Find out who the best five guys were whose seasons were shortened by injury.
Often, when NBA team and player awards are selected, players who suffered injuries during the regular season get discounted (fairly) for not having played as much as other players who put up similar per-game numbers.
This year’s Rookie of the Year race is the perfect example. Joel Embiid, who by most metrics and by the eye test was 2016/17’s best rookie, only played in 31 games this year. As a result, he probably won’t win the ROY race because others, like teammate Dario Saric or Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon, also put up good numbers but in way more minutes.
Additionally, you look at Kevin Durant, who missed 20 games this season, and he put up stats good enough to be in the First Team All-NBA discussion (maybe even the MVP discussion). But because he missed so much time, he’s nowhere close in MVP voting and may even slide down to Third Team All-NBA.
While this is a fair treatment when looking at two or more comparable players for one vote, I also think we should celebrate the guys who, had they not been hampered by injury, would have been a difference-maker in the games they missed.
Therefore, I came up with the concept of an NBA All-Injury Team. I followed the same guidelines that I implemented last year (and which are similar to my Top 25 25 and Under Series) which are as follows:
A player must have played in at least 20 games, roughly a quarter of the season. This prong is all about sample size.
A player must have missed at least 20 games to injury. Otherwise a superstar who rested during the regular season or some starters on a late-in-the-regular-season playoff team would get in over guys who missed important parts of the regular season.
I looked at these players’ win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus, value over replacement player (all via Basketball Reference), real plus minus (via ESPN), and wins produced per 48 (via box score geeks). Then I ranked each one and averaged the ranking of each player.
Finally, I copied the association’s All-NBA team model by picking two guards, two forwards, and a center. This stipulation was more important last year when most of the top-ranked players were big men. This year, the top five players happened to be two guards, two forwards, and a center.
We’ve got a really strong team this year with four All-Stars, an MVP, and two no-doubt Hall-of Famers. So without further ado, here is the 2016/17 NBA All-Injury Team.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul missed time with two separate injuries this year, playing in 61 games. A strained hamstring kept him out of seven games early in the season before he required surgery on a torn ligament in his thumb in mid-January that kept him out for another 14 games.
But that didn’t stop the nine-time All-Star from putting together yet another fantastic season. He averaged 18.1 points, 9.2 assists (fourth in the league), 5.0 rebounds, and 1.9 steals on 47.6/41.1/89.2 shooting. Additionally, he posted an offensive rating of 126 (sixth best in the league) and a net rating of +20 at age 31.
He’s been picking players apart on both sides of the floor this (and every) season.
As you can see from this heat map from NBAsavant, he’s efficient from every spot on the floor. He shoots most of his shots at the rim, from straightaway three, or from the right elbow where he’ll shoot his signature pull-up, off-balance jumper after coming off a screen.
And if the defense decides to go over on screens to try to keep him off the three-point line, he’ll patiently dribble into space, bending the defense away from an eventual DeAndre Jordan lob.
On the defensive end, he’s still racking up a ton of steals. Before the thumb injury, he was picking more than two pockets per contest, and though he dropped below two steals per game for the season, he still managed the third most in the league.
Even having missed 21 games, Paul is all but a lock for Second Team All-NBA, and were it not for the Westbrook-Harden MVP spectacular, he may well have been gunning for his fifth First Team selection. The Wake Forest guard placed no worse than second on any of the five advanced stats that went into the making of this team. The guy is a stone-cold killer and one of the game’s most cerebral players. He’s a no-brainer for this list.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Lowry missed 21 games for the Raptors after undergoing wrist surgery just after the All-Star break. The three-time All-Star’s absence was crucial as the Raptors slipped from second in the East to fourth before clawing their way back into third with a rehabbed Lowry’s help.
The 6‘0 guard had one of if not his best scoring seasons, putting up 22.4 points per game on percentages of 46.4/41.2/81.9 and an offensive rating of 123. All of those numbers, with the exception of free throw percentage, are career highs. He’s able to maintain that level of efficiency while over 50% of his shots come from three-point land, which is to say he’s scoring at a career-best rate while taking a ton of shots that are farther away (a.k.a. more difficult).
And while he’s doing all this, he’s keeping his teammates happy by creating about 30% of his team’s assists when he’s on the floor and averaging seven dimes per game for the second time in his career.
