March is a great time for basketball fans. Intense end of regular season play, tough conference tournaments, and (everyone’s favorite) the NCAA tournament - ensures month-long "Madness" and exciting performances by some of the games brightest up-and-coming stars. For some of these athletes, however, the end of March is just the beginning of a more strenuous process – transitioning from college to the NBA.
Most NBA-hopefuls follow a general timeline once their season has ended. After completing any outstanding school work (and graduation for some), players begin a tightly-regimented training schedule to prepare for the NBA combine and any pre-draft workouts. Once drafted, players go straight into summer league competition. The end of the summer is filled with final pre-season preparations before players head into team training camp (often two-per-day training sessions) and, a few weeks later, the start of the 82+ game NBA season.
By this time next year, the new class of NBA rookies have experienced the most physically-demanding year of their basketball careers without any real recovery time. They will continue to play for another month of regular season games and up to 2 additional months if they make the NBA playoff finals.
Emotional stress during this transitionary period can be extremely overwhelming for young NBA athletes. The negative consequences of emotional stress are often magnified in suboptimal play in young players not accustomed to the physical demands of the professional game - they hit the "Rookie Wall". They also face the expectation that they should do more physical work rather than rest due to the inaccurate perception that their youth allows for more stress on their bodies. Many people think Rookies need to work longer and harder to develop. But is that really the case?
Looking at the Rookie schedule, we see they go well over a year without any real recovery time and a lot of new physical and emotional stressors. Although many NBA teams are integrating new technologies that allow coaches and medical staff to better track player development and readiness, we are still seeing Rookie performances drop off as the season progresses indicating more work is still needed to keep NBA Rookies fresh and injury-free. Hopefully future technology can help improve the current systems in place and cultivate better management of these young developing athletes to ensure more consistent levels of performance and better health. Some examples of how current technological advances may help include:
1) Providing coaches with a better understanding of how recovered the player actually is and the type of work they should be focusing on daily, to enable maximum development.
2) Accurately and consistently quantifying all types of training and playing load to help guide optimal levels of overload for development.
3) Identifying when a player is suffering from higher than normal levels of emotional stress to help guide physical loading
4) Guiding solutions and interventions that are tailored to the specific requirements of the individual player