The 5 and What Could Have Been

The ongoing debate of “What If” can go on for days, and the discussion never dies as the league continues to evolve. There are many cases of injury-plagued stars who could never give 100% because of nagging, petulant damages to the body. Destined for more, they could not meet their full potential. Here are the top 5.

  1. Tracy McGrady

It is not a coincidence that McGrady and Yao Ming are on this list. Their greatness could have been iconic, both players excelling at their position and making noise in the league during their time on the Houston Rockets. McGrady and Ming were supposed to be the greatest one-two punch since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Sadly, this was not the case, both players suffering from injuries that prevented their full talent from coming into fruition.

McGrady was a dynamic beast, putting himself among the NBA’s best. In the height of his career, Tracy McGrady was a 32.1 PTS and 28.0 PTS phenom in back-to-back seasons with the Orlando Magic. On top of that, he dished out an average of 6.25 ASSTS in those two years. His numbers were so dominant pre-injury that his career average of 19.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 4.4 APG speak to how great he really was.

Prime Tracy McGrady was electric. His overall bio compensated for dismal, forgettable numbers like his stint with the Detroit Pistons: 8.0 PTS, 3.5 ASSTS, and 3.5 TRBS. McGrady, in the words of Kobe Bryant, was the “Guy that always gave me [Kobe Bryant] the most problems.”

  1. Yao Ming:

Perhaps one of the most commanding centers the league has ever seen, Yao Ming’s career, too, was halted short by nagging injuries. The consistent free throw shooting, efficient scoring, and rebounding in Yao Ming’s prime makes people wonder what his projected career could have developed into.  He was on track to become an all-time great at his position, but his career slowly dwindled, and the 7’6” center never flourished or fully capitalized on his potential.

The Chinese phenomenon averaged amazing numbers – 21.4 PTS, 10.2 TRBS, and 83.3FT% – in his first seven years to propel him into an elite class of centers from the early 2000’s to the tail end of the decade. (This excludes his last season, playing only five out of the 82 regular season games.) If Yao Ming was to keep up this type of consistency throughout his hypothetical, post-2009 career, many critics argue that his legacy would have been solidified in the NBA, cementing him in the pantheon of greatest centers of all time.

  1. Grant Hill

Many recent fans remember Grant Hill as the defensive-minded, veteran presence on the magical ’09-’10 Phoenix Suns. He was the guy waiting at the wing to sink a three, or he was the guy to hone in on relentless perimeter defense. But he was an altogether different player before his accumulation of injuries. In his last season with the Pistons in 1999, Hill averaged 25.8 PTS, 5.2 ASSTS, and 6.6 TRBS.

Earlier, Hill was gradually working up to those monster numbers, averaging beautiful stats during his initial seasons as a newcomer to the league. Except for his 19.9 PTS per game his rookie year, Grant Hill scored 20+ points for six years consecutively. Injuries plagued the player hailed as the best two-way player of the Detroit Pistons. His numbers never matched up to the genesis of his career. But like many almost-greats who could not earn the elite label because of injury, such as Shaun Livingston, players like Grant Hill found a way to be a vital cog to a championship contending team.

4. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway

In ESPN’s 30 for 30, “This Magic Moment,” Shaquille O’Neal recalled his earlier days with the Orlando Magic, alongside Anefernee “Penny” Hardaway. He stated, “Before Kobe and Shaq, it was Penny and Shaq.” Indeed it was. A number one draft pick and a number three draft pick convened on the Orlando Magic floor to become one of the hardest hitting one-two punch combos in the league during the mid ’90s. Although Shaq was a force to be reckoned with, Penny presented his own challenges to opponents. The league had never seen such an athletic point guard. Slashing defenses, scoring from all angles, and laterally shifting his body to avoid defenders, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway set the standard for the damage an athletically gifted guard could do on the floor. His athleticism, however, was the cause for his short-lived career.

Relying too heavily on his body, his body responded with hamstring injuries, and then tendon injuries, and then cartilage injuries. Hardaway suffered every possible muscle or tendon trauma. It stifled his lateral movement and vertical leap. After Shaq left, when Penny’s injuries became a constant issue, Penny experienced a spiral decay in the NBA, never living up to the expectations.

  1. Ralph Sampson

Domineering and unstoppable during his college days at the University of Virginia, Ralph Sampson only recorded three stellar seasons. He was riddled with knee injuries. Averaging double-digits in rebounds and points, such as 21 PTS and 11.4 TRBS in Sampson’s first year and 22.1 PTS and 10.4 TRBS his second, Sampson looked to be Hakeem Olajuwon’s dynamic duo partner for the foreseeable future. But there was a sudden decline after Sampson’s third year. The big man’s numbers started to taper off dramatically.

Eventually, the 7’4” 1983 number one draft pick could not produce double-digit points and rebounds. Sadly, his University of Virginia days were the pinnacle of his basketball career.


photo via llananba