Roundtable: What If You Could Prevent One NBA Injury?
NBA discussions are often times filled with ‘what if’ scenarios; injuries, teams staying together, and other key aspects dominate the ‘what if’ thinking. What if I told you that you could go back through NBA history to prevent injuries from hindering one player’s career? That question was presented to the OTG team; here is how they responded.
Dalton Pence (@dpenceNBA): Penny Hardaway
When he was drafted into the league in 1993, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway immediately took the league by storm. As a 6’7” point guard who could play multiple positions, his quickness and ability to create made him a force to be reckoned with. In his first four seasons, he averaged 19.8 PPG, 6.6 APG, and 1.9 SPG. During that stint he was a starter in the all-star game three times and made the all-NBA first team twice. He was on track to becoming one of the top players in the league until injuries began plaguing his career, starting with a knee injury in 1997. Although he played until 2008, Penny has never the same after the first surgery and will be revered as one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in NBA history.
Thomas Butler (@tommyboytweeted): Larry Bird
For me, it’s gotta be Mr Larry Joe Bird, aka the greatest “what if?” in NBA history. I know that people don’t usually think of HoF players as having unfulfilled potential, but seriously: what if Larry had hired a contractor to pave his mom’s driveway in the 1985 offseason, & as a result didn’t permanently injure his back? Between 1979 & 1989, Bird was top ten in MVP voting for eight out of ten seasons, & was top four in voting in seven of them (oh yeah, there’s three chips, two Finals MVPs, & ROTY over Magic in there as well.) Now, imagine that form continuing well into the 1990s instead of tapering off after 1987...
Jac Manuell (@TheJManJBT): Derrick Rose
The most obvious and correct answer is Derrick Rose. Rose was the youngest MVP winner in 2010-11 and had the league at his will. Since being cruelled by injury after injury he hasn’t been the same since.
The worst case for Rose likely would’ve been a career arc similar to Russell Westbrook’s. The trademark to his game, his unparallelled athleticism was robbed of him and without a diversification in his game since, Rose simply hasn’t had an impact since. He still has a fervent fanbase behind him wherever he goes but without the requisite game to match he’s lost the same attention from the wider NBA community. The saddest thing is Rose may be the only MVP not to make the Hall of Fame. Entering his age 30 season it’s safe to say we’ve seen the best of the former acrobatic high-flyer.
Matthew Shear (@matthewjshear): Brandon Roy
Drafted number six overall in 2006, Brandon Roy played just six seasons in the NBA. In his first four seasons, before knee injuries sidelined him midway through the 2010-2011 campaign, Roy won Rookie of the Year, made three All-Star appearances, and was a two-time All-NBA selection. B-Roy also proved to be one of the most clutch players in the league, making 24 shots which tied or won the game with 35 seconds or less in his first three seasons as a pro. A Northwest kid himself, Roy became the face of the Portland Trail Blazers in a time when Rip City lacked a superstar player. Kobe Bryant even called him the toughest player to guard in the Western Conference claiming, “Roy has no weaknesses in his game.” After the 2011 lockout, Roy announced that his knees had degenerated so much that he would be retiring from the game of basketball. He averaged 18.8 PPG, 4.7 APG, and 4.3 RPG over the course of his career. Cut down in his prime, there’s no telling what Brandon Roy could have continued to accomplish both individually and for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Cam Tabatabaie (@CTabatabaie): Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady, hands down, is my biggest NBA injury what if. In the prime of his career, back spasms and other woes forced T-Mac to the sidelines.
Sure was a 7-time All-Star and won back-to-back scoring titles in 2003 and 2004. But just a few years later, he was a journeyman and a role player. In the spring of 2008, he underwent surgery on his shoulder and knee, only to go under the knife again the following February. By 2009, the Rockets had shut him down and were looking to move him.
I'm not saying he would have touched GOAT status, but there was so much gas left in his tank that we missed out on. Long live T-Mac!
Elijah Branch (@Ebranchwashere): Chris Paul
I'm going with Chris Paul for a couple reasons. I think the Houston Rockets had a LEGIT shot at dethroning the Golden State Warriors, and making it to the NBA Finals. Paul of course, missed both game 6 and 7 due to a hamstring injury. The Rockets had a 3-2 lead, and without Paul, the Warriors pounced, and the rest is history.
