Every sport is on hiatus until they get the okay to resume activities in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. With that being said, it gives us a chance to take a look at hypotheticals or dive into stories that were overshadowed before. In this piece, I decided to give you an all-time NBA starting five that only includes players who have had career-robbing or suppressing injuries.
Notes: I left off players like Len Bias and Hank Gathers who were affected by tragedy before they had a chance to compete in the NBA. However, they deserved a naming. As well as Magic Johnson who isn’t on this list because his battle with HIV isn’t necessarily an injury. However, it was worth noting how Johnson (who I believe is a top-three player all-time) missed four full seasons due to his HIV retirement. I also left off Bernard King, I know he lost a couple of seasons due to injury but his career is dominant with or without those seasons. With that all being said, let’s get down to business and take a look at who belongs in the perfect All-NBA ‘If Injuries Didn’t Exist’ Starting Five.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose
Yes, I know Derrick Rose is currently having himself a very impressive year in Detroit with the Pistons and honestly, last year was a pretty solid year as well but we aren’t talking about sixth-man or fourth-best player on a team Rose. We are talking about how a torn ACL and a myriad of injuries robbed Rose of being maybe one of the best playmaking point guards we could have ever seen. He went from becoming the youngest MVP in league history to missing 257 career games through 2016. Rose suffered through all sorts of injuries but the biggest was his ACL tear in the 2012-2013 season.
Rose started as a superstar five-star recruit out of high school and went onto join John Calipari and the Memphis Tigers basketball program. While Rose’s team would fall in the National Title game to Kansas, his journey wouldn’t just halt there. Rose ended up going first-overall in the 2008 NBA Draft to the Chicago Bulls. It was a gift for Bulls fans who hadn’t felt optimistic about their team since the Michael Jordan era. Rose, to the surprise of no one, won the Rookie of the Year and was instantly a difference-maker for Chicago.
Following that season, however, Rose went from the future of the league to looking like the present. Rose ascended into stardom immediately after his rookie year and in just his third year in the league, at age 22, Rose was the league’s Most Valuable Player. Rose averaged 22.9 points per game, 6.9 assists per game, 3.9 rebounds per game, nearly a steal per game and he played over 37 minutes per game. It wasn’t even about what Rose meant to the team, or what he looked like in his MVP season that bothers people about Rose. It was the fact that everyone knew this was the beginning of greatness and Rose was about to change the game.
Before Stephen Curry and his three-point game, Rose had everyone wanting to be slashers and playmakers. Rose’s style of play was fierce and he wanted to set a tone when he had the rock. Curry’s influence on the game has been the three-ball which some would argue has made the game more fun but has also hurt the game to an extent. Rose’s never back down mentality was always something that was just so impressive.
However, in the final minutes of game one in a 2012 playoff series versus the Philadelphia 76ers, Rose’s knee collapsed and he had officially torn his ACL. This meant the effective end for the following season in which he would rehab the ACL injury before returning in the 2013-2014 season. Just six games into his comeback season Rose has to sit out with a sore right hamstring. That wasn’t a huge deal but that same month Rose would end up tearing the meniscus in his right knee which would effectively end another season. Now, Rose who was 26, still looked like a good basketball player but everyone could tell that the injuries had robbed him of his elite athleticism. That is why Rose who once won an MVP and who was a three-time all-star makes this lineup.
Honorable Mention(s): Shaun Livingston, Penny Hardaway & Gilbert Arenas
Shaun Livingston: A 6-7 point guard that could see plays before they happened. Livingston’s athleticism, length, and skill set was incredible. Unfortunately, Livingston is most known for his gruesome injury in which his leg practically snapped in half causing him to tear his ACL, MCL, and PCL in addition to dislocating his tibia and patella. Livingston carved out a nice career as a role player but he was never the same after that injury.
Penny Hardaway: Hardaway was a three-time all-star, all-NBA first teamer and was on the 1992 USA Olympia Gold Medal team. Hardaway was on a similar path as the one Rose was on and he shot his way from rookie of the year runner-up to one of the league’s most dominant point guards. After only four seasons though, Hardaway suffered a knee injury which derailed his dominance and like Rose, robbed him of what could have been. While Hardaway still had a good career, it’s hard to imagine everything he could have done without injuries getting in the way.
Gilbert Arenas: Arenas is often forgotten about in this conversation but what is important to remember is how he was a franchise player for the Wizards back in his prime. At just 24-years-old, Arenas put together an incredible season in which he had 29.3 points per game, 6.1 assists per game and two steals per game. Due to injuries and most notably a torn MCL, Arenas fell off the planet and is mostly known for bringing a firearm into a locker room. However, Arenas is a perfect example of what could have been had injuries not existed.