His defense, according to his defensive rating and defensive win shares and defensive box plus/minus have all slipped, but not terribly. He still picked up 1.5 steals per game, a team high.
Lowry was clearly the third best ranked player on the NBA All-Injury Team and outdistanced the next guard (George Hill, who was having a great season before injuring himself for the Utah Jazz) by a considerable amount. Lowry may not make any All-NBA teams this year, but he was a lock for the All-Injury team.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Durant suffered a sprained MCL on the final day of February and missed 20 games, the minimum to be considered for NBA All-Injury. During that time, the Golden State Warriors won 15 of 19 and were still able to bring the former MVP back for the last few games of the regular season.
As might be expected, his scoring is down from previous seasons. He put up 25.1 points per game, the second lowest average of his career. But he’s as efficient or better this year, hitting a career-best 53.7% from the floor and marking the league’s third best true shooting percentage at 65.1% (also a career high). He also led the league in ws/48 and posted his best ever offensive rating.
Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
However, Durant wasn’t just an offensive dynamo this year as he has been in years past. He didn’t need to be. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green surrounding him, Durant relinquished the scoring burden he carried in Oklahoma City. In doing so, he was able to focus more on other aspects of his game.
He grabbed the most rebounds per game of his career — likely as a result of playing by far the most time at power forward of his career. And additionally, he played some of the best defense he’s ever played. He averaged the most blocks and tied for most stocks (steals+blocks) he’s ever averaged, and posted the second lowest defensive rating too. It’s why he’s being talked about for a Second Team All-Defense spot.
As mentioned briefly above, had Durant not missed 20 games, he may very well be in the MVP conversation. His scoring efficiency, rebounding, and defense all rose with his move to Oakland as he shrugged off some scoring responsibilities. He was the second ranked player, just behind Paul, in the All-Injury rankings, never coming in worse than third. Along with Paul and Lowry, he was one of the most obvious choices for the All-Injury team.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Griffin was the last guy to make the All-Injury team, though he outdistanced the next best forward by a reasonable amount. The 27-year-old missed exactly as many games as Paul, but for a different injury. Griffin underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in December and missed 18 games to remove loose bodies from his knee.
Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Griffin missed his second straight All-Star game as a result of the injury, but his production this year wasn’t necessarily All-Star worthy. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.9 assists on 49.3/33.6/76.0 shooting. That’s pretty good production, but compared to his 2013/14 line of 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists on 52.8/27.3/71.5 shooting this season, along with the two previous, this season feels like a letdown.
Griffin’s high-flying dunks have become secondary to Jordan lobs as LA’s center has morphed into the primary tandem partner in the CP3 pick and roll. He connected on only 68 dunks this year, the second fewest of his career. This has something to do with the 21 games he sat out, but he’s nowhere near the 192 he threw down in the lockout shortened 66 game 2011/12 campaign.
With Jordan taking up a larger role, Griffin has understandably fallen in per game stats. But his efficiency has fallen too, which is inexcusable for an All-Star in his prime. Griffin was better than others who qualified for the All-Injury team (looking at you, Kevin Love), but his downturn in play the past few years is at the very least a tad troubling.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers/Dallas Mavericks
Noel missed the most games of any All-Injury member at 31 — including the first 23 games of the regular season — with a knee injury. He also missed time in a clogged Philadelphia frontcourt with an ankle issue.
Of course Noel did not end up staying with the Sixers, as he was traded at the deadline to the Mavericks. He produced much the same, arguably a little worse in three more minutes of action for Dallas, but his rebounding skyrocketed.
Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Per game he jumped almost two boards per contest, and per 100 possessions he jumped almost four. On the defensive glass he was a monster in D-town. His defensive rebounding percentage leaped from 19.2% to 26%, an enormous spike. Not having to play around Embiid, Saric, or Jahlil Okafor as well as Dallas’ relatively weak frontcourt depth can account for that spike.
And his defense was quite good as usual. He posted a defensive rating of 102 which was commensurate with the numbers he put up in Philadelphia and his rim-protecting reputation. Noel came in fourth in All-Injury rankings and by far the best center of the lot. The 23-year-old has only played 70 or more games in a season once in his three-year career. Let’s hope this is one of the last times we see him on this list.
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