Over the weekend, Team USA’s already thin roster took a hit with De’Aaron Fox pulling out of Team USA. Fox cited potential injury concerns and his desire to focus on making the playoffs with the Sacramento Kings. This has become a recurring theme for this offseason as stars and fringe stars have removed themselves from consideration for the FIBA World Cup. Most have cited the same concern: possible injuries. Do NBA players have a higher chance of injury the following season when playing with Team USA?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is it depends on if you’re a younger player vs older player. Most correlate Paul George’s terrible injury a few years back in a scrimmage to why players shouldn’t play with Team USA, but then they completely ignore other factors that can happen just by working out on your own in the offseason. For every Paul George fluke there are about 5 Demarcus Cousins’ injuries. They are both classified as acute and random, but they do happen.
In order to find out if players who play with Team USA play in less games the following season, I went back to the Olympic rosters and looked at how they performed before Team USA and after. I looked at how many games they played in during the following regular season.
2008 Team USA
Remember when Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer were on Team USA? It’s insane to think that the Utah Jazz at one point had two players representing the United States. Carlos Boozer may have been Team USA’s victory cigar, but I digress. The important thing is we see that for the most part players played 5 games less the following year. Most of that was due to Michael Redd’s career falling off a cliff and Carlos Boozer getting hurt with acute injuries. A total of 83 games lost were just between those two players.
2008 Team USA
|Dwyane Wade, Jr.||28||30||0.3||2.2||3.6||0.022||0.7||2||1.5||1.6||0.039||0.036||0.6||0.6||0.007||0.2||0.6||0.8||0.6||0.5||0.6||-1||-0.4||5.6|
If you were going to use any FIBA play as a reason to hold players back it would be 2008. It precipitated the end of Michael Redd’s career. It was the beginning of many Carlos Boozer injuries—though, to be fair, Carlos Boozer’s career is riddled from beginning to end with them. Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony both missed double digit games.
It is also the case that it can be a great re-entry back into play and preparation for the season. Dwyane Wade who had struggled with injuries used the Olympics as a jumping off point for a career year. He improved his PPG by 5.6, increased his efficiency, and played in 28 more games than the prior year.
2012 Team USA
If you were going to say a year would cause injuries due to lack of rest, neverending offseason schedule, and hard turnaround into the season, the 2012 Olympics would have been the year. The lockout had just occurred the prior year. It forced teams to play 66 games starting from December 25th. To put that in perspective, the NBA will play 82 games starting from October 22nd.
For that reason Chris Bosh decided to opt out from the 2012 team as he battled injuries throughout the 2011-2012 season. But that didn’t deter the NBA’s biggest stars from playing. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul all stayed on the team. Did they end up playing in significantly less games?
Not really ...
2012 Team USA
You’ll notice that all players played in more games than the following season except one—Kevin Love. Big reason is the lockout. But we didn’t see any pushed up with playing the same amount which would have made them all closer to 60-66 games.
Once again, we see increases in efficiency when it applies to younger players. One thing I see every single year is an increase in 3 point attempts across the board, but that could just be us seeing the modern 3 point era take over on a very macro level.
2016 Team USA
On average we saw players play in almost 1 more game than the prior season. We see what we’d hope to see with the data. It’s mixed. There’s no trend. There’s no WOW THIS IS BAD data. The injury data is as random as we’d see compared the NBA in that league year. We once again see that playing in Team USA is REALLY good for young players as most of their stats increase the following season.
2016 Team USA
One big note is Paul George who suffered the terrible injury the year prior, still played with Team USA. He would play in six less games the following year, but you can tell that his team was being careful with his minutes.
There’s no big thing that shows that playing with Team USA will increase your chances of injury. If anything else, it just increases the optics of an injury if a player has one. Instead of that injury being innocuous like DeMarcus Cousins who got hurt last week—no one is making a big stink about these basketball runs happening in the offseason—an injury with Team USA has a big event to qualify your memory. You’ll remember FIBA and think OH MY GOSH REMEMBER WHEN insert player here GOT INJURED??? If anything there’s not a lot to be gained as far as marketing is concerned if you get hurt. But there is a lot to be gained if you stay healthy and play—especially in the large Chinese market that it’s in this year.
With Team USA, it’s not like they have bush league doctors running it. We also can’t be naive and think that each respective team’s doctors aren’t monitoring their players closely with it as well. The amount of attention to detail and health that is going on in a scrimmage with Team USA is exponentially more than a run in LA with some wannabe G-League scrubs and a couple All-Stars.
For older players, I can see why they stay away. Their brand is strong, their game isn’t going to be opened up by playing with other stars, and their biggest gains will be staying home. For younger players like Donovan Mitchell, this is the chance of his young career to pour fuel on the developmental fire. He gets a chance to build his brand, improve his game while playing with some of the best in the game while being coached by the best in the game, and his biggest gains in the offseason will come with strong competition.
I’ve said this before, these players would be playing in August and September regardless, except the ones with Team USA have a spotlight on them. If something goes wrong, that spotlight becomes uncomfortably bright. We humans are great at building narratives based on anecdotal evidence. It’s how we survive. It’s also why agents have been so hell-bent on keeping their guys out of this thing. They don’t want a bad narrative. You gotta hand it to guys like Donovan Mitchell, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton, Marcus Smart, and others who are ignoring the narrative and doing what they want to do.
You’re only young once and if the data says you don’t have a bigger chance of getting hurt with Team USA than you would working out at home, then why not take a chance to improve your game while visiting Australia and China?
And in the case that Donovan Mitchell and other players are tired when they get back, the good news is it’s not 2008 anymore. NBA coaches and training staffs know how to take care of their players better throughout the season through strategic rest. They’re not dumb.