NBA Best Of The Week: Week 13—The Schedule Debate

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The question about the length of the NBA season was raised yet again last week, this time by Henry Abbott of ESPN.com.

Abbott says too many games hurts the NBA’s regular season and one of the folks from within the game he had on his side was former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy.

“Listen, I do feel badly for fans,” said Jeff Van Gundy while calling in to The Herd on Wednesday. “I feel awful that we make them watch back-to-back games that often turn out to be, you know, low-energy affairs. I think the league has to eliminate back-to-back games, or at least reduce the number.”

Here’s the problem. Fans want to see the best players on the best teams every night. They never want to see the bad teams that have no stars. If the fans were to put together an NBA schedule that ran from late October to mid-April, the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers would play about 150 times each, all against each other. The Milwaukee Bucks would not have any games scheduled and neither would about half the teams in the league, because in the way the league is marketed, you’re either elite or you might as well not even exist. Let the refrains of “no one cares” come echoing down.

First off, whenever a fan or an analyst or a talking head says “no one cares,” what they are really saying is “I don’t care,” only they are so much of a narcissist they actually believe they have the right to speak for everyone.

But more to the point, one of the primary complaints about schedule length revolves around injuries and how frequently they appear to be happening.

If today’s athletes are supposedly the most talented, most well-conditioned, most amazing athletic specimens in the history of the NBA, how in the world did players manage to survive the frequent back-to-back-to-backs that were played years ago, when the schedule was also 82 games, but was compacted from late October or early November through mid-March.

So many of the injuries involve muscle mass, ligaments or tendons. Is that a product of playing 82 games … the same schedule length that was instituted in the NBA in 1967? Dr. Riley J. Williams III, medical director for the Brooklyn Nets and a sports medicine surgeon, thinks the answer may not be the length of the schedule at all, but rather what the players do in their off time.

“What I’ve noticed in the majority of players, and I’m not talking about the high-end players, I’m talking about the privileged middle class, the guys who are always sort of wondering about their next contract and how much they’re going to make, is that guys are working out all the time. All the time,” Williams told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month.

“The season’s over and they go to Aruba for a week or two and sort of let their bodies rejuvenate. But the majority of these guys, they’re playing ball, they’re working out, they’re with trainers and it becomes really a year-round activity,” he continued. “So while I agree that, yeah, the games are unique and things happen because of the intensity, there’s no less of a predilection toward basketball activities even without the games.

“So I think those voids would just be filled by more practices and more working out, which, you could make an argument maybe you’re less likely to get hurt. I don’t know the data on that, but at the end of the day, it’s just unclear to me that changing the schedule from 82 to 60 would have an impact.”

Besides, shortening the schedule isn’t a realistic goal, for three reasons:

  1. The owners will never reduce the number of available dates upon which to sell tickets.
  2. The players will never approve a reduction in what they get paid based on a shortened schedule.
  3. Fans will never pay the increased ticket prices that would come with owners trying to make the same amount of coin in 30 or 35 home dates that they once made in 41.

So at the end of the day, we can complain about injuries and schedule lengths all we want to. But if you’re going to wait for the season to actually be shortened, go sit in a corner and hold your breath waiting. When it happens, they’ll know where to find you. You’ll be the guy with the blue face.

Moving on to the NBA best of the week, where the players selected must play at least 25 minutes a game in more than half of their team’s games (rookies must average 20 minutes a game to be selected).

All statistical information from NBA.com/Stats.

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