The prolific rise of athletes entering the NBA Draft following one year of collegiate competition is presenting new challenges for clinicians, training staff and coaches. One of the most pressing issues that teams face is successfully transitioning rookie players through a full season without injury. While the importance of progressive overload and optimal recovery in this process is well understood, the best ways to collect and analyze player performance data is not well defined. Moreover, rapid advancements in technology are continuing to expand the ways player data can be collected. New objective measurements of player data are appealing, but successfully integrating these new technologies to both monitor players and create effective interventions for recovery is the true challenge facing NBA training rooms.
Rookie Process and the Battle Against Fatigue
The NBA rookie timeline presents a massive increase in training, travel and emotional load. Increases in (1) the total number and duration of games (2) back-to-back games and (3) the length of the season, are just a few of the physical stressors rookies go through, starting with their combine preparation and continuing right to the end of their rookie season. In unaccustomed young athletes, the rapid overload of stresses during an NBA season can lead to an accumulation of fatigue. Add in the fact that some (if not most) of the athletes are still physically maturing and a player’s accumulation of acute fatigue can easily manifest into chronic fatigue and place an athlete at greater risk of injury, now or later in his career.
Progressive overload and optimal recovery are key factors to attaining high performance and long term fitness development in any athlete. NBA rookies have to dramatically step up their total workload in comparison to their high school and college baselines. Therefore, gradual and measured increases in load are vital to keeping rookies healthy. The importance of recovery cannot be overstated. Optimal recovery leads to an increase in overall wellness, which, in turn, supports sustained high performance. Better management of overload and recovery to avoid chronic fatigue in a rookie is entirely possible. But that being said, there still exists a sizeable gap in proven methodologies used to collect and rapidly analyze the multiple sources of player data necessary to understand his level of readiness at any point in time. New technologies, however, are quickly closing that gap.
New technologies in sports science have the potential to completely overhaul the way player development is approached in the NBA. Wearable GPS devices, accelerometers and other micro-sensors have already opened new doors for monitoring physical loads on players. Current technological development is largely focused on creating new ways to collect real-time biomechanical, physiological and neurological data. Blood biomarkers can now be used to analyze a variety of indicators linked to performance readiness. A host of tools to analyze unstructured data are also becoming available. For example, new facial expression recognition software and other wellness monitoring tools have the potential to translate previously subjective measurements (e.g. intonation of voice) into objective measurements that can be used in larger algorithms designed to quantify player readiness and risk of injury. Breakthroughs in tools used for therapy and travel also have the potential to significantly decrease an injured athlete’s return-to-play time. Viewed together, the impact new technologies will foreseeably have on professional sports is far-reaching.
The data do not lie: healthier teams have historically performed better throughout an NBA season than those plagued with injuries. And pending any drastic rule changes by the NCAA, the age of the one-and-done college basketball athlete looks like it is here to stay. While the evolution of the NBA rookie process is placing new strains on players, coaches and training rooms, advancements in technology are providing unique ways to objectively monitor player load and stress that will help to decrease the risk of injury for every athlete and allow for optimal athletic performance when it matters the most. Integrating these new technologies into systems designed to improve the development of young players in the NBA will be an essential part in attaining future success for rookies and organizations alike.
Dr Andrew Barr recently spoke at the Orreco Science Summit about the future of the NBA rookie process. The full presentation can be viewed here.
Dr Andrew Barr is a High Performance & Movement Specialist at Orreco. He is an established international leader in sports performance and injury risk reduction. He has a specific focus on the assessment and training of movement with over 20 years experience working with pro sport teams and athletes around the world.
Andy has served as Director of Performance and Rehabilitation at the New York Knicks, Director of Medicine and Performance at New York City FC, and Head Physiotherapist at Manchester City FC. A former professional football player, he holds a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and is the founder of Innovative Performance.