What Injured NBA Players Could Return This Season Due to Coronavirus?
The COVID-19 has proven a stubborn foe for NBA fans; it has suspended the regular season, and placed the entire 2019/2020 campaign - playoffs included - in jeopardy.
But for some injured players, the virus-inspired hiatus represents an opportunity to bounce back in time for a potential playoff run; names like Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson immediately come to mind, but there are some more subtle, under-the-radar impact-makers that could return to much fanfare after an extended rest period.
Kelly Oubre was amidst a breakout season for the Phoenix Suns, averaging career highs in points (18.7), rebounds (6.4), three point percentage (35%), and field goal percentage (45%). Before suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee, Oubre was putting the league on notice - especially sending a message to the Washington Wizards, the team that traded him away for veteran Trevor Ariza, who eventually left the organization the following summer.
The Kansas alum underwent knee surgery at the beginning of March and was sidelined indefinitely. If the season resumes in May or later, we could see the return of Oubre to a Suns team that had playoff hopeful expectations at the beginning of the season, before injuries and suspensions left their roster barely intact. A starting five that is finally 'healthy' since DeAndre Ayton violated the league’s Anti-Drug Program could ultimately be on display at the end of this season.
Not only could we see Phoenix at full strength, but Kelly Oubre could continue to cement his name amongst the league’s starters at the highly competitive small forward position.
The long anticipated return of Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic had been put on hold due to the league’s suspension. Nurkic is eager to play after fracturing his tibia and fibula last year on March 25th, and would have been especially keen on winning over minutes from resurgent center Hassan Whiteside, who has seemingly stolen his position for the time being.
The Bosnian native was eyeing a return on March 15th, just days after the season had been postponed because of the virus. The Blazers sit 9th in the West during what has an underwhelming season, and their 29-37 record was presumed to be strengthened with the return of Nurkic, who was averaging 15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game at the time of his unfortunate injury. Nurkic would undoubtedly have been of great assistance to the struggling Blazers.
Until the season is resumed, Portland will have to soak in their disappointing campaign, and use the down-time to come back fresh and motivated to bolster their playoff bubble seeding. Nurkic's return would go a long way toward realizing their playoff aspirations, in this campaign and beyond - a return to form for the big man would separate Portland from the rest of West.
After an 11 month hiatus from the league due to a gruesome knee injury, Oladipo returned to play on January 29th, but his rhythm and game-sense were nowhere to be found. However, 11 months away from the NBA can force even the best players to take a while to readapt.
Although it is a small sample size of just 14 games, Oladipo looks like he is a step behind. Splits of just 13.8 points on 39% from the field and 30% from behind the arc look abysmal to the 23.4 points on 48% shooting (37% from three) the two-time All-Star put up just two seasons ago. Inside the 14 game span, a five-game win streak is preceded by a five-game losing streak; inconsistency has not only been Oladipo’s biggest personal concern, but a point of emphasis for the entire Pacers team since his return.
With wins against Milwaukee and losses against New York, Oladipo can give you either 27 or 7 points - which represent his season highs and lows. As the season is put on hold, Oladipo can hopefully use this time to get his form back and return back to All-Star status, ultimately helping keep the Pacers afloat in a top-heavy East.
Jonathan Isaac, who has been out since January 1 of this season after suffering a hyperextended knee against the Washington Wizards, is not exactly being rushed back to the court by Orlando's medical staff. The Orlando Magic know, at their very best, the team is targeting a 7th seed with a strong probability of a first-round playoff exit.
The 22 year old is entering his third year in the league, and is the heart of Orlando’s rebuilding core - so it makes sense that Orlando is in no hurry to rush back a developing player; one who is yet to shock the league with explosive offensive stat lines, but has logged steady start-quality averages of 12 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks. and 1.6 steals.
The Orlando Magic have been conservative with the timeline of his return, so Isaac was expected to miss the rest of this season. The possibility of an extended season due to COVID-19 could mean Isaac is back on the court this year, playing games that could go well into the summertime, allowing him to gain valuable playoff experience.