The NBA playoffs have finally arrived, but not every team enters healthy and whole. NBA injuries have risen in recent years after the pandemic squeezed multiple seasons into a shorter time period, with even a few superstars looming as question marks this postseason. Which injuries do we as bettors need to track when handicapping NBA spreads and totals?
Already, we’ve covered NBA injuries to teams participating in the play-in. Use that piece to reference for whichever teams join the Nets and Timberwolves in advancing. Now, we’ll cover teams qualified into the main tournament. We’ll see what markets are affected and which teams could present buy-low opportunities if their key guys come back sooner than expected.
By the way, we didn’t forget Utah, Miami, Milwaukee or Phoenix. They just enter the playoffs functionally healthy, which can be a handicapping angle in and of itself.
NBA Injuries To Track: All Other Playoff Teams
Lineup data via Cleaning The Glass
- PG Luka Doncic (calf)
- F Maxi Kleber (ankle)
Obviously, the biggest of NBA injuries this postseason is Luke Doncic. We’ve covered it more in depth here.
Suffice it to say, Doncic matters. After starting off the season rather slow, he rounded into MVP form. Playing without Doncic causes the team’s offense to crash below the league median, no surprise considering his ball dominance and assisting skills. While the defense improves, the most common lineups include Kristaps Porzingis there, and he’s now in Washington after having a much-improved showing on that end this season.
The team says there’s “no timetable” for Doncic’s return which doesn’t sound great. Jeff Stotts reported that the average calf strain sidelines an NBA player for more than two weeks.
Dallas’ defense has been strong all year though, so it might be good to see if you can take advantage with an under play or two if the market hasn’t or doesn’t adjust enough.
Prop-wise, the biggest beneficiaries would likely be Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson. They figure to handle the majority of the playmaking. Watch for their usage early and go from there.
- PG Ja Morant (knee)
Morant sustained a knee injury that kept him out several weeks, but he returned for the Grizzlies’ penultimate game and played just a little under his normal allotment of minutes. We wouldn’t anticipate any issues going forward here. It’s just a situation to keep your eye on if anything happens where Morant aggravates the knee.
If Morant does miss some time, probably look to buy in on Memphis. Their depth means they’ve been fantastic without him (he actually has a negative net rating), although his shot creation becomes more important in a half-court playoff environment.
- PG Fred VanVleet
Much like the Ja Morant situation, Fred VanVleet’s knee injury probably falls more under “something to monitor” rather than something to worry about. VanVleet returned for heavy minutes for March 21 through April 5.
Once the Raptors had assured themselves of skipping the play-in, VanVleet returned to the pine for the final three games. He’s likely fine but watch for any aggravation of the injury.
VanVleet has a hefty +5.9 net rating second only to Pascal Siakam (+8) on the team. However, VanVleet may be the more irreplaceable player as the only point guard on the team who can create offense in the half court reliably. The team has many wings in the Siakam mold even if they aren’t quite as good.
- G Matisse Thybulle (vaccination status)
OK, so this one isn’t an injury, but it still has an effect. Due to Canada still having more stringent rules against unvaccinated persons traveling into the country and the fact that Thybulle reportedly can’t play road games in Toronto, the math isn’t hard to figure out here. Thybulle hasn’t gotten vaccinated, so the team will play without him for up to three road games.
The Sixers have a rather thin team, so losing a mostly starter (5o starts in 66 games, 25.5 MPG) hurts. Thybulle unquestionably hurts the team’s offense, but he has been equally helpful to the defense for a neutral rating. In the playoffs where he could be deployed situationally to stop a hot opposing scorer, he can be a valuable weapon.
Make sure the totals, both home and away, reflect the offense-for-defense trade (or vice versa) the Sixers will make here.
- PG Jamal Murray (knee)
- F Michael Porter Jr. (back)
Now, the big one. The Nuggets looked like a potentially sleeping giant a month or two back, when speculation mounted that Murray and Porter would return potentially even before the end of the regular season.
Instead, things look more bleak than ever. Murray was reportedly closer than Porter, but Shams Charania reported the team expects both players to miss the rest of the season. Any Nuggets longshot title chances () have likely died without a sweat. Even winning the first round matchup against the Warriors (+210 at DraftKings Sportsbook) looks tough.
While Nikola Jokic has enjoyed another marvelous season, opponents will now zero in on the weak points of his lesser teammates. Considering some advanced stats paint Jokic as the only plus player on the team, those weak points are many.
Golden State Warriors
- PG Stephen Curry (foot)
And now, perhaps the only reason the Nuggets do have a shot in the first round. Curry has not played since March 16.
Given that Curry was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season some time ago, and his availability for Game 1 remains in question, things are not looking terribly promising in the near term. Assuming the Warriors do advance, this looks like the best time to buy in on any potential futures, though, since his timeline shouldn’t keep him out even the entire first round.
As for the current outlook, Curry’s +13 differential dwarfs that of the nearest teammates (+5.1) by a laughable margin. The Warriors have played like a lottery team (-2.4 per 100) without him.
Look for high usage from Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson in prop markets.
Editor’s note: Curry was announced as probable for Game 1 after this article was written. Watch for any minutes restrictions and adjust accordingly.
- C Robert Williams III
In some ways, Williams would appear rather fungible. After all, the Celtics had another sometime center in Al Horford who posted a very solid +4.2 differential (even if that was below Williams’ own +5.9) and has experience winning in the postseason.
But, that undersells his impact. For one thing, you can see the unique way in which Williams keys their defensive scheme in the fact he’s such a good offensive rebounder (92nd percentile for his position) but rates as a middling defensive rebounder (46th percentile). That’s because he plays a unique role in the Celtics’ scheme, often switching onto ball handlers or looming as a help threat who roams off opposing shooters to stonewall at the rim. His teammates then clean up the misses he forces.
The team expects Williams to miss all of the first round, and it will be interesting to track whether the rim-allergic Nets increase their aggression. Considering Williams had surgery on his meniscus, which can have lingering effects and cause some long absences, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t play another minute this season.
- G Alex Caruso (back)
- PG Lonzo Ball (knee)
- G Zach LaVine (knee)
The team has ruled Ball out for the rest of the season. He had a hugely positive impact on defense (96th percentile) and a solid +4.6 differential. The Bulls played noticeably better during the first half of the season when their “big three” perimeter trio of Ball, LaVine and Demar DeRozan remained intact.
Caruso should be ready to roll. He missed half of the season with a back injury but returned in March for nine starts before he called it a regular season, missing the team’s final three games. The latest reports say he participated in a full contact practice.
The thorniest injury to read does not even appear on the current reports. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t include LaVine. A nagging knee issue plagued him for much of the season. He still played most of the team’s games but seemed less effective as the season wore on.
Interestingly, it’s not easy to find a stark drop off in his splits. His shooting efficiency remained pretty consistent throughout the season and his counting stats only dropped a little. Perhaps there’s some signal in his plus-minus plummeting to -5.2 in March and -27.4 in April after it clocked in positive each of the first several months? LaVine’s defensive rating also got worse each ensuing month, although that may have more to do with losing Ball and Caruso than anything he did.
Either way, the Bulls head to Milwaukee in rough shape, reflected in their +650 series price at DK Sportsbook.
Best of luck navigating NBA injuries in the postseason.