Paul has had previous playoff injuries:
- 2015, Paul then a L.A. Clipper, suffered a hamstring injury during a first round series against the San Antonio Spurs, while the Clippers would win the series, Paul plays hurt in a second round matchup against the Rockets ( No excuses here, the Clippers choked)
- 2016, Paul broke a bone in his hand in a second round series against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Clippers had a 2-1 lead at the time of the injury. Portland would win three straight to clinch the series.
New York Post
Dicky Fung (@fungo24): Brandon Roy
The answer would be Brandon Roy. Roy was a beast before injuries ultimately ended his career. The former sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft ultimately won Rookie of the Year with averages of 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.0 assists. He received a staggering 127 out of 128 first place votes to win the award, as he was labeled as an up and coming NBA star.
Roy would eventually become a three-time All-Star, and he brought the Portland Trail Blazers back to relevance. Most would remember his game-winning 3-pointer against the Rockets back in 2008, but he was also one of the NBA’s most unstoppable guards during his peak years. He could do it all, shooting it from deep, mid-range, pull-up, and his ability to drive with both hands and finish at the rim made him as what Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant called him to be one of the best offensive players they had ever faced. He was one of the NBA’s most clutch players, and the sky was the limit for him since he would only turn 26 following the 2009-2010 NBA season.
His career ultimately came to an end because his degenerative knees, but he could’ve been one of the best shooting guards in the league had he been healthy.
Ryan Wheeler: Grant Hill
Grant Hill was my favorite player during his four years at Duke. I even rocked the Blue Devils jersey in middle school. Hill was a high-flying, do-everything 6'8" small forward.
Coming into the NBA as the #3 pick to the Detroit Pistons, Hill won co-Rookie of the Year with Jason Kidd with a stat line of 19.9, 6.4 rbs, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals. His PER for the first 6 seasons averaged 22.5 and even posted a win/share total of 14.6 in 1996-97. He was the biggest basketball brand aside from His Airness #23.
Hill went down in a playoff game with an ankle injury that was devastating. He continued playing on it that series and effectively ruined the rest of his career. Despite the ankle injury, the Orlando Magic signed Hill and Tracy McGrady in free agency in 2000 to be the next Michael & Scottie. With Hill and McGrady running on the wings that team would have been scary good and athletic. The injury and subsequent rehab was so calamitous that he almost died from a staph infection.
Grant Hill had a brief resurgence under the care of the Phoenix Suns miraculous medical team and averaged 30 minutes per game over four full seasons; however, he never regained the dynamism and explosiveness pre-injury. For me, Grant Hill was the one player who would have been legendary without the injury.
Evan Dyal (@EvanDyal): Tracy McGrady
This one is easy for me. It is Tracy McGrady. T-Mac was a force of nature, who at his best was one of the best players the game has ever seen. His 2002-2003 season with the Magic was one of the best individual seasons of all time. Unfortunately, while he was in his prime, his teammates were terrible. In Houston, we saw more greatness from T-Mac including in the playoffs, they just couldn't get over the hump. Then the injuries started piling in for him, and that team was never able to hit their potential. The injuries led to T-Mac becoming a journeyman for the rest of his career. T-Mac was a 6'8 small forward, who could play point guard, shoot from incredible range, and dunk all over you just ask Shawn Bradley. He was unstoppable as a scorer and an elite passer. His game was like LeBron James's we just only saw it for a little bit of time. In today's game, T-Mac would be even more unstoppable.
Jorge Cantu (@CantuNBA): Joakim Noah
Personally, I was a big fan of the early 2010s Chicago Bulls teams. Saying injuries derailed Derrick Rose’s career is nothing new and is a common topic among NBA fans. However, I do not think people remember how good of a player Joakim Noah was before injuries messed up his career.
In the 2013-14 season, the best of his career, Noah became an All-Star, an All-NBA and All-Defense 1st Team member, and the Defensive Player of the Year, while finishing fourth in the MVP race. While he was not as good the following season, he was still a valuable and impactful player for the Chicago Bulls. But on a December 21, 2015 game against the Brooklyn Nets he suffered a tear within his sprained left shoulder. He missed nine games and made a brief return, but reinjured the shoulder a couple of games later and was subsequently ruled out for the rest of the season as he recovered from surgery.
