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The Third Annual NBA All-Injury Team

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time ever we have players who will be earning multiple All-Injury selections

Two years ago I made a joke about how the NBA should have more All-[X] teams, as the ones outside of All-NBA (All-Rookie and All-Defense) seem somewhat arbitrary. As a result, I committed one of those ideas to paper, calling it the All-Injury team for players who played excellently during the season, but whose seasons were hampered due to injury.

If you’d like to see past selections to the NBA All-Injury team, I encourage you to skim through my post from last year, which was very star-heavy, and the year before, which was less star-heavy, but in my view more fun. This year’s team is once again star-heavy, but in a more vibrant way.

Some ground rules:

  1. A player must have missed at least 20 games. This eliminates players who would have made the team as a result of rest.

  2. A player must have played at least 20 games. This eliminates benchwarmers and provides a large enough sample size.

  3. Like any NBA All-[X] team, there will be two guards, two forwards, and a center.

  4. I looked at win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus, value over replacement player (from Basketball Reference), real plus minus (from ESPN), and wins produced per 48 minutes (from Box Score Geeks) for players who fit the above criteria.

  5. I then ranked each player in the respective statistical categories, then averaged the five rankings. The two guards, two forwards, and center with the lowest scores emerged as selections to the 3rd annual NBA All-Injury team.

Without further ado, here are your 2017-18 NBA All-Injury selections.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, G

This is the two-time Most Valuable Player’s first selection to the All-Injury squad.

Curry was tied for the highest-ranked player on the short list, finishing no worse than fourth in any category and taking the top spot in three. He played in 51 games this year, missing serious time for two separate injuries and a game here or there for a thigh contusion or hand contusion.

He missed 19 non-consecutive games with a recurring right ankle sprain (reigniting past worries about the strength of his ankles) and on Mar. 23 suffered a sprained MCL which ended his regular season. It is possible that he will return in the postseason, potentially as early as the second round.

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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors better hope that he does, because as good as they can be with a nucleus of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green (not to mention the best supporting cast in the NBA outside of Toronto), the team revolves around him. He is the crux of their offense. His mere presence on the court bends defenses out of proportion, allowing his teammates to pick apart the strained opposition with surgical dexterity and ruthless efficiency. Without his vortex-like suction on any defensive scheme, the Warriors fall from superhuman to elite. A small but significant drop as it means they are vulnerable.

Despite the fact that he missed over a third of the season, he was still able to lead the league in free throw percentage, true shooting percentage, and offensive box plus/minus. His offensive rating of 125 equals what it was two years ago when he had arguably the greatest single offensive (or otherwise) season in NBA history, and he was half a percentage point away from entering the hallowed 50/40/90 club for the second time, a feat only accomplished by two players ever (Larry Bird and Steven Nash).

That is to say, Curry was a pretty obvious choice for this faux award.

Chris Paul, Houston Rockets, G

This is Paul’s second overall and second consecutive All-Injury team nod.

Paul missed a total of 24 games, 14 of which were due to a left knee injury at the beginning of the season. He also sat five of six down the stretch with left hip soreness that doubled as rest. 

You might think that Paul and MVP frontrunner James Harden’s combination propelled Houston to the league’s best record. While the two did play well together, it’s not what they did as a duo that allowed Houston to make the leap, but what they were able to do without the other that allowed the Rockets to blast off.

The Rockets’ most powerful lineup that included Paul did not include Harden. The group of Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker, and Paul, while only having logged 42 minutes together, was astoundingly good in that time. In almost every single statistical category, the team improved, and it was by far the team’s best offensive lineup. Unsurprisingly, the team’s best three-man option that included Paul also came from this lineup: Paul, Gordon, and Tucker.

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Michael Wyke/Associated Press

The key here is that Gordon and Tucker both spent much of the season coming off the bench. Because Houston has two elite point guards, it can stagger their minutes so that there’s almost never a time when neither one is on the floor. That’s enough of a factor to elevate bit bench players into important weapons, because MVP caliber players like Paul and Harden both inherently and specifically do that for lesser teammates. Great players make their teammates better, and the fact Houston never has to take a great player off the court allows their other players to be better.

Paul was the other player tied with Curry at the top. He finished in no less than second in any category, but only claimed the top spot in one. Because Curry and Paul ranked first or second in practically every category, it left no room for Kyrie Irving, who finished fourth, third, third, ninth, and tenth in the five categories. That was good enough for a top five score, but as two guards already filled those spots, Irving had to be passed over for the next highest ranked non-guard.

Kevin Love, F, Cleveland Cavaliers

The person who followed Irving was none other than his former teammate, Love, a first-time member of the All-Injury team. 

He ranked in the top 10 only once, but never fell outside of the top 20. This consistency edged him ahead of DeMarcus Cousins, who had three top five finishes, but two others in the 30s. The same can be said of Hassan Whiteside, who had two top 10 marks including the only other player besides Paul and Curry to finish first in a category. However, ranks of 34, 29, and 25 outweighed Whiteside’s first place finish.


PSA: this video is neither scary nor gross.

You may recall a report that the Cleveland Cavaliers confronted Love about not being tough enough and not playing through injury. That occurred slightly before Love fractured his hand, causing him to miss 20 straight games over a month and a half stretch. In that time Cleveland missed him, going 11-9.

