It is well-known that the Pelicans struggled mightily with injuries in their first rebranded season. Some could say the team has doubled-down on betting on injured players by trading for Omer Asik. Asik missed 34 games last season with the Houston Rockets, mostly battling knee swelling. Let's take a deep dive into three players who missed the most games last season and see if their injury history comes up injury-prone or unlucky.
The much-maligned trade for Jrue Holiday is always at the forefront of any discussion. If you want an article painting that move in a negative light you can look to any major media outlet and come away not just sated, but completely after-Thanksgiving-dinner-stuffed on "Dell Demps is Dumb" opinion.
We here at The Bird Writes have voiced our contrary opinion. Rohan examined Holiday in comparison to other point guards around the league. I looked at the concept of opportunity cost. Our comments section is full of fans defending it, other detracting it, and trolls doing what trolls do. But, with the first season in the books do we call the trade a failure? Is Jrue Holiday injury-prone in addition to being not worth two first round picks?
The quick answer is no, Jrue Holiday has not demonstrated at all in the past four seasons he is injury prone. Holiday missed a total of five games over three full seasons of NBA work in Philadelphia before landing in New Orleans. Including the playoffs Holiday suited up for 243 of 248 possible games for the Sixers. What about those five missed games?
At the end of the 2011-12 strike shortened season the Sixers had already locked up the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference before their last game and elected to rest Holiday along with Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, and Louis Williams. In the 2012-13 season Jrue missed a stretch of four consecutive games from December 14th to the 19th with a strained left foot. Holiday played 40 minutes the game before the injury and 36 minutes his first game back.
This season Holiday started the first 34 games in a row before succumbing to a stress fracture of his left tibia. Unrelated to any previous injury. The stress fracture eventually required surgery to correct. Holiday has played in every preseason game so far since coming back from the injury.
The newest addition to the Pelicans has been a model of consistency up until last season.
For those counting at home, in his first three seasons in the NBA Asik played in 257 of 258 possible games. The only game he missed was Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 with a broken leg. Not a stress fracture, a broken leg. In a testament to the toughness that Tom Thibodeau expects, Asik ATTEMPTED TO PLAY ON THE BROKEN LEG in Game 4. In his first season as a starter Asik played less than 20 minutes just twice over 88 games in Houston. To call Asik merely tough is an gross insult.
Last year the big man was not so fortunate. Dwight Howard signed with Houston and bumped Asik temporarily to the starting power forward slot. Asik first requested a trade in early July, just after Howard announced his intentions to come to Houston. Then coach Kevin McHale benched Asik for two games in November as he attempted to find the right mix of players. These were the first NBA games Asik had not played in his career that were not due to a BROKEN LEG.
Then finally the injury bug landed, with what appeared to be a relatively harmless bruised right thigh. Asik was expected to miss a week, of course that was also near Houston's self-imposed Asik trade deadline of December 19th. In the following weeks Asik developed swelling in his right knee and Houston continued to play things cautiously.
"He had some swelling again in his knee," McHale said. "It seems like he amps it up to a certain level and it swells up again. They’re still trying to figure out what’s causing that swelling when he gets up to a certain level of activity. They MRI, they sent it out again for certain people to look at again. His symptoms are not going the way the doctors think they should be."
Ultimately Asik missed 31 games due to the right thigh/knee injuries. He also sat out the season finale against New Orleans, but that had nothing to do with injury as a number of Rocket starters (James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Asik) did not participate.
