NBA Collateral Damage

Eric Rodas
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Injuries have always been part of the game. They have had a hand in determining who has a great season, who will have to wait until next year and who will be crowned as the new NBA champion.

This season, injuries have had an unusual effect on the playoffs with regard to determining which two teams are left standing in the Finals. There have never been so many significant injuries in the postseason as this year.

Blaming the early start to the 2021 NBA season seems like an oversimplification of the current state of affairs. Several factors play into this year’s litany of traumas, and here are some of them.

To say that the early turnaround to start this season didn’t have anything to do with this would be wrong. The theory behind this lies in the ability to fully recover from the wear and tear of the previous year. Nagging injuries such as muscle strains and soreness only get worse without the proper amount of rest.

This may have been a factor in why last season’s teams that made a deep playoff run seem to have stumbled into this year’s playoffs and bowed out early. Other evidence supporting this concept is the fact that the injuries have occurred to each of the team’s star player that typically play the most minutes per game such as Brooklyn Nets star James Harden.

Another factor is that injuries are just a part of competing at a high level, no matter how well you prepare. Stepping on someone’s foot, banging knees and having another player fall on top of you has nothing to do with fatigue. They are just accidents that come with playing contact sports. LeBron James’ ankle eversion and Chris Paul’s stinger come to mind as prime examples of this. 

There is, however, one factor that has not been given due consideration; the lack of footwork with regard to balance and landing properly in order to limit unnecessary foot, ankle and knee injuries.

Now, there is no doubt that today’s guards have excellent footwork when it comes to setting up space for scoring opportunities but it has become glaringly obvious that their landing technique has been overlooked as they attempt to finish an extremely balance-compromised move by trying to load the full force of their own body weight onto one leg.

This has led to several ankle and knee injuries these last few years; most recently Kyrie Irving’s ankle inversion in the Milwaukee Bucks vs. Nets series.

Another aspect contributing to these forms of injuries is that some players land on their heels as opposed to the ball of their feet, thus creating yet another form of instability within the kinetic chain. Phoenix Suns power forward Dario Saric has just torn his ACL due to this particular improper loading of his legs. Landing on the front part of both of your feet decreases, not eliminates, the chances of suffering any collateral damage based on compromised balance. 

In a 2018 interview, George “Iceman” Gervin was asked about the influence of AAU basketball with regard to teaching the sport. One of the things he pointed out was that the fundamentals were not being imparted on these young players; especially when it came to proper footwork, balance, landing and learning how to fall safely.

What was fascinating was his explanation of the importance of not only taking off from a balanced stance but landing in a balanced stance as well, as a preventative measure to these issues. Gervin asserts that the absence of these balanced take-offs and landings leads to more injuries in the current game.

Let’s point out that in his 15-year career, Gervin never suffered any kind of major knee or ankle injury as a known finisher under the basket. The Iceman attributes that fact to his strong foundation of these particular fundamentals. 

As a side note, renowned trainer Tim Grover also pointed out that the source of the legendary Kobe Bryant’s knee issues came from the fact that he had trained his legs to accelerate but had never trained them to decelerate. Yet another example of improper training that led to imbalanced body mechanics resulting in injuries by way of overlooking the entire process.

For as much as you hear about how much more athletic players have become and how training methods are so much more advanced, there is still not much said about the basic fundamental footwork behind landing based on the longevity of sustained play, without major injuries, when it comes to players of the past in their respective prime years.

While basketball has evolved over the years, there are still aspects of the game that remain true. Finding balance, physically and metaphorically speaking, is still a key component of the game.

Eric Rodas

Los Angeles, California

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