After nearly a three month hiatus from the NBA, players and organizations are finally facing the reality of getting to play basketball again. Some teams will be getting back players and the outlook of their team will be impacted. Each team faces a unique NBA injury situation.
Barring a late snag, such as some or all players refusing to participate, the NBA season is finally set to return on July 31st. The NBA Board of Governors came to a consensus that will allow 22 teams to participate in an 8 game regular season for playoff seeding purposes. Beyond the current 16 playoff teams, New Orleans, Portland, Phoenix, Sacramento, and San Antonio from the West and Washington from the East are the six additional teams joining in Orlando. After the eight regular season games are played, if the 9th seed is more than four games behind the 8th seed, the 8th seed will make the playoffs. Otherwise, if the difference is fewer than four games, there will be a play-in tournament.
Let’s look at five teams that should expect the return of players who were injured at the time the season was stopped, and how their NBA injury situation may affect their team’s chances.
NBA Injury Situations
- Meyers Leonard, Tyler Herro
Meyers Leonard was the starting center for the Miami Heat until he suffered a severe ankle sprain on February 3rd. Until that point, Leonard started all 49 games and was a great big man complement next to breakout all-star Bam Adebayo. The Heat struggled heavily at times without Leonard; they didn’t have a reliable backup center and they were often playing small ball with Bam at the 5 and Derrick Jones Jr or Kelly Olynk at the 4.
The acquisition of Jae Crowder and Andre Iguadola made up for some defensive defficiencies the Heat were experiencing but it became evident the Heat are most successful with Leonard on the court; spreading the offense with his 3 point making ability, rebounding, and guarding dominant centers like Joel Embiid to keep Adebayo out of early foul trouble. Rookie Tyler Herro also suffered an ankle sprain and missed 15 games before returning to action the same night the NBA postponed the season. Tyler only logged 7 minutes in that game.
However, with Herro expected to return in July fully healthy, the Heat will have a big boost with its bench scoring and playmaking back. Herro will provide an offensive spark for the second unit that sometimes was nonexistent when he was hurt. Goran Dragic won’t have as much of a ball-handling burden and Herro will help reduce Dragic’s minutes. Although Herro is a rookie and lacks playoff experience, his ambition and confidence shouldl guide him through the tedious postseason. If his defense doesn’t improve though Spoelestra may have no other option but to reduce his minutes, especially in crunch time.
- Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins
After fracturing his tibia nearly 14 months ago, Jusuf Nurkic is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Nurkic had planned to return March 15th, just a couple days after the NBA decided to indefinitely postpone the season due to the Covid-19. He will share front-court minutes not only with Hassan Whiteside, but also Zach Collins, who will also be returning from a shoulder injury.
Nurkic was averaging 15.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, and 3.2 apg before his gruesome leg injury in 2019. Collins was averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds per game on 43% from the three. Portland has had a disappointing season thus far being 8 games under .500. All star Damian Lillard can look for more pick and roll opportunities with his two big men back. All in all, Nurkic and Collins are frontcourt assets Portland will need, especially if they play the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
- Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving missed 26 games this season due to a right shoulder injury. He initially returned from his absence, but experienced lingering shoulder pain. Irving finally agreed on February 20th to undergo surgery, causing the Nets to shut him down for the rest of the season. Since there was no timetable for Irving’s return, many speculated a possible comeback, but realistically doctors say the earliest Irving can return is September 3rd, and Irving has already ruled himself out, as has star teammate Kevin Durant. (Irving, VP of the NBA Players Association, has also been at the forefront of raising concerns about the NBA’s return plan).
So the Nets will Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris Levert take the reins of the team and continue to develop into very nice complementary pieces next to Durant and Irving. Playoff experience will definitely catalyze their growth. Due to the injury history of the Brooklyn’s two superstars, adds value to these two. Dinwiddie and Levert’s playmaking and scoring abilities are crucial in Brooklyn securing one of the 8 seeds in the East.
- Victor Oladipo
Victor Oladipo already made his return to the NBA from a horrid leg injury prior to COVID. Oladipo was out for 11 months. Obviously, people expected some rust and time to adapt to the pace of the game. He only played 14 games but the struggles were evident; Oladipo scored 23.4 PPG on 48% from the field before his injury. He posted 13.8 PPG on 39% from the field when he returned.
Oladipo lacked the consistency that got him to be an all star. An extra 4 months to strengthen and heal could be vital to Indiana’s playoff push. If Oladipo is healthy and playing like himself, you can expect a high scoring, efficient guard to significantly improve Indiana’s outlook in the Eastern conference. And you can expect other teams that covet him — like the Heat — to be watching.
- Kelly Oubre
Phoenix Suns wing Kelly Oubre underwent right knee surgery for a torn meniscus in early March. His status to return was unclear but now Oubre’s return is likely and very much needed. He experienced a breakout season. Oubre’s averaging 18.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 45% from the field, and 35% from the three (all career highs).
Oubre will be part of a young improving core along with All Star Devin Booker and 2018 first overall pick DeAndre Ayton that will try and make noise this year and will gain valuable playoff experience for the future.