All NBA fans know that injuries are apart of the game. Not everyone can be as durable as Lebron James. Below, I’ve outlined 5 players coming back from injuries who are crucial to their teams overall success in the 2016–2017 NBA season. Will they be able to stay healthy this year? Only time will tell.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies:
The 2016–2017 NBA season seemed to be cursed for the Memphis Grizzlies. The team was constantly riddled with injuries throughout the whole season, forcing them to use an NBA record 28 different players with head coach Dave Joerger stitching different starting lineups together game to game. Against all odds, the team was able to make the playoffs becoming the first team to make the postseason using more than 23 players and secured the fifth seed only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs. The most devastating injury was to their franchise cornerstone Marc Gasol, who went down halfway through the season with a fractured foot and would miss the rest of the season and the Rio Olympics over the summer. The surgery that Gasol got was a risky one that required screws put in the foot and has worked in some cases (Michael Jordan) but in other cases, such as Yao Ming’s, has lead to more health issues. However, all reports have pointed to Gasol’s rehab going well and suggest that he should be ready to go when the season rolls around. For the Grizzlies, known as the “Grit and Grind” team of the league, getting their defensive anchor back for the 16–17 season is a relief. But is the “Big Spain” that they will be getting back going to be as effective as the one that we’re used to watching?
In last year’s season, Gasol took a bit of a step back in terms of his productivity even before the injury. Usually a strong finisher in the paint and a danger on the elbow with his smooth jumper, Gasol’s field goal percentage from those areas dropped off about eight percent each. The Spanish center had the worst offensive rating of his career at a substandard 105, and his regression on defense was noticeable too. Gasol’s defensive rating of 106 was his lowest since the 2010–2011 season in which he won the Defensive Player of the year award. His rotations weren’t as quick and he was not surrounded by players that allowed him to focus on guarding his own man.
If Gasol does come back healthy this season, the new acquisitions that the Grizzlies made in the off-season could help him greatly. New head coach David Fitzdale could potentially alter Gasol’s offensive role in a way that would allow him to take advantage of the best parts of his game. Fitzdale, who was an assistant on a Miami Heat team who used Chris Bosh to stretch the floor, could have Gasol play further away from the paint allowing more space for him to make plays for his teammates. Placing the passing center who averaged just under four assists a game at the top of the arc opens up cutting lanes for his wings and creates mismatches on the floor. With the NBA relying on the three point shot more and Gasol having a nice reliable jumper already, seeing him play behind the arc and shoot some threes isn’t out of the question. No matter which Gasol the Grizzlies get back this season, odds are they’ll be in the hunt to make the playoffs a 7th consecutive year.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat:
With LeBron back on the Cavs and D-Wade signing with his hometown Bulls, Chris Bosh is the only remaining member of “The Big Three” left on the Miami Heat. Bosh, who was the most unappreciated of the three players, has been battling a freak blood clotting condition the past two seasons and fighting to get back onto the floor. Back during the 2014–2015 All-Star Break Bosh was admitted to the hospital and blood clots were discovered in one of his lungs. The Heat shut him down for the remainder of the season and after taking blood thinners for months Bosh was cleared to play in the following season. The 15–16 season saw the Heat emerge as a dark-horse candidate to upset LeBron’s Cavaliers in the postseason, until the All-Star Break when another clot was discovered; however, this time the clot was in his calf and Bosh hoped that taking more blood-thinners would allow him to return later in the season. Bosh didn’t return and his status for the upcoming season has brought up a ton of controversy.
Bosh, who has taken treatment and been working out in the off-season, says that, “”I’m ready. I’ve done all my work with the doctors. I’m in incredible shape.” The only problem is that he has to be cleared by the team doctors, who will be hesitant to clear him due to the possibility of another blood clot being discovered later in the season. In recent reports Bosh has insisted that he’ll be attending the team’s training camp and Heat owner Micky Arison recently tweeted at Bosh, “Looking good CB, look forward to seeing you in camp.” A press conference from the team clarifying their support for CB’s comeback would clear up all the fog and tension that the press has stirred up in regards to Bosh returning to the court. In the videos he has posted of himself working out, Bosh looks like he hasn’t lost step despite missing the entire second half of last years season.
