Broken Bones and Silver Linings

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Published: December 8, 2013
Anthony Davis

Michael is on the ledge. We’re not sure if he’s going to jump or if he’s just trying to get Jason’s attention. Let’s find out.

Mike:

Okay, let’s start with a little background so we can grasp the full scope of my frustration.

I became a fan of this team in 1991 and have watched nearly every game since then. In the early days of the internet, I waited as the Charlotte Observer would slowly load onto my computer that was hooked up to dial-up. I had an Alonzo Mourning locker and ran around the house screaming for what seemed like an hour after Mourning drilled a jumper to give the Hornets their first ever playoff series victory. Since then, however, being a fan of this team has just been exhausting.

Alonzo, Larry Johnson, Glen Rice, Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, David West, Tyson Chandler, and Chris Paul – every elite player in this franchise’s history gets hurt and then eventually gets traded. Oh, except for Jamal Mashburn. He retired because of his issue with vertigo. Yeah, that’s right, vertigo. I’ll wait while you google all the professional athletes that vertigo has brought down in the last thirty years. Done? Okay, I will carry on. Not only do the players get hurt, but every diagnosis seems to be wrong. Remember when Eric Gordon banged knees with Grant Hill and was only supposed to miss a week or two? It took him nearly two years to recover from that.

So you will forgive me if I don’t take this Davis injury in stride. I have seen it before.  Heck, I saw it this season when Ryan Anderson got a mysterious toe injury the day before the season started. We were told one to three weeks (did anybody believe it would be one?). Then he returns and we get a whole six games where our five key players get to play together before the centerpiece goes down. I am just tired of it; it’s so exhausting. And quite frankly, it is hard to believe that it will ever change. The past is the greatest predictor we have of the future, and the past is grim. Looks like the present is, too.

Jason:

That’s a dizzying list to address . . .

First off, this franchise bears little resemblance to the franchise to which you are referring. The correlation is very real in your mind, but in terms of the factors that matter . . . the staff, the players, the medical technology . . . it’s all very different. The only connection between the franchise’s current state outside of fans’ memory is some paperwork. Not every detail of the past matters when predicting the future, after all.

To address the Ryan Anderson point, while they said he was still experiencing some pain, he missed 2 weeks of games. Given the 1 – 3 week time frame, I see no issue. Also, Miller seems to be right on track with his most recent assessment, as he’s been made available for play.

This is a pretty clear-cut injury: “non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal of his left hand.” This is the “hand bone” that runs between the wrist and pinky finger. Non-displaced means it had not moved from its original position. This seems like a thing that would clearly show up on x-ray that has little chance to mistaken with something else or cause additional damage. Might the soreness mask some other issue, perhaps a strain of some sort? Yes. All totaled, there seems to be a low, but positive, risk for something else to go wrong. Also, other players with apparently similar injuries have some similar recovery times projected . . . some shorter, some longer by about 2 weeks each way. With respect to the injury, this does not seem like one that is likely to have long-term implications (such as a severe knee injury). The bone knits, and you’re off.

I feel this may have stalled the jump off the ledge, but perhaps I have not enticed you back inside the office.

While he’s not playing, he’s far less likely to get injured even further! Oh, not doing it for you? Ok, there’s more . . .

While Davis has suffered a few injuries during his short career, they are all unrelated, at least in terms of cause and damage. There has yet to be a lingering issue: a Gordonian knee, a Pejic back, etc. One could (particularly, you could), make the argument that the commonality is that it all happens to Davis, and that he’s somehow more fragile, more reckless (and more wreckful), more unlucky, etc. than other players. Well, neither of us have data to support this either way that directly links to Davis. Looking at other players, some super stars have missed very few games early in their careers, others typically miss weeks per season. An argument can be made the truly great players have not missed so many games early in their career, Davis is younger than many hopeful comparable in terms of body, but if Davis is not great, is this broken hand the cause or merely a result of that train of thought?

Mike:

Exactly the point I was going to get to next – that the great ones don’t seem to have this string of unrelated injuries. Yeah, there might be flukes and just pure luck, but why didn’t the great ones have the same random bad luck early in their career. I can even argue that what made them “the great ones” was the pure volume of games they got to play and the stats and experience that came from that. Stats I don’t care about as much, but experience I do. Look, this is a league with 30 teams competing for one prize. The odds are already stacked against you, so you can’t have Lady Luck avoiding you like the plague on top of it.

I know that objectively we can write all these things off, and since Davis’ injuries seem unrelated (though I will point out, they all happened to the left side of his body), that he is at no greater risk moving forward than anybody else. But subjectively, I just can’t shake the feeling in my gut as a fan and student of this game. I can’t remember any super-elite, top-five player dealing with this at the beginning of his career and then magically playing 75-80 games a season moving forward. And if Davis is only playing 60 or so games a season, I don’t think that will be good enough for the team, or for him quite frankly.

