Expect the unexpected.
It’s a piece of advice for NBA fans from Dr. Stuart Phillips, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.
It will have been almost five months between NBA games when the season returns with 22 teams on July 31. While teams will have a month of training camp to get back into shape, things could still look pretty different when games commence, according to Phillips.
“You’re going to see some mistakes that you wouldn't have otherwise expected, you're going to see some rust, you're going to see some miscommunication,” Phillips said. “You might see a few teams stumble that you would have thought maybe would do better than they did and maybe this is the year for the surprise or somebody to kind of rise out of nowhere.”
Prior to the NBA’s COVID-19 shutdown on March 11, the longest in-season pause in NBA history was just one week between the 2015 NBA conference finals and Finals. Now the league has entered uncharted waters and it’s anyone’s guess how things will look when players come back.
For Phillip, the biggest concern with the league’s return is a spike in injuries. There was a rash of serious injuries following the NFL’s 2011 lockout as teams rushed right into training camp. Ten players tore their Achilles tendons in the first 12 days of camp that season. To put that number into perspective, a study out of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital says it would expect between one and three Achilles tendon injuries during the league’s entire six-week training camp. For Phillips, that data is concerning.
“There's a tremendous difference between being in good physical shape which I'm sure these guys have sort of preserved through their workouts that they've been doing and what we call either game shape or match shape,” Phillips said. “I think most of these guys are going to be unprepared for that.”
Phillips said he expects it to take between four to six weeks for players to get back into game shape with the amount of time varying based on age and one’s understanding of his body.
“Younger players are able to rebound a little bit better from either injury or the day to day grind whereas some of the vets maybe take a little bit longer, but then it speaks a little bit to preparation,” Phillips said. “I don't think a lot of rookies come in with an idea of what it takes to get prepared for the season whereas maybe the vets do. So, it might be evened out in the long run.”
As for the Toronto Raptors title chances specifically, Phillips — a self-proclaimed Raptors fan — said he’s hopefully optimistic about the team’s chances.
“This is the great part about sports is trying to figure out how a guy like Nick Nurse is going to bring his players along compared to pure purely athletic teams,” he said. “Maybe he'll be the X-factor that pushes them over the edge.
“I like the chances, to be honest with you.”