By Ralph Rand
Yes, I know that the NBA Playoffs are underway, but there has been something on my mind the entire NBA season. Its regarding the problem with injuries in the NBA.
Injuries suck. That’s just a fact of life. No matter if you’re going for a jog and trip over the pavement, roll your ankle in a company softball game, or tear an ACL while professional basketball for millions of dollars. Injuries have been a big part of the NBA for years now, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Injuries have derailed promising careers of players who would’ve otherwise been stars. Some examples are: Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Grant Hill, and Tracy McGrady. Derrick Rose is also very close to ending up on that unfortunate list. Yes, Grant Hill was a very good player, but in college he was labeled “The next Michael Jordan”. His injury-filled career stopped that label from coming to fruition.
In today’s NBA, injuries have been a huge factor as well. We’re not just talking about second class and bench players, plenty of star players have succumbed to injuries as well. Take the NBA All-Stars for example. Of the 25-30 players that were named All-Stars, around 10 of them have caught the injury bug. For example: Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Blake Griffin, Lebron James, LeMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony have all sat on the bench involuntarily.
With all of these injuries to star players, their teams have struggled to play well without them and win games. Take the Oklahoma City Thunder for example. When Kevin Durant was out for a few weeks in the beginning of the season, they struggled to stay near the top of the Western Conference, where they were a year ago. Even though Russell Westbrook tried to keep them in it, he also got injured towards the beginning of the season. When Durant and Westbrook returned, the Thunder started to return to form. Then unfortunate news came out that KD would miss the rest of the season. Russell Westbrook went OFF after that. Four straight triple-doubles and multiple 40 and 50 point performances later, the Thunder ended up missing playoffs.
One of the few teams who don’t have this problem are the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs system has been around in San Antonio for almost 20 years, and its worked pretty well for them last I checked. This ‘system’, run by mastermind Gregg Popovich, doesn’t take any BS. Even if you are a very good player, that doesn’t guarantee you 40 minutes of playing time. He also has a habit of resting his star players on the back end of a back to back. As a result of less playing time and rest, there is less wear and tear on the players bodies, hence the dip in injuries compared to other teams. What makes this system even better is, it wins. Pop and co. have won 50 games for 15 straight seasons and have won 5 championships since he took over the franchise in 1997. What makes this team so successful? They play unselfish basketball.
There have been copycats who have tried to replicate this system. The most recent team to do so, the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have come out of nowhere and have been sitting atop the Eastern Conference for the majority of the season. No team has even come close to catching them this season. Their coach, Mike Budenholzer was an assistant under Gregg Popovich from 1996 until 2013 when he took over the Hawks. This Hawks team has the same mentality of playing like a team and sharing the basketball.
The Hawks have only had one 30 point scorer this season in Paul Millsap. The Hawks have had an unusually-high number of leading scorers this season. Twelve different players have led the team in scoring in a game this season. TWELVE!! That’s what I call a balanced team. They also had four players that went to NY to play in the All-Star game. Because of all of this balance and unselfishness, they haven’t had any major injuries as a team. The only player who has missed significant time was Thabo Sefolosha. Every player matters in this system, and even with Thabo gone for now, the Hawks haven’t missed a beat.
So here’s my theory on injuries in the NBA. Star players play 45 minutes a game, and sometimes they play onther 45 minutes on back to backs. They get paid millions of dollars to create space, make shots and defend the other star players. These guys put a tremendous amount of wear and tear on their bodies over the course of an 82 game season. It takes a toll on their overall health, not just in basketball.
As the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver has done an amazing job starting with the whole Donald Sterling situation last year. Sterling definitely sent a message to the league. “I have arrived”. If Adam Silver wants to make the game safer and more practical, he should craeate a mandatory minutes limit for players. When a player signs a contract, there should be a written agreement that this certain player should only play 35 minutes a game, and no more than that. The coach would also have to agree with this limit. This might sound like a crazy idea to some of you but it’s something to think about.
When star players go out for a significant amount of time because of injury, the game becomes less interesting for viewers and casual fans. Now of course if there’s a minutes limit, the star player would be diminished and that would hurt the branding department. It’s not a flawless idea an there are definetly some holes in it but it’s a start. Plenty of players and other people inside and around the NBA have been calling for a shorter season. I think the shorter season and minutes limit together would help solve the injury problem that has taken over the NBA.
Fixing the NBA’s injury epidemic is a big problem, and Adam Silver definitely has his hands full. Silver has been presented with big problems before in his short tenure as commissioner, and has handled them pretty well. I have faith that he’ll handle this perfectly.