P3 Sports Science and the Utah Jazz - A necessary relationship

One of these guys needs to work on his vertical jump. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE

Basketball is a team sport, and over all, the best team wins the most games. A reductionalist point of view may drill down and see that, more often than not, the best teams are led by the best players. The better a player you are the better you can help your team, and eventually, the more games you can win. There are so many other factors involved, of course, but like I said, this is a reducionalist point of view.

Each player can either get better or worse over the off-season. No one stays the same; age, ability, practice time, learning, retention, comfort, and confidence are all dynamic aspects of who a player is. And they all affect performance on the court. One way all players can improve, though, is through smarter work to be able to get more direct, in-game applications of physical training, than older models that did not help you in games. For example, when you tell a young player to "get stronger" over the off-season they may lead them to improving their physique and doing a lot of bench press. There is no on court action that doing bench press really helps -- unless it's shoving people in the back when trying to rebound. Using those hours for directed 'in-game' strength training is much smarter.

If you can't draft, trade, or sign a physical freak of nature - if you know the right people and make your players work smarter so they can develop into guys who can perform like freaks. That's the theory. That's pretty much what the Utah Jazz are trying to do with their extended relationship with P3. Right off the bad I feel like it's a necessary relationship (seriously, look at all the old fat farts we have on our "Official" Utah Jazz strength, development, training, and health staff). If our players are going to get better physically it's not with Gary Briggs lecturing Big Al on which buffets to "not miss" when on road trips. I'm sure they're really nice guys, but I want our players to be trained to be lean, mean, winning machines. Not soft, round, "Aw shuwks" goofies.

There have been 25 players with Utah Jazz ties to work out with P3, and 54 basketball players (NBA, NCAA, and International) in total. Let's talk about this for at least another 1000 words . . .

What is P3?

P3, or the Peak Performance Project, is a training company that knows what they are doing. They have a dedicated staff of training experts (not just people who have athletic experience, but also a hard science background) led by Dr. Marcus Elliott, a Harvard trained physician. I can really go into a lot of boring details about their approach and philosophy but I will not. They measure everything and use past research (yes, they also do research - they're not just a gym you go to where someone yells at you to jump over rectangles) to better plan and customize workouts for individual players, by what sport they play, and by what goals and gains they wish to reach.

It may surprise you that if you wanted to work on something like being able to have a stronger second jump you're probably going to be focusing on a type of training than one that makes you more capable of performing stronger changes of direction. You're using your legs for both - but you don't have to go to four years of medical school to see how the expressed activity requires differently affected behaviors - even if the core muscles being used for both behavior are the same ones.

Perhaps that's not the perfect example, but I'm not giving a lecture here. This is, after all, a sports blog.

P3 gets results. The only question I have relates to the type of results they get. And if those results depend more upon:

  • the original athletic abilities of the player sent there (you are who you are)
  • the amount of effort expended by the athlete (you get what you put in)
  • or if training is unequally successful depending on the type of training you go in for (we can make you x, but not y)

Like I said, I do not know. I was going to call them up to ask, but again, this is a sports blog - and not a medical practice. So, instead, I'm going to write about them, and try to make inferences about what I see ON the court; and not the hard data they get in the lab. After all, the Jazz are winning the "sending players to P3 competition", but won zero games in the playoffs. It's what's on the court that matters - winning. And to win you need the better team. And to be the better team you need to be led by the best players. Part of who you are as a player depends on what you do in the off-season. One of the things you can do in the off-season is train better and smarter to make yourself more of a physical beast. Drilling down far enough you see where a company like P3 can come in handy. But they aren't the only factor that we need to worry about.

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The P3 and the Jazz:

There are a few teams out there who do send their players to P3. Players from all over the world come, even just in the basketball world. But the vast majority of them are NBA guys, and most have some ties with either the Atlanta Hawks, New Jersey Nets, Golden State Warriors (in their backyard almost), and the Utah Jazz. You can check out the full 54 player list here, and like I stated earlier, 25 of those guys have played for the Jazz before. Some of them went to P3 as a member of another team or when they were on the Jazz. Some of them have no ties to our squad and went there. I'm sure an example of this would be the number of guys from the Nets who went there in the off-season after Deron Williams was traded.

Here's the listing by estimated NBA position . . .

P3_bball_list

Legend: Grey = average, Blue = above average, Green = freak athlete. Which measures am I sorting out there? Speed (up and down the court), quickness (changing direction, going around screens, man defense), and jumping ability. If you have above average qualities in more than one of these traits you are a freak, or if you have some of them but are at a spot lacking in that quality. (For example, Derrick Favors has a 39" vertical, and he's a PF/C)

As you can see, the vast majority of guys who go to P3 are Bigmen. And below average bigmen when it comes to quickness, or jumping ability. I think it is these guys who *could* improve with directed work; but logically are coming from the largest deficits to these physical talents. Guys like Enes Kanter and Rafael Araujo are strong guys, but no one thinks they can jump. No one thinks Hasheem Thabeet or Mehmet Okur can run up and down the court. And no on things that Jarron Collins or Andris Biedrins is quick, or able to change directions quickly.