With Hassan Whiteside molding into a Defensive Player of the Year Award candidate and showing All-Star potential in Bosh’s absence, the Heat would improve greatly with the stretch four back on the floor. CB is a power forward that can do a little bit of everything; he’s a great defender and can produce for himself and for teammates on the offensive end. His game has progressed a lot since his days with the Raptors and in the past four seasons alone his numbers have reflected that evolution. In the 2010–2011 NBA season, his first as a member of the “Big Three” in Miami, Bosh only attempted 0.3 three pointers a game. As he began working on his three point shot, his attempts and his three point field goal percentage rose. Fast forward to last year and Bosh was averaging 4.2 threes attempted a game and was shooting around 36%. Paired alongside Whiteside, Bosh creates a challenge for opposing teams. The post-Wade Heat are built to play fast paced floor placing basketball and giving Bosh the ball at the top of the floor allows for him to distribute the ball, one of his most underrated attributes. Bosh is also incredibly helpful to have on the pick and roll as the roll man. As he rolls he can either take the mid-range jumper or finish at the basket which keeps the defender guessing. Bosh makes mid-range jumpers at around 46% so you would expect a defender to stop the shot and force Bosh to drive. The fact that Bosh is a reliable finisher around the rim either leads to a lay up for himself or a rotation from a help defender in the paint and a wide open dunk for Whiteside. It’s hard not to root for Bosh, one of the most likable players in the league, to make a successful comeback and stay healthy in the upcoming season.
John Wall, Washington Wizards:
The 2015–2016 season was another season of improvement for All-Star point guard John Wall. The 26 year old posted career highs across the board averaging 19.9 points, 10.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 steals while improving his three point percent from 30.0% to 35.1%. Wall, one of the four players in the league to average over ten assists a game last year, underwent surgical procedures on both of his knees following the end of the season. The procedure on his right knee, a arthroscopic lavage, was relatively minor but the surgery on his left knee, an operation to remove calcium deposits for his patella tendon, would have sidelined him for months had it been during the season. Wall played in every game in the 15–16 season until the last five where he sat out with knee pain and soreness that the surgeries should take care of. The question raised by these two surgeries is how explosive will Wall be when he returns to the floor in the 2016–2017 season?
Speed and athleticism are two of the defining traits of Wall’s game. Fans are used to seeing him chase down fast-breaks for a huge swat or spin 360 degrees in the air to finish a lay up around the defender. My grandfather, a Wizards fan, complains that he sees Wall spend more time down on the floor than up on his feet. Although his jump-shot has been improving every season, his speed and finishing abilities amount to most of his scoring. Last year his finishing around the rim was down a little, a decline which Wall attributes to knee pain in his left knee. He told the Vertical that, “It was painful. You watch a lot in games, I jumped off my right leg, or I jumped off two feet. I never jumped off my left leg. That’s the reason I rarely went right, because I had to jump off two feet, because this leg, I couldn’t get off of it.” Wall, who has been undergoing rehabilitation activities since the day after the surgery, is progressing well but his status for the opener on October 27th is still up in the air.