Teams get better because their core pieces play together for long stretches of time and they can adjust to anything you throw at them, because they have experienced that particular thing dozens of times in the past. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan can sit out 15 games a year and still be sharp in the playoffs because they have played hundreds of games together. The Thunder rose up the Western Conference ladder so quickly, not only because they had talent, but because Durant, Harden, and Westbrook played together an average of 78 games per year. Again, in a league of 30 with only one prize, you need those things to break your way.

Whether you think the core of this team moving forward is the Big Five or just three of those five, how can you really be optimistic enough to think they will ever get 75 games together in one season, let alone multiple seasons? I agree that things have changed over 22 years and I am just bringing my personal baggage from those teams into my relationship with this one, but Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, and Eric Gordon are what they are. I am not being subjective in my assessment of their games played. Those guys miss games every year they are in the league, and it is usually more than just a handful. How can we expect that this core will ever build the chemistry necessary to go to that elite level. We got 6 games this year! Six. And Gordon hasn’t gotten hurt yet. Do you really think we will get more than 30 or 40?

This was our shot. Ryno was back, Gordon was healthy for once, and Tyreke had just overcome his preseason injury. And then our centerpiece goes down. Did I expect the team to be a contender this year, or even a playoff team? No, but I expected 60-70 games of them on the court together (At least AD, Jrue, and Ryno) where they can start to figure things out, with next year being the year that they take off. Now, I firmly believe that it will take them two years to get those 60-70 games under their belt, if we are lucky.

Jason:

Under normal circumstances, I’d not try address your fears, but since you are standing on a narrow beam feet above the ground and you brought up some data, I’ll lob some more data for you to dunk into your basket case of a head at the moment. Some of those greats you mentioned started their NBA careers later in life than Davis did at age 19. Kareem played 4 years at UCLA (before the name change), Hakeem played 3 years at Houston, Duncan played 4 years at Wake Forest. The demands are much reduced in the college game, and if their bodies are still growing, so much the better; a growing body requires constant kinesthetic sense updates, and that increases the chances of injury, just as when a growing teenager is more accident prone despite becoming stronger, smarter, and more experienced.

We can point to other potential comparables, like Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, who entered the NBA at age 19 and did not miss significant time early one. Dwight Howard has missed significant time and seen his production drop when it should be peaking (in terms of typical big man career arcs). Garnett did not miss significant time until he was in his 30′s. So, the fear has a basis, but there are other factors to consider if you are trying to project a lack of “greatness” from early injuries.

As far as the left side thing goes (we’ll just ignore the concussion and soft tissue stuff), he’s had three bone injuries (shoulder, foot / ankle, hand). For any player with 3 injuries there is a 1/4 chance that they are all on the same side even if they are assigned by a cosmic monkey throwing karmic darts . . . the first is going on be on a side . . . 50-50 that the second one is on the same side . . . then that 50 is cut to 25 when you try to match the third one. In the other 75% of the cases, one of the injuries is not on the same side as the other two. Thus, even if there was a systematic issue with left-side injuries, the locations alone are not yet sufficient to distinguish he patter from randomness. Unless you see something in his game that he has a lack of respect or disdain for his left side, I’d just jot this fear down on a post-it note the next time he gets injured and take up the issue again then.

The chemistry issue you raise is more than fair, so what I have to say here may send you a little further back out on the ledge, but I’m ok with that, as long as it’s just a little. Chemistry, or whatever you want to call the thing that makes a group behave differently than the sum of its parts, is something that develops over time, and we were in the midst of watching the chemistry improve. Now, it’s shut down for a month.

That is a bona fide wound for team, and it will set their ceiling back, at least this season.

Beyond that, missing Davis for 12 – 20 games will likely result in a couple of extra losses (they were going to lose some in that tough stretch regardless, so the loss only costs the extra ones). In the ultra-competitive West, 10 teams have a 0.500 record, and two teams are only a half-game back from that mark. A couple of losses is all it takes to miss the playoffs.

Now, I do not really value “making the playoffs” as much as some, but I do think getting the playoff experience . . . the positive feeling, the negative outcome, and going through the process . . . for Davis. Moreover, going through the tough December for Davis and the core of the team . . . your “Big Five” or whatever . . . would have been valuable. That value is lost, agreed.

