Injuries are an inherent risk of professional sports, particularly in the basketball where NBA players endure an 82-game schedule and are tasked to perform on back-to-back nights. Success often means an additional month of games and the influx of international talent in the league insures a high number of players spend their offseason representing their home country in international play.
However, perhaps more so than any North American sport, the NBA has taken steps to protect the health and wellness of its players. Each NBA team employs a complete staff of medical professionals whose primary responsibility is to maintain each player’s short-term and long-term health. Certified athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches work year round to prepare players for the grind of the season as well as properly manage injuries when they inevitably occur. Additionally, specialized and renowned doctors and surgeons are available to help repair any significant injury accrued. Furthermore numerous NBA teams throughout the league have begun to embrace recent advancements in technology by hiring sports scientists and data analysts to interpret information provide by in-house cameras and wearable tech.
The importance of health and the value of injury data collided when the Golden State Warriors used information gathered in a variety of ways to make a remarkable turnaround in games missed to injury and secure their first championship. Other teams, including the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs, continued to stay ahead of the curve and once again finished near the top of the league in fewest games, saving their team millions in the process.
As an athletic trainer and a sports fan enamored by the potential in injury data and analytics, I created a comprehensive database that goes beyond the boxscore. Using multiple resources I scoured the Internet and various newspapers to insure I was able to include any unaccounted for gaps. Too often I came across instances where a player was listed as a DNP-CD only to have to the head coach or player reveal after the game that an injury was the true culprit behind their absence. Furthermore the database includes injuries that did not cost a player to miss time, creating a complete injury profile for each individual player.
Entering its sixth season, InStreetClothes.com is fueled by my database that now spans a full 13 NBA seasons. The 2005-06 campaign is utilized as the initial season of interest as the league adopted a new way to handle injured players during the season. Prior to the change in 2005-06, teams were required to place two individuals on an injured reserve list. Players were required to stay on the injured list for a minimum of five games and it quickly became a place to stash players, injured or not. As a result, an alarming number of rookies or role players would suddenly came down with “patellar tendinitis” or “back spasms,” skewing the data in the process.
The database currently catalogues the injuries of over 1,200 players that suited up over the previous 13 seasons. From this information I have been able to determine not only how many games were missed each season but also the financial cost of these games. Each player’s salary was divided over the total number of games in the season. The idea is that an injury to a superstar player like LeBron James would be more impactful than to an individual buried on the depth chart. The easiest way to weight these games was to look at the financial worth of each player. Insurance contributions were not included due to high variability and restricted access to the final numbers.
Keep in mind these findings are not an indictment on any one individual or staff. Over the 10 year timeframe, athletic trainers, physicians, and other staff members have come and gone. Furthermore, maintaining good health and preventing injuries is a collaborative effort that also requires the cooperation of the players. Genetic conditions like diabetes or congenital heart issues, as well as off the court accidents, can also negatively impact injury totals though are at no fault to the medical team. Furthermore even the best preventative care provided can’t always account for multiple acute injuries like broken fingers or contact-related injuries.
This year’s team-by-team analysis includes a look into the 10 year effectiveness of each of the 30 NBA teams. I’m also pleased to unveil infographics that include a specific look at how each team performed during the 2014-15 season and which player proved the most costly. Enjoy.
Special thanks are given to Will Carroll of FanDuel, Robby Sikka, my PIC Kevin Prater, and my extremely patient wife, Emily, for their support and insight into this ongoing project.