Jerry Stackhouse figures he’s probably been on a team that’s had as many injuries, though he can’t recall exactly. “Over 17 years I’m sure it happened somewhere along the line,” he said, chuckling.
But Stackhouse says the bad run of injuries isn’t really a topic of conversation among Hawks players: “We say there’s more room over there on the bench. We aren’t all on top of each other. But other than that, we don’t really talk about it. This is the NBA.”
That’s what you expect players to say, especially with a team that’s as veteran as the Hawks. Injuries are a part of the game, no one feels sorry for a team that’s riddled with them and so the Hawks have to keep on grinding. They are professional athletes, supremely confident, and so they believe they can win anyway.
The circumstances are different for coach Larry Drew and general manager Rick Sund. Ask them to evaluate the team so far and they are sure to talk about the injuries. It makes sense because neither Sund nor Drew has a guaranteed contract for next season (Drew has an option) and their future with the team could depend how this season plays out. Can’t blame Drew and Sund for making sure the team’s injuries are part of that evaluation, like any of us would make sure our bosses know when circumstances outside of our control impacted our job performance. The process is just a lot more public for Drew and Sund.
Both men are always sure to note they are not making excuses, but of course that’s how some will take it. Most people don’t want to hear about how injuries contribute to a team not meeting expectations. That’s especially true for fans, who expect their team to win anyway.
My take has been that the Hawks have been pretty good in spite of the injuries especially with their intangibles. I think there’s little question the Hawks have shown some real growth in that area, from the 101-point beatdown from Orlando, to showing more moxie in the last year’s playoffs, to staying competitive this year in spite of the injuries. That’s not to give them too much credit for competing under trying circumstance but I don’t have to tell my blog people that’s not always been a given.
It’s difficult to objectively evaluate a team that’s had this many injuries. How much have the Hawks really been impacted by injuries? Do they have it any worse than the other teams in their peer group? I tried to find out in a way that goes beyond the “x amount of players have missed y amount of games,” an exercise that brings to mind that the Hawks included Pape Sy (never forget) in that count two seasons ago.
Inspired by a Basketball Proespectus blog post by Kevin Pelton last season, my goal was to quantify Atlanta’s injuries in a meaningful way and compare them to the other playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. (Pelton, ambitious as ever, evaluated all 30 teams in his analysis.)
Like Pelton, I looked at the games missed by players and also multiplied that number by their average minutes. To further measure the quality of players lost to injury, Pelton used WARP, a linear-weights formula he developed. I went with Basketball Reference creator Justin Kubato’s Win Shares to make a “Win Shares lost” projection based on average minutes played multiplied by win-shares per minute and games missed.
(Follow the links if you are interested in the details of how WARP and WS are calculated.)
“Win shares lost” is not the same thins as saying the injured players’ teams would win that many more games if they’d never missed time because obviously their minutes were replaced by players of varying quality. But it gives a sense of the quality of the players that have missed games with injuries. Also, this analysis doesn’t take into account players who remain in the lineup but are less effective because of injuries, the impact of having multiple injuries at one position, etc.
(Chart includes games through last Thursday.)
+ Minutes per game when healthy * games missed
^ Win shares per minute * minutes per game when healthy * games missed
# Does not include Baron Davis’ injury before he played for the team.
You can see the Hawks have lost more games to injuries than any other East playoff team. They’ve also “lost” among the most minutes and win shares to injuries. Using these criteria, you could argue that only the Bulls have been hurt more by injuries than Atlanta among East playoff teams, which makes Chicago’s season even more impressive.
Again, these numbers can’t measure all of the factors that determine how much injuries affect these teams. But I think this analysis makes it clear the Hawks’ injuries have been significant in relation to their peer group.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat