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Who Would Be the Best if it Weren’t for Injuries?

Not quite a pickem but if there is a graphic with multiple NBA players on it and very low stakes? I'm there. Let's get to the tale of the tape for these guys before our decision.

Brandon Roy G/F, Portland Trailblazers

  • NBA Rookie of the Year (2007)
  • 3x All-Star (2008-10)
  • Two All-NBA appearances (Second team-2009, Third team-2010)
  • 3-year peak (21/5/5 on 47/35/79 shooting)
  • Roy played between 57-78 games his first four seasons before a degenerative knee issue took over. He played 47 games in 2010-11, and then never again for Portland.
  • The numbers don't quite do him justice because Brandon Roy was a real motherfucker when he was healthy. He was a huge wing player that could shoot, get to the FT line and create for others. He was good in his era but he would have thrived with the spacing of today's game.

Tracy McGrady G/F, Houston Rockets

  • Yeah T-Mac got his start with Toronto and he's in the Raptors jersey here but the injury bug didn't really hit him in Toronto, he was only three years. It didn't even really hit him in Orlando….just every good teammate he was supposed to play with. So I list him as a Rocket.
  • Most Improved Player (2001), Scoring champion (2003, 2004)
  • 7x All-Star (2001-2007)
  • Seven All-NBA appearances (First team- 2002, 03. Second team- 2001, 2004, 2007. Third team- 2005, 2008)
  • 7-year peak (27/7/5 on 44/35/76 shooting)
  • T-Mac ran off seven straight All-Star appearances before back issues turned him into a reserve for several seasons.
  • McGrady was winning scoring titles and doing multiple All-NBA teams while competing for guard spots with Kobe, Kidd, Iverson, and Nash.

Derrick Rose G, Chicago Bulls

  • NBA Rookie of the Year (2009)
  • Most Valuable Player (2011)
  • 3x All-Star (2010-12)
  • One All-NBA appearance (First team- 2011)
  • 3-year peak of 23/4/7 on 46/32/82 shooting
  • Rose easily had the highest high of everyone here, but his peak numbers aren't as impressive. Still, healthy Rose was a force and his MVP came during Lebron's prime.

Grant Hill G/F, Orlando Magic

  • Again, Hill is in a Pistons uniform here but he played 434/460 possible regular-season games for Detroit. He played in 195/574 possible regular-season games for Detroit.
  • NBA Co-Rookie of the Year (1995-Jason Kidd)
  • 7x All-Star (1995-98, 2000-01, 2005)
  • 5 All-NBA appearances (First team-1997, Second team-1996, 1998-2000)
  • 6-year peak of 22/8/6 on 48/26/75 shooting, enjoyed a nice 5-year run as a role player in PHX of 12/5/3 on 49/35/82 shooting
  • Hill was battling against Pippen/Malone for the forward positions in All-NBA and took a First team spot off of prime Pippen. 

Penny Hardaway G, Orlando Magic

  • Three of these five gentlemen did stints for my favorite team at the time. What a delight. I'm the real winner here.
  • 4x All-Star (1995-1998)
  • 3 All-NBA appearances (First team- 1995, 1996. Third team-1997)
  • 3-year peak of 21/4/7 on 49/33/78 shooting
  • Made the All-NBA First team the year Jordan retired, and then met him on the first team his following season.
  • Rose has the highest individual peak but Penny Hardaway beat Michael Jordan in a playoff series and in Game 3 of that series, Michael wore Penny's shoes on the way to scoring 40: 

Now that THAT is out of the way, let's get to our rankings of who would have been the best if it wasn't for injuries:

5. Brandon Roy

I love Brandon Roy. Really, I do. I remember praying he'd fall to Orlando at 11 during the 2006 draft. He didn't. He was nice and would have been tremendous but he's fifth here. Even healthy, he didn't have the athleticism of the others and that's not a knock. He was well on his way to a tremendous career.

4. Tracy McGrady

Hear me out. T-Mac played at least 64 games on 10 different occasions. 10! Brandon Roy barely made it to his second contract. Rose has been much sturdier as of late and he's hit at least 64 games only five times. Penny had a peak that lasted three years. McGrady made seven straight All-NBA teams! What I'm trying to say is that we saw healthy Tracy McGrady. It was awesome. He was failed by bad front offices and injury luck of teammates, but we saw him healthy. Now, he definitely would have had a run that lasted longer than seven years if not for injury, so he rightfully comes up in these conversations. Both sides can be true.

3. Grant Hill

Similar to T-Mac, we saw Grant Hill healthy but his productivity was broken up over a couple of eras. That's why I give him the nod over McGrady. As mentioned above, he played 94% of the Pistons regular-season games over his six years there. You think Bulls fans would have loved six healthy years of D.Rose before his knees went to shit? Hill's career is interesting because like McGrady, we saw him healthy. He was incredible. Unlike McGrady, he was able to carve out a very nice role after superstardom. Hill missed all of 2003-04 due to injury but after that, he played in at least 65 games six more times. We missed out on the part in-between in Orlando, in what probably should have been his best work. So I'll slot Hill third.

2. Derrick Rose

This was tough. Rose was so good so soon that they changed the contract extension rules for him. He won MVP at 22 in just his third season. Did he deserve it? Wellllllllllll, some would say no. But the fact that he did is a testament to him. He was a problem. Like Hill, he's managed to put together a nice career as a reserve post-injury. Rose missed six games his first three seasons, then 181 over his next three. In his prime, he lost to Miami LeBron. There's zero shame there. I have Rose two because I think his numbers the season after the MVP were closer to the ones we were going to expect moving forward from Rose: Still a great player, just a tick worse across the board at everything from his MVP season. Bulls fans at the time told me that the MVP was the norm and this was the fluke. Sadly, we never got to find out. He got hurt the first postseason game of 2012 and that was that.

1. Penny Hardaway

I'm going with Penny at 1. Like Rose, we got 3.5 years and that was it. But what a peek at his peak! In college, he was on the amateur team that embarrassed the Dream Team. Also on that team was Chris Webber, the consensus #1 pick in the draft from probably about the time he was 15. He still went #1…but was immediately traded for Penny. In a playoff series AGAINST THE MAGIC, Michael Jordan said "no thanks" to the Concord 11's to wear Penny's shoe. Jordan wearing his shoe is much cooler than Penny being on the last team to eliminated Michael Jordan from the postseason. That was the year MJ came back in March, so he only played 17 games. You could argue he wasn't in shape but whose fault is that? Imagine if Lebron played a game in Steph's before losing the series.

In a time where they easily could have re-signed both, the Magic foolishly chose to lowball Shaq. This was effectively choosing a 24-year-old Penny over a 23-year-old Shaq. This was clearly the wrong choice but that's the kind of value he had because of what he had shown. Orlando made the playoffs after LOSING SHAQ FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING and Penny made one last All-Star appearance and Third Team All-NBA in 1997 before the injuries took over. That season, they won 45 games with Rony Seikaly as his second-leading scorer. 

In a similar timeframe, he was better than Roy. He didn't get the relative durability of T-Mac or Grant Hill. Rose had the highest individual peak, but Penny was the better player through a similar time. Through their first four seasons, Rose had played 279 games (37.2 MPG) and Penny had played 300 games (36.8 MPG). Look at the similarities:

Penny was a better shooter, shot more threes, got to the line more and was a better defender. Also, he was 6'7? The choice is Penny.