I think that, for the most part, these land whales gain something from going to P3 - but their maximum expressed physical improvement isn't quite the same as what a wing or a guard seems to get out of these exercises. Of course, it could also be irrespective of position, but more to age, injury history, or play style. Jeremy Evans is feather light but a bigman, and he can jump like an animal built for flight. Paul Millsap plays the same position but was built more like a Rhino than a Stork.

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Focusing on Speed, Quickness, and Jumping

I think that these are the three "simple" things P3 is capable of assisting in. If you are a dedicated player who puts in the effort, do not have much injury history, and are young enough -- you CAN get better by working on this stuff. We've seen videos of Jeremy Evans doing everything from Nervous system training to stimulus response training. If you add it all up, he has gotten better at the three things he already HAD on other PFs in his age group - he's faster, quicker, and can jump higher and more frequently. His results are highly atypical, I'd like to believe, otherwise I'd expect Al Jefferson to somehow be able to jump 38" by training camp.

I'm learning towards the baseline small jump in speed, quickness, and jumping ability for all players who show up and do a course. If they keep up their exercises throughout the season or not remains to be seen. Similarly, if they just dump what they learned and regress . . . I think a number of players COULD regress.

For a sizable increase, or career long benefit towards training at P3 I think you have to want to be better, be dedicated to getting better, and keep it up. I could see a guy like Jordan Farmar or Ronnie Price getting more out of this (as naturally athletic guys who are fringe NBA players) than someone like Anthony Morrow (who is in the NBA for his shooting, not for being athletic), or Kyrylo Fesenko (who is in the NBA because he is tall, not because of his work ethic).

I do not know all the of the specific training programs offered at P3 (Man, I should have done more research into this); but from what I've seen it seems like they CAN really help a bball player most in these three areas (also increasing reaction time and information processing time - which helps when you're trying to focus on things you time).

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Players who can benefit:

I think that the guys who can most benefit from these types of camps are younger players who want to be better, and who do not have years of expertise with their own off-season training programs. In effect, the younger players can be taught the right way from the get-go -- and not be stuck in their ways. I do believe that we have a few players like that on our team right now.

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Jazz Players who have been sent there this summer:

These are just the confirmed guys from casually following their twitter feeds . . . I know Paul Millsap and Big Al Jefferson were there last off-season. I would not be surprised to see them back again.

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Any of these guys have the 'right stuff' to gain the most from P3?

I'd say that our C4 can all benefit. Alec is a fast guy, and a big part of his game is his quickness and jumping. Gordon can do it all, so and seems to have that intrinsic motivation to work on all parts of his game. Derrick Favors plays above the rim, and is already a freak for his size. Enes Kanter is below average in terms of speed, quickness,and jumping. Bringing him to average is really going to help elevate his game.

Aside from the regular off-season bump our players get from going there, I think these are the main four guys to worry about. Marvin had an analysis done, and it's not like he wasn't already athletic before. He is. He's not Josh Smith, but he's in a completely different class of athlete compared to the guys we've had at the 3 before (right Matty Harpring?). He has had a number of injuries over his career and is on the wrong size of 26 though. DeMarre also looks to improve, but I don't even know what course he is there to take.

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Assumptions

I'm, of course, assuming that all of these guys did similar drills and exercises. Clearly they all have not. By going over their published research I see a lot of data on knee injuries and strain. I think that P3 could also be a great place for rehabilitation. As a PM&R guy I am professionally interested in this. I think it is safe to say that all players get an average benefit for going to P3 - but the specifics of how their body reacts, their personalities, their dedication, and the exact things they worked on make a huge difference in what they ultimately gain from it. (Again, focusing on moving side to side does not give you the same benefit of working fulling on jumping higher)

I'm happy that the Jazz have a relationship with P3, and I'm always overjoyed to have more and more guys from our team go there. After all, I have very little confidence in the actual "on staff" training and health staff of the Jazz. It's hard to gain professional confidence in a staff of obese dudes. If this was a restaurant, maybe? But one of the elite athletic teams in an entire sport -- and these are supposed to be the most healthy and fit employees of that company? And their BMI is in the 40s?

That's why I think P3 is an essential and necessary relationship for the Utah Jazz to have, develop, grow, and nurture. Getting our younger guys to reach their maximum physical potentials almost entirely relies upon it. And we need our younger guys to be their best, because the better players lead the better team. And the better teams win the most. And after all, that's why we root for this team, we root for them to win. Not to just be happy to show up to the playoffs.

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