If LeBron James is Cleveland’s Curry — in that the offense is built around and is raised to new heights by him — then Love is its Thompson. Outside of the fact that they played  on the same Little League baseball team together, the offense is greased by both. Because of Love’s ability to shoot and play in the post, he offers Cleveland variety in how it attacks its opponents. If he’s part of a pick and roll, not only are you clearing him out of the lane for a James drive to the rim, but he provides you with a pick and pop option that punishes teams for doubling James. He’s a skilled-enough back to the basket player that he can cause teams to initiate double teams at which point his passing skill can come into play. Finally, Cleveland can park him on the perimeter, waiting for a kick out after a James isolation drive to the rim.

Without him, Cleveland is forced to play more traditional bigs, who clog up the lane for James, or go small and sacrifice a lot of talent. Neither scenario is ideal for Cleveland, hence why it went just over .500 in Love’s absence.

Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves, F

Butler is the final first-time member of the All-Injury team, joining Curry and Love. He had five top 10 finishes and two in the top five for the fourth-best score overall.

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Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports Images

I don’t believe it’s a stretch to insinuate or even outright claim that Butler is Minnesota’s best player. Some advanced numbers would point to Karl-Anthony Towns, but it seems pretty clear that without Butler, this is not a playoff team. For starters, this team was not a playoff team last year despite most every national pundit thinking it would be.

Second, in the midst of Butler’s 17-game absence from the end of February to early April, the Wolves slipped from the three seed to barely making it into the playoffs at all. Butler tore his right meniscus and had surgery after a non-contact injury in a loss at Houston. While he was out, Minnesota stumbled to an 8-9 record, on the precipice of missing the playoffs for the 15th straight season. Butler returned for the final three games of the regular season, three games which the Wolves won, including a de facto play-in game on the final night of the regular season against Denver.

Not only is Butler an All-Star in his prime and a player who can create and make his own shot from just about anywhere in the halfcourt, but he is a premiere defensive player on the wing. Neither Towns nor Andrew Wiggins has figured out how to play defensively at a high level, and therefore much of the burden falls on Butler. The team already allows the second-worst opponent’s field goal percentage in The Association, and that’s with Butler.


PSA: this video is also neither gross nor scary.

Though this Minnesota team was probably not ready for the playoffs yet (and creepily resembles the Chicago Bulls of five or so seasons ago), they’re in it. Butler led them there, and it’s hard to deny that they couldn’t have gotten there without him. For those reasons, he’s a no-doubt nod for the 2017-18 All-Injury team.

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz, C

The final selection to this year’s All-Injury team is Gobert, who joins Paul as the only players to have been selected twice. Gobert is also a member of the inaugural All-Injury team from 2015-16.

Gobert has been on the doorstep of winning the defensive player of the year award for three or more seasons now, and it feels as if this is going to be the year he finally wins it. It’s no secret that he’s one of if not the most feared shot blocker in the league. His freakish wingspan and excellent timing (not only in jumping, but in rotating from the help side) allow him to extinguish would-be layup havers to such an extent that players will alter their shots at the rim, making them more difficult, because they know that Gobert is lurking. Opponents shot 10 percentage points worse within six feet of the basket when Gobert was on the prowl, according to NBA.com. And despite missing 26 games, the Frenchman was second in blocks per contest and fourth in total blocks this season, per Basketball Reference.

Gobert sat out of 11 games at the beginning of the season with a knee contusion. In that time, the Utah Jazz went a sturdy 7-4. But when he had to sit for 15 games due to knee soreness, the team went a putrid 4-11, suffering three separate three-game losing streaks in that span. The Jazz, which were the league’s best defensive team, allowed 99.8 points per game (tied with the San Antonio Spurs) for the season. During that 15-game stretch without Gobert, they gave up nearly 106 points per contest and only held teams to fewer than 100 points three times — two of which were losses in which the opponent scored 99 points.

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Brad Rempel / USA Today Sports

That is to say, that Gobert’s defensive impact was and has been incredibly impactful in how the Jazz play. His defensive presence allows Utah’s wings and guards to gamble on steals with more confidence knowing the safety net that is Gobert protects the rim behind them. This is partially why Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell were top 20 in steals per game this year.

Gobert finished third overall —  well enough behind Curry and Paul and narrowly ahead of Butler and Irving (there was a 0.6 unit differential between the three). He finished no worse than seventh and had two top five marks including a third place finish ahead of Curry.

On the Outside Looking In

For those curious, the final averages looked like this:

*Stephen Curry, G1.8 units
*Chris Paul, G (second selection)1.8 units
*Rudy Gobert, C (second selection)5.2 units
*Jimmy Butler, G/F5.4 units
Kyrie Irving, G5.8 units
*Kevin Love, F/C13.4 units
Tyreke Evans G/F15 units
DeMarcus Cousins F/C16.4 units
Hassan Whiteside C19.8 units
Blake Griffin F (made last year’s team)31.4 units
John Wall G33.2 units


Edited by Emily Berman.

SQuiz
How many three pointers did Stephen Curry hit in his unanimous MVP season?
Created 4/24/18
  1. 297
  2. 303
  3. 402
  4. 506

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