Five NBA players we can’t wait to see back on the court this season

Injuries stink. It’s always best for sports competitions when all athletes are available. But that’s not always the case, and players not only miss games, but they sometimes miss entire seasons – or more. It’s part of the game, always has been and always will.

The NBA is no stranger to those devastating injuries.

Klay Thompson missed all of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. Kevin Durant missed all of 2019-20. Derrick Rose missed half of the 2011-12 season, all of 2012-13 and played in just 10 games in 2013-14. Grant Hill was sidelined for most of 2002-03 and all of 2003-04. Gordon Hayward missed all but one game in 2017-18 following a leg injury in the season opener.

But there are also comebacks, and this season, several prominent players return after missing all of last season.

Here are the players we most look forward to seeing back on the court in 2022-23:

John Wall | Los Angeles Clippers

Wall sustained back-to-back injuries (heel, Achilles tendon) that sidelined him for the 2019-20 season. He played in just 30 games with Houston the following season and sat out the 2021-22 season as the Rockets played their younger players. It’s been a difficult few years for Wall. His grandmother and mom died, and Wall revealed this summer he contemplated suicide. The veteran guard sought professional help and found a new home with the Clippers. No longer the main option, Wall has a chance to be a prominent contributor with his speed, passing, playmaking and defense for a deep team that features Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

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Jamal Murray | Denver Nuggets

Murray was headed into All-Star territory when he tore his ACL in 2020-21 – the season after the Nuggets reached the Western Conference finals in the Orlando bubble.  Murray, a 6-3 guard, put on a show there with his scoring, including two 50-point games. He rehabbed and didn’t play last season. Murray, 25, is healthy and ready to get the Nuggets back into contention in the Western Conference with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr., who played in just nine games last season. When Murray injured his knee, he was averaging career-highs in points (21.2), field goal percentage (47.7%) and 3-point percentage (40.8%).

Kawhi Leonard | Los Angeles Clippers

Like Murray, Leonard sustained a torn ACL in the second half of the 2020-21 season and missed all of last season. We know two things about Leonard. He is prudent about returning only when he feels ready, and when he is ready, he is one of the best two-way players in the league – an All-NBA quality defender, scorer and playmaker. He is a two-time Finals MVP (2014 with San Antonio, 2019 with Toronto), five-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA, seven-time All-Defensive team and two-time defensive player of the year. In his past three seasons, Leonard averaged 26.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.7 steals and shot 49.1% from the field and 38.1% on 3s. With a healthy Leonard, the Clippers are strong title contenders.

Ben Simmons | Brooklyn Nets

Simmons’ fallout with Philadelphia led to him not playing a game for the Sixers last season. Nor did he play a game for Brooklyn after the 76ers traded him in February. Simmons focused on his mental health in a prolonged standoff with the Sixers. But now he’s back and much focus will be on how Simmons acclimates and performs on a roster that features Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Nets have the talent to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and Simmons will play a big part in that. Simmons, 26, is a three-time All-Star, one-time All-NBA performer and two-time All-Defensive selection who can impact the game with his defense, passing and transition offense. He is a not a good outside shooter but still averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.6 steals and shot 55.7% from the field in 2020-21.

Zion Williamson | New Orleans Pelicans

Maybe this is recency bias, but there may not be a more anticipated return from injury than Williamson getting back on the court. The Pelicans finished last season strong and lost in the first round of the playoffs without Williamson who missed 2021-22 with a foot injury. When Williamson was last on the court, he was an All-Star on the verge of becoming an All-NBA player: 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists and 61.1% shooting. Problem is, Williamson has been on the court for just 85 of 226 games through his first three seasons. Williamson rehabbed his foot and also spent time working on his body, arriving to training camp slimmer and in great physical condition. A healthy and in-shape Williamson is a problem for the rest of the league and maybe even a surprise MVP candidate at 22 years old.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt 

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