Clippers

Load Management Helping Players, but Hindering NBA

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Many people have labeled the 2019-20 season as the most anticipated NBA season in recent memory. With the amount of stars that have changed rosters this offseason, the league’s entire landscape has changed significantly.

Perhaps the biggest offseason move was Kawhi Leonard’s, from Toronto to Los Angeles. The 2019 Finals MVP left the Raptors for the Clippers, moving all the way across the continent. In his one season with the Raptors, Leonard played 60 games, averaging 26.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.

While these numbers are impressive themselves, even more so is that he posted them just one year after dealing with a major injury. Leonard appeared in only nine games for the San Antonio Spurs in the 2017-18 season. Many say the injury was the breaking point in his relationship with the Spurs. What may have meant more is that it set a precedent for the NBA.

Players have been “resting” and sitting out games purposely for years now, but Leonard’s situation is most notable. Many people felt that in the 2017-18 season, Leonard had one foot out of the door in San Antonio. It seemed like he was forfeiting that season to ensure that he’d be healthy following a trade from the Spurs. Leonard’s decision was wise from a business perspective, as it allowed him to head into a contract year fully healthy with an entire year’s worth of rest behind him.

While we understand the logic and the thought process that NBA players go through when they make these “load management” decisions, let us first answer the question, “Does it work?”

If you ask any of the players that currently are behind the “load management” movement, they will say yes. But what do the numbers say?

Long-Term

While it isn’t very straightforward, players are generally playing longer than ever before. The average NBA career was 4.3 years long in 1980. In 2010, however, the average career was 6.7 years long. A significant jump if you consider the number of players that have come and gone within that timeframe.

Leonard is in the prime of his career, entering his 9th season. It is a point in a player’s career when it is difficult not to only try and give 110% night in and night out, but to also have the longevity of your career in the back of your mind as well.

Digging deeper — and looking more closely at Leonard’s All-NBA status — if you take the 1987-88 All-NBA First Team, the average career lasted 13.6 seasons. Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan make up that team.

Jumping forward 30 years to the 2017-18 All-NBA First Team of Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and James Harden, the collective average career length is 11.2 years. This is remarkable considering they’re all still active, and (arguably) in the primes of their careers.

Players are playing longer than ever before. Now they need to plan for longer careers than ever before. That’s especially the case if it’s a player of Leonard’s caliber. While people may disagree with how this is done, Leonard is surrounded by professionals. He has both the Clippers’ medical staff and his own that monitor and advise him closer than the average fan.

Short-Term

Thinking more short-term, Leonard is concerned with playing now as well. In order to win he’ll have to play at some point. In the games after he rests, Leonard is playing fairly average.

Dating back to last season, when Leonard missed 22 games due to “load management,” he averaged 25.2 points on 48.1% shooting from the field. Since Leonard first became an All-Star in the 2015-16 season, he averaged 25 points on 47% from the field. These numbers are simply on par with his averages.

The argument can be made, though, that these mid-season rest days allow him to post a superior playoff line. In the last two postseasons, Leonard has averaged nearly 29 points per game on over 50% shooting.

With all of this being understood, an NBA career is to be seen as a marathon, not a sprint. However, players today must prepare themselves for an even longer marathon than ever before.

The Effects/Possible Resolution

The biggest loser in this whole “load management” movement are undoubtedly the fans and television networks. It’s a terrible feeling for a family of four to find out that they saved up money to watch a star who won’t play. In these situations, however, the NBA should label games as “potential load management” games.

For instance, the NBA should step in if there’s potential for load management. If a team plays at home on a Monday night and is supposed to travel to another state on Tuesday, it should be labeled as a potential rest day. The league, fans, and television networks could label games that could fall into this “load management” category. Back to back’s, three games in four days, playing on travel days and so on. These games hold a very high probability of stars sitting out.

This is perhaps the biggest problem the NBA has faced in a long time, and it will be interesting to see how it deals with situations like these going forward. Through 12 games this season, the Clippers are 7-5, but are 0-3 in games Kawhi has sat.

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