All week long, ESPN Insider has been focusing on projections for the upcoming season. Now, our attention turns to the most difficult predictions of all. Yao Ming and Greg Oden are two of the league's greatest enigmas. The same gargantuan frames that have made Yao and Oden so effective on the floor have also left them vulnerable to serious injury and put their futures in limbo.
The two centers have missed nearly all of the past two seasons due to a variety of ailments. After he missed all of 2009-10 with a hairline fracture in his left foot, Yao's comeback was cut short just five games into 2010-11 when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the same ankle. Oden hasn't taken an NBA court since Dec. 5, 2009, when he fractured his left patella. While rehabbing the injury, Oden suffered cartilage damage in the same knee, requiring microfracture surgery -- his third season-ending knee injury in four NBA campaigns.
As a result, when Basketball Prospectus' SCHOENE Projection System suggests Yao could be expected to average 12.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in 20 minutes a night or that Oden would put up somewhere in the neighborhood of 10.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in the 23.9 minutes he averaged before his 2009 injury, those numbers are largely meaningless. Whether either player can return at all is the larger question.
Outside of using a crystal ball, there is no conclusive way to project the futures for Oden and Yao. However, history can shed some light on the subject. During the past three decades, we found 10 regular starters who were limited by injury to fewer than 25 games over a two-season span. (Oden has played 21 over the same time period, Yao just five.) Here's a look at that group: