If I say the words injury prone no doubt names start popping into your head. Nene. Kenyon Martin. Tracy McGrady. Sean May.

OK, maybe May is actually health prone. From time to time he might suffer from bouts of complete health, or maybe not.

With the success of the Denver Nuggets 2008-2009 season hinging on the health of players like Nene and Kenyon Martin I have been wondering about what it means to be injury prone. Can an athlete really be injury prone? Are some players physically more likely to break down? Could a rash of injuries simply be bad luck?

Most fans would probably place Nene and Kenyon in the injury prone camp. What about Marcus Camby? Is he injury prone? What about a player like Zydrunas Ilgauskas? How about Gilbert Arenas?

When Camby arrived in Denver he had played in only 29 games in his last season in New York and then again in his first season in Denver. He was considered more fragile than Mr. Glass from the movie Unbreakable. Over the previous five seasons he has played in more than 70 games in three of them and he has not played in fewer than 56. Is he injury prone? Did he have a stretch of bad luck for a couple of seasons or did he have a stretch of good luck over the previous five?

When Ilgauskas broke his foot in his second season in the NBA and missed 77 games. His second season was shortened once again as he played in only 24 games due to reaggravating the same injury. After his second injury Big Z earned the injury prone label. There was no way he would ever be an effective player because he would always be injured. Well, here is a number for all those people who wrote Ilgauskas off. 23. Zydrunas has missed only 23 games over the last six seasons.

Moving to the present is Gilbert Arenas injury prone? Before last season in the five campaigns where Arenas was a full time player he played in at least 74 games four times and 80 or more games three times. Last season he played in 13 games and will miss the first month or two of this season with more knee issues. Injury prone or is he just in the process of repairing and rehabbing from an isolated injury?

Are there really people walking the streets whose joints and ligaments and muscles are more likely to give way under the stress of a long rugged basketball season? Well, the presence of people like Sean May tells me that the answer is yes. There are also people like Gilbert Arenas and Tracy McGrady who injure their knee or back (or shoulder or other knee) and become more susceptible to reinjuring that same part. Once Arenas’ knee is rehabbed it might be just fine. In fact, it probably will be. How many botched knee surgeries are there that players truly not recover from?

Let’s make this more personal for Nuggets fans and get back to Nene and Kenyon. Nene has injured something on every section of his body at least below his neck. Has that just been bad luck? He strained a calf because last offseason he gained so much weight that when he stepped on a scale instead of a number the reading said “Shaq.” He had his thumb caught in a jersey and then actually contracted cancer. Those things are random enough that they belong on an episode of Family Guy. He is not suffering from a debilitating injury or a joint that is falling apart. In his first two seasons Nene missed only seven games combined. I believe he has been suffering from bad luck and the law of averages dictates that his fortunes will change.

In Nene’s case I believe the injury prone label is miscast. Right now in all honesty he is healthy and I have no reason to expect him to miss a large chunk of the upcoming season.

Kenyon Martin is another vital player in the Nuggets rotation this season. Most Nugget fans wrote him off two years ago when he underwent his second microfracture surgery (well, some actually wrote him off when Kiki Vandeweghe traded for him, but that is a different issue all together). Kenyon saw his college career end due to a broken leg in the Conference USA conference tournament. That was a major injury, but proved to be an isolated incident from which he suffered no ill effects going forward. In his first few seasons he missed time here and there with some minor injuries, but he played in at least 65 games every season and typically over 70 until his first microfracture procedure ended his 2005-2006 season after only 56 games.

This was when Kenyon first earned the tag of injury prone during his recovery from this first microfracture surgery. When he struggled to come back to full strength in time for training camp fans began to hold it against him. It was only after he was taking much longer than originally announced to recover did the Nuggets finally admit he had a microfracture procedure. Had the fans known the surgery was so serious no one would have honestly expected him to return in time for the next season, but because the team was not upfront with the media and fans about the severity of the injury the expectation was already created for him to play a full slate of games in 2006-2007. Once Kenyon seemed to struggle to return from the surgery, which we found out completely justified but only after the fact, fans had already turned against him.

By the time he had his second microfracture surgery he was nothing more than a bloated contract on the Nuggets roster. Martin was widely considered to be a player who would never contribute to the Nuggets again. Even just a couple of years ago Microfracture still had the stigma of being a death sentence. The common belief was there is no way a player could recover from having holes drilled in both knees. However, as we have seen in the past few years, what was once an experimental last ditch resort is now a pretty reliable procedure. Kenyon proved to have great heart in rehabbing from two such surgeries and as long as the clotted blood (replacing his cartilage) in his knees remains sound he should
have no ill effects. Last season Kenyon played in 71 games. I see no reason why he would not play in 70 plus games again. Some would still call him injury prone, but I believe if Kenyon suffers a serious injury this season it should be chalked up to bad luck, not being injury prone.

Is there really such a thing as being injury prone or is it just a stereotype that makes it easy to put people into categories? I have made my case that most players who are labeled as injury prone are simply victims of bad luck and chances are that as long as they can avoid a chronic debilitating injury they can come back and play injury free basketball. Because of that I expect Nene and Kenyon to both be healthy this season. Sean May, not so much.

What do you think? Do you expect Nene and/or Kenyon to each miss 30 or more games this season or will they combine to play in 150?