Shooting Guard: Tracy McGrady
Now, it may seem shocking to see a Hall of Famer on this list but let’s be honest here. Who thinks McGrady is anywhere near Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan or LeBron James? The answer, probably no one. However, Tracy McGrady was a fantastic player who at one point looked like he was indeed in the class of a Kobe or maybe even Jordan.
T-Mac was drafted right out of high school to the Toronto Raptors ninth-overall in the 1997 NBA Draft. His cousin Vince Carter would join him the following season and everyone would see the two showmen on the same team. McGrady’s listing on this list has nothing to do with his ability to dunk a basketball or his flashy highlights. However, it does have everything to do with his play. McGrady started his young career easing into playing time from the start. Toronto didn’t truly utilize McGrady the way he could have been and in 2000 they signed and traded him to Orlando for a first-round pick.
McGrady turned 21-years-old and was off and running with the Magic. In his first season as a starter, McGrady averaged 26.8 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game and 4.6 assists per game. Pretty quickly T-Mac had put himself on the map. He followed up that season with a rather identical season until the 2002 season got underway and McGrady would break the ceiling with his incredible 32.1 points per game. In no time at all and just the age of 23 years old, McGrady had become one of the game’s most prolific players. The following season he led the league in scoring yet again. In 2004 though, Orlando decided to move on from McGrady as he was traded to the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster deal.
While in Houston, McGrady’s production stayed consistent but not quite the 32.1 points per game that had everyone wondering if he was going to be an all-timer. McGrady suffered from chronic back problems that hindered his abilities and led to his sharp decline. Because of this, McGrady was already done being a superstar player by the end of his 2007-2008 season. This is what pushed McGrady out of the Kobe and Jordan argument for good. While Kobe continued dominance until age 37, McGrady was completely shot by age 30. Had injuries not existed, there’s no telling how good McGrady could have been.
He’s a Hall of Famer and rightfully so but make no mistake if injuries didn’t occur McGrady has an argument as a top 15 basketball player right now. He was a special talent.
Honorable Mention: Dwyane Wade & Brandon Roy
Dwyane Wade: I almost didn’t want to put Dwyane Wade because of how good of a career he ended up having however I realized the same could be said for McGrady. Wade won three championships with the Miami Heat and was named a 13-time all-star. So, how did injuries rob Wade? Well, by the time LeBron came to town Wade had already had some serious injuries with his shoulder. His knee injuries would start to punish him in addition and while he continued to go out and play at a high level, it’s important to remember how special Wade looked in 2008 and just like McGrady, the type of all-timer he could be. Wade was still a top player in the league with LeBron but due to his banged-up knees Wade wasn’t able to stick around and play at the level LeBron is playing at right now and Kobe played at back then. In that sense, Wade deserves a mention but since he made it until age 37, it’s hard to give him the nod over McGrady.
Brandon Roy: Roy ended up having an eerily similar early career to Derrick Rose. Some might be surprised he isn’t a starter on this list. Roy had a rookie of the year season and then followed it up by improving each year while averaging over 20 points, over four rebounds, over 5 assists, and at least one steal per game for his marvelous three-year run after winning the rookie of the year. Unfortunately, Roy suffered from a degenerative knee condition that forced him to retire early and when he tried to make a comeback afterward it was much too late.
Small Forward: Grant Hill
I’ve grown up to associate Grant Hill as an x-factor and key role player for the Phoenix Suns but he was much more than that and would have been way much more than that had it not been for the injuries. Hill was drafted third overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 1993 NBA Draft as a star out of Duke University. Hill spent the first six seasons of his career in Detroit averaging 21.6 points per game, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. He was sent to Orlando following those years in a sign-and-trade deal and then he met his end of stardom.
It’s not to say Hill suffered any sort of torn ACL or his leg snapped practically in half like others. However, Hill suffered from a misdiagnosis from the Pistons medical staff that led to Hill’s ankle not being treated correctly and ultimately weakened. Initially, he was told that it was a sprained ankle but later he came to find out that it was a complete stress fracture that Hill even played through. That ankle got worse and worse when he went to Orlando which caused Hill to only play in 47 games during the first four seasons with the Magic. Hill’s ankle had become devastating to the point where he decided to have an operation done in hopes of refracturing the ankle and realigning it correctly. That operation proved to work as he missed all of the 2003-2004 season only to return and play 67 games the following season at age 32 and score nearly 20 points per game. He wasn’t the same Grant Hill that he looked to be back in 1999 but he had found something.
Unfortunately, another shortened season at age 33 was the beginning of the end for his time with the Magic. To be entirely honest, it was the end of the master plan that originally saw the aforementioned Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill teamed up for the long haul. Both as discussed in this article suffered from the despicable injury bug. Hill went onto the world-class medical staff in Phoenix where he revitalized his career and reinvented himself as a glue-guy that was a piece of the puzzle and not the centerpiece like he had been thought of for so many years.
