In the NBA, injuries during the season can jeopardize any team’s playoff hopes, and in the postseason, the margin of error is so small that being without a key player for even a single game can be the difference between progressing to the next round or losing a series. That’s why NBA teams are using Smartabase to aggregate and manage data to build an injury risk profile that helps performance staff better understand the factors that influence injury risk and adjust accordingly.
By capturing the data the performance staff believes is crucial and implementing their own models for injury risk profiling, they’re able to confidently answer, “who is at risk of being injured?” In this article and the accompanying video, we’ll show how Smartabase is used by NBA teams to support Injury Risk Profiling.
INJURY RISK PROFILE: DATA INPUTS
To get a complete picture of every player’s injury risk, the performance and medical groups need access to current and historical data from the wide range of technologies and manual screenings that NBA teams typically use. While these provide some value when evaluated in isolation, uniting them in Smartabase makes it easier to perform full risk assessments based on comprehensive data sets. Here are some of the inputs NBA teams are combining to improve injury profiling.
PREVIOUS INJURY HISTORY
The biggest factor when considering any basketball player’s chances of getting hurt is their previous injury history. This applies to the recurrence of an acute issue (whether it’s a less serious injury like a sprained ankle or a more serious one such as an ACL tear), the continuation of a chronic condition such as Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis, or a novel injury that could have been caused by overcompensation – like hurting the left knee after rehabbing the right.
This is why it’s crucial that NBA performance staff have access to their players’ complete injury histories. Smartabase can import data from the NBA’s league-wide electronic medical records (EMR) system, enabling team physicians, athletic trainers, strength and conditioning (S+C) coaches, and others to pinpoint certain incidents in a player’s past to get a more granular view or to zoom out and survey all of the prior issues they’ve dealt with. They can then bring this information into the present moment, correlate it with current data, and make choices that mitigate a player’s chance of getting hurt again.
Smartabase integrates with a wide range of tools that highlight movement deficiencies. VALD ForceDecks and Hawkin Dynamics HD Force Plates can test players unilaterally and bilaterally to show left-right lower body asymmetry that can predispose a player to injury.
NBA team’s S+C coaches and athletic trainers utilize systems that evaluate full-body muscle strength, endurance, and imbalance, such as VALD ForceFrame and KangaTech KT360, and pinpoint potential issues that could progress to injuries in areas like the knees, hips, shoulders, and foot/ankle complex. Both systems provide the insights to actively prescribe exercises to remedy such problems. Building on these systems’ testing of isometric strength and balance, HUMAC NORM assesses isokinetic capabilities through 22 tests, all of which can indicate an imbalance that heightens injury risk.
This kind of high-tech testing can be combined with manual assessments such as dynamometry, which evaluates a combination of muscular contraction and joint movement. If a player’s muscle function is compromised, this can be a red flag for injury and the athletic trainer can prescribe isolation exercises to correct this before it elevates the player’s chances of getting hurt.
Using Smartabase, the S+C staff can overlay objective data with subjective information captured during daily notes that record their observations of players’ training and include any issues in technique that might prove problematic.
Injury surveillance can also be extended to practice scenarios with sensors that enable real-time tracking of the loads and intensities being placed on players’ legs. Products like IMeasureU can alert staff when a player is overemphasizing one leg while underutilizing the other, which can show an asymmetry that might elevate their injury risk.
In the weight room, velocity-based training systems such as GymAware allow the S+C coach to see when players’ force production drops off, indicating neuromuscular fatigue that prompts a reduction in volume or intensity so the player doesn’t they overdo their training.
In addition to completing tests to demonstrate their speed, leaping ability, and agility, players who attend the NBA Combine undergo a functional movement screen (FMS). This test is also administered at the start of the pre-season and sometimes when potential trades are being evaluated. The FMS is the most widely used assessment of movement competence, and if it highlights dysfunctions in any of the seven archetypal positions evaluated, exercise corrections can be made to address these and, as a result, limit the chance of a player getting hurt during practice or in a game. Retesting later in the season can show if such correctives are having a positive effect, or if new ones need to be implemented to improve movement quality.
