NBA Schedule: Did the Compressed Season Really Cause More Injuries?

Nilkanth Patel@nilo89Contributor IIMay 1, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls is examined after suffering an injury against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on April 28, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 103-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Much has been made recently about the effect this compressed season has had on the health of NBA athletes. Many former and current players have complained that forcing so many games to be played in such a short period of time is unjustly putting the league's superstars at risk.

The intensity of this conversation heightened this past weekend, when we saw three teams lose key players for the remainder of the season (and therefore, their playoff runs): Caron Butler of the Clippers, Iman Shumpert of the Knicks and—the most upsetting—Derrick Rose of the Bulls.

Over the weekend, Dr. David Altchek, from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, told the Associated Press that he doesn't believe ACL injuries were the result of the wear and tear caused by this abbreviated season.

During the Mike Lupica Show on ESPN Radio New York, Charles Barkley phoned in to criticize Altchek, challenging his claim that overuse did not cause Rose's injury. In classic Barkley fashion, he vociferously expressed his concern that too many of the league's most valuable players are prone to even greater injury because they have been given so little time to recover from the aches and pains of everyday play this year.

To better examine how bad the injuries were, I decided to evaluate their prevalence this year relative to previous seasons. To do so, I tabulated the number of games played by the top-nine scorers on every team. A player can miss a game for one of four reasons: (1) he is injured, (2) he has been suspended, (3) he is being given a game off to rest, or (4) he has been "benched."

Taking only the top-nine scorers into account eliminates the possibility of the player being benched (assuming that they are too valuable to sit for no reason). Also taking into account trades during the year, the final results show the following:

Season Total Number of Games
Missed By All Players
Total Number of Games Missed
by Top Scorers for Every Team
2011-2012 5,073* 431*
2010-2011 5,234 346
2009-2010 5,617 361

(*I took into account the fact that fewer games were played this year by multiplying the actual number of games missed in the season by a factor of 1.24, or 82/66.)

So what does this tell us? Well, first, there actually weren't more games missed this year due to injury than in the past. In fact, players missed substantially fewer games this year than two years prior. This should put to bed the rumor that there were far more injuries this season—it just feels that way because the games were played in a much shorter span of time.

But, it does tell us something else: A large number of the superstars did, in fact, miss a fair number of games this year. This could've been predicted from this schedule's conception—players aren't blowing smoke when they say that a game every other night is too much for the knees to handle. They complain because they are—both physically and mentally—exhausted beyond reason.

The superstars of this league (identified in this analysis as the 30 individuals who lead their teams in scoring) are relied on more heavily than any other subset of players—they are the ones who feel the pressure of performing night in and night out. They are the ones that the league counts on to wow fans with their performances. They are the ones who often play harder, and more frequently, than anyone else. And they are the ones whom this incredibly debilitating schedule hurt the most.

It's inexcusable for commissioner David Stern and the NBA to pretend that this schedule has had no impact on these injuries. Overall, perhaps not, but for the players that matter most, it certainly did. Stern can deny it all he wants, but the owners wanted more money, and the players were just as willing to collect their paychecks as soon as possible.

What resulted is a product unbefitting of the NBA brand. If they had just forfeited a few more games and given the fans what they deserve, we all would've been better off—especially Derrick Rose.