The NBA and its players entered the 2015-16 with a renewed commitment to improving player health. Both sides formed committees in the offseason dedicated to supporting medical research intended to protect and progress the health of its players. Furthermore, the NBA front office proactively made alterations to the schedules, reducing the number of league wide back-to-backs. With a quarter of the 2015-16 NBA season over, the early returns are encouraging as time lost to injuries is down when compared to last season.
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 Oklahoma City Thunder’s turnaround is equally as impressive as the medical staff has rebounded from an off year marred by the foot injury to Kevin Durant and other significant setbacks. A year later the team has lost 90 fewer games despite a six game absence from Durant following a mild hamstring strain.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sit the hapless Philadelphia Sixers. A high total was likely with Joel Embiid out for the year following his second surgery on the navicular bone in his foot but the acquisitions of Carl Landry and Kendall Marshall amplified the problem. These three, along with holdover Tony Wroten, did not play a single game during Philly’s first 20 games of the year and comprised nearly 80 percent of the Sixers’ league-leading 102 games lost due to injury.
The disappointing New Orleans Pelicans check in just behind the Sixers with 84 games lost to injury. Preseason injuries to guards Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole cost the Pelicans 17 games each and Kendrick Perkins’ pectoral strain added another 17. The health of the team appears to be improving though Quincy Pondexter has yet to play following offseason knee surgery.
Across the league 19 players missed the entire first quarter of the season because of injury, including the four aforementioned Sixers. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets are the only two teams besides Philadelphia to have multiple players sit for all 20 games of the first quarter. As a result, these three teams are positioned in the bottom five for most salary dollars to injury with the extended absences of Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert pushing Cleveland’s total to a league-worst $6.2 million.
Regarding types of injuries, ligament injuries were the most prevalent in the first quarter making up nearly 23 percent of the total days lost. Muscle strains accounted for 14 percent of the total while bone-related injuries were responsible for 11 percent. The lower extremity was by far the most affected area of the body with the knee alone responsible for 26 percent of the games missed to injury. The foot and ankle combined to account for just over 20 percent of the total.
Time will be needed to see if this trend can hold up throughout the year and additional time will be necessary to determine if the schedule alterations and other factors played a role in the drop. However after a 2014-15 season that became synonymous with injury, the NBA, its players, and fans all equally appreciate any improvement in player health.