Keeping the players in the NBA healthy has been one of the focal points for the league recently. As pundits and fans wonder whether or not the 82-game schedule is too grueling for players to the point that it causes more injuries, the NBA has had many discussions and studies to see what needs to be done about it. This season, the schedule-makers made a concerted effort to cut down on back-to-back sets and stretches of four games in five nights. The early returns could be bolstering Adam Silver’s hope that injuries are more caused by fatigue than number of games.
Instead of cutting down on the schedule and losing revenue from that, the NBA tried to reduce fatigue and it looks like it may be working so far. According to Jeff Stotts, games missed due to injuries are down 12 percent through the first quarter of the season, and the Los Angeles Lakers, who were riddled with injuries the last couple years, have been the league’s healthiest team so far.
Through the first 20 games of the season the league total for games missed to injury sits at 950, 138 games less than last year’s total. Familiar faces have kept their teams healthy as the medical staffs for the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns again find themselves in the top five for fewest games missed. However a surprise team ranks number one as the Lakers have lost the fewest number of games to injury after 20 games. The team led by the soon-to-retire Gary Vitti have lost just five games due to injury, a stark contrast from last year when the lost 72 games at the same mark.
The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns round out the top 5 in fewest missed games due to injury. The Suns’ training staff is legendary, so there’s no surprise there. The Spurs have been at the forefront the last couple years in terms of cutting down on minutes and sitting guys out of games to rest them in hopes of having them healthy for the postseason, whether there’s a nationally televised game scheduled that night or not.
The turnaround for the Thunder is encouraging, after injuries to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant last season prevented them from making it six straight playoff berths. Westbrook ended up playing most of the season but Durant sat out 55 games with his injured foot. This is Stotts breakdown of team-by-team missed game numbers.
Joel Embiid, Tony Wroten, and Kendall Marshall headline the Philadelphia 76ers being at the top of that list. The New Orleans Pelicans have gone from a virtual playoff lock in the West to being the second-most injured team and a squad with very low playoff possibilities at this point.
Stotts also looked at the types of injuries and knee injuries (particularly ligaments) made up about 23 percent of the reasons for missed games. Muscle strains were second at 14 percent, but if you combined ankle and foot problems, that makes up about 20 percent of the missed games. With teams healthier, we’re getting a better product it seems, and if the trend stays that way, we may have one of our best seasons in recent memory.