Top 10 NBA Players Held Back by Injuries

By Grant Funtila, Contributor

One of the most devastating moments in sports is when a player goes down. Once you see them grimacing on the floor you know something wrong happened. It is a sight no fan would ever want to see.

But over the course of 82 games a year, injuries are bound to happen. The toll of a grinding NBA schedule is demanding and it will wear a player down.

We present to you the top 10 NBA players you were held back by injuries.

10. Larry Bird

Larry was one of the best to grace the hardwood. A 12-time all-star, 10-time all-NBA team member, 3-time MVP, and of course 3-time NBA champion. He would emerge as the leader of the Boston Celtics during the championship runs in the 1980s. In his 13 years in the NBA, Bird averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game and in the 86-87 season.

Despite his accomplishments, Larry would battle his way through injuries, including a chronic back injury, that would cut short his career. The Celtics great only played 13 years in the NBA as a result. If he had been fully healthy he could have added more under his name.

Nonetheless, he still made a career for himself even with his back injury. One of the most iconic moments happened during the 1992 Playoffs against the Indiana Pacers led by Chuck Person and Reggie Miller where he would go out of the game after getting hit then came back to inspire the Celtics to a come-from-behind victory.

Inducted to the Naismith Hall of Fame, Bird will be remembered as probably the best shooter the NBA has ever produced and an embodiment of  the Celtics’ hard work.

9. Bill Walton

These days when we think of centers who are excellent passers, we think of Nikola Jokic, Al Horford, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, etc. Before them, there’s Bill Walton. In his first four seasons, Walton averaged 4.4 assists per game for a big man and led the Portland Trailblazers to its lone championship in 1977. The 6-foot-10 center out of University of California in Los Angelesaveraged 18.2 ppg, 15.2 rpg, and 5.5 apg during the finals where they pulled off an upset over the highly-favored Philadelphia 76ers of Dr. J Julius Erving.

A foot injury sidelined Walton that forced him to miss the entire 1978-1979 season. He then went on to miss two out of the next three seasons due to the same injury. In fact, he only played in 14 out of the possible 246 games during that three year span.

From 1982 to 1987, Walton would fight through injuries and became a contributor for the Boston Celtics’ championship runs in 1986 and 1987.  Walton averaged 10.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, and 2.6 apg during the Celtics’ championship in 1986

8. Gilbert Arenas

One of the greatest second round pick in NBA history, Arenas made a name for himself with his scoring ability. From 2001 up to 2007, Arenas averaged 22.9 ppg while shooting 42% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. He was also a three-time All-Star, three-time all-NBA member, and he won most improved player of the year in 2003.

Gilbert was on the rise among the top NBA point guards when injuries started to pull him back down. In 2007, Agent Zero blew his knee in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. After the injury, Arenas saw himself  seeing action in 134 games compared to the 418 he played in prior to the meniscus tear.

Arenas never managed to find the form that made him an all-star. In fact from 2008-2012,  Arenas only averaged 13.6 ppg while shooting 38% from the field and a measley 31% from beyond the arc — a far cry from what he showed in his first six seasons in the NBA.

7. Penny Hardaway

Once upon a time Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was touted as the heir to Magic Johnson’s throne. He was supposed to usher in the new age of tall point guards. At 6’7, Hardaway showed he was indeed the next Magic as he averaged 16.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 6.6 apg in his rookie year back in 1994, numbers comparable to the LA Lakers’ great during his rookie year.

Penny was off to a great start along with his partner Shaquille O’Neal. They spearheaded the Orlando Magic’s offense and they managed to make it all the way to the finals in Hardaway’s sophomore year where he made the all-star team averaging 20.9 ppg and 7.2 apg.

But in 1997, Penny suffered a knee injury that would derail his career. The following year, the NBA had a lockout and saw them fielding only 50 games per team, but Penny managed to play in all 50. But it was clear he lost a step as he only averaged 15.8 ppg and 5.3 apg.

Various injuries — back, foot, and knee injuries — constantly piled up on Hardaway and as a result he lost his athletic advantage over smaller defenders. After the highs of his career with Orlando, Penny played for the Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, and the infamous Isiah Thomas led New York Knicks before bouncing out of the league.

6. Tracy McGrady

Recently inducted in the Hall of Fame, Tracy McGrady was one of the most explosive offensive stars in the 2000 era. In fact from 2000 to 2007, he averaged 26.9 ppg and 6.6 rpg, two of those seasons he was the NBA scoring champion. In 2003, T-Mac posted one of the greatest offensive showings the NBA had ever seen — leading the league in Offensive Box Plus/Minus, Offensive Win Shares, and a historic Player Efficiency Rating of 30, a feat only done by the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Stephen Curry, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis.

But in 2008-2009 a knee injury took down Tracy. McGrady said to reporters that he felt like he is back to square one. T-Mac stated that he had sharp pain going through his knee and feels as if he never had surgery this off-season. “I’m feeling the same pain,” T-Mac said.

