22 September 2020

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8 Stars Who Are Coming off Injury – Will They Ever Be The Same?

Often times, basketball related injuries end basketball careers. If they don’t end careers, they often slow the player down, or make them less aggressive. Of course this is for large-scale injuries. Players bounce back from sore knees and sprained ankles easily. But a torn ACL, a ruptured Achilles, a broken leg, only a few come back to the strength they were before the injury. You might be aware that there are 8 all-stars (or near all-stars) in the league who are dealing with season long injuries (7 who are out right now, 1 who is just starting up again). A very hot topic for debate among basketball fans is whether these players will return to their all-star form. So we will dive into these injuries today, and see how they affect these stars going forward, and of course, if they’ll ever be the same.

1. DeMarcus Cousins

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 13: DeMarcus Cousins #15, and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on against the Golden State Warriors on November 13, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

DeMarcus Cousins has had nothing short of a rough couple years. Cousins’ drama started when he tore his Achilles tendon while playing for the New Orleans Pelicans. This had Cousins out for the season, and put his max contract he was nearing into question. That offseason, Cousins signed with the Golden State Warriors, in what many called a ring-chase move. Cousins was unable to play for quite some time with the injury, however late in the playoffs Warriors fans awoke to the good news that Cousins would rejoin the team for the last few games of the 2019 playoffs. Cousins wasn’t bad for the Warriors but he also wasn’t the all-star the Warriors had hoped they signed. Cousins was inconsistent really. One game he would go off for a 20 point double-double, the next he’d shoot worse than I would. Following a disappointing loss to the Toronto Raptors in the NBA finals, DeMarcus Cousins’ 1 year contract was now up, and he could finally sign with a new team and start the season healthy… or so he thought. Cousins continued his reign of ring chasing, and decided to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, to join Lebron James and Anthony Davis. Unfortunately for Cousins, he managed to tear his ACL while going up for a layup on the fast break in practice before the season started.

Cousins has now undergone the two most feared injuries in the NBA back to back. His future now remains in question. The latest reports do suggest Cousins could return this season, and help the Lakers reach their glorious title for Kobe. But would this be beneficial at all. Quite honestly, Demarcus Cousins has no place on the Lakers anymore. Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and Javale McGee have been fantastic for the Lakers, so taking a risk on cutting any of those guys’ minutes is not worth it for a team that has been so successful like the Lakers. If Cousins plays like he did in his limited games for the Warriors, the Lakers might be better off sticking with Dwight and Javale.

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The Verdict – Solid Role Player

DeMarcus Cousins has not proven that he has been able to return the same following an Achilles injury, so I have no reason to believe Cousins will be able to fully bounce back from an ACL injury. It’s just so unlikely that someone who gets that duo of death recovers back to full health. Cousins will likely be a great role player off the bench, and be someone who can fill a Willie Cauley-Stein type role, coming off the bench, but stepping in to start here and there. I would be surprised to see DeMarcus as the star of any team like he once was with the New Orleans Pelicans

2. Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin has been the king of knee injuries over the past few years. No matter what type of season he is having, Griffin always manages to hurt his knee, get surgery, come back, surprise everyone, repeat. This time, Griffin was forced to get surgery on his left knee just 18 games into the 2019-2020 season. Of course, the exception to this repeating trend was last year. During the 2018-2019 season, Blake Griffin played 75 games, missing just 7, and averaged a career high 24.5 points per game. Griffin managed to make the all star game, his first since 2014-2015, and his 6th time being selected in his career. It seemed like Griffin was back, he was healthy, explosive, clutch, and even led the Pistons to the playoffs. But this year it seems like Blake gave us false hope. Griffin managed to squeak in 18 games, where he averaged a career low 15 points per game, and 4 rebounds. After missing a few games, and returning for a few games, the Pistons announced Griffin’s season was over, once again.

It seems as though last year was Blake Griffin’s last hurrah. The 18 games Griffin did play this season were underwhelming. He didn’t look the same, he wasn’t scoring efficiently, he was giving up offensive rebounds, and he was not the man he used to be. Griffin has still got 3 years left on his massive contract, and many rumors are swirling that the rebuilding Pistons could trade Griffin to the highest bidder. It really does make no sense for the Pistons to keep Griffin. With Derrick Rose likely on the way out, Blake Griffin will be an expensive player, who doesn’t play, and even if he did play, does not fit the rebuilding needs of the Pistons. The Pistons will look to trade him to a team looking to make the jump into a contender, much like the Pistons were when they acquired Blake Griffin in a deal around Tobias Harris 3 years ago.

