NBA Careers Derailed By Injury

In the latest episode of the StatMuse podcast “Stat Stories,” Chad Shanks and Justin Kubatko assemble a starting five of players whose potentially great careers were derailed by injury.

Listen to the embedded audio and browse through the StatMuse searches mentioned in the episode (data accurate as of the date of publication).

Objective:

Assemble a roster of All-Star caliber players who suffered an injury or series of injuries that ultimately prevented them from fulfilling the promise they showed pre-injury.

The Rules:

  1. The player had to reach All-Star level before sustaining an injury (so no Greg Oden or Jay Williams).
  2. The player’s prime years must have still been ahead of him (sorry, T-Mac, but you had a great run).
  3. The player must have successfully returned to the court at some point after the injury (which omits career-ending injuries like those of Baron Davis and Maurice Stokes).

The Bench:

Derrick Rose

Rose hasn’t just been bad post injury, he’s been one of the worst high-usage players in the league.

worst ortg by a player since 2014 with 125+ gp and 25+ usage

The Knicks upon hearing several teams throughout NBA history have traded for an injury-ridden former superstar hoping that a change of scenery will return him to his former glory:

Gilbert Arenas

A torn MCL in 2008 took away Agent Zero’s scoring ability.

gilbert arenas ppg by season

Even when he got back on the floor, he lacked the explosiveness to get him to the free throw line.

gilbert arenas fta per game by season

Yao Ming

Although he’s remembered for his latter injury-prone seasons, Yao started his career with consecutive 82-game campaigns.

yao games played by season

The Starters:

SF: Grant Hill

Grant Hill finished his career with the seventh most triple doubles since 1985.

most triple doubles by a player since 1985

However, he racked up all these triple doubles in his amazing first few seasons in Detroit, before a broken ankle in the 2000 playoffs altered his career trajectory.

grant hill triple doubles by season

PF: Ralph Sampson

As one half of Houston’s “Twin Towers,” Ralph Sampson was a force. He was easily one of the best big men in the league during his run with the Rockets.

most double doubles by a big man from 1983 to 1987

Yet, nagging back and knee injuries reduced him to an historically ineffective player.

ralph sampson ortg by season

C: Bill Walton

Walton was arguably the best all-around player in the game when he was healthy; but he was plagued by injuries. His charts perfectly illustrate his steady rise and abrupt fall.

bill walton ppg by season

Note that there are years missing from these graphs because Walton’s injuries cost him entire seasons.

bill walton rpg by season

The various foot and ankle injuries he suffered made him a much less effective defensive presence.

bill walton defensive rating by season

Despite all the injuries, Walton is still the only player in NBA history to win the regular season MVP, NBA Finals MVP and the Sixth Man Award. He was also the 1970s-era version of a Wildling.

SG: Brandon Roy

Of all the players we considered for this list, Brandon Roy had the highest pre-injury offensive rating. He could seemingly do everything and the sky was the limit, but once his cartilage-deficient knees became a problem, he came crashing down. His effective field goal percentage (a measurement of shooting efficiency that takes into account the increased value of the three-pointer) dropped over 7% from 2009–10 to 2010–11, when the injury limited him to just 47 games.

brandon roy shots in 2009–10
brandon roy shots in 2010–11

But pre-injury, he truly was an electric player.

Though his knees robbed him of the chance to develop into an all-time great, in the 2011 playoffs — after being a hobbled non-factor for most of the season — Roy gave us one last insane reminder of what mother nature was taking from us.

PG: Anfernee Hardaway

The Orlando Magic had a dynasty in the making with Penny and Shaq, but then Shaq left and Penny’s knees fell apart. After filling highlight reels with Magic Johnson-esque passes, Penny lost the ability to effortlessly distribute the ball.

anfernee hardaway assist percentage by season

Of the players we evaluated, no one had a post injury offensive rating drop as much as Penny’s.

anfernee hardaway offensive rating by season

His numbers — while very good — may not have been on the level of some of the game’s all-time greats, but the ones he did put up were done in style.

Justin is scared that Little Penny will come to life and stab him. Chad is worried he’s not cool enough to rock reissued Air Pennys.

Did we miss a player you felt should’ve been on the list? Do one or more of the players we chose not deserve a spot? Tweet @StatMuse and let us know your thoughts — but remember to have stats to back up your claim!