The new phrase to know in the NBA (and other leagues) is “load management,” brought to the forefront by Kawhi Leonard and how he is being used by the Clippers.
Is resting players, particularly on one end of back-to-back games, a smart strategy for the long haul or is it overblown nonsense?
First take: Michael Rand
Sports science tells us that rest and recovery are important. Old boxscore data tells us that playing back-to-back games is … just fine for almost everyone, at least in terms of production?
Every player I looked at on Basketball Reference has nearly identical statistics when playing on zero, one, two or three days of rest. Karl-Anthony Towns, for instance, on zero rest (second game of a back-to-back) in 54 career games: 22.1 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 52.9% shooting; and in 52 career games with two days of rest: 21.8 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 52.6% shooting.
But KAT is also young and has been relatively healthy. For someone like Leonard, with far more minutes on his NBA odometer and an injury history to go with it, skipping games in favor of rest is probably worth it, even if it irks fans.
Chris Hine, Wolves beat writer: I hate to use a cop-out answer, but it seems like it should a player-by-player decision.
If Leonard is putting the health of his knee at risk by playing on back-to-back days, he should rest. If someone like Towns is healthy and the Wolves’ athletic training and medical staffs show he’s healthy, why not let him go out there for 34 minutes on back-to-back nights?
What the NBA shouldn’t be doing is mandating that seemingly healthy players should be playing. A player shouldn’t have to be injured already in order to sit out.
Now, teams can track just how much stress players are under, and if they determine that a player is more likely to suffer an injury playing back-to-back nights and they want to sit him, they should be allowed to do so.
Rand: True. The NBA did say the Clippers didn’t do anything wrong in resting Leonard while going to great lengths to explain his injury.
If it irks the NBA’s television partners — Leonard missed two nationally televised games recently while managing his health — maybe the league should consider shortening the schedule to, say, 70 games in order to avoid most (and possibly all) back-to-back situations. Why not manage every player’s load for them?
It would be easy enough to construct a schedule that still satisfies the full national TV contract while cutting the number of games for all teams. It would impact local TV and stadium revenue — six fewer home games, 12 overall for every team — but the national TV money is the biggest slice.
Hine: I find it hard to believe they would chop up the schedule, but I think it is possible to have fewer back-to-back situations by stretching out the schedule a little bit on both ends.
When you must play in back-to-back games, make it so that teams have them at home, like little weekend homestands. That way you don’t have to worry with the rigors of travel while trying to treat nagging injuries.
Rand: Sounds like something a beat writer might like, too.
Hine: By the way, I forgot to tell you, I’m taking Sunday’s game off for load management.