A Season Plagued by Injury

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Issue 15, Volume 111

By Taee Chi 

Why has the NBA been so boring lately? With the exception of New York Knicks fans, who are ecstatic at finally having a winning record, most people would agree that this year’s season has been rather lackluster. Arguably, the primary reason for this phenomenon is the absence of star players, an issue that has been exacerbated by the recent onslaught of player injuries. Sure, these injuries may add a sprinkle of suspense to the upcoming playoffs, but without the presence of top players to spice up the league, something just doesn’t feel right.

Like all professional sports leagues, the NBA had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic by setting new regulations last year to prevent the spread of the virus and continue games. One such adjustment was the NBA bubble, an isolation zone created to protect NBA players during their postseason play. As a result of the delays caused by the pandemic, the 2019-2020 NBA season became the longest basketball season in league history, finishing on October 11, 2020. In order to deal with the shorter time frame left behind by the previous season, the league decided on a 72-game season for 2020-2021, which is 10 fewer games than usual. However, these games have been crammed into a tight four-and-a-half month schedule, which is coming off the shortest offseason in league history of just two months. With such an uncompromising timeline, it is no wonder why so many players are getting hurt this season.

After Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets suffered a torn ACL during a game, New Orleans Pelicans’ guard Josh Hart took to Twitter, saying, “Too many players getting hurt with this shortened season. [Let’s] not do this one again.” Like Hart, many players and coaches around the league are concerned that the season’s combination of a compact schedule and travel demands has increased injury risk for players.

Though there seems to be a correlation between the grueling pace of the shortened season and the increase in injuries, the numbers tell a different story. According to an article published by the New York Times, the difference between games played per week this year and last year is negligible, as teams are only playing 0.18 more games per week than they did last season. In addition, teams are taking 15 percent fewer flights, and the injury rate for this season is actually six percent lower than last season. It is also important to realize that many of this season’s notable injuries, such as LaMelo Ball’s fractured wrist and LeBron James’s high ankle sprain, have resulted from freakish accidents rather than overuse. Ball was injured on an awkward landing after he was fouled on a drive to the basket, and James suffered his ankle injury after an unintentional collision with the Atlanta Hawks’ Solomon Hill.

Yet so many high-profile names have made their way onto injury reports that fans can’t help but feel a sense of urgency. Two of the league’s top contenders, the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers, have had their star players miss valuable games due to play-related ailments.

The Nets’ talented trio of James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving has rarely had the opportunity to demonstrate its true capabilities this season as the three players have only played 186 minutes together across a span of seven games. In comparison, Durant played 1,442 minutes alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson during his last season with the Golden State Warriors in 2019. Durant missed 23 consecutive games earlier this season after straining his left hamstring, and Harden was recently sidelined with a similar hamstring injury just as Durant made his return. The Nets have still been winning all season despite these injuries, but it’s difficult to gauge the team’s maximum potential when we have yet to see the full squad in action.

The Nets’ rivals in the west, the Lakers, started the season as the title favorites. Just two months into the season, however, they lost star forward Anthony Davis to an Achilles tendon and calf injury. James followed suit in March, and the Lakers quickly found themselves without their two star players. Both James and Davis have returned to the court since, but the Lakers’ record took a hit, and they currently stand at the sixth seed in the Western conference.

The Lakers and the Nets aren’t the only teams to have suffered from their star players getting hurt. Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks missed seven crucial games during the latter half of the season due to an ankle injury. He came back strong against the Nets, scoring 49 and 36 points in two recent matchups, but the missed games proved to be vital for the Bucks in their efforts to clinch the first or second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Philadelphia 76ers have also had their fair share of injuries as their star big man Joel Embiid suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss 10 games. Earlier in the year, Embiid was viewed as the clear-cut favorite to win MVP, but the injury has now shifted the focus to Nuggets center Nikola Jokić as the most likely to claim the award. Other notable injuries that have impacted the NBA this year are Ball’s fractured wrist, James Wiseman’s right meniscal tear, Myles Turner’s “turf toe,” and Victor Oladipo’s knee injury.

The rapid pace of the 2021 NBA season has put a strain on players’ health, and with the regular season drawing to a close, it is critical that the 16 playoff-contending teams make smart decisions about resting their star players. Maybe load management doesn’t sound so bad after all.