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20-Year History of Missed Games in the NBA

28 Nov

Because of a lockout this year there will be an unusually packed schedule in the NBA which undoubtedly contributed to a theory that we are going to see more injuries this season. Don’t get me wrong, I think this idea sounds plausible because… well, I know how I feel after playing basketball too often in short period (muscle injury or ligament tear waiting to happen). But could it be also a reason why we overrate this issue? I’m not an athlete and I don’t usually play any back-to-backs so maybe that’s why I feel this way when I do…

Beside this point, have you ever wondered do players miss more games now than they used to?
Which teams’ players missed the most and least games in the last decade?

Well, I have so here’s how I tackled those topics:
I considered counting injuries at prosportstransactions.com but there’s one huge problem with this approach:
5 or even 10 day-to-day injuries are usually less significant than one semi-serious knee injury because of time needed for healing and rehabilitation. So why not try to measure the main effect of injuries which is missed games? That’s exactly what I’ve tried to accomplish. I downloaded data from last 20 seasons from dougstats.com, then in each season I sorted it by team’s name and then by players’ minutes per game.
I deleted all players who were 7th or lower on their own team and counted how many games such group played versus how many games they would have played given full 82 games schedule [or 50 in 1998-99].
My rationale here is “let’s count starters and 6th man, the rest doesn’t matter”.

In other words, for players considered the most important by their own teams what percentage of available regular season games did they miss?

Unfortunately it’s not a perfect tool, for example it totally ignores tanking or players who missed entire season because they were injured in the offseason, so if you have a better idea let me know in the comments.

With all that in mind here are the results:

Season 1991-92 1992-93 1993-94 1994-95 1995-96 1996-97 1997-98 1998-99 1999-00 2000-01
GP by Top6 11917 11817 11826 11503 12333 12474 12346 7682 12499 12318
# of Teams 27 27 27 27 29 29 29 29 29 29
% of total Minutes 70,65 69,36 69,73 68,79 69,24 70,96 68,79 68,98 68,00 68,53
% of Games Missed 10,29 11,04 10,98 13,41 13,56 12,57 13,47 11,70 12,40 13,67
Season 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11
GP by Top6 12094 12924 12411 12538 12794 12599 12803 12598 12769 12862
# of Teams 29 29 29 30 30 30 30 30 30 30
% of total Minutes 67,49 71,09 69,25 67,15 69,15 67,58 68,37 68,17 67,94 67,18
% of Games Missed 15,24 9,42 13,02 15,05 13,32 14,64 13,26 14,65 13,49 12,86

… and as a graph…

IMHO we can spot four interesting points here:

1) Previous shortened season was one of the healthiest in the last 2 decades!

After I collected my jaw from the floor I have no comment on that other than the fact that it could mean nothing and puts more pressure to find some evidence that injuries were more common during that year.

2) Accidentally I’ve measured the effect of… league’s policy on suspensions!

Because when you compare this graph to changes in NBA rules you will notice that after playoffs in 1993 NBA added many rules regarding suspensions for fighting or hard fouls and the same thing happened after “The Malice at the Palace” in 2004 [BTW, spike in 2004-05 is an effect of suspensions to Artest, Jermaine and Jackson]. So whenever we have no idea if it helped to prevent fighting on the court it most definitely kept some players from playing…

3) What the hell happened between 2001 and 2003?

I re-checked it two times using different source for data [basketballreference.com and basketball-reference.com] but results were pretty much unchanged so I have no other explanation for it other than the most obvious one: it seems that the most lucky and the most unlucky year happened back to back.

In 2001-02 list of long absences was… long: Ratliff played in only 3 games, McDyess in 10, Grant Hill in 14, Camby in 29, Odom in 29, Terrell Brandon in 32 and Mashburn in 40 while during next season only 7 guys played in less than 50 games and only one below 35 games.
Am I missing something here or was it pure randomness at it’s best?

4) Outside of point 3) I’m shocked how consistent it is.

Standard deviation for last 18 seasons is around 2 and a half missed seasons. If we exclude 2001-03 it’s only 1 and a half season for around 180 players! I was expecting a lot more than that…

Anyway, if you are missing fun in this post here’s something to cheer you up… according to method with percentage of missed games the most lucky and unlucky teams in the last 10 years were…

Team % of Missed Games by Top6 in Minutes Played per Game Team % of Missed Games by Top6 in Minutes Played per Game
Wizards 22,09 Suns 8,72
Clippers 20,10 Pistons 8,76
Pacers 18,35 Spurs 9,19
Knicks 15,71 Celtics 10,08
Bucks 15,69 Bulls 10,87
Warriors 15,67 Thunder/Sonics 11,00
Hornets 15,55 Lakers 11,83
Rockets 15,30 Magic 11,85
Heat 14,78 Sixers 12,07
Bobcats 14,61 Raptors 12,48

Suns’ medical staff is legendary at this point… and it may be justified.