The Verdict – Low End Starter

I have no doubt that Blake Griffin will still start in the NBA when he returns. Griffin is a great shooter, and can still do great things despite his injuries. However, time catches up to everyone. Griffin is going to be 31 next year, and his body cannot afford another injury, and may not have been able to afford this one. While I think Griffin can still start, I don’t think he can lead a team like he’s used to. Griffin can probably average around 12-15 points per game. and help a contending team who’s looking for a triple scoring threat, whether the post, the paint or the three. I see Griffin being the fourth best player on a contending team, and putting up solid, but not elite numbers.

3. John Wall

Much like DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall has had a rough couple of years. After tearing his ACL half way through the 2017-2018 NBA season, Wall returned to the court in 2019 and actually played surprisingly well. Wall took the court for full time minutes, and put up over 20 points per game on pace for his second best season ever. Unfortunately, Wall was once again struck by tragedy when he slipped and fell at his home in 2019, tearing his left Achilles tendon in the process. This was devastating for Wall who seemed to be coming back strong from a brutal torn ACL. To make matters worse, John Wall’s mother passed from cancer just recently. So John Wall has been through more than most NBA players as of late. The latest reports indicate that Wall has been scrimmaging, however the Wizards will not play him this year. Rightfully so. The Wizards have been pretty bad this season, and the season is quite honestly lost for good. It makes no sense to bring John Wall in again, and risk another injury.

The Wizards need Wall, and need him bad. While Washington does have one of the best offensive ratings in the league, they also have easily the worst defensive rating in the league. John Wall is a two way superstar, one of the only point guards who can defend multiple positions at a high level. His return will significantly improve Washington’s defense, who until recently had 5’9 Isaiah Thomas at point guard. Wall has also looked incredible in scrimmages and pre-game warm-ups. According to NBC sports, John Wall looked incredible scrimmaging, and was “still the fastest guy out there”. Wall also looks explosive. Many have seen his self alley-oop dunk where he actually hits his head on the rim, and proceeds to hold it, grimacing. Wall looks great for someone who has been through the very worst, and for someone who is often called out for a lack of commitment to the game. It certainly seems like Wall has been working extremely hard, as it’s highly unusual to see someone who has only recently torn their ACL and Achilles to look so athletically superior.

The Verdict – Secondary All Star

I have a great feeling that John Wall will return to his all star form. Wall has looked absolutely phenomenal in his workout videos, and it looks like he put a lot of work into his three point shot. I don’t see Wall taking the drivers seat from Bradley Beal, hence the “secondary” but I do see Wall as someone who can put up 20 points and 10 assists a game. In my opinion, this is very realistic, and will throw John Wall’s name back into the All Star voting race. Wall will probably take on a role similar to the one Jamal Murray has on the Nuggets. Both Murray and Wall are the primary ball handlers, and borderline all stars, but the superstars are in Beal and Jokic.

4. Stephen Curry

The injury bug struck the Golden State Warriors hard. Stephen Curry is among other Warriors, former and current, who have been plagued by injury over the past year. For Curry, it’s a broken hand. Curry suffered a nasty fall in the fourth game of the season, which resulted in Aron Baynes crushing Steph Curry’s hand. The good news for Curry is that there’s a possibility he returns to action within the next month. More good news for Curry is that he hurt his left hand, which is not his shooting hand. Curry has been shooting over the last 4 months, and looks just as good as he always has. However, Curry’s team has changed quite a bit over the last few months. Curry will be without Thompson, Durant, Iguodala, Russell and many more players he was getting used to playing with. So he’ll obviously have to readjust before he can really take over like he does.

The Warriors have made it clear Curry will return in March, but many fans wonder, why? The Golden State Warriors are pretty much already eliminated from the playoff race, if you’re ever looking for them on the standings you can scroll right to the bottom and find them in an unfamiliar place. Curry returning to the Warriors in March really doesn’t help anything at all. The Warriors are on the cusp of obtaining top odds to acquire the first overall pick, and Steph Curry is someone who can immediately win the Warriors some games, thus hurting the Warriors chances at a top pick. So the Warriors are now putting themselves in a tough spot. Painfully admit they’re tanking and sit a healthy Curry, or hurt their chances at getting a top player.

