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Los Angeles Lakers

How missing games impacts the NBA awards debate for LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and others

Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard
Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard (Getty Images)

The missed games are starting to pile up for some of the NBA's biggest stars as they deal with a variety of injuries and ailments.

LeBron James hasn't played since Christmas when he sustained a groin injury.

Anthony Davis is seeing a specialist following an injury to one of his fingers.

Kawhi Leonard missed his third straight game against the Kings and continues to work himself back after playing in just nine games last season.

Stephen Curry missed 11 games earlier this season. Ditto for Victor Oladipo.

Enough big names have missed time that it's not only factored into All-Star voting, it will start to impact the awards debate as the focus eventually turns towards the seond half of the season.

How many games can you actually miss and still compete for the game's biggest honours?

Most Valuable Player

James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the leading contenders for the MVP award.

And while one of those two looks like a good bet as we cross the halfway point of the season, there's plenty of basketball left to be played.

What if the Warriors go on a run with Curry looking like an MVP?

What if LeBron James returns and powers the Lakers back up the Western Conference standings?

What if Kawhi Leonard leads the Raptors to over 60 wins and the league's best record?

Though they may be unlikely, there are scenarios in which the MVP debate turns into more than merely a two-horse race. In which case how many games stars have missed will enter the fray as a key point when debating the merits of the league's best ballers.

Not including the lockout years, the only players in NBA history to win the MVP while playing fewer than 70 games are Bill Walton, Bob Cousy and Bill Russell.

Russell played in 69 of Boston's 72 games in 1957-68 while averaging over 38 minutes a game.

Cousy appeared in 64 of Boston's 72 games in 1956-57 while playing nearly 37 minutes a game.

The only real precedent for a player winning the MVP despite missing considerable time is Bill Walton who played in 58 of 82 games in 1977-78. He remains the only player in league history to win the MVP while missing 13 or more games.

That's bad news for James and Leonard who are already past that point with Curry not far behind.

Defensive Player of the Year

Though he hasn't been the smothering octopus on D that we've seen in the past, Leonard remains one of the game's best on that end. If he were to suddenly perk up defensively and lead a Raptors' surge towards the top of the defensive rankings, he'd be right there in the conversation.

Would the missed time hamper his ability to contend for a third Defensive Player of the Year award?

Davis meanwhile is a terror on the defensive end, a versatile big who more than holds his own on isolation switches, smothers pick-and-roll ball handlers and protects the rim with range matched by only a select few.

How long could Davis realistically miss and still be considered?

While sitting out games certainly doesn't help, it's not quite as much of a non-starter as it can be for the MVP award.

Case in point? Rudy Gobert last season. He won DPOY despite appearing in only 56 games, fewer than even Walton when he won the MVP award.

Leonard himself won the award for the first time in 2014-15 while missing 18 games while Kevin Garnett, Marcus Camby, and David Robinson are among those to win it while missing more than 10 games.

All that to say there's a precedent for taking home the top defensive honours even while missing a significant chunk of time.

All-NBA Teams

Making an All-NBA team as a forward has perhaps never been harder.

LeBron James. Kevin Durant. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Leonard. Paul George. Jimmy Butler. LaMarcus Aldridge. Draymond Green. Blake Griffin. Even Anthony Davis, though he was considered a centre each of the last two seasons, was named to the first team in 2014-15 as a forward.

It's not much easier at the guard spot where Curry, Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kyle Lowry, Oladipo, Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal and Ben Simmons rank among the game's premiere perimeter players.

Missing games when it comes to making an All-NBA team is less forgiving than Defensive Player of the Year and (not surprisingly) less forgiving when compared to MVP winners.

Missed Games - Last 5 Seasons
Average Most Missed
MVP 3.4 10 - Harden, 2017-18
Def Player of the Year 12.4 26 - Gobert, 2017-18
1st-Team All-Defense 8.3 26 - Gobert, 2017-18
1st-Team All-NBA 6.4 20 - Paul, 2013-14
2nd-Team All-NBA 8.0 23 - Cousins, 2014-15
3rd-Team All-NBA 6.7 31 - Curry, 2017-18

There have been cases over the last five years of players missing significant time and still receiving All-NBA honors.

Curry and Butler last season both missed more than 20 games en route to the third team.

Durant (2016-17) and DeMarcus Cousins (2014-15) both missed more than 20 games en route to the second team.

Chris Paul missed 20 games and still made the first team in 2013-14.

All this to say that even though James, Leonard, Davis, Curry and Oladipo (among others) have already missed or are about to miss rather large chunks of time, all are still capable of mounting All-NBA campaigns.

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