Right off the bat let me just explain that the loss to the Wizards really hurts this post. I worked hard to compile these statistics and my case would be so much stronger if the Clippers had just won that stupid game. For one thing, they'd have a better record with their top five guys playing. For another, they lost to about the only team with more severe injury woes. It's one game, and anything can happen in one game, and it doesn't invalidate the points in this post. It just FEELS like it does. Oh well. Onward.
During a recent Clippers game (I actually think it was the Comcast Philadelphia broadcast of the Sixers game) I was surprised by one of the onscreen graphics. It said that the Clippers were third in the NBA in player games lost to injury. I find that hard to believe. With two players who have yet to play, a third lost for the season in game 25, and a bucket full of other injuries leaving them with too few players to practice for much of the season, it seemed simply impossible that any other team could have lost more games to injury. Of course those TV graphics tend to be sloppy, and it's entirely possible that the graphic was simply wrong. Or maybe there's are a couple of scrubs on a couple of teams that are lost for the season that I just am forgetting about. At any rate, I have yet to find any 'official' source for this type of data. But my by math, not even Sacramento or Washington or Denver have lost as many games to injury as the Clippers - and it's not really close.
My best guess as to the source of the confusion? Since Brand and Livingston have not played at all, they were omitted from the calculation completely. It's easy to do - for instance recently I was surprised that EB was nowhere to be found on the list of Leaders in Career PER for Active players. Where was he? Apparently the calculation did not consider him 'active' since he had not played this season. (He should be 11th on the list at a PER of 22.7.)
So maybe that was it. Maybe in counting player games missed, they weren't counting Brand and Livingston. But that would mean the Clippers were third in player games lost NOT INCLUDING the 100 games lost by those two key players. That seems almost as hard to believe. I mean, how could they possibly be among the most injured teams in the league without even counting the most obvious, long term and serious injuries?
So I went through all 30 teams, looking at the injuries they've suffered. In an attempt to compare apples to apples, I looked at player games lost for the top 5 players on each team. That does a couple of things for the process - it focuses the count on the injuries that matter most and it makes the whole thing more clear cut, as a top player would presumably only miss a game due to injury or suspension. Specific to the Clippers, I did not count the 25 games Paul Davis has missed nor the many, many games Aaron Williams has missed (Williams is a good example of the second issue above - he has not appeared in 27 games but presumably he was healthy enough to play in many of those, yet we also know that he's had at least nagging injuries - so how do you count that?)
Going into this exercise, I assumed the Clippers would come out somewhere in the middle of the pack. I mean, I know that all of their top players have missed games. But, especially compared with Brand and Livingston, the injuries have felt sort of 'normal' and I assumed it was not significantly different than most teams suffer over the course of 50 games. I was wrong.
As of the All Star break, the Clippers top 5 players (Kaman, Maggette, Mobley, Cassell and Thomas) have missed 39 player games. That number includes the Cassell suspension, but it does not include the games where they appeared for a couple minutes before getting injured. I decided to leave the suspension game in, as I couldn't easily distinguish between injury games and suspension games for the other teams.
As of the All Star break, only two other teams have missed more games - the Wizards with 54 and Sacramento with 52. (And don't worry, I counted Deng and Gordon for the Bulls tonight, Harris and Stackhouse for the Mavs, etc). The Knicks (38), Bucks (38), Raptors (38), Heat (37), Bulls (37) and Indiana (36) have all missed almost as many. So the Clippers top 5 have missed a lot of games, though it's not particularly unusual as compared to other teams. Nine our of thirty teams have missed almost as many or more, though you should bear in mind also that the Clippers have played fewer games than most teams so that's fewer opportunities to miss games.
(If you're wondering how I determined top 5, I looked at minutes per game and scoring average and took the higher number of injury days in order to get the worst case top 5 for every team. I broke this rule only once - in the case of the Spurs, Brent Barry scores more than Bruce Bowen and has missed more games. But no one could seriously argue that Barry playing 18 minutes per game is more important to the Spurs than Bowen playing 30 minutes per game.)
So to recap - only two teams in the NBA, the Kings and the Wizards, have lost more player games among their top 5 players than the Clippers. AND THAT'S WITHOUT INCLUDING BRAND OR LIVINGSTON IN THE CALCULATION. Just a quick modification would tell you that the Clippers have lost 139 games among their top 7 players, while the Kings have lost 58. The Wizards remain the most analogous to the Clippers - if you include Etan Thomas in their top 7 (which is actually a stretch), they have lost 110 player games. An enormous number - but still 29 games fewer than the Clippers. And Etan Thomas is not Shaun Livingston.
