The Sacramento Kings, once a staple of the Western Conference elite, has been a franchise in flux for nearly a decade. A change in ownership and potential move to Seattle has added to the turbulence for a team that last appeared in the postseason in 2007. However throughout the discord one thing has remained consistent: the team’s highly effective medical staff. The Kings have finished below the league average for games missed due to injury or illness in five of the last six seasons. Those numbers include last season when Sacramento ranked 11th in the league with 127 games missed. The Kings’ rank improves to 5th in the league if the 28 games missed by Jason Terry for a preexisting knee injury are excluded. Terry, acquired in a midseason trade, never played for Sacramento and is now a member of the Rockets.
Head athletic trainer Manny Romero credits the team’s proactive approach to injury prevention for the team’s steady stream of good health.
“We’ve been on the forefront of the injury prevention paradigm shift in the NBA,” said Romero. “We started collecting data on athletes, not numeric data…like analytics, but we did a lot of movement screens and movement assessments in the early 2000’s.”
Some of this data included digital photos of the individual athletes that were then used to screen for any potential factors that could increase an individual’s inherent injury risk.
“Instead of reactionary, where we are taking care of an injury after the fact, we try to be pro active on trying to assess and indentify any movement dysfunctional patterns that may predispose them to injuries,” Romero stated.
Identifying these markers could be one reason why Kings players have successfully avoided surgery. Carl Landry’s two operations for a torn meniscus and torn hip flexor are the only two times in Romero’s tenure in which a Kings player needed surgery.
Romero feels the Kings medical team has only “gotten better and better year and year out,” and contributes support from the team’s new ownership group, led by Vivek Ranadivé, as a major reason. “Ownership has said, “If you need, we will get it for you”,” affirms Romero.
Ranadivé, along with Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, recognize the value of analytics and have made technology and statistics a significant part of developing the franchise. Romero has begun to witness this firsthand and understands how it could potentially impact on how he approaches the health of the Kings players. The organization has a partnership with Catapult Sports, the world’s biggest provider of wearable GPS tracking devices, to begin monitoring player performance in practices and workouts.
The hope, says Romero, is that the tracking equipment will insure “what we notice and work on is actually carrying over onto the court.”
The data collected through Catapult, as well as the data generated through the leagues’ STATS’ SportsVu partnership, has value but Romero maintains it’s still in the collection phase. Romero sees the application of the information as a good way of “correlating things and seeing if what we are seeing subjectively …correlate[s] with the data.”
For example, SportsVu data tracks distance traveled by a player during their time on the court. Last year point guard Isaiah Thomas led the Kings with 166.7 miles traveled while in the game. The thought is that by being aware of a player’s workload during a game Romero, along with coaches and the strength and conditioning specialist, may be able to alter upcoming practices or workouts to insure the individual stays fresh and isn’t overworked.
While the data has merit, Romero points out that its value is linked to who is utilizing it and in what way. “It’s important for the data to be utilized by the proper personnel [and] as an athletic trainer my mind is geared toward the basketball athlete,” emphasizes Romero. He continued by explaining that his previous experiences with the sport have made his eye sharper and may better allow him to blend the data with physical findings like joint movement or muscle activation.
Just like a statistical analyst and scout may differ on a player’s value and potential, statisticians and medical personal may disagree in their interpretation of collected medical data. The key is making sure the people generating the numbers are on the same pages as those that apply the information. “If the athletic trainer can be involved in some of those decision[s] and how to utilize data, that will be important to the sport moving forward,” said Romero.
Helping advance analytical concepts and approaches has become easier for Romero as the players, particularly the tech-savvy young ones, have become more receptive to change. “New guys are very interested in technology and always have their iPad or iPhone with them,” said Romero.
With programs like Fusionetics,a sports science platform designed to identify and aid in correcting biomechanical problems, now easily accessible through these devices, players are buying into the biometric and analytical side of sports medicine. Even veteran players, initially hesitant to change and outside the box thinking, have joined in and realized how these advancements could help extend their careers. Romero believes that technology and analytics could even eventually be applied to data on retired players to help future players smoothly transition away from the grind of the NBA.
But it’s not just the Kings that are implementing new programs and diving into injury analytics, teams throughout the league are taking steps to help promote good health amongst the players. Teams like the Trail Blazers and Spurs have made recent additions to their sports medicine teams, expanding to include departments focused on player health and performance and the utilization of applied sciences in sports.
Romero strongly emphasizes that the NBA athletic trainers of each team work in unison and are, “not competing against each when it comes to the health of the athletes.”
“Collectively the NBA and NBATA try to do as much as possible to improve the health of the professional basketball athletes,” says Romero.
The camaraderie amongst NBA athletic trainer is key when players spend their summer playing internationally, particularly for Team USA. Oklahoma City’s Joe Sharpe and Minnesota’s Gregg Farnam currently serve as the athletic trainers for Team USA and Romero is in “constant contact” with them regarding the health of both Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. Technology also helps bridge the gap as the aforementioned Fusionetics allows Romero access to instant feedback.
The ability to be a presence, even if it is a virtual one, helps NBA medical staffs ease some of the concern associated with participating internationally. These fears took center stage when Indiana’s Paul George suffered his horrific leg injury but Romero understands freak injuries are a part of the game and can happen in any setting. “It’s basketball. When you step on the floor there’s risk. [athletic training staffs] try to decrease the risk but anything can happen on the court.”
With international play winding down and players beginning to trickle in for training camp, Romero is now feverishly preparing for the upcoming season. After a relatively quiet summer, there’s an air of optimism in Sacramento. “Our job is to keep our players healthy. Their job is to compete. Playoffs are always the end goal and we will see how it goes this year.” If the Kings are to survive in a competitive Western Conference you can be sure good health and hard work from Romero and his staff will be a major contributing factor.