The Verdict – Superstar

I don’t think many people are questioning that Steph Curry will return to the Warriors the same as when he left them. Curry’s injury doesn’t really affect his game all that much. His only challenge will be readjusting to his team, until Klay Thompson returns, and the roster looks a little bit cleaner. Curry is still going to be the league’s best shooter, and an elite point guard. The Warriors could be in for an immediate turn around next year, if they have Curry, Thompson and Wiggins running the show in the bay.

5. Jusuf Nurkic

PORTLAND, OR – DECEMBER 28: Jusuf Nurkic #27 of the Portland Trail Blazers looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 28, 2019 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images)

Most would argue that calling Jusuf Nurkic a star is a bit of a stretch. While I somewhat agree, it’s important to note that Nurkic was looking really good for the Trail Blazers up until his injury. Nurkic was averaging 15 points per game, along with 10 rebounds, and over a block and a steal per game as well. Unfortunately, late last year, Nurkic suffered a leg fracture in a gruesome injury that had fans all over the world cringing. This has kept Nurkic out to this point, and beyond. The plot thickens when you take into account that the Trail Blazers acquired Hassan Whiteside, who has been absolutely phenomenal for Portland. Nurkic was on pace to be a potential all star caliber player, as the third wheel to Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, so it’ll be interesting to see how he looks when he returns.

The most intriguing part about Nurkic’s injury is how his return fits in Portland. The struggling Trail Blazers actually have a very strong team. Portland acquired Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony not expecting too much out of either of them. Both Whiteside and Carmelo have surprised everyone, but not been able to get wins. So it seems like Portland has a decision to make. Keep Whiteside, or keep Nurkic. In all honesty, Whiteside has revived his career in Portland, and the Trail Blazers GM would be smart to keep Whiteside, and trade Nurkic while he still has some value. Nurkic could end up somewhere like Charlotte or Detroit. Both of whom have no size on the interior, and could use Nurkic to lead their rebuild. Nurkic apparently looks really good in his workouts, and is progressing well in his rehab, so we could see him return and make an immediate impact on a team that makes him the focal point.

The Verdict – Average Starter

I see Nurkic being just slightly less good than he was before he got injured. He will still be a great interior presence, however he will need to extend his game beyond simple post ups. Nurkic has the potential to bounce back and earn a name for himself as an all star long term, but at this point, I think he can continue to be a third wheel for a dynamic duo in the NBA.

6. Klay Thompson

Yet another Warriors to fall victim to a nasty injury, Klay Thompson suffered a torn ACL in the NBA finals last year, after Danny Green attempted to block a Thompson dunk attempt. Klay landed awkward, and the Warriors received news that Thompson had indeed torn his ACL. This eventually contributed to the Warriors loss of the finals, as Steph Curry and Draymond Green were left unable to take down the Raptors. Before his injury, Klay was having yet another consistent all star caliber season. Klay averaged 21.5 points per game, and was really thriving in the Warriors offensive scheme. Klay will likely continue to thrive with the Warriors, as when he returns, he’ll have Curry, Draymond and Wiggins ready to kick out the ball to Klay for his casual catch and shoot three.

If there’s any awful injury Klay Thompson can bounce back from, it’s this one. A torn ACL usually results in lost athleticism, due to a lack of ability to make sharp turns and be explosive. While Klay does all this on a nightly basis, it’s widely known that Klay’s game is based on shooting. A torn ACL will not stop Klay Thompson from catching and shooting a basketball. While Klay’s underrated athleticism will likely be hindered, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that he will “never be the same” because athleticism is not really a focal point in his game. Instead, we will likely see Klay’s shooting percentage increase even more, and perhaps his drive to slash into the paint to decrease slightly, as his speed and shiftiness will likely decline.