That shoulder plus his troubling knees that also needed surgery eventually ruined the emotional center’s career. While his whole impact on the Bulls was not always reflected on the stat sheet, Noah was a great playmaker, rebounder, and inside defender who tragically lost the physical gifts he used to outplay his opponents thanks to a couple of injuries. I would have loved watching prime Draymond Green face DPOY Joakim Noah.
Orlando Pinstriped Post
Michael Sanchez (@iamlaotino): Grant Hill
I assume that not growing to be 6’6’’ and lacking elite athleticism are not considered injuries, so I’ll refrain from choosing myself. Grant Hill is a close second, though. Despite losing his prime to injuries (he played in only 47 games from ages 28-31), Hill still managed to carve out a Hall of Fame career. He was LeBron before LeBron, a do-it-all point forward who was immensely popular both as a player and as a role model. People don’t quite remember how good he was during his first six years when he averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists. Only six guys in NBA history have accomplished that feat:
My favorite team of all-time is the 09-10 Suns. Hill was the ultimate glue guy for that team with his lockdown defense and veteran presence. On occasion, he would hit someone with a silky-smooth crossover, cruise into the lane, and dunk on an unsuspecting victim. It was in those moments that I wondered what could have been. Perhaps if Hill were healthy his whole career, he never would have made it to Phoenix. While I’m grateful for his time here, I would have gladly given it up to see a healthy Grant Hill ascend the ranks of the greatest players of all-time.
Dennis Dow (@dennisdownba): Grant Hill
Grant Hill suffered so many injuries that derailed what started as an amazing career. I would've wanted to see what he could do if he never had the ankle injuries. Hill played six full seasons in the league before his first injury. During those six seasons, Hill was one of the premiere young talents in the game that seemingly could do it all on a basketball court. He put up some pretty impressive numbers during his time in Detroit including a season where he was 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists a night. He led some pretty terrible Pistons teams to the playoffs year after year. He was an All-NBA selection five times during his Detroit days, making the first team in 96-97. The worst part about it is that the injuries occurred after Hill decided to team up with another up and coming player, Tracy McGrady, in Orlando. The chance for those two to play together would have been special. They complemented each other's games and it would've been great to see them. Unfortunately, Hill was never able to play more than 29 games with McGrady on the Magic.
Mike Ciervo: Derrick Rose
It wasn’t too long ago the NBA globasphere was in love with one Derrick Rose. Rose, was once a scary, scary man, driving the lane in a frenzy, handling the ball like it was glued to his palms, leaving defenders looking goofy AF. Pull up a couple clips on Youtube of him viciously attacking the paint and one is quickly reminded why this man was a top tier NBA superstar before his knees exploded, leaving him a damaged vessel. He was MVP in 2011, a 3X All-Star, and Rookie of the Year in 2009, all before his 23rd birthday. If the injuries never happened, he legit had a chance a being perhaps the greatest scoring PG in the history of the league as well the best player in Bulls history not named Michael Jordan. It’s rad that he is still playing (kinda) and occasionally he breaks out a move that reminds us of what might have been if the hands of fate didn’t permanently damage his body but maaaaaaannnnnnnn; could that dude ball.
Kahzah Mims (@kjmims22): Brandon Roy
There are so many guys out there that make you wonder “what could have been if he never got hurt”. A few names that instantly come to mind are Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, and Yao Ming. However, one player I really wish we could have seen more of was Brandon Roy. Within his first four years in the NBA, he had already racked up a unanimous Rookie of the Year Award in 2007 and three-straight All Star selections in 2008-2010. As a Laker fan, I saw my share of head-to-head battles between Brandon Roy and Kobe Bryant and it seemed like the Blazers would typically get the best of us. As much as I could not stand the Blazers, I had nothing but respect for B-Roy’s game and he became one of my favorite players.
Kobe said himself at one point that Roy was the hardest player to guard in the Western Conference. Keep in mind that Kobe was a regular on the NBA All-Defensive First Team year-after-year during this time. Roy’s knees unfortunately began to degenerate in only his 5th season and the end would come far too soon with his retirement in 2011. He did attempt a comeback with the Minnesota Timberwolves the following season but underwent season-ending knee surgery after only five games, which officially marked the end of his career. I truly believe Brandon Roy would have been one of the greatest two-guards of my generation right with Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade if it were not for the injury bug.