Do players with some kind of physical abnormality or psychological condition, ever become successful in the NBA?
Many players in the most recent NBA draft were “red flagged” because of serious ailments. White (drafted 16th), Jared Sullinger (drafted 21st), or Perry Jones III (drafted 28th) were all top-five draft pick talents, but were stricken down because of various ailments.
White has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that causes him to fear flying, a near-insurmountable problem considering NBA players fly more than forty times annually.
Sullinger and Jones received medical red flags for back and knee problems, respectively. As a result, all three players fell heavily in the draft, and were selected by teams that could afford to risk draft picks.
This year’s draft is an oddity––most draft years scarcely contain players with medical or psychological conditions. The most well-known player to have been drafted in recent years with a risky and serious knee condition was San Antonio Spurs forward DeJuan Blair in 2009.
Blair was one of the best college players in the nation, finishing second in the Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year poll and leading the nation in rebounding.
Doctors questioned his durability and knee strength, causing him to drop to the 37th pick, where the Spurs drafted him. So far, Blair has had a solid career as a role player for San Antonio, averaging 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, and has not had a major injury in his three seasons.
On the other hand, two particularly well-known players had an ignored prior history of injuries. Sam Bowie, drafted 2nd in 1984 by the Portland Trail Blazers, missed two of four seasons at the University of Kentucky due to a shinbone injury. Bowie’s career may have been moderately successful, if not for his injuries.
Similarly, in 2007, the Trail Blazers drafted Greg Oden with the 1st pick, despite an elongated leg caused by hip surgery Oden underwent in sixth grade. Oden played only 82 games, and no longer played in the NBA by 2012. While Oden showed potential, his career was cut short before it could pan out.
Many medical red flags initially go unannounced. This was the case for shooting guard Brandon Roy, who was drafted in 2006. Roy’s knees were red flagged by doctors, causing the Minnesota Timberwolves to trade Roy to the Trail Blazers. Roy was a three-time all-star who played at a high level for four seasons, but was slowed by knee injuries and forced to retire in 2011.
News about Roy’s knee condition did not become public until 2012, one year after he was forced to retire. In 2009, the Trail Blazers gave Roy a five-year, 80 million dollar contract without any insurance in case of knee injuries. Why, given Roy’s history, was his contract not insured in any way? Why do teams repeatedly take these medical risks?
The truth is, as long as players are talented enough, teams will always take risks. In the Trail Blazers’ case, three exceptional players offered enough potential benefits to outweigh their risks. Bowie and Oden were supposed to anchor the Blazers’ defense for the next decade. Roy was an elite player for four seasons.
Chet Kammerer, the Miami Heat vice president of player personnel, states, “Most of the time those players are still able to play, but the length of their careers are definitely altered because of things that are a part of their history.”
This is true––Oden and Roy have actually had better careers and statistics than most players who have been drafted. The catch is that their careers have been significantly shorter. Roy has returned to the NBA this year.
What will happen to players who are flagged in the future? They will most likely drop in the draft like White, Sullinger, and Jones. As of early in the 2012-13 season, all three rookies have been languishing deep in their teams’ benches.
Similarly, Blair has been relegated to a bench role, and has taken to Twitter to air complaints over his playing time.
That shows the true irony of the situation: these so-called talented but damaged players aren’t even good enough to play. In a sport where skill is paramount, it is talent that holds these players back.