This article is part of our NBA Injury Analysis series.
Before I begin my usual injury analysis, I'd like to share a few words about Kobe Bryant.
The last 24 hours have been heartbreaking for basketball fans the world over, as we mourn the loss of a legend and his 13-year-old daughter. My heart hurts for their family as well as for those who were also lost in the crash. Kobe was a ruthless competitor whose impact on and off the court reverberated with millions. As I attempted to reconcile with his passing the first image that came to mind was not a buzzer beater or highlight reel dunk. It was of an athlete willing himself to shoot free throws and walk off the court seconds after rupturing his Achilles.
In Kobe' final season, a writer for a major publication reached out to me and asked if I could help with a final piece on Bryant's career. They wanted to delve into the injuries Kobe endured during his 20 years in the NBA. They put together a list of injuries and asked if I would look them over and fill in any gaps. I happily agreed but laughed when their information arrived in my inbox. Their list included 41 injuries. I had recorded 141. Kobe so often seemed invulnerable, thriving at his craft despite suffering knee injuries, a torn Achilles, a torn rotator cuff, and countless other ailments.
He was one-of-a-kind and his untimely passing is a shocking reminder that even the seemingly invincible are mortal.
Now, here are some updates on a few of the key injuries around the league as January nears its close:
The Rockets' MVP did not play Sunday against the Nuggets and was also held out of Monday's game against Utah. Harden sustained a thigh contusion in win over the Timberwolves and was clearly limited throughout the game. A bruised thigh may seem like a minor injury but often involves the quadriceps muscle group. The quad is responsible for knee extension and hip flexion and any limitation to the muscle can drastically affect the biomechanics of the leg. The time off may be a blessing in disguise as Harden had recently shown signs of fatigue entering the game in which he was injured, averaging 23.0 points on 33 percent shooting in his previous five outings.
The Thunder frontcourt has been thinned by injuries as both Adams and Noel have missed time in the past week. Adams has been in street clothes for three of Oklahoma City's last six games, including back-to-back games with a sprained right ankle. He was able to play over the weekend but failed to score and collected just one rebound in a win over the Timberwolves. He did manage to record four blocked shos,t though it does appear the still healing ankle may be limiting his movement on the court. He is expected to play this week – and he started and played Monday night – though the Thunder medical staff may be a close eye on his minutes.
A scary injury for Noel further depletes the Thunder's depth. Noel suffered a zygomatic arch fracture on Friday after taking an elbow from teammate Danilo Gallinari. The fracture required surgery to mend.
The facial skeleton of the skull is comprised of 14 fused bones including the frequently fractured nasal bone. In addition to the nose, the orbit (eye socket) is also susceptible to injury.
The orbit is made up from bones of the face and the neurocranium and surrounds and protects the eyeball. Orbital fractures have to be treated in a unique way to ensure the eyeball and the neighboring sinuses are intact. Fortunately, Noel's injury is to the zygomatic arch (cheekbone) meaning vision issues were likely avoided. Former Thunder guard Russell Westbrook suffered a similar injury in 2015 and was left with a visible dent in his cheek. Like Noel, Westbrook's injury required a trip to the operating room but the explosive guard was back in action after just one game missed.
Like Westbrook, Noel only missed one game, and he was back in the mix off the bench Monday night.
Malcolm Brogdon: The ex-Bucks guard is currently recovering from a concussion and cannot return until he completes the league's mandated return to play protocol. There have been 12 concussions in the NBA since the start of the preseason and the average return to play is nine days. Brogdon suffered his on January 22, meaning a mid-week return is plausible. However, keep in mind that concussions are difficult to predict and that is far from a guarantee. Aaron Holiday and T.J. McConnell will benefit so long as Brogdon remains out.
Enes Kanter: The Celtics' big man is currently out with a bruised hip and has already been ruled out for Tuesday's game against the Heat. Hip contusions, particularly to the iliac crest, can be very painful and limiting. He will now target a Thursday return against the Warriors, though Boston has hinted he could be looking at an extended absence.
Dwight Powell: The Mavericks lost an underrated piece of their offense early last week when Powell suffered a ruptured Achilles. Powell's becomes the eighth torn Achilles in the NBA since January 2019, making this particular ailment a growing concern. The timing of the injury will all but ensure Powell misses some of the 2020-21 campaign, and he is unlikely to return to top form until the following season. The Mavericks made a trade to fill the void, adding big man Willie Cauley-Stein in a deal with the Warriors. Cauley-Stein has joined the team but may not play major minutes until he has a better chance to acclimate to his new teammates and surroundings. Cauley-Stein was technically available Monday night but did not see the floor.
Josh Richardson: Richardson suffered a mild hamstring strain on Wednesday and is slated to miss the next two-to-three weeks. With the All-Star break quickly approaching, it wouldn't be surprising for Richardson to sit until the Sixers reconvene on February 20 following their time off. Shake Milton has replaced Richardson in their starting lineup but Furkan Korkmaz may be the better fantasy play. Korkmaz has scored in double figures in five of Philadelphia's last six games while averaging 15.3 points and 3.7 made three pointers.
Jayson Tatum: The third-year backcourt player is nursing a mild groin strain, but coach Brad Stevens said his All-Star candidate is "close" to returning. Sustained health has been a major issue for Boston with Tatum, Kanter, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown each currently managing an injury. Smart (hand, ankle) and Brown (ankle) will continue to play through their issues, but Tatum is trending toward another absence Tuesday night.