MANILA, Philippines – There is no question that the deal struck between players and owners in the NBA to end the lockout brought back excitement to one of the world’s most popular sports leagues.
The delayed start, however, has pushed teams into cramming into their schedule a shortened training camp and a season limited to just 66 games.
Add to that the fact that most cagers have not engaged in competitive basketball for at least six months and you get a tourney where players are out of shape. And while this season has been exciting and not wanting in storylines, injuries – both freak and gruesome — have helped shape the NBA we have today.
Let’s take a look at 10 that had the most impact on their teams and, subsequently, on the league itself:
1. Eric Gordon, New Orleans Hornets
After getting traded — together with a draft pick and Chris Kaman, for Chris Paul — Gordon who is suffering from a sore right knee has virtually not contributed anything to the Hornets this season.
The six-foot-three guard, who’s coming from a breakout 2010-11 when he averaged 22.3 points and 4.4 assists while being the Clippers’ primary offensive option in the perimeter, has only shown up for two games this year and has probably been the main reason why New Orleans has meant next to nothing in the NBA.
As a matter of fact, Gustavo Ayon, the little-known and undrafted Mexican, has helped the Hornets out more with 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds to boot.
As of posting time, the Hornets are languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference heap with a 9-27 record (20 games off top-ranked Oklahoma City) and with the return of Gordon not imminent in the foreseeable future, expect NOLA to continue to stink and make a run at the top draft pick come June.
2. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Barely six minutes into their match against Utah last February 6, Anthony strained his right groin and left the game limping. With the Knicks in a tailspin, many thought that New York would continue to slide down the standings and into irrelevance.
Luckily for them, an undrafted point guard out of Harvard rose to the occasion and started what has been a global phenomenon we now know as Linsanity. Lin dropped 25 points on the New Jersey Nets a night before, but nobody would’ve thought that he was capable of exceeding what he’s done in the game against the Jazz.
Had Anthony not been injured, New York – at that time, without a capable playmaker and armed with sagging confidence – might be lying in the doldrums and out of the playoff picture.
3. Danilo Gallinari and Nene, Denver Nuggets
Nene was arguably the most sought-after free agent of 2011 and when he decided to re-sign with the Nuggets for five years and $67-million, Denver fans deemed him an important piece to their championship puzzle.
But Nene has not been a major factor for the Nuggets this season, playing in only 23 of Denver’s 37 games due to left heel and left calf issues and putting up 13.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and the lowest field goal and free throw shooting marks for him in the past five seasons – definitely not the output Coach George Karl and the management expected from their S13.4-million-dollar-a-year guy.
Add to that the loss of their leading scorer Danilo Gallinari (chip fracture in left foot), who’s been an offensive force in the Nuggets’ first 25 games, and the squad from the Mile High City went on a 2-8 tailspin before the All-Star break before regaining their bearings and winning their last two outings.
But with the duo’s return in the horizon, Nuggets fans are hoping that their team would go higher than the eighth seed they have right now in the West.
4. Chauncey Billups, Los Angeles Clippers
When everything was going seemingly well for the Clippers, the so-called “Clipper Curse” struck hard once more.
With a resounding win over Orlando in its closing moments, Billups landed awkwardly in his left foot and fell to the ground, with results later revealing a torn Achilles tendon that rendered him lost for the season.
Los Angeles has gone 6-6 since “Mr. Big Shot” went down and even though they have been having a solid season by Clipper standards, the effects of the injury to Billups will be more obvious when the playoffs begin in late April.
And while it is hard to replace the 14.9 points and four assists he delivers nightly, what will be more missed is the veteran presence and stability that Billups provides for this young team.
Other Clippers who tore their Achilles tendon while with the squad are Nate Archibald (1977) and Norm Nixon (1987), who both had their injuries before the season started.
5. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks started the season right, winning seven of their first 11 games to show that they have finally matured enough to contend in the top-heavy Eastern Conference.
Horford was part of that semi-renaissance but unfortunately had his season ended prematurely when he tore his left pectoral muscle in the first quarter of a loss to Indiana on January 11.
Atlanta, now without one part of its version of the Big Three, went 8-2 immediately after Horford’s injury. But its far-reaching effects finally showed up as the Hawks went 5-9 to drop to sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 20-15 record.
Almost two months before the playoffs, there is still hope that Horford — easily Atlanta’s most consistent and smartest player — will suit up again. The question, though, will be whether he would have enough impact to move the Hawks into the upper echelon of East contenders.
6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
A lot of NBA observers expected Curry to make the big jump this season but a bum ankle that has cost him 11 games has prevented the third-year guard from realizing his immense potential so far.
And this might be the primary reason why the Warriors have fallen below preseason expectations and four games out of the playoff picture with half of the season gone. Golden State lost seven of the 11 games that Curry missed.
Curry is scoring a career-low 15.7 points per game and while he has minutely upped his shooting percentages, its effect has not been enough to push Golden State into contention and guess what, Curry has missed the last three matches with a sore foot.
7. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks
Despite tweaks to their roster, the Bucks have been in the midst of another average season when Bogut got injured in another freak accident.
The Australian, who was Milwaukee’s top pick in 2005, collided with Houston’s Kyle Lowry while driving to the hoop then awkwardly landed on the point guard’s foot to add to the growing list of injuries he’s had in his career.
Expectations ran high for the seven-foot behemoth when the season began but he has failed to deliver so far, norming 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds (the lowest numbers since his rookie year) while shooting a career-low 44.9%.
Bogut is expected to be back by mid-March to help the Bucks resuscitate its playoff quest, which is currently on life support with a 14-22 card, four games off the eighth spot in the East.
8. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
If there is one good thing that you can take from the two injuries Ginobili has suffered this season, that would be the fact that the Spurs have been playing awesome — albeit not that entertaining — basketball even without him.
Coach Gregg Popovich has proven his wizardry once more, squeezing every ounce of talent possible from his bunch of youngsters and ex-D-Leaguers to zoom to a 25-11 record at presstime.
However, come playoff time, San Antonio will definitely need the fearlessness, experience and scoring punch that Ginobili brings to the table. A broken hand and a strained left oblique, of course, would take time to heal but the Argentinian has proven time and again that he always steps his game up when it matters most.
Now, the question is, when will he be healthy again?
9. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
The burly Randolph was instrumental in last year’s stirring run to the Western Conference semifinals, serving as the Grizzlies’ emotional and statistical leader on the court without Rudy Gay.
But after tearing his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in a collision with teammate OJ Mayo on January 3, questions abound on what role will he play when he finally returns this month.
The six-foot-nine forward has played in only four games this season, averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds, a steep drop from the 20.1 and 12.2 he normed last year and will be rejoining a team that has played relatively well to stay just a rung below the Top Four of the West with a 21-15 slate.
Randolph’s comeback will be huge for Memphis as he is a big upgrade over Mareese Speights, who’s been surprisingly solid in delivering 8.2 points and 6.3 boards for the Grizzlies.
10. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
After missing only six games in his first three seasons in the NBA, Rose has not been present in 10 this year due to injury.
First, the reigning Most Valuable Player missed five matches with a turf toe then was out for another five with lower back spasms.
The Bulls have responded well, winning seven of the 10 games with relative ease as they continue to hold on to the Eastern Conference top spot with 30 wins in 38 games.
But the fact that the superstar point guard has missed almost a third of the season doesn’t bode well for Chicago fans because in the playoffs, an injury or two would definitely derail a contender’s journey to the crown.
Plus, Rose’s scoring numbers are down from last year’s 25.0 to 22.3 even as his three-point shooting and free-throw percentages have also taken a dip. – Rappler.com