However, there is something valuable to be had here. Let’s look at the big picture. The most meaningful at-risk turning point in the Pelicans’ next decade may be Davis decision to remain with the team into the 2021-2022 season. When the Hornets got a look at what their roster was like without Chris Paul while he was injured, there was little to really be done because the way the team was constructed, and the result was not pretty. Before the Cavaliers lost LeBron James, they never got a good look at their team without James, and this may have affected their view of their needs.

In this case, the Pelicans can get a nice view of what the supporting cast can actually do. In the end, this year’s Big 5 will likely not be a big part of that critical decision. Two of the Big non-Davis Four may play a part, however. Figuring out who those guys are . . . the guys that play well with and without Davis is important will be the most valuable on the team. The others, whether in trade or as cap space, will be more valuable off the team, and the brass has enough time to really work that out. This next month could play a role in that decision.

Also, the rest of the team needs to gel. Some of those guys need work that is not based on Davis’ presence. Him being at the head of the class, in some respects, mitigates the negative effect on the team’s growth to some extent. The team needs to play better defense and make better decisions in that regard. Davis’ presence is not going to help them make those decisions. In fact, maybe he’s covering problems . . . as Chris Paul did when he played in New Orleans. So, maybe getting exposed to real trials will help some players realize their errors in more of a start contrast. Others will not, but that is just a sad fact that is unaffected by Davis’ injury.

Mike:

I want to buy what you are selling me, but I am pretty sure that the weaknesses of said players were already known prior to Davis going down. And the problem with your theory, if true, is that they would require those players performing poorly in order to decide to move them. Well, if they perform poorly, who would want them? Heck, I don’t know if anybody other than Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday has positive trade value now. You don’t want to trade them, because they are key pieces and seem to fit great with Davis according to all the data. They are also the ones likely to step up in this absence. So, then you are talking about Evans and Gordon – two guys who can play the game, but are clearly overpaid.

The best case scenario, in all actuality, would be that Dell already wants to move them, and this time without Davis allows them to inflate their numbers. Again, with the small sample size, this isn’t happening for Tyreke. He has gone the other way, as Davis’ absence means Aminu has to play more for rebounding. So, the only good that can come of this is if Dell was planning to move Gordon, and the absence of Davis allows Gordon’s trade value to rise. It would then require Dell to pull the trigger before he gets hurt again, and hopefully land another core member less likely to get hurt moving forward. That is still a stretch for me, and not worth losing Anthony Davis for.

And lastly, since I have convinced myself that I will never witness a Pelicans title – due to the lack of luck this franchise has, and the lack of luck Davis has particularly – I want the small things. Just give me the small things to root for and I will forgive the injury gods for never allowing me to see this team advance past the second round of the playoffs. Let me see Anthony Davis make his first All-Star game when it is played in New Orleans. I just wanted that, but now I don’t think it can happen. You say 12-20 games, yet we all know it will be more like 18-25. In a stacked West, there is no way he is going to beat out front court guys who have played 45-48 games heading into the break when he has only played 25.

Durant, Blake, and Dwight are a lock for the fan vote. Then, you got Kevin Love as another lock, leaving 3 spots for front court players. Tim Duncan, Dirk, Kawhi Leonard, David Lee, Zach Randolph, LaMarcus Aldridge, Demarcus Cousins, and Pau Gasol all play in this conference. Only 3 of them have to make it to keep AD out. Again, maybe AD has better numbers than Tim Duncan when the coaches vote, but if Duncan has played 45 games to AD’s 25 and also has a team 1st in the Conference while the Pelicans are 12th, who do you think will get in?

I have given up on the biggest prizes, and just want some consolation items like an All-Star birth, but I don’t even feel like I can get that.

Jason:

As far as the All-Star Game goes, I care far more about a guy that plays like an All-Star should than I do about how the actual politics plays out. Actually, assuming the Pelicans have a salary that they just will not exceed, it is better for the team if Davis actually plays well but does not actually get certain NBA-wide recognition that would allow his rookie extension to have a maximum salary for a player with more NBA experience than he actually has. As far as the fun aspect of it, I just can’t relate. These boondoggles just do not impress me except as business ventures.

As far as the estimates of games missed, we’ll just have to see what happens. I don’t see a reason to doubt the stated time frame, but I would not be surprised if he misses more (or less).

Circling back to my point about the seeing the team without Davis, I’m not convinced that the team is completely sold of which guard to try to keep long-term. I, too, think it is Holiday, but then what is the point of getting Tyreke? Simply insurance for Gordon? Why would they just put blinders on to his other merits, if they exist?

