The NBA lost one of its brightest young stars earlier this week when the Denver Nuggets Jamal Murray went down in the late moments of a game with the Golden State Warriors. He would later be diagnosed with a torn ACL. Murray marks the latest in a rash of injuries that have plagued the NBA this season. Should the San Antonio Spurs be taking more aggressive precautions to avoid being bitten by the bug?
Gregg Popovich is no stranger to proactively resting his players. He famously sent the quartet of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green home before the final game of their road trip against the Miami Heat and got the Spurs fined a cool $250K in the process.
In the aftermath of that incident, coaches and experts from around the league came to Pop’s defense. Shaq said it was his prerogative to play and rest players as he saw fit, Doc Rivers emphasized the long-view approach to the season and accepted that benching players is just part of making it through the season.
That happened back in 2012 when the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of the NBA had the luxury if you can call it that, of only playing 82 games. Now faced with an already condensed schedule that’s been magnified by the number of games the Spurs missed in the first half of the season, is it time for Pop to start taking a more aggressive approach to resting his players?
Gregg Popovich should start proactively resting San Antonio Spurs players
This season, Pop’s policy on sitting players has been more reactive than proactive. The Spurs have thankfully avoided the kind of season-ending injuries that Murray suffered but they’re no strangers to missing players because of injuries.
Key players such as Lonnie Walker and Derrick White have both missed extending playing time and other guys such as Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and DeMar DeRozan. So far, only Jakob Poeltl has appeared in all 52 of the Spurs games this season.
It’s not clear if the tightened schedule is leading to more injuries but as we pass the three-quarter mark of the season I think caution is the best path forward, even if there is little hard data to support the practice.
In a recent article, the New York Times’s Mark Stein noted that multiple teams worry that the season’s combination of density, travel, and external demands have thrown off recovery patterns for players. And even though the injury rate is in line with previous seasons, it still seems like we could be getting to a point where the Spurs are reaching a crossroads.
They did just rattle off two solid, slump-busting wins against the Mavericks and Magic but the Spurs are still so far from a sure thing to make the playoffs. Faced with one of the hardest schedules in the league, San Antonio is really only one more tough losing streak away from being out of the hunt. If they reach that point, would it be wiser to push players harder than they’re already going, assume a greater risk of injury, with the best-case scenario seeming like a first-round playoff exit?
I don’t want to tell Pop how to manage his team, I only hope that if the Spurs already slim chances at making the playoffs grow thinner, Pop will do what seems like the smarter, long-term move and turn to young players with fresher legs. It could get them the playing time they need and would also help reduce the risk of injury for veteran players who’ve been pushing the pedal to the floor all season long.
The Denver Nuggets are going to be feeling the ripple effects of Jamal Murray’s injury well into next season. If the San Antonio Spurs want to avoid a similar fate, it might be time for Gregg Popovich to be more aggressive in resting his players and preserving their health.