Hill retired as a Hall of Famer but with everyone wondering just how good this incredible two-way player could have been if not for injuries.
Honorable Mention(s): Jamal Mashburn & LaPhonso Ellis
Jamal Mashburn: Mashburn was the fourth-overall pick in that same draft Grant Hill came out of and he was picked just after Hill. Mashburn went to Kentucky and was a star coming into the NBA. Mashburn started his rookie year as a starter playing more than 36 minutes per game and establishing himself as one of the league’s most prolific young scorers. From then on he had averaged back-to-back 23-plus point seasons. Unfortunately, that last season of the back-to-back was the injury season that cut his season short about 62 games. From there, Mashburn fell off big time until around 2000 when he joined the Charlotte Hornets and recaptured that 20-point-per game scoring ability he once had years ago. He would go on to finish his career with four-straight 20-plus point scoring seasons while also missing around 100 games in his final four seasons before retiring. Mashburn could have been one of the league’s best scorers if he never was hurt.
LaPhonso Ellis: Coming out of Notre Dame the draft before Mashburn was LaPhonso Ellis. The Fighting Irish star was drafted fifth overall in that draft and looked like one of the up and coming forwards in Denver. Unfortunately in 1994, he suffered a stress fracture in his right knee that sidelined him pretty much the entire third season of his career. After nearly averaging a double-double for the first two. Ellis had some trouble coming back but he did eventually and at 26 years old in albeit only 55 games Ellis average over 20 points per game. That would be his peak, however, due to another knee injury and a sports hernia, Ellis’ play fell off, and thus he was never fully able to realize the potential he had.
Power Forward: Danny Manning
In the 1988 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Clippers were expected to rise and grab their future franchise player in Danny Manning. Manning was drafted out of Kansas University right after he and the Jayhawks won the 1988 National Championship. Manning started his rookie year flashing serious long-term franchise potential. It, unfortunately, was short-lived as he suffered a torn ACL that would most definitely sideline him for a year and maybe longer.
It’s important to keep in mind that Manning wasn’t suffering a torn ACL during a time where it was easy to come back from such an injury. He did come back however and the next year he looked like he did before the injury. In his third season, Manning played in more games than ever before with 73. His fourth season, Manning had found his rhythm and looked to have beaten the dreaded ACL tear. Manning in back-to-back seasons played 161 games and averaged 21 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.4 blocks per game while playing 35 minutes and shooting 52 percent from the field. Things had finally settled down for Manning who had overcome a horrific injury and even though he may never realize his full potential, he was at least about to salvage a great career out of the unfortunate circumstance.
Following his first all-star appearance, Manning would make the all-star game a second-straight season and would also end up being traded to the Atlanta Hawks for superstar Dominique Wilkins. Manning would end up playing 68 games across both the Clippers and Hawks, averaging 37 minutes per game, scoring over 20 points per game, and having his usual type of season. Unfortunately, rising-superstar Danny Manning was about to meet his end as he signed on with the Phoenix Suns and suffered all sorts of knee problems that would push him out of the spotlight and onto the bench. Manning had become a valuable role player for the Suns but due to his injuries, he was no longer able to play upwards 30-plus minutes per game.
Manning spent the majority of his prime battling knee injuries and while he won the sixth-man of the year award in the 1997-1998 season it was only just a spec of what Manning’s potential had many projecting him to be. He somehow was the only player until the next era of medicine came along, to return to the court following reconstructive knee surgeries on both knees. Manning was traded to Orlando for the aforementioned Penny Hardaway who also dealt with injuries as mentioned above. After that, it was over for Manning in the NBA, he was no longer a star, nor a key role player he had become a reserve. It’s a huge shame to think of what Manning could have been if not for the knee issues. That is why he makes the lineup.
Honorable Mention(s): Chris Webber, Amar’e Stoudemire & Larry Johnson
Chris Webber: He was drafted first overall in the 1993 NBA Draft straight out of Michigan and the iconic Fab Five. He was traded to Golden State straight up for Penny Hardaway. Chris Webber was an all-around big man that had a rare blend of athleticism and overall feel to the game. From the 1993-1994 season to the 2002-2003 season, Webber averaged a monstrous 22.2 points per game, 10.2 rebounds per game, 4.4 assists per game, 1.7 blocks per game, 1.5 steals per game in almost 40 minutes. He was a superstar, he had followed his path from college to the pros with ease. That was until 2003 when he suffered a game-changing knee injury that would hinder his abilities. He played very well even still but from that point forward he had a hard time staying on the basketball court consistently.
Amar’e Stoudemire: Stoudemire became one of the game’s elite players for the Phoenix Suns. He was drafted ninth overall in the 2002 NBA Draft and after a solid rookie campaign he dialed it up to MVP-level. Stoudemire nabbed seven seasons in which he played at least 50 games that he went over 20 points per game. He was a force and unfortunately, injuries kept him off the court, and after one great half-season with the New York Knicks, Stoudemire’s play fell into a pit and he never returned to form.
