“Why have technology if we will ignore it?” Load management continues to split in the NBA

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

This is certainly the most misunderstood.

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

All in the name of load management.

It’s a concept often sneered at privately by coaches and CEOs, and not as privately by fans and ex-players – perhaps especially ex-players – as an outing is for today’s stars.

I myself considered him small. But there were always two questions that tormented me: why doesn’t it seem to 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 ironborn players or who have played in both today’s bump-and-grind and no-contact eras – is contrary to popular belief, it is today’s game more physically demanding than ever.

“It’s a fair assessment,” says 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 the 1990s when most teams were content to smash their opponents rather than surround them.

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

According to a study published last February, overall injuries in the NBA have increased despite advances in sports medicine, nutrition, sleep habits, training and, yes, stress management. Which would suggest that not all of the advancements could compensate for the higher physical demands of the game.

That wouldn’t come as a surprise to Warriors center Kevon Looney, one of five players to appear in all 82 games last season. It’s his eighth season and even in that relatively short time he can attest to how much more physical the game has become more dynamic.

“They play in space more and cover a lot more ground, close, stop and go a lot more,” he said. “When you played in more than one halffield game you had to hit more, but you were standing in one place and playing in one zone instead of having to fly all over the place. I know that as a big man I have a lot more to cover now than when I came into 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 their 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 ages and injury history, not scans, but it was also the first season the NBA installed cameras in the rafters of each arena to track player movement during a game and to measure, including the distances traveled and their average speed in attack and defense.

There’s no doubt that gamers today are running harder and faster than ever before. In the first season data was collected, 14 players averaged 2.5 miles or more per game. So far this year: 40 are at or above this mark.

Teams may also collect biometric data from players, ranging from their reaction times to oxygen consumption and lactic acid levels, which will be used by medical staff to persuade players to get a night’s rest.

“You have to take care of your body in different ways to keep up the pace that we’re on right now, and they share a lot of information with you,” said Portland Trail Blazers’ Jerami Grant, who is in his ninth season. “They show you how your body wears out. You can see how many steps you take on the floor. You can see how the clearance is decreasing and what could be the cause. For example, you might miss a shot because your legs are tired. They track everything.

Some players are more receptive to this information than others.

“I’m still not used to it,” Conley said. “I want to play whenever I can. I love playing hoops. It’s my favorite part. If I can skip an exercise or something, I’ll say, ‘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 get paid well to protect us from ourselves.”

Warriors forward Draymond Green is now a champion of science in his 11th season. He started out as a night-suit guy, missing a total of seven regular-season games in his first four seasons and hitting 82s in his sophomore year. But hitting five straight runs to the finals, mixed with the insights of second-rate health and performance director David Taylor, resulting in a sixth finals appearance and a fourth championship was enough to sway Green’s opinion on the subject of rest to change. .

“Why do we have science, why do we have technology if we ignore it?” asked Green. “We have the best scientist in the game in Dave Taylor. Why should we ignore it? There are guys who have played in this league who have tried to play all 82 games and can’t walk anymore. So persistence is what you make of it. . The guys used to be too slow and couldn’t keep up. It’s ridiculous too, isn’t it? It’s a different game.

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

Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan played nine times in all 82 games of his 15-year career, including his very last season in which he turned 40 before the end. A broken foot in the third game of his sophomore season was one of six shortcuts. In today’s game, the lottery-bound Bulls would have ruled him out for the season — 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 a pick No. 1. While Bulls management tried to dissuade 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 only to pull Chicago into the playoffs and face the top-seeded Boston Celtics, against whom Jordan played 43, 53 and 39 minutes and tried to save, to avoid a scan .

Conversely, LeBron James is in his 20th season. He has only played once in all 82 games and insists he starts each season with a desire to play as much as possible. Tracking data suggests he’s an expert at handling loads even when in games, and minimizes the amount of ground he covers, especially off the ball. But all of this has allowed him to continue playing at an extremely high level, averaging 36 minutes per game at 38.

“I think there’s a lot of people out there today, maybe they feel like they have more information that they’re doing the right thing based on this whole new analytical thing,” Conley said. “When I arrived, we didn’t have any of that yet. You didn’t have anyone in your ear constantly telling you, “You’re the man, you don’t have to play tonight” or “You’re the man, we have to rest to prepare for the playoffs. It was, “I have to play every night. They pay me all the money, I have to go and play. “So it’s a different change. I think the team is doing their best to get you playing. We hurt each other. We have a sprained ankle where the average person can miss two weeks, we’ll be back in two, three days. Some guys are really hurt and trying to get through and when there’s a gray area and you’re like the team, ‘Am I going or not?’ The team will tell you not to go. They will play it safer now than they did 15 years ago.”

All of which makes Looney a flashback. After playing all 82 games and 22 playoff games last season, he has every intention of playing all 82 games again this season — and hopefully it will take that many postseason games before he wins another title . But he knows he has 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’re feeling something, if you need a day, take one.” Or if they see that mine Numbers fall on the square, they say, “You might have to take one.” Everyone thinks the players are trying to cope with the pressure, but it’s more of a team thing from the coaching staff. They want the guys to be ready and it’s a long season so they don’t want the guys to get hurt. play every game.”

In other words, count Looney among those who are very good at handling their own burdens.

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He has previously written for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and is the author of 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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