The 2017-18 NBA season is already halfway finished. Its been a wild first half, but there is still long ways to go. Keep in mind these five questions to ask as the calendar turns to 2018.
1. How will the return of stars and key players affect the 2018 playoff race?
Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gobert, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard and Hassan Whiteside are a few stars who have seen time on the disabled list. However, it hasn’t stopped their teams from contending for a spot in the playoff race early on in the season.
Isaiah Thomas provided emotional support from the sidelines to the best of his ability. He was dying to play. Thomas made a small, but note-worthy return Tuesday against the Blazers, putting up 17 points in 19 minutes. His full return will bolster Cleveland’s top-five offense.
Paul, Whiteside and Gobert have been in-and-out of their team’s rotations due to injuries. Paul’s injury (strained left adductor) is considered day-to-day, but has led to missing a total of 18 games to date.
— Ben DuBose (@BenDuBose) December 21, 2017
James Harden has led the Rockets atop the Western Conference, but having Paul pushes Houston’s offense to new levels.
Gobert and Whiteside are two of the league’s elite defensive centers. Despite their absence, both their teams are among the league’s best in defensive rating. The Jazz and Heat are currently fighting for playoff spots in their respective conferences, but the returns of both players will benefit their teams down the stretch.
Meanwhile, the Spurs continue to find ways to win despite not having Kawhi Leonard early in the season. Now that Leonard is back, San Antonio adds their MVP to further challenge the Western Conference’s elite. With or without Leonard in the lineup, the Spurs always find a way to win.
While many of these injured players are expected to make full returns by the end of January, the real question will be how their returns will affect playoff seeding. For many of these teams with injured stars, they are currently in prime position to make the playoffs.