Larry Johnson: LJ went first in the 1992 NBA Draft and was a big-time player for the Hornets. The only issue with Johnson was his chronic back problem that hindered his ability but took a toll when he got to the Knicks in the middle of his prime. Johnson in just his second year played an incredible 40.5 minutes per game which was the league leader that season and he scored 22.1 points per game while bringing down over 10 rebounds, dishing out 4.3 assists and shooting 52 percent from the field per game. He still had a great career but not great enough to get into the Hall of Fame which was due to only playing 10 seasons in the NBA. Had Johnson not been hampered with back issues, he might have been one of the best power forwards ever.
Center: Bill Walton
Walton holds the record for most missed games in an NBA playing career. He also was immensely talented and is arguably underrated by some because of his injuries. He won a championship with two different teams, he was one of the best passers anyone has ever seen at center and he was a big-time physical player that was a true glass eater, rim protector, and dominant force down low offensively and defensively. Simply put, Walton is one of the greatest big-men of all time. He’s a Hall of Famer, so why is he on this list? Well, because he holds the record for most missed games in an NBA playing career, that’s why.
Walton was drafted first overall in the 1974 NBA Draft out of UCLA. The man they called the “Red Barron” came in day one and was a double-double machine while shooting over 51 percent from the field. He, however, only played 35 games that year. From ages 22-to-25, Walton averaged 17.1 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, one steal, 4.4 assists, and 51 percent field goal percentage per game. Unfortunately, he only played in two seasons where he played more than 65 games.
Walton’s issue was the fact he suffered from consistent foot and ankle issues, the type of stuff most big-men oftentimes do. The problem was with Bill he seemed to never put an end to the pain and the injuries during his career and unfortunately his early 20’s was the true highlight of his playing career. He won a championship later on with the Celtics and was known as a true unselfish team player but his dominance was zapped from him early on.
It’s incredible to think if injuries didn’t exist what the Portland Trail Blazers could have accomplished with a fully healthy 82 game a year Bill Walton. It’s also a little terrifying how much that would have altered history now come to think of it.
Honorable Mention(s): Yao Ming, Ralph Sampson, Jermaine O’Neal & Andrew Bynum
Yao Ming: The one-of-a-kind 7-foot-6 Chinese big-man made his mark on the NBA as soon as he entered the league. The Houston Rockets drafted Ming first overall in the 2002 NBA Draft and instantly reaped the rewards. However, after playing practically three full seasons to start his career, Ming dealt with foot problems that kept him off the court. Although it was a short career, Ming found himself in the Hall of Fame. The only question that remains. How good could Yao Ming and the Rockets have been without the injuries?
Ralph Sampson: Another monstrous human that was also drafted by the Rockets stood at 7-foot-4, Ralph Sampson was on the path to becoming a star in the NBA. The number one selection in the 1983 NBA draft quickly won the rookie of the year after averaging 21 points per game and 11 rebounds per game that season. The next year the Rockets paired him with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and formed the twin-towers. Unfortunately, that was short-lived as Sampson only played at that elite level or potential elite level for his first year years and then failed to come close to playing another full season.
Jermaine O’Neal: Fantastic focal point to journeyman big-man? That was Jermaine O’Neal. The five-time All-Star went from putting up 20 and 10 numbers to putting up 13 and 7. O’Neal was such a talented player but injuries robbed him of his consistent dominance. Portland took the high schooler 17th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft, O’Neal never truly developed there and once he got to the Pacers he ascended. Due to injuries in his shoulder, foot, and ankle, O’Neal never reached the top of where his game was looking to go.
Andrew Bynum: Andrew Bynum’s career story is one of the more depressing non-death related basketball career flops. He was the 10th-overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. The seven-footer quickly developed into one of the league’s top centers. Unfortunately due to the constant battle of his foot problems, Bynum never reached his full potential. At age 24, Bynum was starting to take off as he had already won two championships with the Lakers and had just about turned himself into the 20 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks player everyone imagined he could be coming out of high school. Unfortunately for Bynum, that was the end. That year the Lakers lost to the Thunder in the playoffs, the following year Bynum missed the entire season due to a knee injury and was also traded to the 76ers in a blockbuster three-team deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers. Bynum would go on to only play 26 more games and finish his NBA career at the age of 26. Truly one of the most disappointing stories after watching the big man develop from the age of 18 and onto the age of 24 in which he started to take control. Bynum fell off the wagon and was never able to recover after a myriad of issues with his foot and knee.
PG Derrick Rose
SG Tracy McGrady
SF Grant Hill
PF Danny Manning
C Bill Walton
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