Over a stretch of five NBA seasons from 2008 through 2013, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook never missed a game. During the 2011-12 and 2012-13 campaigns, Westbrook’s teammate and fellow All-Star Kevin Durant played in 147 of a possible 148 contests (a lockout shortened the 2011-12 season to 66 games). Even if they both remain perfectly healthy, don’t expect either Westbrook or Durant (now with the Golden State Warriors) to be in uniform every time their teams take the floor this year.
The days of superstars playing full 82-game schedules have come and gone.
There’s a growing trend league-wide of coaches giving guys occasional nights off in an effort to keep them healthy for the long haul. In 2012-13, there were only 19 recorded instances across the NBA of players missing games under the the classification of DNP-rest (did not play due to rest, as apposed to injury). That number jumped to 46 the following season, then 86 in 2014-15, and finally 146 last year.
LeBron James missed a total of six games in 2015-16 without suffering any notable injuries. On each occasion, James was a “healthy scratch.” The strategy clearly paid off, as his Cleveland Cavaliers took home the NBA title last June. When it came time for the Finals, James was in peak physical condition and ready to handle an increased workload. He logged a total of 292 minutes in the seven-game series, 19 more than anyone else. James’ average of 41.7 minutes in the championship round was also an increase of 6.1 minutes per game from his regular-season mark.
For the most part, when teams sit healthy players for the purpose of rest it usually happens late in the regular season after they have already locked up their spot in the playoffs. This comes as no surprise, considering those games obviously have significantly less meaning.
However, it’s also becoming more common for stars to be held out on the second night of back-to-back matchups throughout the season. Last year, James sat for a December 5 game in Miami against his former ballclub, less than six weeks after the season began. The Cavaliers had travelled from New Orleans after falling to the Pelicans the night before.
Besides the obvious example of James remaining healthy for the entire season and leading his squad to a title, there is real evidence to suggest it’s a wise choice for clubs to rest their best players from time to time–in particular when games are scheduled on consecutive days away from home.
In a study by Masaru Teramoto published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Teramoto examined NBA injury data spanning three seasons, from 2012 through 2015. In that time, there were 681 cases of injuries occurring during games, involving 280 different players. From Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com:
“What Teramoto found surprised him: Back-to-backs alone are not associated with greater instances of in-game injury, but back-to-backs that are played on the road are significant predictors of in-game injury, generating 3.5 times the injury rate as those played at home.”
A 350-percent increase in injury rate is a rather alarming statistic. What should NBA teams do with this knowledge? Obviously clubs can’t rest all of their top players every time they have back-to-back games on the road. How can they decide which are the most opportune times to keep their stars out of action? WHOOP can offer teams real data to help make these decisions significantly easier.
A WHOOP case study on the effect of travel on Sleep and Recovery coincides with Teramoto’s findings–athletes tend to recover more fully when playing at home. However, every player’s body responds differently. By tracking each individual’s Sleep and Strain, WHOOP helps players (and teams) understand their level of Recovery on a daily basis, and in turn how prepared they are to compete. Over the course of an entire season, NBA teams would have a much better grasp on when specific players need rest, and when they’re good to go–regardless of what their schedule is.