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76ers Too Cautious with Joel Embiid?

December 15, 2016

Wednesday, ESPN and ABC news reported that as part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement the league and players will form a “wearables committee.” From ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh:

“In April, reported that the Cleveland Cavaliers were notified by the league office that guard Matthew Dellavedova was not allowed to wear a device called a WHOOP, which he had strapped to his wrist for 13 games undetected. … In-game biometric devices are banned by the NBA under its equipment rules, but the new committee will examine which devices, if any, will be permitted in the future and how the data will be monitored, protected and potentially monetized.”

The timing of the news was particularly relevant, writes Haberstroh:

“In what has become a hot-button issue, the NBA has seen a rise in star players being rested for regular-season games. On Wednesday night, a barrage of big names, including LeBron James, Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kyrie Irving, did not play in scheduled games to rest. So far this season, Blake Griffin, John Wall, Joel Embiid and others have sat at least one game as a healthy scratch. The data devices could be used to manage those workloads and track exertion levels more precisely.”

Let’s take a look at the particular case of Embiid.

As a freshman at the University of Kansas in the spring of 2014, Embiid was expected by many to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Through 28 games, Embiid helped guide the Jayhawks to a 22-6 record and a top-5 national ranking. The 7’0” center averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per contest while being named one of 30 finalists for the Naismith College Player of the Year award.

However, Embiid sat out the last two games of the regular season with a stress fracture in his back. Shortly thereafter, news broke that Embiid would miss the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA tournament as well.

In April, Embiid officially announced that he would forgo the final three years of his college eligibility and enter the draft. Despite the injury, Embiid was still slated to go either first or second overall, along with fellow Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins.

Just days before the June draft, Embiid announced through his agent that he would have surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot, with an estimated recovery time of 4-6 months. Even with the knowledge that the highly-touted prospect would likely be sidelined for most of his rookie season, the Philadelphia 76ers still selected Embiid with the No. 3 pick.

Embiid never took the floor for Philadelphia in 2014-15. The following June it was revealed that he’d suffered a major setback. Embiid underwent a second surgery to repair the navicular bone in his right foot that August, then missed the entire 2015-16 campaign as well.

More than two years after he was drafted, Embiid is now finally playing NBA basketball for the 76ers–sometimes.

The 22-year-old big man has been outstanding when on the court, putting up 17.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in only 23.8 minutes per game. Why is a player with such great numbers seeing such limited action?

The 76ers are being extremely careful with Embiid in an effort to keep him healthy for the long haul. He’s yet to log more than 27 minutes of action in a single game and is often subbed out after short four-minute stints. Philadelphia has also made Embiid inactive on the second night of all back-to-backs, keeping him from playing on consecutive days.

Last month, the Sixers announced Embiid would have a night off with a rather unusual injury distinction:

While the terminology used in this case was outside of the ordinary, the concept of “load management” for NBA players is nothing new. It’s becoming more and more popular across the league for coaches to occasionally hold their stars out of back-to-backs.

But in the specific case of Embiid, how do the 76ers know they are doing the right thing? Why is 27 minutes of game time the magic number not to be exceeded? Is he really any more likely to get injured in minute 28? More importantly, what about practice? Could Embiid’s off-day workouts put as much Strain on his body as what he does during games?

Embiid missed Philadelphia’s matchup with the Detroit Pistons last Sunday due to “minor inflammation in his right elbow.” Is it possible the Sixers are simply taking unnecessary precautions?

Every athlete is different. What works for one may not work for another. Similarly, an individual can be better equipped to take on certain levels of Strain on one day than another. Rather than adhering to a fixed game-management plan, Embiid might benefit from continuous physiological analysis that can help determine what his body is capable of handling each day.

Findings from the WHOOP MLB Performance Study showed that when players got hurt, their Recoveries tended to dip in the days leading up to the injury. This sort of data might be very useful for Embiid and the Sixers in their attempt to keep him healthy going forward.


Related Posts on The Locker:

NBA Rule Change a Win for Athletes Careers

Missing Games to Rest: A Smart Move in the NBA?

Who Takes the Big Shot? (An analysis of WHOOP Recovery in basketball)


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