Who are NBA players that could have went down as an all time great, however retired too early due to injury or other?


Quite a few I can put on this ‘what if’ list..

I’ll go chronologically:

Alex Groza

Groza played just 2 years in the NBA, averaging 22/11/4 (in case u didn’t know these are VERY good stats for the early 1950s NBA; only George Mikan had similar numbers). He was All-NBA 1st team every year of his career. He was banned from the NBA due to a point shaving scandal that occurred during his college years. Undoubtedly he would have been one of the 1950s greatest players had he not been banned.

Maurice Stokes

Stokes played just 3 years in the NBA and is another 1950s what if. He averaged 16/17/5 for his career. These are astounding averages as 17 RPG would make him the third highest RPG of all time after Wilt and Russell and 5 APG as a PF is remarkable. Unfortunately due to a head injury he suffered at the end of his third season he became a quadriplegic and was paralyzed for life. He undoubtedly would have been a force for the Cincinnati Royals especially paired up with Jack Twyman and Oscar Robertson later on.

Connie Hawkins

He was a NY playground legend that many considered Dr J’s predecessor with a massive wingspan and gigantic hands that he used to palm the ball with great effect. Unfortunately the NBA banned him because of a point shaving scandal that he was never a part of. Hawkins wasted half of his prime in the Globetrotters and second rate leagues before he joined the ABA and won their first championship and was their first MVP and Finals MVP. He then was later allowed to join the NBA but had only a few healthy seasons there before injuries got to him. One could only imagine if he had spent his entire prime there.

Roger Brown

similar to Hawkins, he was banned from the NBA due to a point shaving scandal he was never a part of. He instead played for the ABA and became a 3x Champion and 1x Finals MVP there. Undoubtedly he would have been a major star in the NBA as well but he never played there.

Bill Walton

Every basketball fan knows this one. Walton was a transcendent player who had just 2.5 healthy seasons in the NBA but during that time was 2x All-NBA, 2x All-Def, 1x MVP, 2x Champ, 1x Finals MVP. Crazy. Just imagine if he had a full career free from injuries.

Bernard King

King tore his ACL in the middle of his prime while averaging 33 PPG for the Knicks.. one could only imagine if he had stayed healthy. One of the most talented scorers of his era.

David Thompson

Skywalker as he was called, was Michael Jordan’s idol growing up, a standout collegian with a 46′ vertical, Thompson was one of the best dunkers and scorers of his era and his crowning achievement was scoring 73 points in an NBA game, the most by any guard not named Kobe. Unfortunately due to drug abuse his career declined and he was never the same again.

Micheal Ray Richardson

Some called him Magic Johnson but who plays defense – MRR did it all scoring passing rebounding and was a consistent all star level triple double threat and a two way player in his prime but unfortunately all that talent was wasted as he was banned from the NBA for drug abuse at age 30.

Drazen Petrovic

Drazen Petrovic was on his way up to becoming one of the fiercest most competitive scorers in the NBA – but a tragic car accident claimed his life at age 28.

Reggie Lewis

Lewis was an up and coming Celtics star and consistent 20 PPG scorer when he suffered sudden cardiac arrest and passed away at the age of 27.

Arvydas Sabonis

Sabonis was one of the most talented centers of all time but unfortunately spent the majority of his prime playing for the Soviet Union and didn’t play for the NBA until well after his prime. One could only imagine what a force he would have been had he gone to the NBA in 1986 (the year he was drafted) instead of 1995.

Penny Hardaway

Often compared to Magic Johnson in his prime, Penny was an even better scorer than Magic and his handles were just as great – but knee injuries derailed his career and he was never the same again after that.

Grant Hill

Grant Hill was called the next Oscar or Lebron before Lebron – he was a perennial all star and consistent triple double threat in his prime but ankle injuries derailed his career and he was never the same again

Tracy McGrady

Tmac in his prime was an unstoppable force – leading the league in scoring twice and with insane athleticism, but back and knee injuries robbed him of his athleticism and he wasn’t quite the same explosive player anymore after that

Yao Ming

Yao was a very talented center but unfortunately he was plagued with foot and ankle injuries and only had 3 seasons where he played 80 games or more. The Rockets during that time had to deal with recurring injuries from both Yao and Tmac.

Brandon Roy

Blazers are really an unlucky franchise aren’t they (and I’m not even mentioning Larue Martin, Sidney Wicks or Sam Bowie or Greg Oden on this list!) Roy was a very talented all star before degenerative knee conditions forced him to retire at only age 26.

Derrick Rose

A player who peaked at MVP level leading his team to 62 wins, then tore his ACL the next season and was never the same explosive force again.

Note that I didn’t mention Oscar Schmidt or Sherman White or Len Bias because they didn’t play in the NBA on this list but they are definitely what ifs as well.