Basketball: Sports science keeping pace with NBA's increased pace

Former Los Angeles Lakers head trainer Gary Vitti with retired Lakers great Kobe Bryant. Vitti believes the pace of the modern NBA game has made players more prone to injuries.
Former Los Angeles Lakers head trainer Gary Vitti with retired Lakers great Kobe Bryant. Vitti believes the pace of the modern NBA game has made players more prone to injuries. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - With the pace of the National Basketball Association (NBA) becoming faster than ever within the last two or three years, physical demands on the league's players have increased correspondingly.

Despite the heightened toll on their bodies however, players are also enjoying longer careers than before.

Almost a third of the 95 seasons played by a player 37 years or older while averaging at least 20 minutes a game have come in the last seven years, for example.

Much of this can be attributed to a revolution of sorts for how sports medicine has been applied across the league over the last decade.

"The change has been from the philosophy of a reactive approach to injuries to one of reducing injury risk as much as possible to maximise an athlete's well-being," said Dr Andrew Barr, who served as the New York Knicks' director of performance and rehabilitation from 2009-2015. "The game is faster now and more explosive athletes like basketball players need more recovery time because there's more muscle damage so it's what players do between games - when they travel, when they train - that has the biggest impact."

In particular, today's technology allows for the monitoring of a player's level of fatigue by tracking everything from joint movements and heart rate to an athlete's gait and how fast he accelerates using wearable sensors, said Barr.

Using this data, trainers and physiotherapists can then come up with individualised training regimens that seek to avoid overtraining players' bodies.

The need for such detail has becoming more pressing with a league that features more athletic players playing at a faster pace.

"The sheer speed and power of the game today makes players more susceptible to injury than before," said veteran trainer Gary Vitti, who spent 32 years as the Los Angeles Lakers' head athletic trainer, retiring after the 2015-16 season.

"Players from the '80s like (Larry) Bird and (Magic) Johnson were probably more fundamentally sound but now they're better athletes."

Since 2000, only five teams have averaged more than 100 possessions per 48 minutes, and four of those have done so in the last two years, according to statistics website basketball-reference.com.

Added Nic Bartolotta, a physical therapist who is entering his third season with the Dallas Mavericks as a flexibility consultant: "The trainers I've worked with agree that it's not so much about finesse as it used to be.

" You really do have to be able to keep up."

The 2017-18 NBA regular season kicks off next Tuesday.

Barr, Vitti and Bartolotta are in town to speak at the 2017 Singapore Convention for Health, Fitness and Sport, a two-day seminar that begins tomorrow.

Those interested can visit www.schfs.com.sg for more details.