On Sunday, January 16, the Brooklyn Nets announced that an MRI revealed a sprained MCL in Kevin Durant’s left knee.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, “there is optimism” within the Nets organization that there will be a four- to six-week window for Durant’s rehab and eventual return to action.
Needless to say, the Nets will be hit hard by the absence of Durant, who is averaging a league-leading 29.3 points, along with 7.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. Durant’s standing as one of the best players in the NBA means his absence will be felt throughout the league.
Brooklyn is scheduled to play 17 games before the All-Star Break, which Wojnarowski reports it’s a “realistic benchmark” for Durant’s return. With an MVP candidate missing at least a month of action, there could be a ripple effect across the league.
The ripple effect of Kevin Durant’s absence
Let’s start with the obvious.
Durant has been Brooklyn’s leading force this season, with his scoring average at its highest since his 2013-14 MVP season. As such, KD has risen to the top of the MVP conversations due to his impact on a nightly basis.
After battling injuries during the 2020-21 season, Durant had missed just six of the Nets’ first 42 games before suffering a knee injury. Brooklyn is 3-3 in Durant’s absence.
To take a more focused look, the Nets have had a 4.5 net rating with Durant on the floor this season, while their net rating with Durant off the floor is -0.9, according to NBA.com stats. Because context matters, a big chunk of those numbers were before Kyrie Irving was allowed to rejoin the Nets on a part-time basis.
In the three road games since Irving’s return, Brooklyn’s net rating in 31 minutes without Durant is 10.6, slightly better than the 8.9 net rating in the 113 minutes Durant has played. Admittedly, the number is affected by the Nets’ loss to the Bulls in which several reserves increased.
That said, it’s important to note that 12 of the Nets’ next 17 games are on the road and Irving is eligible in all but one, a visit to the Knicks. With Irving and James Harden available to play in about two-thirds of the games in Durant’s absence, the two will have plenty of opportunities to make up.
At the time of Durant’s injury, the Nets were a half-game behind the Bulls for first place in the East standings. By contrast, the Nets have just a two-game lead over the sixth-place Cavaliers.
If the Nets struggle in Durant’s extended absence, the picture of the Eastern Conference Playoffs could look a lot different with about 20 games remaining in the regular season.
As for Irving’s availability, the Nets could benefit from falling to fifth or sixth in the East, since they wouldn’t have home-field advantage and Irving would be available for four games of a possible seven-game series, rather than of three games in a series. series in which they were top seeds.
The tight race among the top six teams in the East will certainly be affected by Durant’s absence. It is simply a matter of how much will be affected.
Not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but Durant seemed on track to become the top voter in the East for the second year in a row.
Based on the schedule provided by Wojnarowski, Durant should not be expected to participate in the 2022 NBA All-Star Game, but what if he receives more votes than anyone else? Durant was in a similar position last year, as an injury caused him to miss the 2021 NBA All-Star Game as the top voter.
Durant served as captain in the All-Star Draft, but was replaced in the starting lineup by Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, and Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis was added to the game as an injury replacement.
Because of Durant’s injury, a player like Sabonis, Hornets forward Miles Bridges or Raptors forward Pascal Siakam could receive All-Star status as an injury replacement, which would be an honor. for each of the aforementioned players.
On TSN’s most recent MVP ladder, Durant was ranked second behind two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
With Durant’s recent injury, he will have totaled at least 20 absences by the end of the season, which will likely rule him out of MVP consideration. As a result, MVP candidates like Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and 76ers center Joel Embiid will move up in MVP talks.
The race won’t be as fun without KD, but it should still be just as intriguing with potential rookies in DeRozan and Embiid, as well as a potential back-to-back award winner in Jokic.