spokesperson indicated that through 50 games, the number of injuries -- defined as those that cause a player to miss at least one game -- is lower than last season and within the range that the league has seen over the past five seasons."
Perhaps it's just the notoriety of some of the players who've gone down that makes this season feel more injury-riddled. Maybe it's the combination with the health and safety protocols. Either way, even if the NBA's data paints a prettier picture, it's impossible to deny that the loss of star power has influenced the season.
But which teams have been hit the hardest? To answer that question, we turn to Nathan Currier, the proprietor of ManGamesLost.com. His "lost-win shares" metric accounts for both injuries and the health and safety protocols and estimates the following teams were impacted most:
"...NBA top 5, wins lost due to injured players (Lost-ws metric, lost win shares due to injured players)
1 BRK 12.88 wins lost
2 LAC 9.28
3 WAS 8.78
4 LAL 8.40
5 NYK 8.27"
Some of those are probably obvious. A couple may not be. So, let's dive into why each team is here.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are likely one of the surprise inclusions for many. Even with just over eight win shares lost to injury and COVID-related absences, New York has thoroughly exceeded expectations this season.
The Knicks cruised past their preseason over-under in March, Julius Randle has a real All-NBA case and Immanuel Quickley looks like one of the steals of the 2020 draft. But they might have been even better if not for some key injuries.
The biggest loss was obviously Mitchell Robinson, who hasn't played since March 27 and managed just 31 appearances overall. Over his first two seasons, Robinson averaged an eye-popping 14.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per 75 possessions, with a 71.0 true shooting percentage.
Prior to RJ Barrett's mini-breakout, it wasn't difficult to argue that Robinson was the brightest spot in New York's future. Nerlens Noel has done a solid job filling in, but a healthy Robinson could've made this campaign even more surprising.
His absences alone didn't push the Knicks into this top five, though. Nineteen games missed by Alec Burks (yes, Alec Burks) hurt too. The team is plus-4.7 points per 100 possessions with Burks on the floor and plus-0.7 without him.
Derrick Rose has also missed 11 games since he returned to the Knicks, and his net-rating swing is even more dramatic than Burks'.
Losing that much production from the presumed defensive anchor, a sparkplug scorer off the bench and perhaps the team's best playmaker could've derailed New York, and it deserves loads of credit for fighting into the playoff picture.
Los Angeles Lakers
Prior to this season, the Lakers being in third in the Pacific and on the verge of backpedaling into the play-in tournament in May would've seemed, at the very least, unlikely. But it's hardly surprising when you consider the context.
Thanks to Achilles issues, Anthony Davis has appeared in just 28 of 63 games. A high ankle sprain has limited LeBron James to 42 appearances. Those aren't just the Lakers' two best players, they were preseason MVP candidates.
L.A. was minus-2.2 points per 100 possessions with both off the floor, which is a number that's actually commendable.
Alex Caruso randomly missing time here and there added up to double-digit games missed too, and his absence may mean more than you realize. With his steady hand on offense and tenacious perimeter defense, he's second on the team to LeBron in net-rating swing.
We need not overthink this one, though. LeBron and AD are who make the Lakers title contenders. Missing both as long as they did yielded predictable results.
The Washington Wizards are another team whose inclusion on this list might represent something of a surprise. But losing their starting center 10 games into the season and having plenty of absences sprinkled through the rest of the way added up to more lost win shares than all but two teams.
Missing Thomas Bryant for most of the campaign accounts for over half that total. In fact, the 5.1 win shares lost to his injury are more than any other individual player.
In his 10 games, Bryant averaged 14.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 0.9 threes (with a 42.9 three-point percentage) in 27.1 minutes. His pick-and-pop ability made him a seemingly ideal kickout option for Russell Westbrook's drives. Losing him as early as they did forced Washington to play more traditional 5s like Robin Lopez and Alex Len more than they likely anticipated.
Bryant's injury wasn't the only one that impacted the Wizards, though. Westbrook missed seven games. Bradley Beal has missed nine. Rui Hachimura has missed 13. Add another 15 for Davis Bertans, and a handful for Deni Avdija and Raul Neto.
For each individual, those totals don't sound like much, but the impact makes sense when you put them all together.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers' case sounds a lot like the Lakers'. The biggest issue was certainly the time missed by the top two players: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Neither seemed to miss a ton of time all at once, but absences here and there added up for both. So far, Kawhi has missed 18 games. PG has been out for 16. Among players with at least 500 minutes in a Clippers uniform, they're first and third, respectively, in win shares per 48 minutes (with Ivica Zubac between them).
Another factor that has helped L.A. is the fact that Leonard and George's missed games have often been staggered. When one is out, the other usually plays. For most of LeBron's absence, the Lakers didn't have that luxury.
The Clippers have had to deal with more significant losses after the top two, though. Serge Ibaka, who averaged double-figures and shot 35.2 percent from three, has missed 29 games. Patrick Beverley, the tip of the spear on defense and a 41.6-percent three-point shooter, has missed 34 contests. Both started every game they played.
L.A. has had all four of the aforementioned players on the floor together for just 556 possessions, but they have a whopping plus-16.6 net rating. If they're all healthy for the postseason, Clippers fans may have the memories of this injury-riddled campaign exorcised.
You likely could've guessed the Brooklyn Nets would be here before even opening the slideshow. They are perhaps the most talented team in the NBA, but Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving have only shared the floor for 186 minutes.
Harden and Irving have each missed 17 games as Nets, and that alone would've been cause for lamentation among Brooklyn fans. But Durant is up to 37 absences, well over half the season.
According to box plus/minus (...BPM is a "basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court," according to Basketball Reference), Harden and Durant have played between an All-NBA and MVP level when available, and Irving isn't far behind.
Missing all three for as long as Brooklyn has could've derailed the team, but the Nets are still neck-and-neck with the Philadelphia 76ers atop the Eastern Conference—a testament to the individual dominance of each of their stars. As long as the Nets have one of their stars, they have a chance to win.
If all three are available through the playoffs, Brooklyn may be the toughest out in the league.