The Missing Ones: How Three Former Top Picks Missed an Entire Season

Why have some of the recent #1 picks have sat out the entire season? How can we prevent this going forward?

Normally when a player goes first overall in the NBA draft, for the most part you land your surefire face of the franchise that can lead your team for the next decade or at least have for the next few years. There are some busts a few and far between but normally when a player goes first in the draft, they end up usually being the best player of the draft. These are the players that play most of their games that they are available for (injuries non withstanding).

They are rarely going to miss a game unless it’s for a good reason, nevermind the whole season. Recently there have been some top picks that have been missing a good amount of games. Sometimes, it has been due to injuries, personal reasons or teams going in a different direction, therefore no longer needing them to play, etc. Either way we will be looking at three different cases, all former number one overall picks in their respective drafts. 

  • John Wall (2010)
  • Ben Simmons (2016)
  • Zion Williamson (2019)

Let’s take a look at each of these players and why they missed the entire season. There are different reasons each player has missed significant time, so let’s take a deep dive into this. 

For now we won’t include other cases that could qualify for this list (like Kawhi Leonard or Jamal Murray). Although Leonard would fit the criteria, I wanted to focus more on the first overall picks in this case.

As for Murray, he did come from an ACL tear. In his case, it’s more of a longer recovery time than many others with the same injury. An ACL tear, while not as devastating, still has potential to be a career ending injury back in the day. Now with all of that being said, let’s get started.

John Wall (2010)

Team: Houston Rockets

Games played in 2021-2022 season: Zero

Reason for missing games: 

Healthy Scratch (Team didn’t want to play him and rather play the young guys, plus Wall didn’t want to come off the bench). 

Ben Simmons (2016)

Team: Brooklyn Nets (and Philadelphia 76ers)

Games played in 2021-2022 season: Zero

Reason for missing games: 

Healthy Scratch (Requested trade from the 76ers) , 

Injury Recovery (from Back injury while on the Nets).

Zion Williamson (2019)

Team: New Orleans Pelicans

Games played in 2021-2022 season: Zero

Reason for missing games:

Injury Recovery (from Foot and Knee Injury).

Now that we know why each player has missed the season, let’s talk about ways that we can prevent them from missing more time (as well as other players in the future from missing as much time, unless it’s from a major injury, etc). Maybe there could be rules in places to do so.

Change in Training Staff/Regimen

Reamp training regines, and training staffs to better equip players on recovery for injured players. Invest in more research and figure out more ways to make each player as safe and injure free as possible. I’m sure many if not all of the teams are doing a great job at taking their players for the most part. However when it comes out that Zion willamson has had a disagreement with the medical staff of when he was ready to play or not, then there may be an issue there. An issue that both sides (players and teams medical staff has to come to a middle ground to keep the player in the best shape possible and ready to play.

New Rules for Players

Create new rules to incentivize players to play more games (whenever to dock pay for each game missed. It could be similar to what the Philadelphia 76ers did with Ben Simmons, but with more defined rules for reasons for players to miss games for and to not miss games for. Also it would be good for the league to regulate this instead of the individual teams. This may be a chance that this can be placed into the next collective bargaining agreement (although it may be highly unlikely because the players won’t agree to it). Too many times players have missed games for personal reasons that relate to them not wanting to play for the team anymore (see Ben Simmons). With all due respect 

New Rules for Teams

Create rules against teams who want to sit out their players to better their draft positions and stop them from making their teams worse. As we all know, teams who know that they have no shot of making the playoffs would sometimes sit their best players and play their younger, and/or worst players to become a worst team (as well as develop their young core, I guess). This is what we call “Tanking”.

Maybe the NBA can crack down on teams trying to do so more blatantly by fining teams for sitting healthy and able to play players, who are able to play. The players that can be seen as their face of the franchise, based on production from previous seasons, etc. They could also fine teams for resting high level players during a back to back, where players are healthy enough to play but are held out by teams, for various reasons. With rules in place to prevent teams from keeping their best guys out for non injury reasons, they would be more likely to get rid of those players off their teams (through buyouts or trades).

Thus they can truly go for a rebuild instead of letting their best players (or highest paid players waste away season after season on the ends of their roster). I know that the NBA made changes to the lottery, making it a top 5 lottery selection, instead of a top 3 to counter these efforts by teams, but it just isn’t enough. There needs to be a look into making players less likely to sit out games for non injury reasons, as well as to make them more healthy as well.

Now that we have discussed some ways that players can be on the court more, through new rules for players and teams as well as better training regimens with the medical staff. It’s easier said than done but it could be a start of getting many of the league’s best players on the court (for either their current teams or new teams).

This can also help teams and players get the best for themselves and keep teams or players being stuck on no man’s land. What I mean by this is it gives players initiative to play and it forces teams to think twice before allowing a player to be sidelined (for a non legit injury reason). At the end of the day we want to work to make the NBA a better made product for consumers (fans), players, teams and more. Although we will never have a perfect league scenario, I believe this can be a step in the right direction.

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Born and Raised in the Greater NYC Area. Long time New York Knicks fan as well as a Huge NBA fan since 2006. You can follow him on twitter at @KyosotaComics.