Three of the top ten draftees in the 2021 NBA draft were from teams not in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) program.
Is there any headline that drags down NBA fans more than, ‘LeBron James leaves mid-game due to an injury, again’?
No-one, not even Michael Jordan, had more fans across multiple generations and especially internationally than the number now saddened by what has become a recurring headline.
But Mr Invincible is only one among a long list of NBA stars who have suffered major injuries this season, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jamal Murray, Anthony Davis, LaMelo Ball, Kevin Durant – and it goes on.
There’s only one thing to blame: the shortest off-season in NBA history. Right?
Well, maybe not. There is a solid argument that despite the grind-like aspects of this unique season – with daily coronavirus testing, players and coaches isolating, NBA personnel being forced to perform duties they never signed up for, fewer team dinners and training sessions on top of the increased number of games without packed stadiums of cheering fans – that maybe the short off-season was not too consequential.
Let’s check the facts.
NBA teams are playing 3.6 games a week compared to 3.42 last season. But they’re also taking 15 per cent fewer flights, according to data provided by the league.
The NBA came out declaring there have been fewer injuries this season than in the previous season – but 20 players have missed no more than one game this season, whereas last year that number was eight.
So is the data wrong? Does it not tell the full story?
Firstly, it must be said that injuries are an inevitable part of sport. When you have a sport full of giant humans bumping and jumping into each other, people get hurt. A good example of this was Atlanta’s Solomon Hill diving into LeBron James’s legs and causing a high ankle sprain. It is an absurd assumption to put this injury on schedule density.
The same would go for LaMelo Ball’s and more recently Jaylen Brown’s wrist injuries. Even James Wiseman had a bad landing for his season-ender. In fact I really struggle to see an injury I can point to and say that these guys are just going through too much.
If you want to know what it looks like when a player gets injured for choosing to grind it out and play when they should not, search up Kevin Durant’s non-contact finals injury. Then you’ll see how the result of an NBA season is flipped because player safety was not a priority.
What is definitely more noteworthy this season are the repercussions of COVID-19 protocols. Being confined to hotels, the annoying procedures necessary to accompany the team, the sheer lack of personal freedom as well as the many other by-products of new protocols are going to either drive players crazy or give them something to bond over. But no matter what, I refuse to believe that the chemistry will not be put to the test.
This is mostly seen in rookies, who because of these measures in place are given the ultimate pass in how fans judge them. They were forced to learn on the fly while being remarkably raw. Anthony Edwards, for example, was forced to play his first NBA game 33 days after being drafted. Maybe that explains his low basketball IQ – or maybe it doesn’t.
But although this season has had more than its fair share of big-name injuries, it might not affect the playoffs as much as you think.
It needs to be understood that one side effect of the player mobility era is acting extremely precautiously with any and all injuries, especially to marquee talent on playoff-contending teams, as there is no point risking further harm to said talent until an appropriate time commences. Or, as it used to be known back in the day, resting.
Actually, maybe it’s really just a coincidence that the Nets’ star big three returned just in time for the playoffs, just like the star Lakers duo returned just in time for the playoffs. It must also be a coincidence that the Los Angeles Clippers just happened to have lost their last two games to the two bottom teams in the conference, happily avoiding the Lakers until the conference finals.
Excuse me, I just discovered I’m related to a Nigerian prince.
This is not to say that the star talent at the Lakers or Nets were not seriously injured, but in an already shortened season, injuries become more visible because of the names. If teams choose to patiently protect top-ten talent by stoically and meticulously running the risk of further injury only in time for playoff success – which is not a bad strategy; just ask Tim Duncan – then fans are going to get hungry.
Like every season, not all teams were so lucky to be in peak form before playoffs. The Denver Nuggets went from sleepy contender to wipe-off, the Raptors have been a disaster and the Warriors, Timberwolves and Magic have had their seasons derailed by injuries. But fortunately the short offseason was a sacrifice that paid off pretty well, all things considered.
Now things can hopefully go back to normal next season.