Tracy was ravaged by injuries all throughout his career as he never managed to play in 82 games in one year.

McGrady’s resume is certainly impressive and he deserved to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But as a fan you can’t help but wonder “what if he never got hurt”, McGrady left the NBA with seemingly more to offer.

5. Brandon Roy

Brandon Roy’s knee injury was not as gruesome as some of the other injuries we have seen on television. But it reminded us of how much sports affects your body in a negative way. Even before entering the NBA, Roy had his nagging knee injury and it resulted in him sliding a little at the 2006 draft.

In his first four years with the Blazers, Brandon Roy averaged 20.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, and 5.0 apg. He showed a well-rounded game, something he developed by playing four years in college for the University of Washington. During that span, Roy won the Rookie of the Year in 2007, and he made the All-Star team three times.

But like McGrady, a knee injury held back Brandon big time. After he got injured in the 2009-2010 season, Roy managed to only play in 47 games the year after. In 2011-2012 he was forced to retire due to a knee injury. He then tried to make a comeback with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012, but his knee could not take the pressure of 82 more games. Roy is currently coaching Nathan Hale’s High School team and he has worked with top NBA prospect Michael Porter Jr.

4. Yao Ming

Without a doubt, the greatest player produced in Asia. Yao Ming was selected first overall by the Houston Rockets in 2002. He also made the All-Star team from his rookie year up to his seventh season. Yao was seen as an offensive juggernaut, much like his partner Tracy McGrady. Yao averaged 19.1 ppg and 9.3 rpg in his first seven seasons.

But just like Walton, a foot injury terrorized the big man. Many believed it was due to his size combined with the grind of an entire NBA season. The injury forced Yao to miss the entire 2009-2010 season and an early retirement the following season.

When asked about Yao Ming, NBA legend Shaquille O’neal said “[Yao] was very agile. He could play inside, he could play outside, and if he didn’t have those injuries, he could’ve been up there in the top five centers to ever play the game.”

With both Yao and McGrady injured, the late 2000’s Houston Rockets never reached their full potential as the franchise never got pass the first round.

3. Greg Oden

Back in 2007, Kevin Durant was regarded as one of the best one and done players of all time. People raved about the freshman phenom averaging 26 ppg and 11 rpg for the Texas Longhorns. He was a sure thing in the NBA with his size paired with his skill set.

But Greg Oden was still the consensus best player in the nation.

During the 2007 NBA draft, the Portland Trailblazers selected Greg Oden first overall. He was supposed to change the culture of the franchise that was once labeled the “Jail Blazers” because of the notorious players they used to have.

Greg never got to show the talent he had though as he suffered knee injuries that would sideline him for three straight years. In fact, he only played in 82 total games for the Blazers.

With injuries to Walton, Roy, and Oden you can’t help but feel sorry for the Trailblazers franchise as they lost three potential superstars.

2. Grant Hill

Before LeBron James dazzled us with his all-around game, Grant Hill was the first to show how a skilled 6’8 forward can make an impact with scoring, passing, and defense. Hill was off to a blistering start as he was an all-star from his rookie year in 1994-1995 and won co-rookie of the year with Jason Kidd. In his first six years with the Detroit Pistons, Grant averaged 21.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, and 6.3 apg, numbers worthy of being called a superstar.

But things took a turn for the worse when he signed with the Orlando Magic in 2000. An ankle injury started to wear down Hill as he only played in 47 games over the span of three years for the Magic. This started a slow decline from stardom.

Even though the ankle injury was a problem, Hill still managed to contribute as a role player for the Phoenix Suns from 2007 up to 2012. He averaged 12.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg and was the teams primary perimeter defender. His defense was a factor in the Suns’ run to the Western Conference Finals back in 2010.

1. Derrick Rose

“Holding on to his knee, holding on to this knee and down”. A call that sends down shivers through the spine of most basketball fans. It was the start of the decline of probably basketball’s most explosive point guard and the youngest player to ever win the MVP award.

Up to this day, no injury has been more devastating than Derrick Rose tearing his ACL at the 2012 playoffs. Before the injury, Rose was a three time all-star, rookie of the year, and of course, the youngest player to become MVP in 2011.

Before the injury, Rose quickly became a global icon because of his play. Crazy acrobatic layups, hangtime dunks, a killer crossover, and a speed that we’ve never seen before. Almost everybody enjoyed watching him play and the numbers backed him up — 21.0 ppg, 6.8 apg in his first four years with the Chicago Bulls.

It was a struggle to get back on the court for Derrick. The year following the injury, Rose missed all 82 games due to rehab. The year after his rehab, he only managed to play in 10 games.

But in 2014, it seemed like the injury has finally healed as he played in 51 games for the Bulls and 66 the year after.

Even though Rose is back playing, the injury and its effects are still clear. He is not as fast or as explosive as he once was. Rose is still a decent point guard, but compared to how great he played in his first years with the Bulls, you cannot help but feel sorry for the guy.