The Verdict – Secondary All Star

Klay will be back, and he’ll be just as good as he was before the injury. He doesn’t rely on his athleticism, so the impact of his injury will just be that he might be a little bit jittery when he returns to the floor, as for him it’ll be his first time missing extended time, and playing in the brand new building. Klay will continue to play the second fiddle to Steph Curry, and might even improve with the departure of Kevin Durant. Klay could see more touches, and possibly be in for his best season yet in 2020-2021. The only thing holding him back, will be Andrew Wiggins, who might be getting a little comfortable in his role as primary scorer on the current Warriors. If Wiggins can step back and let Curry and Klay run the show, or if Wiggins is traded, there’s no question that Klay will return to his elite stardom level of play.

7. Victor Oladipo

Victor Oladipo rose into the spotlight following a breakout season after being traded to Indiana for Paul George. The former Most Improved player in 2017-2018 struggled in his second year with the Pacers, seeing a slight decline in most major statistical categories. Oladipo played just 36 games, and was still named an All Star despite the relatively disappointing 36 games he played. However Oladipo’s season was tragically cut short after he ruptured his quadriceps tendon in his right leg, keeping him off the court for a year. Unlike all the other players on this list, Victor Oladipo has actually already returned from his injury. Oladipo has now played 7 games, and started in just 4, so the sample size really isn’t big enough to determine whether or not he will be back to himself. In these 7 games, Oladipo has averaged just 11 points per game, however the Pacers haven’t lifted a minutes restriction off of him yet, so it’s hard to tell whether he isn’t himself, or just not getting enough minutes to put up good numbers.

Oladipo has struggled to shoot the ball thus far, however I expect that to change, as Oladipo is still figuring out his new look team with Jeremy Lamb and Malcolm Brogdon in his back court. Oladipo did notably knock down an insanely deep three to seal the game in one of his first games back. This says a lot about Oladipo’s confidence. Despite a rough shooting night, Oladipo still feels like he’s the guy who needs the last shot. Oladipo gave us a friendly reminder of why he’s been the most statistically clutch player in the league over the last few years. Oladipo should mesh well with this team once he gets a few more games under his belt. He still looks explosive, and while his shooting hasn’t been great, he still keeps shooting, which is the only way to escape a slump, which is all this is.

The Verdict – Elite Starter

Just because of the volume of great players in Indiana (Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, TJ Warren) I am not sure if I can see Oladipo getting back to where he was when he won the most improved player award. Oladipo will certainly be good enough, however there is 3 other guards who can play at a high level on his team, which will likely result in decreased usage. Oladipo had Collison when he won most improved player, someone who really fed Oladipo and helped him become the player he was on the court. Still I expect Oladipo to re-emerge as one of the league’s elite starters, who will just miss All Star honors next season.

8. Kevin Durant

In an emotional finals, Kevin Durant managed to tear his Achilles tendon after a controversial decision to let Durant play in game 6. This obviously put Durant’s future with the Warriors in question. There were rumors swirling that the Warriors medical staff had allowed Durant to play when he wasn’t ready, and that Durant was upset about this. Many called out the Warriors for exploiting Durant in order to desperately win the title. To make matters worse for the Warriors, there were also rumors that Durant had already made his mind up on leaving the Warriors, so the Warriors had no reason to care for his health. Durant denied these rumors, but curiously left the Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets this past summer. Durant now joins Kyrie Irving on the Nets, and should be an intriguing story to follow when he returns to the court next year.

When Durant returns, the Nets will be all the better for it. Kevin Durant is a player that can join any team, and make an immediate impact. Durant has incredible shooting abilities, and is virtually impossible to guard unless you’re Kawhi Leonard, Paul George or LeBron James. But many have their doubts when it comes to Durant. A lot of people see Durant as someone who needs his athleticism to compete at the level he does. Durant’s motor function will likely be somewhat impaired, an Achilles tear is no joke. But whether or not he’s ready to go, Durant will be able to sit back and relax a little bit before he gets into his game. A strong supporting cast in Brooklyn will give Durant an easy job. Kyrie Irving said it himself “my job is to make things easy for (Kevin Durant)”.

The Verdict – All Star

Kevin Durant is going to be almost as good as he was pre-injury. I believe he won’t be quite as good, but Durant is so good that an off year for him will still get him an all star appearance. Durant will probably share scoring responsibilities with Kyrie Irving, but there’s no doubt that Durant will still be someone who can average 20 points per game. One of the best scorers in the game doesn’t just forget how to score.

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