Let's take a moment to recognize the extraordinary effort of both the Kings and the Wizards on the season thus far. Despite major injury problems, each team has managed to remain within a couple games of the .500 mark. It's interesting (if a tad cynical perhaps) to note that these teams have for long stretches played 'better' without their ostensible 'best' player (Arenas for Washington, either Bibby or Artest for the Kings - you could not argue that they played better without Martin). Let's face it - the Kings have a better record now than they did for the season last year when all of their players enjoyed relative good health. Is it all Reggie Theus? Or does it say something about the perceived value of these players. Or it may strictly be a question of the Antonio Daniels, Beno Udrihs and John Salmons stepping proverbially up. I'm not here to bash Arenas and Bibby. But suffice it to say, there is no way the Clippers are better or anywhere near as good without Elton Brand.
As commendable as the efforts of the Kings and Wizards have been this season, there's still one simple fact staring us in the face. BOTH TEAMS HAVE LOSING RECORDS. Which basically says that you can overcome injuries to the point of exceeding expectations. But you can't win. Or look at last season's Hornets. They were easily the most beat up team in the league in 06-07. But even then, Chris Paul played in 64 games and David West played in 52, which is significantly more court time than Elton Brand will see this season. The Hornets played really well considering everything. And they finished 39-43. This season with everyone healthy, they have the best record in the Western Conference.
Even considering how well the Wizards have played, last night's win over the Clippers puts their record at 2-7 without Caron Butler. In fact, this brings up another great point. DeShawn Stevenson, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood have missed one game total between them. The Wizards have had their non-Arenas starting five available to them for 35 out of 52 games this season. They are 6 and 11 in the 17 games where just one more starter in addition to Arenas was out. 5 and 11 in games played without Butler or Daniels. That gives them a record of 19-16 in the 35 games they've played without Arenas, but with all their other key players healthy.
By contrast, Cat Mobley has missed the fewest games of the Clippers' top 5 at three games. (We also know that he was playing hurt and should not have been for about 10 more games, but that's a different story). Last night was only the 14th time in 50 games that the Clippers have been at full generic strength. They are 7 and 7 in those games. (See how much better my argument would be if the Clippers had beaten the Wizards? The Clippers would have a winning record in those games. Or if they hadn't lost at Dallas at the buzzer. Curse you Antawn Jamison! Curse you Tim Thomas!) The Clippers injuries have been freakishly linear. Corey Maggette got hurt in the second game after Cat returned. Sam Cassell got hurt in the exact game that Corey returned. Tim Thomas got hurt in the first half of the game where Cassell returned in the second half (they were never even on the court together). For an amazing string of 26 consecutive games, over half of their season thus far, the Clippers played exactly one game at full generic strength. And they won that one game. They were 5-20 in the other 25.
So, I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Injuries matter, and the Clippers have been devastated - worst in the league, maybe worst of all time, decimated, destroyed, dessicated and demolished - by injuries this season.
It's common to take a moment at the All Star break to reflect on the season thus far. Commonly called the midway point, it is certainly not that, but it is a break in the schedule and affords one to take a breath and look at the bigger picture. Particularly when one blogs for the Clippers and doesn't have the distractions of All Stars or Rookie Game participants to distract one. (By the way, I'm not going anywhere, and apparently they aren't doing the All Star dance team thing this year, so the correct answer in the poll was 'None of the above.')
After 50 games, the Clippers are 17-33, 12th in the Western Conference, and a full 14 games out of the playoff picture. But that's all fine. When Elton Brand's Achilles popped, the most optimistic scenario imaginable wouldn't have allowed the Clippers to make the playoffs this season. Not with Brand yet to practice as of the break. Not with 9 Western Conference teams on pace to win 50 games. And certainly not with the other injuries they've suffered.
Brand's rehab is going well. Livingston's rehab is going well too (though perhaps not as well as hoped). Chris Kaman has emerged as a dominant NBA center - third in the league in rebounding and third in blocked shots. Al Thornton appears to be a top 5 rookie in this draft class, and clearly has the ability to score in the NBA. And Corey Maggette is playing as well as he ever has. That's nothing but good news.