Entering last years season, Wall was out of shape and played terrible the first couple weeks of the season. This dug the Wizards into a hole which they almost got out of, only missing the eighth seed by five games and finishing 41–41 for the season. Looking ahead to this year, the Wizards will once again rely on Wall and the often-injured Bradley Beal to lead the team on offense. With healthy knees and a new head coach Scott Brooks running the team, Wall could be in store for another strong season. Brooks, who did a wonderful job of developing Russell Westbrook into the phenomenal player we know him as, could be the missing ingredient in finishing Wall’s development. The Wizards are stuck in limbo in an Eastern Conference that continues to improve and become more competitive each year but if Wall and Beal can put together a season where both stay healthy, Washington could finally turn themselves into the contender they have the potential to be.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers:
For the Los Angeles Clippers, the 2015–2016 NBA season was a roller coaster from start to finish starting with Blake Griffin at the center of it. The team started out 16–13 and was struggling to find rotations that were effective when Griffin suffered a partial tear to his quadriceps against the Lakers on Christmas night. The injury was diagnosed as minuscule but doctors later advised him to have surgery on the quad which he declined, wanting to return later in the season. While out with the tear, we all know and remember what happened when Blake and his teammates went out to dinner in Toronto. The star power-forward broke his hand on the face of Clippers staff worker Matias Testi which would sideline him for even longer. Griffin eventually returned for the last five games of the regular season after serving a four game suspension by the NBA and struggled to work himself back into rhythm with the rest of the team. Showing glimpses of his former self, Griffin helped the Clippers get out to a 2–0 lead on the Trail Blazers until the quad injury returned and both he and Chris Paul had their seasons end.
During the off-season, rumors of the Clippers trading Griffin were plenty and there was much speculation on whether the former number one pick would be on the Clippers when the summer ended. Thankfully, the Clippers decided to keep Griffin and company while adding key bench players in free agency. On April 27th, Griffin underwent a bone marrow procedure on the torn quad tendon, forcing him to miss the Rio Olympics. After rehabbing for the whole summer, only taking a week off after the surgery and a week off for vacation, BG is expected to be fully healthy for training camp when the time rolls around.
Although the Clippers excelled with Blake Griffin out, the idea that they are better off without him is absolute malarkey. Arguably the best power forward in the league when healthy, Griffin is one of the few players in the league that can completely take over a game all by himself. In recent seasons his rebound numbers have dipped due to DeAndre Jordan’s mastery of the boards, but Blake’s assists have risen to around five a game. Griffin has also evolved as a player and developed a reliable mid-range jumper that teams have to respect now, opening up more opportunities for the young star to distribute to teammates. Inserting a random small forward into a line up of Chris Paul, JJ Redick, Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan has already proven successful for Doc Rivers and now with a deep bench, the Clipper’s stars won’t have to play so many minutes over the season. Could this be the year that the Clippers finally make it out of the second round and give the Warrior’s super team a run for their money?
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets:
Since leaving the University of Kentucky at the age of 19 to be drafted by the then Charlotte Bobcats, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has decreased the number of games he’s played in each season. Last year, MKG was injured before the season had even started, taking a hard fall in one of the Hornet’s preseason games. The fall resulted in a dislocated shoulder and a partially torn labrum, which would required surgery. The assumption was that Kidd-Gilchrist would miss the entire 2015–2016 season but the young player sped through his rehab and returned to the floor in late January. His return was short-lived, however, as he once again fell diving for a loose ball and tore the same labrum he had in the preseason. The seven game stretch in which he was healthy provided the Hornets and the rest of the league with a glimpse of what MKG can be when healthy.
In those seven games Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 12.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists on 54.1 percent shooting, some of the best numbers of his young career. The most impressive aspect, even though the sample size was small, was the improved jump-shot that he bolstered. After completely revamping his shot, MKG looked like a completely different player and made three of the seven three point shots that he attempted (matching his career total of three three pointers made). The one thing other than injuries that had kept the small forward from becoming a star was his limitations on offense which he seems to have taken care of. You can also argue that the injuries MKG has sustained have all been freak occurrences, so maybe he will finally stay healthy.
The reason the Hornets need Kidd-Gilchrist back so badly is on the defensive end of the floor. MKG, who was drafted because of his raw talent on the defensive end of the floor and strong rebounding, is one of the best defenders in the league when healthy. In the 2014–2015 NBA season, the Hornet’s defensive rating was 8.6 points better per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. In addition to his skills as a defender, Kidd-Gilchrist is also an above average rebounder for the small forward position on a team that struggled mightily to secure rebounds with him absent. With MKG out, players such as Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee stepped up to provide scoring in his absence but with both players on new teams, the Hornets need Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back of the floor more than ever.