It All Starts with Health
Not many players consider 'games played' to be their most important statistic, but in the case of Curtis Borchardt, his appearance in 67 games this year is the big story. To recap for those who may have had difficulty keeping up with his medical file, Borchardt had his freshman and sophomore seasons cut short at Stanford due to a stress fracture in his right foot. After staying healthy during his junior season (2001-02), Borchardt left Stanford early and became a first-round pick in June '02, ending up with the Utah Jazz. The seven-footer missed his entire rookie season due to yet another stress fracture in the same right foot that plagued him at Stanford. After foot surgery and a long recovery, Borchardt started the 2003-04 season on the injured list once again, this time due to a broken left index finger. When he finally made it onto the NBA court, it was only for 16 games... when medical lightning struck again: Borchardt broke his right wrist and missed the remainder of the season.
Fast forward to 2004-05, and two weeks into training camp, the Stanford man has to miss multiple exhibition games due to recurring pains in - yes - the same right foot. When the season opens, fellow Cardinal alumnus Jarron Collins is the starting center for the Jazz, with two young studs in Andrei Kirilenko and "yes-I-really-want-to-play-here...I-think" Carlos Boozer at the forwards. Early in the season, Borchardt gets 10-15 minutes per game in the backup center slot and provides solid rebounding behind Collins. When the Class of '01 Cardinal goes down with a knee injury, Borchardt finds himself in a starting role in January, taking the opening tip for 15 games during a stretch where the Jazz go 4-11. Borchardt's play is fairly strong in the rebounding department and he blocks about one shot per game, but in not one of those 15 games does he attempt more than five shots. He ends up the month with 17 assists and 20 field goals, but more importantly, he is able to play 20 minutes a game without triggering any additional injuries.
When Collins returns to a starting role in February, Borchardt's play is up and down. One game early in March, Borchardt hits a career-high 12 points; on another night at the end of March he yanks down a career-best 11 rebounds. In between, another seven starts do little more than demonstrate his inconsistency. On April Fools Day, Borchardt snares nine offensive rebounds against the Warriors, yet manages to go 0-for-9 from the field. Tendonitis in his right knee keeps him out of action for most of the final two weeks, and the season finishes quietly for both Borchardt and the Jazz, who end up with the second worst record in the Western Conference.
Prognosis Gets Murkier
With forwards Boozer and Kirilenko, the Jazz have two-thirds of a talented young frontcourt. Coming into the season, a healthy Borchardt had to be considered a favorite to push aside Jarron Collins and stake a claim the starting center position. The future looks much murkier now. In addition to Borchardt's injury albatross, the Stanford alum has been bumped down the depth chart by the development of Mehmet Okur, a 6-11 Euro bomber who can rebound, pass, block shots, and, of course, shoot from long distance. The Jazz also have a handful of picks in the upcoming draft and will likely use one of them to snare another 7' project.
Before anyone writes Borchardt off, a couple of points need to be made. First, while his health is not great, 67 games and 23 starts is an achievement that should not be scoffed at and should diminish some of the concerns about the center's durability. Second, it is easy to forget that the player known as "mantis" at Stanford has only played 66 games of college hoops over three years and 83 games over three more NBA seasons. So while the chronological clock may be ticking, Borchardt should be considered extremely young from a developmental point of view. Finally, health miracles do happen – even to seven footers. Remember Zydrunas Ilgauskas at Cleveland? The 7'3" giant spent most of his first four pro seasons on the injured list with recurring foot problems and was written off by most observers. The last three years, he has averaged 30+ minutes per game on those same fragile feet and has returned to All-Star form. At least there is some medical precedent.
From a contract perspective, the Jazz picked up the option on Borchardt's fourth season, which begins in about four months. The bottom line is that The former Stanford center can still have a nice NBA career, but if his medical and basketball future doesn't take a giant step forward in the coming year, he may not get another chance to prove himself to NBA general managers, who are understandably wary of injury-prone big men.
Susan King Borchardt, Curtis' wife, currently finds herself on the injured list of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, as she struggles with plantar fasciitis. Doesn't someone in this family deserve a little medical luck?
Which former Pac-10 star was traded for Curtis Borchardt on draft day in 2002?
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