Some NBA teams build on their roster’s FMS results with video analysis. This enables them to take a closer look at players’ jump/landing mechanics – which they will need to utilize hundreds of times per week – and their biomechanics in fundamental patterns such as squats, hinges, and lunges. There’s a lot of hype around players’ vertical jump scores, but if they cannot land safely and sustainably, they’re setting themselves up for injury when they come back down to the ground. Biomechanical screens can highlight joint function limitations and asymmetries that – when outside standard ranges – indicate someone is at greater risk of getting hurt.
FATIGUE + LOAD
In a paper published in the Journal of Athletic Training, the author evaluated NBA injury risk factors and highlighted “greater performance load and fatigue” as two of the most significant.
Combining game statistics collected via Second Spectrum and GPS-based practice loads inputted via Kinexon or Catapult in Smartabase allows NBA performance staff to keep tabs on players’ fatigue levels and how these relate to outcomes. If they notice a trend that shows a consistent decline, the duration and intensity of practices and weight room training can be temporarily scaled back until the player returns to their normal baselines to reduce their risk of injury.
Game and practice stats could be overlaid with data from force plates that correlate lower jumping height and power with elevated fatigue. Smart scales indicate excess fluid loss related to dehydration, which can also contribute to a player feeling weary.
Sleep is another key factor in injury risk profiling in the NBA. If a player is consistently shortchanging themselves on sleep quality and quantity, they will not only feel more fatigued, less energetic, and more emotionally volatile, but will also significantly increase their chances of getting hurt.
Wearables such as the Oura Ring, Polar Sleep Plus, the Whoop Band, and the Apple Watch and smart mattresses from the likes of Eight Sleep can unobtrusively gather accurate sleep data and send it into Smartabase. The performance team can then combine it with subjective data that players self-report on how fatigued they feel and how well rested they are to create a comprehensive sleep report that factors into overall readiness and injury risk.
In addition to NBA players’ injury history impacting their current and future chances of getting hurt, their training background is also highly relevant when creating a comprehensive injury risk profile. Their current fitness level – comprised of cardiovascular/endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, and mobility – is a key marker too, as is their training history and age. Body composition metrics like BMI or DXA obtained from systems such as BOD POD and InBody can also be incorporated, as players who are overweight or underweight are typically at greater risk of injury.
In the past few years, NBA teams have started to recognize the role of psychosocial factors in predisposing players to injury. Smartabase enables staff to combine objective data sets like heart rate variability (HRV) with subjective ones from wellness questionnaires so that they can more accurately assess when players are feeling stressed, anxious, or burned out and make the necessary intervention. Smartabase can also collate psychologist and/or psychiatrist notes and limit access to those staff who are authorized to see them, in keeping with HIPAA and other privacy regulations.
NUTRITION + HYDRATION
If a basketball player is undernourished, they’re not going to perform at their peak or recover adequately and might even increase their risk of injury. Smartabase provides a full nutrition and hydration profile, combining data from apps like MyFitnessPal and Notemeal with body composition and hydration information from smart scales. Notes from team nutritionists and dieticians can also be included in players’ profiles, along with guidance around individualized meal plans. This way, staff can see if nutrition and hydration is helping or hindering an individual’s readiness.
INJURY RISK PROFILE: METRICS & ANALYSIS
As shown above, injury risk for NBA players is not isolated to one variable but is multi-factorial. This is why each team’s performance staff has adopted a preferred Risk Scoring Model or developed their own, which monitors the impact of each variable and the cumulative injury risk for every player at any given time.
Using such a model, subject matter experts can decide which factors matter most and assign a weight to each one. For example, previous injury and overall fatigue might be rated as the two most impactful contributors to injury risk, while a team might score hydration, nutrition, and psychosocial stress lower.
Once all the performance, medical, and lifestyle factors that can predispose a player to injury have been identified, ranked, and rated, the staff utilizes Smartabase to create flags that are assigned to all of them. These can be color-coded so coaches can easily see which areas are potential trouble spots within a player’s profile. The total number of flags is displayed so that everyone who interacts with the roster knows when someone’s injury risk is running high and adapt their approach as needed.