Pistons were shockingly healthy during their run of consecutive conference finals appearances.

On the other hand we have Pacers [mostly thanks to the brawl], Clippers [notorious tankers] and Wizards [mostly due to Arenas but Haywood and Caron also contributed].

One last note, is it a coincidence that good teams were healthy and bad ones weren’t?
And if not what is the cause and what is the effect there?

UPDATE per Will Carroll’s suggestion:

2006-2011 2001-2005 1996-2000 1991-95 20 Yrs
Team % missed Team % missed Team % missed Team % missed Avg
atl 11,59 atl 16,38 atl 19,23 atl 7,60 13,70
bos 13,21 bos 6,95 bos 21,54 bos 12,15 13,47
cha 13,54 cha 17,28 15,41
chi 11,63 chi 10,12 chi 28,66 chi 8,62 14,76
cle 14,84 cle 10,41 cle 19,15 cle 11,18 13,89
dal 10,08 dal 15,81 dal 25,37 dal 17,64 17,23
den 13,62 den 13,82 den 19,39 den 10,93 14,44
det 13,41 det 4,11 det 12,64 det 12,68 10,71
gsw 19,76 gsw 11,59 gsw 30,12 gsw 20,41 20,47
hou 14,88 hou 15,73 hou 19,51 hou 13,98 16,03
ind 15,73 ind 20,98 ind 12,72 ind 8,54 14,49
lac 20,45 lac 19,76 lac 17,76 lac 11,91 17,47
lal 11,75 lal 11,91 lal 22,11 lal 14,27 15,01
mem/van 8,90 mem/van 17,48 mem/van 18,41 mem/van 15,45 15,06
mia 18,54 mia 11,02 mia 24,07 mia 15,41 17,26
mil 21,10 mil 10,28 mil 17,32 mil 3,33 13,01
min 12,97 min 12,64 min 18,90 min 9,35 13,47
njn 15,37 njn 9,92 njn 23,74 njn 14,23 15,81
nor/cha 15,20 nor/cha 15,89 nor/cha 19,19 nor/cha 10,81 15,27
nyk 17,60 nyk 13,82 nyk 18,05 nyk 8,17 14,41
orl 9,23 orl 14,47 orl 25,28 orl 13,94 15,73
phi 9,63 phi 14,51 phi 20,41 phi 16,34 15,22
pho 6,38 pho 11,06 pho 22,85 pho 13,13 13,35
por 10,24 por 15,61 por 15,20 por 7,15 12,05
sac 10,89 sac 15,04 sac 18,66 sac 14,72 14,83
san 12,07 san 6,30 san 19,67 san 8,09 11,53
sea/okc 10,37 sea/okc 11,63 sea/okc 15,12 sea/okc 5,89 10,75
tor 13,50 tor 11,46 tor 15,16 tor 25,41 16,38
uta 10,16 uta 15,69 uta 9,96 uta 4,11 9,98
was 26,75 was 17,44 was 19,76 was 22,76 21,68

So according to this method…
Top7 was [in that order]: Jazz, Pistons, Sonics/Thunder, Spurs, Blazers, Bucks and Suns.
Bottom7 was [in that order]: Wizards/Bullets, Warriors, Clippers, Heat, Mavs, Raptors and Rockets.

I’m not sure what to make of this, should we credit Stockton’s and Malone’s longevity to them or to their medical staff or to both? Although it’s is eye-catching how terrible Wizards/Bullets were in this regard, in all 5-year slices they were at least below average!

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3 Comments

Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Scrutiny

 

Tags: , , , , ,

3 responses to “20-Year History of Missed Games in the NBA

  1. Will Carroll (@injuryexpert)

    November 29, 2011 at 23:55

    Just brilliant work. I think it shows macro trends and would be interested in seeing you break it down into three or five year slices. I think we’d see that medical staffs and their interface with the team is much more important than many would think.

     
    • wiLQ

      November 30, 2011 at 00:06

      “would be interested in seeing you break it down into three or five year slices”
      Do you mean for teams?

      “I think we’d see that medical staffs and their interface with the team is much more important than many would think.”
      But how can we distinguish staff’s impact from random traumatic injuries?

       
  2. Anonymous

    March 3, 2012 at 03:43

    What this shows is that the NBA is rigged…”randomness” doesn’t account for abnormalities..you know this.

     

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