Like many things in life, the NBA season is a marathon and not a sprint.
There are a lot of uncontrollable variables that can tip the balance of power in the league. Injuries are one of them. Key players getting injured—especially at critical junctures of the season—can cripple teams and affect their championship aspirations.
In the last two seasons, the healthiest team has gone on to win the championship. Untimely injuries to stars have ended playoff runs. As they say, the best ability is availability.
Although it is still early in the NBA’s 75th season, the health and availability of several key players could determine who will come out on top.
Let’s break down a few players currently sidelined who can tip the balance of power in the league when they come off the injured list.
Injury: Torn Achilles
After missing the playoffs last season, the Golden State Warriors have started strong, fueled by another MVP-type season from Stephen Curry. Their chemistry and ball movement on offense has brought up many bad memories from their opposition. Their free-flowing offense can only get better with the return of Klay Thompson.
Thompson has missed the last two years dealing with major injuries. After tearing his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, he tore his Achilles as he was nearing his return last season.
Although coming back from an Achilles injury is difficult, Thompson’s game does not rely too much on athleticism. The threat of his torrid outside shooting will already force defenders to play Curry differently and this might unlock another level of the Warriors’ already-deadly offense.
The Warriors have recently recalled Thompson and James Wiseman to the active roster. Both had been practicing with the team's G League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors, for the past week. Reports say Thompson, who played in three game-length scrimmages with Santa Cruz, is eyeing to come back in January at a home game, but there’s still no exact date announced for his return.
Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard
Injury: Torn ACL
Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard, who both went down late last season, have left their respective teams a big void. With both players expected to miss a chunk—if not the whole regular season—it will demand a lot from their teammates to keep their ship afloat if they are aiming for a deep postseason run. However, if both become available come playoff time, their teams could immediately pose as difficult matchups even for higher-seeded teams.
Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons
Injury: Unvaccinated and Personal Reasons
Although both Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons are not physically hurt, their absence from their teams can still be considered injuries since their respective teams have been unable to play to their full potential.
Much already has been said about the issues they are dealing with. In the short term, their co-stars have had to shoulder the extra load in their absence, which could affect their durability once the playoffs arrive.
For Irving, the Nets just made an announcement that he “can re-join the team for games and practices in which he is eligible to participate.” The team reached this decision after a handful of its players went into the league’s health and safety protocols.
Unlike Irving, Simmons’ situation has yet to reach a conclusion. He has been the subject of trade talks even before the season started. There’s a lot of tension between him and the Philadelphia 76ers, and even the fans. His absence has already caused internal strife within the franchise and is currently derailing their championship aspirations.
As competitors, sometimes you can concede if you lost to the better team. However, losing to a team that is not at full strength leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. This is why we see an increased emphasis on keeping star players as fresh as possible so they can perform at the highest level when the playoffs come around.
Irving and Simmons are the types of players that can ultimately swing the championship balance of the league.