Why Tyrese Haliburton, Joel Embiid and others could be in danger of missing NBA awards

Mike Vorkunov


Monday was an ugly night around the NBA. Indiana Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton had a hazardous slip-and-fall in Indianapolis. An MRI on Tuesday revealed Haliburton has a Grade 1 left hamstring strain, a league source said, and he’ll be re-evaluated after the team finishes its West Coast road trip Jan. 21.

Haliburton is likely to miss a while with this hamstring strain. Jeff Stotts, who runs the X account In Street Clothes that focuses on sports injury analysis, estimated it could cost him somewhere around five games at a minimum.

His injury will have an impact on the Pacers this season, along with the star, but it is also going to weigh on the individual awards he is competing for.

This year, NBA awards handed out after the season might get a little wacky as top players get disqualified by how many games they missed. This is the first season of the NBA’s new games-played requirements for its end-of-season honors. Players must appear in at least 65 games to qualify for honors such as All-NBA teams or MVP or all the other ones the NBA gives out at the end of the season. The league instituted those rules to clamp down on a perceived load management issue, but it is, of course, injuries that will hold larger sway here.

Haliburton has missed three games already. He can only miss 17 games before he is no longer eligible for those honors. As of right now, Haliburton has a strong case for a spot on either first or second team All-NBA. He is a contender for Most Improved Player and Clutch Player of the Year too; he was among the betting favorites for it coming into Monday night.

But he’s not the only one who is now on Games Played Watch. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid is probably a favorite for MVP right now. But he’s already missed eight of the 76ers’ 35 games. He’s nursing a left knee injury; he didn’t play Saturday and missed practice Monday. If Embiid has to sit for too long, the MVP race takes a real turn.

Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell might be fringe cases to land on the MVP ballot, but they have strong cases for an All-NBA team appearance. Durant has missed seven of 37 games for the Phoenix Suns this season and Mitchell has been out for nine of 36 Cleveland Cavaliers games. Devin Booker has missed nine Suns games. Kristaps Porziņģis has missed nine of 36 Boston Celtics games. Kyrie Irving has already missed 16 games for the Dallas Mavericks.

The Miami Heat have their own cases for concern. Bam Adebayo is a contender for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, but he has already been out for 10 of the Heat’s 36 games. Jimmy Butler, who has made an All-NBA team in three of the last four seasons, has missed 12.

Less than halfway into the season, injuries have already piled up. The awards ballots might be trickier for it. Stephen Curry made second team All-NBA last year despite playing in just 56 games. LeBron James and Damian Lillard made third team despite playing in fewer than 60 games. This year, similar players won’t have a case to make, which could allow some edge cases to shine up their résumés. And of course there are the cases like Butler and Giannis Antetokounmpo last season, who both played in 64 and 63, games respectively. If a player were to find himself in a similar situation this season, would they push to play in a few more games to maintain their awards eligibility?

We’ll see what impact these rules have over the next few months.

While the 2020 NBA bubble is long behind the league, it continues to have a long tail in the medical research community. Late last year, several of the NBA’s consulting physicians published a paper in the The Journal of Applied Laboratory Medicine about the lessons they took from the bubble, which began in July 2020, in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, and ran through September of that year.

Dr. Christina Mack said the paper was written to share broad takeaways about how to keep a population safe in such an environment and how to approach surveillance to minimize infection and spread.

“The paper that we wrote was about pandemic preparedness,” she said.

The paper is just the NBA’s latest contribution to infectious disease research. Mack said league collected data in real time during the bubble and used it to inform its understanding of the COVID-19 virus but also shared it with other health organizations.

One of the first lessons the league learned about COVID-19 was that someone could test positive after an infection and continue to shed the virus, but if they had a low cycle load, they could go back into the larger society and would not be contagious. Mack said that was a novel finding for the league and found usage elsewhere. That was guidance they used during the 2020-21 season as the pandemic continued. Mack said that finding was used as guidance during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Mack said it was also information that could help health-care systems, like deciding when to allow people to have surgery after an infection.

The league brought in groups of experts during that time to help inform its bubble protocols. Officials also talked to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and other groups, and shared the information they gathered during the bubble.

The NBA was very, very committed to this concept of learning what we could from what we were trying to do in the bubble and providing this information in real time to different organizations so they could also know what we knew,” Mack said. 

Mack said that eight different research papers came out of the bubble. The NBA’s first publication was focused on intermittent testing after a COVID-19 infection and showing that those people were not contagious. Another finding showed that COVID-19 vaccine boosters prevented further infection.

This is another, with perhaps another one or two in the queue.

It’s an important one because it’s the road map we didn’t have when we put together the bubble,” Mack said, adding, “we wanted to share that road map. It’s kind of the culmination.”

The NBA continues its steady migration to broadcast TV. While the NBA has mostly been on cable TV over the last few decades, both nationally and locally, that is changing ever-so slowly.

ABC will broadcast NBA games on Wednesday nights this month. An opportunity seemingly opened up as the networks deal with a shortage of shows due to the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes over the summer. That lines up with the league’s objective to be on broadcast TV more frequently in its next media rights deal.

A few teams are also moving games to over-the-air TV this season for their local broadcasts. When the league redid its agreement with Diamond Sports Group for the 2023-24 season, it pocketed the ability to move some games to over-the-air this season. The New Orleans Pelicans moved 10 games off its Bally Sports regional sports network to WVUE in New Orleans, and the Atlanta Hawks moved 10 games off Bally Sports Southeast to WPCH in its market. The Hawks had been on WPCH from 1972-1994, and its G League team had been on Peachtree TV, the local Gray TV channel, since 2019.

The Hawks will broadcast their first game on WPCH on Jan. 12 and will follow with every Friday night game for the rest of the season but one. The Pelicans will broadcast their first game on WVUE on Jan. 12 as well.

(Top photo of Tyrese Haliburton: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Mike Vorkunov theathletic.com

2024-01-09 20:42:54 , Kings – The Athletic

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