Minutes, injuries, and concerns about Deng and Noah

In case you missed it, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich held Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker out of last night’s nationally televised game against the Miami Heat.

Said Pop: “Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule, about players playing and back-to-backs and trips and that sort of thing. In our case, this month we’ve had 11 away games, after tonight. We’ve had an eight-day trip and a 10-day trip, and we’re ending it with four (games) in five nights here. I think it’d be unwise to be playing our guys in that kind of a situation, given their history.”

Naturally, NBA commission David Stern freaked out.

Said Stern: “I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”

And so the Spurs will be punished for the unpardonable sin of putting the long-term health of their players ahead of television ratings for a largely meaningless regular season game.

Of course, Popovich has been doing this for years. What’s more, when he did it last year, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said: “The strategic resting of particular players on particular nights is within the discretion of the teams. And Gregg Popovich in particular is probably the last coach that I would second-guess.”

The fact is, rest is a key to the long-term health outcomes of professional athletes, as science is proving again and again. TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott just published a smart post on this subject. As Abbott points out, research has shown that there is a strong relationship between health and rest, and, conversely, between injuries and the lack of rest. For more details, check out Abbott’s post or this article about a study conducted by the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

If you accept the obvious — that lack of rest can and often does have a disastrous effect on an athlete’s long-term health — then you might start to worry about Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.

Check out the Basketball-Reference leader board: Noah and Deng rank 17th and eight in total minutes, respectively. Even worse, they rank fifth and first in minutes per game, with Noah logging 38.8 minutes a night and Deng putting in 40.5 minutes.

This isn’t new for Deng, who led the league in MPG last season (39.4) and ranked fourth (39.1) the season before that.

(As an aside, three seasons ago, Deng ranked 12th at 37.9 MPG under then-coach Vinny Del Negro.)

It’s not secret that Noah and Deng have a long history of injuries. Now they’re going all out during long minutes almost every game. And this has been the case with Deng for years.

If it’s not a concern for Tom Thibodeau, maybe he should have a chat with Popovich.

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