I think we both agree that this group will not be together for 5 or more years, but I do not see the trade value of Gordon and Evans as being affected in the long-term by the first month of play or Tyreke’s back-to-back left ankle sprains. Evans’ Trade value is most affected by his contract, but once the deal becomes shorter and cheaper (in total and per season), it will be easier to move. As far as Gordon goes, we are familiar with his book of injuries, but focusing on the results and not the process can be equally as misleading here as in judging team performance. I’m just not as convinced that he’ll be injured for, say, 4+ weeks, this season. Missing a game or two won’t matter, but he needs to be available more than the typical NBA starter this season before anyone starts talking themselves into a Gordon trade that includes some on-the-court value (not a Rashard Lewis sort of trade). He only has value in trade (for on-the-court assets) if he makes it through the season healthy. So, any positive glimmers to beef up that estimation then are a benefit. Good or bad play won’t change is value if he has another injury-riddled year.

So, I see this time as valuable since I think these longer-term evaluations are going on. Just as one could argue that seeing the team without Anderson to start this season has really show what kind of difference he makes to this team, this time can show them, and others, what Davis means to this team. If Aminu catches on fire, maybe he can be moved, and replaced with a better fit. If Gordon continues to show some leadership . . . and remains injury-free . . . maybe that will help improve his market this Summer relative to what it would have been. The team would be able to point to this stretch and say, “See, this level of play is because teams are worried about Davis, he just produces.” The team can play poorly while individuals play well . . . the pieces just may not fit the way they had hoped, at least for this season. Again, i just don’t buy that this is `the team’. I think this is an grand audition for supporting players for Davis.

At any rate, I’m not sure how much more lemonade I can make here. Davis getting hurt is not good, that’s for sure, but the team is not without the ability to get some, if less, benefit.

It is not fun to watch a team lose, especially one that should be winning about half of its games after two years of winning far less. Even if the team recovers to 0.500, it will just feel worse, that I can not deny. We just have to take the longer view, again, and tick the days off to a new year and a(nother) new day.

Oh, Evans sprained his ankle again. Roof this time?

11 comments
mojart
mojart

heat need a guard...why not we trade roberts for oden....:)

GerryV
GerryV

Heat up a nice mug of Egg Nog...pour a shot of Jamisons Irish Whiskey in it and enjoy.......some bad luck has hit the team as far as injuries are concerned...eventually you want a roster that can endure an injury to a key player or two...that will take more time....( sipping)

RafaBrazil
RafaBrazil

Rudy Gay was traded. Anyone who says we can't get anithing back from Gordon is underestimating Demps... Toronto managed to get Patterson and Vasquez for Gay!!!! We can definitely get something from Gordon

504ever
504ever

Michael,

If this franchise has such bad luck, how did it ever, improbably, draft Davis at 1, Paul at 3, and West at 18?  Also, I believe some of Davis's injuries are due to putting himself in bad places due to youth.  I say give him time to adjust.

Ned

xman20002000
xman20002000

I read somewhere that with Drummond doing so well Detroit might want to move Greg Monroe... So is he a PF or C... a kid from the area..

xman20002000
xman20002000

So what is the point in trading Gordon...  Send him to Chicago for Boozer or Deng..  Makes no sense..

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara moderator

@504ever I dont even know how to answer this. What does injury history have to do with draft history? I am assuming you read the piece, so how does your question fit? 

xman20002000
xman20002000

Your comments I totally agree...  This is what happens when you decide to rebuild... The entire roster has been made over with Jason Smith the tenured player and 4 years.. plus and a big plus is Tom Benson.. bringing stability to the team...  There is no body of work nor data even with AD.. one game at a time also happy his injury isn't career ending...  Both Kidd-Gilcrist and Paul Pierce have hand injuries with similar recovery periods...  We would have taken Greg Ogden in a minute and imagine getting 20 minutes out of him.. 


Drawing comparisons at this stage might be a bit unrealistic considering some of these guys may be moving on... AD is out and Steimsma is injured and a big question.. i.e. is he worth the money...  plus Withey needs to man up if he is going to stay...  What's up with the front court ... a real problem... 

RafaBrazil
RafaBrazil

@xman20002000 Never proposed that trade, but if management decides we're better off without Gordon, we can for sure get at least good role players for him, plus the CAP it opens up. We should not be like " Gordon is untradable", specially with Demps in charge of things.


For who would you trade Gordon? Toronto got 2 expiring restircted free agents for a massively overpaid inefficient chucker. They can choose to match any offers these guys get or not, they got great flexibility with that deal and the Bargnani deal. My point is that we can trade Gordon if they decide to do so, and get something in return rather than have to sweeten the deal for someone to take him from us.

504ever
504ever

@Michael McNamara @504ever

In the big picture, you are talking about luck. There is no correlation between injury history of player X and player Y when everything is different: type of injury, training staff, location of team, etc.  I was just pointing out situations in which this franchise had excellent luck, too.