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The NBA did not find evidence of the effectiveness of “load management”

“He’s flushed. » This is how Steve Kerr justified the rest of Stephen Curry yesterday against the Bucks.

Widely used at the start of the season, within a failing Warriors team, the double MVP has indeed been marking time for a few games. His rest should therefore allow him to recharge his batteries and avoid the injuries that occur when players reach the “red zone”, when the body is on the verge of breakdown.

Is the “red zone” a myth?

A “red zone” that franchises have used in recent years to justify the use of “load management”, or these occasional rests of NBA stars. A “red zone” that Adam Silver and the NBA had more or less accepted… before changing their tune in recent months.

The league has just shared its study, conducted by Christina Mack, epidemiologist and scientific director at IQVIA, an American multinational specializing in health data. The result of this analysis, which covers ten years, from 2013 to 2023? “Load management” has not no effect on injuries stars of the league. However, Christina Mack does not “not saying it makes things better or worse”.

The only certainty is that absences for a single match have exploded in recent years. In 2014/15, the NBA recorded 169 absences for a match among the league's “stars” (players elected All-Star this season or elected to an All-NBA Team this season or the two previous ones). In 2022/23, this figure had risen to 380.

Future TV contract and regular season interest

Another observation: NBA “stars” miss twice as many regular season games as before. In the 1980s, the average was 10.4 missed games per season for stars. In the 1990s it was 10.6, then 13.9 in the 2000s, 17.5 in the 2010s and finally 23.9 in the 2020s…

For Dave Weiss, NBA senior vice president in charge of player issues, it was important to conduct this empirical study, in order to verify the franchises' claims on the issue.

A study that comes at the right time for the league, which is seeking at all costs to limit the “load management” of stars ahead of negotiations for the next TV contract. And who needs to reaffirm the importance of the regular season, which cannot be just a simple warm-up period for the playoffs for the main stars.

Lack of data?

Director of the Sports, Expertise and Performance Laboratory at Insep, in charge of injury prevention, Gaël Guilhem confirms to us that a cause and effect link in such a large study is very difficult to find.

“It is likely that, in these models, they do not have nutritional habits, quantity and quality of sleep, or only superficially, but probably not in all players” he notes. “For our part, we try to do that and we can clearly see the difficulty of the exercise. We also do not know all the behavioral aspects and they do not have permanent or regular access to information which describes the capacity of the muscle or tissue to resist the risk of injury.

Even in a league where players are closely monitored, such as in the NBA, preventing injuries remains a very delicate exercise, with many factors, often unknown, coming into play.

“The load is an important component of exposure to risk but it does not explain everything. Far from there. If it were enough to measure the load to measure the risk and protect against it, that would be known. And that's not true in basketball, and that's not true in any activity.”concludes Gaël Guilhem.

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