Altogether Asik has missed 32 games over the past four seasons due to injury. While Asik's recovery time lagged behind estimates last winter he did not miss time after his initial return, showing no signs of an injury setback. Omer Asik has yet to have multiple stints missing games due to the same injury and has demonstrated extraordinary fortitude attempting to WALK OFF A BROKEN LEG. This summer Asik showed no ill effects playing all seven games for Turkey at the FIBA World Cup averaging 9.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Ryan Anderson was not a regular rotation player his first two and a half seasons in the NBA. Looking purely at his games played to determine his durability is not an accurate measure. He bounced in and out of the lineup as he struggled to make his way in the league under Lawrence Frank in New Jersey and then was traded before his sophomore season to Orlando. His first year under Stan Van Gundy went much the same way, playing sporadic minutes with DNP-CD's tossed in every few games for good measure. His third season (where the below chart begins) was different.
Ryan Anderson started his third year in Orlando bouncing into and out of the starting lineup. Two games off the bench, two games starting, a CD-DNP, and another start is an odd way to get out of the gates. Anderson racked up ten CD-DNP's in November alone as he battled for playing time behind veterans Brandon Bass and Rashard Lewis. Anderson did not miss game because he was injured, he just did not have the faith and confidence of SVG yet.
Thanks to a stomach virus Jameer Nelson, Mickael Petrius, and J.J. Redick all missed the December 3rd game against the Pistons. The perfect time for Anderson to seize some playing time. Instead Anderson came down awkwardly on Charlie Villenueva and missed the next nine games due to a mid foot sprain. 28 games into the season and Anderson had missed nine thanks to not being good enough and nine thanks to an injury.
Anderson would not miss another game that season. Thanks to the blockbuster Gilbert Arenas-Rashard Lewis trade playing time opened up at the backup power forward spot behind Brandon Bass. Anderson would even move into the starting lineup for a couple weeks as Bass battled a knee sprain in February. On the balance of the season Anderson played in 70 of 88 possible games.
The next season with Bass shipped to Boston Anderson took hold of the starting power forward spot next to Dwight Howard. Anderson would start 61 of 66 possible games in the strike shortened season. He missed his first start in New Orleans on January 27th due to a sore calf. Then in April he missed a stretch of three games due to a sprained right ankle. Locked into the seventh seed Van Gundy elected to rest all five starters in the final regular season game against the Grizzlies. Anderson missed four total games due to injury, playing in 66 of 71 possible games.
Arriving in New Orleans Ryno showed that the previous season's durability was no fluke, playing in 81 of 82 possible games. The only game he missed was on March 12th in Brooklyn; Anderson did not play due to the flu. Over the course of three seasons Anderson had missed just 14 games due to unrelated injuries. As with Asik no injury reoccurred.
Ryan Anderson was not so fortunate in 2013-14. Before the season began he suffered unimaginable heartbreak that we will not rehash here. Then as the Pelicans were about to begin the season Anderson broke his toe. After returning (and opening up the offense) New Orleans appeared to be on the upswing and was battling to get over .500. Disaster struck in Boston as Gerald Wallace inadvertently ran over Anderson, leaving Ryno prone on the court.
The eventual diagnosis of a herniated disk put Anderson on the shelf for the remainder of the season. In total Anderson missed nine games due to the broken toe and another 51 games due to his back injury. Like Jrue Holiday and Omer Asik Anderson has been a full participant in preseason games and practices.
As you can see diving into the number these three players had been remarkably reliable before this past season. Holiday, Asik, and Anderson combined to miss just 19 games over the course of three total seasons due to injury from 2010-2013. That time includes the brutally compressed schedule of the 2011-12 lockout year when back-to-backs increased and back-to-back-to-backs were implemented to fit 66 games into a shortened calendar.
The history of these three individuals tell us that they were simply unlucky last season. Their injuries were unrelated to any previous injuries suffered as professional basketball players. This is not to say that there are not players who are injury prone, simply to rule out such a fan-diagnosis in these specific cases. Anderson's back will continue to be a spot of focus for the training staff throughout the season I have no doubt; as will Asik's knee and Jrue's leg. Monitoring these previous problem areas is not a sign of potential weakness, just common sense and good medicine.
New Orleans fans can just hope that injury luck improves for these three players. If so, contention for the playoffs will surely follow.