Updated May 4, 2022

The 10 Best NBA Careers Ruined by Injuries, Ranked

Life sure comes at you fast, especially in the NBA.

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A potential Hall-of-Fame career can turn on a dime. We all remember what happened to Derrick Rose. In the 2012 NBA Playoffs, the MVP guard tore his ACL and with it, the hopes and dreams of all Chicago Bulls fans were gone in a flash. 

Rose returned to the league, sure, but he's never quite reached the peak of his powers. 

Unfortunately, Rose isn't the only star to have injuries derail a promising career.

Below, we've ranked the 10 greatest NBA careers that have been ruined because of injuries. 

Let's start with one of the biggest “what-if” players in NBA history.

10. Penny Hardaway

As the 3rd pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, the Memphis Tiger prospect was ready to take the NBA by storm. Hardaway was a special talent who could play a range of positions. Point guard? Sure. Shooting guard? Absolutely. Small Forward? Not a problem. Hardaway was a true plug-and-play player and would produce no matter where you put him on the court. Unfortunately, Penny did not get to make the immense impact on the court that everyone anticipated. In 1997, Penny Hardaway injured his ACL, which led to more problems down the road. Although injuries derailed his career, Hardaway still finished his career with four All-Star appearances with career averages of 15.2 PPG and 5 APG. Hardaway will forever be remembered as a “what if?” point guard. What if that 6-foot-7 Memphis Tiger product never got hurt…

9. Bill Walton

Walton had a fantastic career, so it is a bit questionable whether to put him on this list. The former No. 1 pick went onto win two NBA Championships and an MVP award. For his career, Walton averaged 13.3 PPG and 10.5 RPG. He was an elite big man, but foot injuries forced him into an early retirement. At just 34, Walton had to hobble away from the game. Was he done notching accolades on his belt just yet? Sadly, we will never got a chance to find out.

8. Jay Williams

Freak accidents on the court constantly derail NBA careers, but it is not often that off-the-court incidents do the same. Williams has left us all wondering for the rest of our lives just what would have happened if he never got in a motorcycle accident. The Duke product had his NBA career cut short after only one season due to a severed nerve in his leg suffered in the crash. Riding the motorcycle was a violation of his contract and when parlayed with the injury, the Chicago Bulls were forced to waive him from the team. Although he tried to make a come back to the NBA many times, he was not successful. Now, Williams is an NBA analyst on ESPN, and his career in the NBA is left up to our imaginations.

7. Greg Oden

The Portland Trailblazers actually drafted the Ohio State big man before Kevin Durant. Can you believe it? Unfortunately for Oden, the Blazers, and fans around the world, we will never really know what the center could have accomplished in the NBA. Oden led the Buckeyes with 25 points and 12 rebounds in a National Championship Game loss to the Florida Gators his freshman season. There was no question Oden was going to be a star. Fans were excited to see his rookie year, but they never got the chance. Microfracture surgery on his right knee eliminated Oden’s entire rookie campaign. His next season was postponed due to a foot injury 13 minutes into the new season. He played 61 games that year, but with lingering foot and knee injuries, he never was truly healthy. A fractured kneecap wiped out another season of his short career. Oden tried many times to play through injuries and make a comeback, but his body just did not allow it. 

6. Grant Hill

Another promising Duke product who showed the basketball world that he had game, but did not get to finish the way everyone would have liked. The 6-foot-8 forward faced many injuries during the prime of his career. He missed a large portion of his 2000-2006 seasons including the entire 2003-2004 campaign. His ankle injuries constantly plagued his career. Even with the bothersome injuries, Hill still finished his career as a seven-time All-Star while tallying 16.7 PPG.

5. Amar’e Stoudamire

Amar’e Stoudmire was the 9th pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. Stoudamire won the Rookie of the Year award in his first season in the league, but the 6-foot-10 power forward struggled to stay healthy after that. Knee injuries constantly slowed Stoudamire down, but he still played 15 seasons in the NBA. While fighting through those knee injuries, Stoudamire logged 18.9 PPG and 7.8 RPG, and was elected to the All-Star team six times. What would've happened to the New York Knicks if Stoudamire had stronger knees? We'll never know. 

4. Tracy McGrady

T-Mac. That is a nickname every kid became accustomed to while they practiced their fadeaway jumpers in the driveway, kicking out their lead leg like McGrady. Even though T-Mac is already recognized as a great player, he could have been lightyears better if he did not have so many lingering injuries. Back spasms constantly bothered McGrady, as well as other injuries. Even through the pain, McGrady went on to be a seven-time All-Star. In his 2002-2003 campaign, McGrady dropped 32.1 PPG for the Orlando Magic. McGrady was a star, but injuries prevented him from being a superstar.

3. Yao Ming

Ming is a physical specimen who we will never get to see again in the history of the NBA. Standing at an incredible 7-foot-6, the center from China went on to be a Hall of Famer after just eight years in the league. Earning Hall-of-Fame status in eight seasons speaks for itself. The NBA world knew he was a star, but injuries plagued his career. Yao’s career was constantly filled with injuries to his foot and ankle, which forced the Chinese superstar to retire at 30. His best season for the Rockets came in 2006-2007 where he averaged 25 PPG and 9.4 RPG. Ming has to be one of the largest “what if?” players in NBA history. The world will never get a chance to know what this gentle giant could have really been.

2. Brandon Roy

Roy was destined to be a star. The former Washington guard certainly was off to a blazing start to his career, winning NBA Rookie of the Year in 2006-2007. He went onto be an All-Star in each of the next three seasons. In his first three years, Roy poured in 4,759 points, 1,135 assists and 1,003 rebounds. He also shot over 50% from the field. Those stats sound like a future Mount Rushmore player. Do you know who was the only player to meet or exceed those totals in that same span? LeBron James. That is some impressive company. Roy’s knee injuries gradually ripped him apart, and he became just a shell of himself. He quickly went from scoring over 20 PPG, to just over 12 PPG. Roy could have been one of the greatest guards to ever play the game. Unfortunately, we never got the chance to see the real Roy after that stellar start to his career. 

1. Derrick Rose

For the first time since Michael Jordan, the city of Chicago had to boast: Derrick Rose. The former Memphis star came in and immediately turned the franchise around. Rose won Rookie of the year and later became the youngest MVP in NBA history. Chicago had a star once again. In the 2012 Playoffs, Rose tore his ACL on a non-contact play against the Philadelphia 76ers. That ACL tear was only a sign of things to come for Rose. Known for his athleticism, Rose was no longer able to show off his freakish attributes. His body began to fall apart leading to many more knee injuries including a torn meniscus. After getting stardom stripped from him, Rose has rebounded back to become a solid player again for the Detroit Pistons. He even scored 50 points in an emotional night as a Minnesota Timberwolf. The Chicago kid was destined to bring the first title back to the city since Jordan, but he never got a fair chance. Rose had a chance to be one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. Sadly, he'll never reach that potential. 

Photo: Getty Images / Illustration

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