Missing a rookie season could be a misstep in an NBA career. NBA players may miss their first season for a variety of reasons, mainly injuries. While some players take time to recover, others bounce back the following year and perform at a high level. Nevertheless, both the player and the team take a set back.
Several of these players went on to win Rookie of the Year one season after sitting out what would have been their rookie year. Controversy has surrounded the second year rookie rule. Most recently, fans questioned whether or not Ben Simmons should have won Rookie of the Year after missing his entire first season with an injury.
Although their career outcomes were different, these players all had one thing in common: father time. Whether it’s an injury, college devotion, military duties, or contract complications, these nine players missed their first season in the league.
Jerry Lucas was a championship winner on every level: high school, college, Olympics, and the NBA. After being drafted by the Cincinnati Royals, Lucas missed his first NBA season because of contract complications with the team’s owner and a failed ABA team.
Eventually, Lucas was signed to the Cincinnati Royals and played his in his first game in 1963. The year off may have been time wasted, as the old-school power forward recorded 17.7 points and 17.4 rebounds in his rookie campaign. Lucas won Rookie of the Year and would go on to be the third player in NBA history to record 20 points and 20 rebounds in a season.
Larry Bird is a legend of the hardwood, but the life-long Celtic didn’t start his career until he was 23 years old. After spending three years in college, Bird was drafted by the Celtics. However, he chose to stay one more year at Indiana State where he led the Hoosiers to the NCAA title game. Eventually, Bird signed with the Celtics.
Bird wasted no time getting started in the league after missing his first year. In his rookie year, Bird averaged 21.3 points per game along with 10.4 rebounds. He went on to win Rookie of the Year and eventually became one of the greatest players of all-time.
David Robinson is one of the best centers of all time, but the Admiral missed the first 2 years of his NBA career. After the Spurs selected him with the #1 pick in 1987, the Admiral chose to take two years off to complete his military duty. He eventually made his debut in 1989.
Two years after being drafted, Robinson played in his much-anticipated rookie year. The time off seemed not to deter him at all, as the Hall of Famer posted 24.3 points and 12 rebounds in his rookie campaign. Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award and even lead the Spurs to the second round of the playoffs.
Greg Oden was a major NBA prospect, and the 7-foot center was drafted by the Blazers with the 1st pick. Before the start of his rookie season, Oden fractured his right knee which required season-ending microscopic surgery. After becoming the first #1 pick in 20 years to miss his rookie season, Oden got his second try at being a rookie in 2008-2009. He showed brief flashes of hope, even averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds for a 5-game span.
However, it was painfully obvious he was not the immense talent the Blazers hoped he’d be. Oden’s career went on to be plagued by injuries, and the once-hopeful center was let go by the league. He even went as far as to call himself “the biggest bust of all-time”. It was one of the most speculated careers to fall apart in front of our own eyes.
When Blake Griffin was the #1 draft pick, his debut with the Clippers was much anticipated. Contrary to everyone’s excitement, Griffin went down in the final game of the preseason with an injured kneecap. As a result, he missed his rookie year in the 2009-2010 season.
Blake bounced back in the 2010-2011 season and scored 22.5 points and grabbed 12.1 rebounds. His outstanding play earned him the Rookie of the Year award. Blake never looked back after the injury, as he revitalized the Clippers franchise and averaged 21.9 points per game over 9 seasons in the NBA.
Nerlens Noel dazzled as an NCAA player for Kentucky, enough to land him as the 6th overall pick in the 2013 draft. However, Noel suffered a torn-ACL 24 games into the Wildcat’s season which put him out for the season. Rehab for Noel moved slowly, and the Kentucky-prospect was ruled out for his rookie year as a 76er.
Noel got his shot at a rookie year in the 2014-2015 season where posted 9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds while playing in 75 games. His defense stood out with 1.8 steals and 1.9 blocks, and Noel was selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Julius Randle didn’t miss his rookie season, but he only played 14 minutes of it. In his first NBA game against the Rockets, Randle broke his leg in the second quarter. Lakers fans were devastated as their only glimmer of hope was their first-round draft pick, Randle, and an aging Kobe Bryant.
The following year, Randle bounced back from his injury and averaged 11.3 points along with 10.2 rebounds. In fact, Randle has been injury-proof since the setback of his rookie year, having missed just 9 games in the last 4 seasons.
Being compared to Hakeem Olajuwon is a big deal, and Embiid has not disappointed the fans. However, the big man from the University of Kansas suffered a fractured foot that halted him from playing the first two seasons of his career. Embiid played his first game in 2016-2017 – two years after being drafted.
Embiid has bounced back very well since the injury, even cementing himself as the top center in the league. However, the bounce back from the fractured foot wasn’t easy, as Embiid missed 43% of the games from 2016-2018.
Ben Simmons turned heads as the #1 prospect out of college. Prior to his rookie year, Simmons fractured his foot during a 76ers practice, forcing him to sit out his rookie season. The injury left 76ers fans in turmoil, as it was the second for a 76ers rookie since Embiid fractured his foot before his rookie season.
In the 2017-2018 season, Simmons returned better than ever. The LSU product climbed the rookie ladder quickly, racking up 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award and has not looked back as his stats keep improving.