“Why have technology if we’re going to ignore it?” Load management continues to divide the NBA

This is perhaps the most despised phrase in the NBA today: load management.

This is definitely the most misunderstood.

It is a collective phrase to describe when an otherwise healthy player misses a game, a player returning from injury is limited in his playing ability, or he is announced at the start of a game. a season that some players will not play. consecutive nights.

All in the name of load management.

It’s a concept often mocked privately by coaches and general managers, and not so privately by fans and ex-players — perhaps especially ex-players — as a jaunt to today’s stars, well paid to take a paid vacation.

I held him in low esteem myself. But there were always two questions that bothered me: why doesn’t it work? And if it doesn’t work, why are NBA teams still using it?

The answer—based on my conversations with players who are among today’s few ironmen or have played in both today’s bump-and-grid and no-contact eras—is this: Contrary to popular belief, today’s game is more physical more demanding than ever.

“That’s a fair assessment,” said Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley, a 15-year veteran who spent his first 12 seasons as part of the “Grit n’ Grind” Memphis Grizzlies, a team that seemed to have skipped the time continuum of the 1990s, when most teams were content to smash rather than surround their opponents.

“I was part of the physical era where you could check and hand grind and post and stuff like that,” Conley said, smiling at the memory. “We were a physical team. That’s who we were. It was challenging in a whole different way. You played through injuries, but it was more bumps and bruises because you were physically assaulted. Now it’s like, imagine to run as fast as you can for 48 minutes and have to do that every night. There are more possessions, more opportunities to get those non-contact injuries. Guys have more calf strain, more hamstrings and stuff like that. We didn’t get as many ( before).”

Overall injuries in the NBA have increased, according to a study published last February, despite advances in sports medicine, nutrition, sleep habits, training and, yes, strain management. Which suggests that not all advances have been able to compensate for the greater physical demands of the game.

That wouldn’t surprise Warriors center Kevon Looney, one of five players who played in all 82 games last season. This is his eighth season and even in this relatively short period he can attest to how much more physically dynamic the game has become.

“You play more in space and cover a lot more ground, close, stop and go a lot more,” he said. “When you played in more than a half-court game, you had to hit more, but you stood in one place and played in one zone instead of having to fly around. I know that as a big man I have to cover a lot more ground now than I did when I came to the league.

Looney’s first season was the last for Tim Duncan, who helped popularize – if not introduce – the concept of load management. San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich won a fifth championship with Duncan, 37, and Manu Ginobili, 36, by carefully managing their minutes during the 2013-14 season.

The strategy was inspired by Duncan and Ginobili’s advancing age and injury history, not scans, but it was also the first season the NBA installed cameras in the rafters of each arena to track and measure. the players’ movements during a match, including distances covered and their average speed in attack and defence.

There is no doubt that players run more and at higher speeds today than ever before. In the first season data was collected, 14 players averaged 2.5 miles or more per game. match. This year so far: 40 are at or above that mark.

Teams are also able to collect biometric data on players, from their reaction times to oxygen consumption and lactic acid levels, which are used by medical staff to convince players to get a night’s rest.

“You have to take care of your body in different ways to maintain the pace we have right now, and they share a lot of information with you,” said Portland Trail Blazers forward Jerami Grant, who is in his ninth season. “They show you how your body is worn. You can see how many steps you take on the ground. You can see your drop in clearance and what might be causing it. For example, you might miss a shot because your legs are tired They follow everything.

Some players are more receptive to this information than others.

“I still haven’t adjusted to it,” Conley said. “I want to play when I can. I love to play hoops. That’s my favorite part. If I can skip a practice or something, I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ The games are the fun part. It takes a lot to put your pride and ego aside and say, ‘Hey, these guys know what they’re doing and are getting paid well to protect us from ourselves.

Now in his 11th season, Warriors forward Draymond Green is a science advocate. He started out as a nightly suit guy, missing seven regular-season games in his first four seasons and hitting 82s in his second year. But hitting five straight runs to the finals, mixed with insight from fellow player health and performance director David Taylor, which led to a sixth finals appearance and fourth championship, was enough to change Green’s mind on the subject of rest. .

“Why do we have science, why do we have technology, if we’re going to ignore it?” Green asked. “We have the best scientist in the game in Dave Taylor. Why should we ignore that? There are guys who have played in this league who have tried to play all 82 games and can’t go any further. So persistence is what you do that to.. Before the guys were too slow and they couldn’t keep up. It’s also ridiculous, isn’t it? It’s a different game.

Green and Conley embody the changing mindset of the players. But the biggest change may be in the team approach.

Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan played nine times in all 82 games in his 15-year career, including his very last season when he turned 40 before the end. A broken foot in the third game of his sophomore season was one of six short cuts. Going into today’s game, the lottery-bound Bulls would have ruled him out for the season — just as the 76ers did when rookie Ben Simmons broke his foot in training camp — to protect the cornerstone of their franchise from further injury and improve their chances of landing. Pick No. 1. While Bulls management tried to keep Jordan from returning, they didn’t do a very good job. He returned in March to play the final 14 games of the regular season just to drag Chicago into the playoffs and face the top-seeded Boston Celtics, against whom Jordan played 43, 53 and 39 minutes in vain, trying to save to avoid a scanning. .

Conversely, LeBron James is entering his 20th season. He has played just once in all 82 games and insists he starts every season wanting to play as much as he can. Tracking data suggests he is an expert at handling loads even when he is in play, minimizing the amount of ground he covers, particularly off the ball. But all this has allowed him to continue playing at an extremely high level, averaging 36 minutes per game. match at 38.

“I think a lot of guys out there today maybe feel like they have more information that they’re doing the right thing based on this whole new analytics thing,” Conley said. “When I first arrived, we didn’t have all that. You didn’t have someone in your ear constantly telling you ‘You’re the guy, you don’t have to play tonight’ or ‘You’re the guy we need to rest to get you ready for the playoffs. playoffs. It was: “I have to play every night. They pay me all this money, I have to go out and play. “So that’s another change. I think the team is doing their best to get you to play. We’re hurting each other. We’ve got a sprained ankle where the average person might miss two weeks, we’re back in two, three days. Some guys are really hurt and trying to come through, and if there’s a gray area and you ask the team, ‘Am I going or not?’ the team will tell you not to go. They’re going to err on the side of caution more now than they were 15 years ago.”

All of this makes Looney a comeback. After playing all 82 games last season and 22 playoff games, he has every intention of playing all 82 games again this season — and hopefully however many postseason games he has, it will take to win another title. But he knows he’ll have to convince Taylor and the rest of the Warriors medical staff to let him.

“I have these conversations all the time,” he said. “I’ve told them many times, ‘No, I’m fine, I’m fine,’ but they always say, ‘If you feel something, if you need a day, take one.'” Or if they see my numbers drop on the field, they’ll say, ‘You might have to take one.’ Everyone thinks the players are trying to handle the load, but it’s more of a team thing on the part of the coaching staff. They want guys to be ready and it’s a long season so they don’t want guys to get hurt. play every game.”

In other words, count Looney among those who handle their own burden very well.

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He has previously written for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with Parkinson’s disease, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @ricbucher.

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