Injuries are just a part of sports. Kids, and old guys too, blow their knees out playing half speed at the Y. The physical stress of playing ball at the highest level probably multiplies the dangers of breaking down exponentially. Certain players might be injury prone, but, in reality, every single professional basketball player and team is injury prone.
Every team except, seemingly, the Memphis Grizzlies.
Over the past 2 seasons the Grizzlies top 8 players, their everyday rotation, have played in an exceptionally high number of games even with starters logging some of the most minutes in the league:
2008-2009: 593 out of 626 (total is low because of the Kyle Lowry trade), or 74 games per player. Without Darko, who was roughly the 8th man, that number jumps to 532 out of 544.
2009-2010: 632 out of 656, or 79 games per player. Now arguably that number should be a decent bit lower because of Ronnie Brewer's season ending injury, but its hard to count him since he only played in 1 game pre-injury.
So, over the past two years, the Grizzlies are basically the anti-Clippers. Sounds like a good thing, right? Color me a little worried that its not; are our expectations too high and the team's depth too low?
Firstly, lets make it completely clear that even with two max contract players rostered, the Grizzlies are obviously not a superstar-centric team. When you're talking about injuries, that's both a pro and a con.
Superstar teams typically aren't crippled by an injury. Normally losing even the second option isn't a huge problem if you have a single player accounting for most of your offense. Typically the other players are being underutilized and the star is also good enough to pick up the slack.
But if their star gets injured, well, that's probably the whole season in the tank. Of course, oftentimes this can be a blessing in disguise, like when the Spurs landed the greatest power forward of all time in Tim Duncan while they still had one of the best big men of the era in David Robinson.
Injuries are a little tougher for non-superstar teams to handle because an effective non-superstar team needs to be more than the sum of its parts.
Last season the Grizzlies offense was, statistically, among the best in the league. That's not because the Grizz have a single player who's among the best scorers in the league, it's because having 4 above average scorers on the floor makes it more difficult to cheat and double-team, which means everybody scores a little more efficiently than the would on a team with some offensive liabilities.
So if you lose Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph, subbing in less dangerous options like Sam Young or Darrell Arthur, you're not just losing Rudy Gay or Z-Bo's production. No, everyone's job gets significantly harder.
Now you might say that's just pure conjecture on my part. If you're a fan of advanced statistics, check this out:
Rudy Gay: 6.4 win shares, WS48: .096 -- DeMarre Carroll, WS48: .031
Zach Randolph: 9.7 win shares, WS48: .153 -- Darrell Arthur, WS48: .049 (career)
Win shares essentially measure how many of the team's wins last year deserve to be accounted to each player. It's not a perfect scale, but it's becoming more commonly used. WS48 shows how many wins each player is worth every 48 minutes they're on the floor -- it basically takes minutes played out of the equation.
So reading through the chart, if Mike Conley goes out for the season, we're probably losing 2 wins. If Rudy goes down, we lose between 4 and 5. Zach Randolph to Darrell Arthur is the biggest drop, as that would cost the Grizzlies between 6-7 wins. Marc Gasol to Hasheem Thabeet actually isn't too precipitous of a drop because Thabeet's defense scores him well. Losing Marc would drop the record by something like 3 wins.
The interesting one here is Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo, since, by win shares per 48 minutes, it appears losing Mayo could actually be a blessing in disguise. I'm inclined to disagree with the math in this case, however, because without Mayo the Grizzlies would have a distinct lack of perimeter shooting.
See, all this is just running the math straight up, but it's really more complex. After adding Z-Bo to the lineup this season, Rudy, O.J., and Marc all saw their win shares jump by about 2. Some of this growth is improvement, but I suspect it's mostly because defenders can't cheat off Arthur. In other words, losing Z-Bo could stand to lose the Grizzlies around 12 wins. An injury that would cost Zach a third of the season could be 4 wins then.
I suspect losing any of Rudy, O.J., or Marc would mean a similar drop in ineffectiveness for the other 3 best starters. So, basically, add 5-6 to any of the drop-off numbers two paragraphs before.
With the Grizzlies prepared to try to fight for an 8th seed in the West, which will probably take around 48 wins again this year, 6 wins would be a season killer. After winning 40 last season, it's fair to say this set of personnel is probably roughly exactly a 48 win team when they're all together again.
But if they're missing someone? Well, let's just hope the lucky streak continues.