Pro Sports

What’s behind the increased injury rates among young NBA stars?

More and more young basketball players are getting injured every year.

Young star Ben Simmons in rehab.
Photo Credit- Jesse D. Garrabrant

Picture this: you just got drafted first overall in the NBA draft. You show up to play in the NBA Summer League to showcase your talent. Half-way through the second quarter you go for a layup and get blocked and you land awkwardly. You get an x-ray only to find out you tore your ACL and you’re out for the season. A similar scenario happened to Philadelphia 76ers 2016 first overall pick Ben Simmons, only he had a broken foot.

The 76ers star center, Joel Embiid, injured

Recently as of 2014, the NBA rookie classes have been riddled with numerous injuries that derail and put a young star’s career on hold. In 1984, the Chicago Bulls’ first overall pick, Michael Jordan, nearly averaged 30 points a game as a rookie. Another player from this draft class named Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 20.6 points and 11.9 rebounds a game in his first year for the Houston Rockets. Fast forward to the 2016 season and only one rookie averaged over 20+ points a game, and he wasn’t even drafted in that class! That player was considered a rookie in 2016 because he was injured when he was drafted in 2014 and missed his first two seasons. The league has a rule where if a rookie gets injured and is out for the year, he qualifies as a rookie in his first season of play and will be considered for Rookie of the Year. In fact the Rookie of the Year winner that year only averaged 10 points a game. Do you see the problem there?

Zion Williamson slips and bruised his knee against North Carolina.
Photo Credit-Washington Post

Back in 2014, three out of the top five drafted players were injured that year. Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon fractured a metatarsal in his foot after 11 games and only played 47 out of 82 games that season. The 2016 rookie, who was referred to earlier, is Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. Embiid missed his first season due to a broken navicular bone in his foot. It would be revealed later from a CT scan that he wasn’t healing as fast as the doctors expected and would later get surgery on his right foot and miss the 2015 season. The Milwaukee Bucks drafted Duke phenom Jabari Parker in the top five of the draft. He got off to a great start as he won the October/November Rookie of the Month award. Unfortunately he wouldn’t keep it up, as he tore his ACL in December and missed the rest of the season. In 2015, he sprained his talonavicular joint in his right foot and missed a little time. On February 9 in the 2016-17 season, he tore the same ACL he previously tore in his rookie year and missed the rest of the season. After the 2017-18 season, Parker has played with the Chicago Bulls, been traded to the Washington Wizards, and signed with the Atlanta Hawks after this previous season.

Jabari Parker tearing his ACL.

The most recent group of rookies from 2018 saw their share of injury-riddled young talent. Out of 30 players taken in the first round, nine of them played less than 50 games due to injury, and six other players played less than 50 games because they just weren’t ready for the league. In 1999, only two first round picks played less than 50 games due to injury, while the 2018 class had 30 percent out for this reason.

Here’s another statistic for you: from 1984-1988, every rookie class played 75+ percent of games those years. From 2014 through 2018, only three of those five years did rookies play 60+ percent, while the 2014 class only played an abysmal 46 percent of games. 2017 number one pick Markelle Fultz sprained his ankle in the Summer League and has barely played in the NBA. He was later diagnosed with thoracic outlet nerve syndrome, which affected his shooting as he couldn’t really move his shoulder as needed. 

Lakers 2014 rookie Julius Randle breaks his leg in his first career game.

YouTuber JxmyHighroller explained in a video that he believes the injury rise is due to team general managers drafting young players based on potential, and how they look in the draft process, and stash them away until they get better or injured. He states that teams are taking younger players and throwing them on to rosters where they play against grown men and play an 82 game season.

An ESPN article from 2015 gives four potential reasons why players are more injury prone. The article says that players are getting injured more because of lack of sleep, weaker bones, and higher wear and tear chance. Players have weaker bones due to replacing milk intake with sugar and for getting rid of older training methods for the newest training fad. Kids playing competitive travel basketball leads to wear and tear on their body as they are constantly traveling everyday. Some people look to blame the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and pre-draft process, since they fly all over the country before the draft. Nobody is close to a solution about this youth injury plague, as the NBA may be deciding to get rid of the one-and-done rule, allowing players to come straight out of high school. If the one-and-done rule is removed, the NBA could potentially see an even greater increase in this youth injury outbreak.

Kyle Alexander is a junior member of the Multimedia Journalism class.