As we near the All-Star break in the NBA and the eventual stretch run, many teams find themselves without key players due to injury. Let’s take a look at some of the more notable inactives, along with how they could affect the Playoff picture once healthy.
Chris Paul, Houston Rockets (hamstring, expected to return sometime this month)
Paul is one of the many Rockets to have visited the trainer this season as his Western Conference Championship-altering hamstring has been acting up again. There is no doubt he can still run the point at an elite level, so missing his scoring and passing (as well as leadership) has no doubt hampered Houston so far. Once he returns, he and James Harden should reunite to be just as effective as last season.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (finger, out one-two weeks)
This is fresh (and unfortunate) news for Davis and the Pelicans, who find themselves sitting at 12th place in the always crowded Western Conference. Even with Davis healthy, the Pelicans just don’t seem to have the talent to advance this year (barring trade), so even a speedy return might not do much for a mediocre New Orleans team.
Isaiah Thomas, Denver Nuggets (hip, expected to return around All-Star break)
The same hip that limited Thomas’s early success in Cleveland turned into something more serious, and the 5’9” point guard has not seen the floor in a Nuggets uniform yet. However, we all know he is a lethal scorer and skilled floor general, as well as a leader. While Denver is certainly hoping Thomas can return soon, his role is still to be determined, as rookie Monte Morris has done an excellent job filling in at the backup point guard position. Nevertheless, for a Denver team that has seen its fair share of injuries, getting Thomas on the court would be an immediate boon.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (groin, timetable unknown)
What started as perhaps a mildly strained groin has turned into almost a full month of absence for the four-time MVP. While L.A. has rebounded in their past few games to stay within the Playoff picture, James undoubtedly brings immense value to the court and would surely boost the team with his return. However, the longer he sits out the more the spotlight is shone on Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, and it remains to be seen whether the youngsters can lead a successful team.
Goran Dragic, Miami Heat (knee, expected to miss at least two more months)
Dragic has been one of the most consistently productive point guards since he entered the league, but he has had a tough time staying on the court this season. He is the leader in Miami and who they like to run their offense through, so losing him for an extended period of time will no doubt affect the team. However, the Heat have managed to stick around .500 without Dragic, so if and when he does return they should have a good shot at moving up the bottom of the Eastern Playoff bracket.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors (thumb, out at least another four weeks)
Losing your starting center is never good, and especially not when it’s a center as talented and important as Valanciunas. However, it has been over a month since he went out and the Raptors have continued to play great basketball by using a small-ball lineup of Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka. Still, Valanciunas is one of the top centers in the league and when he returns he should immediately help out the Raptors by bringing a veteran big man presence.
Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz (hamstring, will be re-evaluated in one week)
Rubio has been out since Jan. 7, and while he has been great for Utah since joining the team in 2017 they have actually been hot in his absence, climbing to seventh in the Western Conference standings thanks to a currently-six game winning streak. Donovan Mitchell has switched to point guard, but the assists have been coming from everywhere, especially the resurgent Joe Ingles. Rubio provides leadership and great passing, and seeing as how this winning streak won’t last forever Utah will be happy to get their starting point guard back.
Caris Levert, Brooklyn Nets (foot, expected to return in early February)
Many of us remember Levert’s horrific injury in November, but he has progressed well and looks to be coming back very soon for a Brooklyn squad that finds themself sitting at sixth in the East. Levert was having his best season yet, as he has combined a natural scoring ability with an increasingly-developing all around game. Once he returns, look for Brooklyn to start winning even more games and possibly distance themselves from the .500 mark.
Clint Capela, Houston Rockets (thumb, out four-six weeks)
As mentioned earlier, Houston has been plagued by the injury bug since last season, and Capela is the latest victim. One of the top centers in the league, Capela was playing great with James Harden as Houston’s offense soared. Capella also brings elite shot-blocking and rebounding, so while his presence will definitely sting, his return will be even more impactful.