Flags can also be paired with individual norms that are customized to the baseline of each individual. For example, the starting shooting guard typically averages eight hours of sleep a night, so if his sleep scores drop below seven hours three days in a row, that will present a red flag. Whereas the backup center gets seven hours of shuteye a night, so his red flag average might be six.
INJURY RISK PROFILE: REPORTING
Merely collecting data on players’ injury risk factors shouldn’t be the end goal for NBA teams, but rather just the first step. To become useful, the information captured from devices, apps, and assessments must be collated, combined, and presented in a way that can be easily understood by all relevant staff members so they can adjust their interactions with the players to increase durability and decrease the likelihood of injury.
Smartabase facilitates this by visualizing data in graphical, intuitive dashboards that present all the information needed for NBA coaches to improve and expedite their decision-making and safeguard players’ wellbeing. Reporting features also make it easier for professionals to manage currently injured players throughout the full continuum of care, from the moment of injury to the point when they’re cleared to return to practice and play.
INJURY RISK/READINESS SUMMARY DASHBOARD
This report provides NBA coaches with an at-a-glance overview of each player’s injury risk and overall readiness. It shows any area that someone has displayed a red flag in – such as fatigue, sleep, or current injury – and the total number of flags for that day.
Color-coded highlighting helps staff quickly zero in on areas of concern that are rated as exposing the player to moderate or significant risk, as well as stating the cumulative risk as low, moderate, or high. If red flags pertain to a professional’s specialty, they can make the necessary intervention – like providing sleep hygiene resources or limiting the type of exercises or drills – to ensure the player isn’t exposed to further undue risks and can limit the negative impact of current risk factors.
This dashboard also groups players into customized availability categories – such as available, controlled, limited, and out – so that the coaching staff can modify practices and team selection for games as needed based on player status.
Certain members of an NBA’s performance, medical, or coaching teams might need to dive deeper into the numbers that impact injury risk in their domain. This is where reporting features in Smartabase allow them to see more details in a sub-dashboard view. For example, the sports psychologist could assess psychosocial factors, an S+C coach might want to explore asymmetries and decreases in power production, and an athletic trainer may wish to compare a player’s recent FMS score with the one from last season. Whether a professional is interested in learning more about the wellness, performance, or medical aspects of the injury risk profile, they can quickly and easily locate the information they need to drive better decision-making and keep the squad healthy and available.
OVERALL TEAM & INDIVIDUAL ATHLETE VIEWS
Smartabase offers the flexibility to toggle between a high-level team view of injury risk and players’ distinct profiles. This enables NBA performance professionals to apply general interventions to the whole roster and/or tailor specific players’ individual preparation and recovery to increase overall readiness and availability while limiting the incidence of injury.
The team-based view allows staff to see the total number of practices and games missed and to see incidents by category (such as illnesses and contact, acute overload, and chronic injuries, etc.) They can also apply time constraints to get more specific information, such as the past 10 games. The individual view offers a greater level of detail for each member of the roster, including the type and mechanism of injury, whether it occurred during a game, practice, or S+C workout, and the latest notes from the medical team.
INJURY RISK PROFILE: TAKING ACTION
The beauty of an NBA team utilizing Smartabase is that rather than just reacting to historical injury data, they can use data to proactively mitigate players’ risk. Combining information from all the inputs previously mentioned, the performance, medical, and coaching staff can come together to modify weight room sessions, modulate practices, and better manage in-game minutes distribution.
During hectic periods in the schedule when most players are showing signs of fatigue and decreased output, these can be blanket recommendations that are applied across the entire roster. Throughout the rest of the season, the insights that Smartabase presents can be utilized to create individualized training and recovery plans that strike a balance between keeping readiness high and injury risk low.
Having single-click access to complete injury risk profiles via Smartabase makes it easier to drive timely interventions. For example, when a certain type of flag pops up, it could trigger a notification to the relevant professional alerting them to a change in a player’s status, leading them to schedule an appointment with the AT, PT, or other team member as soon as possible.
As Smartabase puts everyone on the same page, it becomes easier for an NBA staff to build and execute a comprehensive plan that addresses player deficiencies and dysfunction in a collaborative and consistent way and keeps as many people on the court as possible.