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The “what did giannis say” is a quote from Giannis Antetokounmpo. In the interview, he talks about how it used to be a badge of honor to play every game, but now it’s not as important.
NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo missed the Milwaukee Bucks’ overtime defeat to the Boston Celtics with a damaged ankle after being labeled as likely to play on Nov. 12 against the Boston Celtics. Antetokounmpo does not have a reputation for being prone to injury or for asking to be taken out of the lineup on a frequent basis. His absence, though, drew the ire of legendary NBA player Richard Jefferson, who chastised the current crop of players for wearing street clothes to games.
On Nov. 14, Antetokounmpo returned to the lineup, scoring 26 points on 9-of-21 shooting in a 120–100 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Antetokounmpo’s ankle problems were evident in his season-low five rebounds. He’s still averaging 11.3 rebounds per game, and his lack of action on the glass in Atlanta indicates that he’s taking longer to get off the court. Even if it comes out as “old grandpa rants at kids on lawn” stuff, Jefferson raises an intriguing issue.
By today’s standards, Giannis Antetokounmpo is a tough player.
Former NBA champion Richard Jefferson slammed today’s players after Giannis Antetokounmpo missed a game with a damaged ankle on Nov. 12. | Getty Images/Maddie Meyer
Giannis Antetokounmpo has appeared in 602 of the 651 regular-season games available in his eighth NBA season. Last season, he missed 11 games, and the two seasons before that, he missed ten. His aggressive agility and style of play allow for a lot of contact, and his explosive athleticism may be taxing on the joints.
Antetokounmpo has only missed two postseason games in his six playoff appearances, both at the conclusion of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals after spraining his knee. According to the stats, he’s appeared in 64 of the possible 66 games. Antetokounmpo said that he may have hurried his comeback to the NBA Finals, but he still averaged 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. Milwaukee, of course, took home the big gold trophy. There were benefits to taking the risk.
The San Antonio Spurs established the standard for resting players throughout the regular season in the early 2010s. Coach Gregg Popovich had to deal with an aging squad that included Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and others who were over the age of 30.
However, the practice of resting players is as ancient as the NBA. Back spasms were the most prevalent “ailment” until the NBA scrapped the injured list in 2005, extending rosters to 15 players with a nightly inactive list. When a player was signed to a 10-day contract for a tryout, he often suffered back spasms and was placed on the disabled list.
Kawhi Leonard became the face of a new NBA classification, load management, after joining the Toronto Raptors and eventually the Los Angeles Clippers. It seems much more scientific than just citing “rest” as the cause for a player’s inactivity on a certain night.
However, Richard Jefferson’s fundamental thesis is still valid.
According to Richard Jefferson, athletes no longer take pleasure in being accessible every night.
On ESPN’s NBA Countdown on Nov. 12, commentator Richard Jefferson responded to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absence with a general remark about the NBA:
“Everyone stamps their mark on it, and there was a period when participating in 82 games was considered a badge of pride.” It’s no longer a source of pride. It’s about how long we can remain healthy and maintain it over time.”
Stephen A. Smith spoke about a chat he had with a player last season on the same broadcast. Smith chastised the player for not being present on the court.
“An hour later, he phoned me and said, ‘Stephen A., that ain’t our call,’” Smith said. “‘The medical staff arrives, makes a call, and has the right to remove the coaches, a power granted to them by management. The players often want to play, but the medical staff forces us to sit down, and we have no control over it.’”
It becomes a risk vs. benefit equation that the franchise’s medical team must answer, just as it did with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the NBA Finals. Yes, teams want to win every game, and the majority of players want to participate rather than sit. The medical personnel’s responsibility includes putting out the competitive fire.
The statistics back up Richard Jefferson’s assertion.
Richard Jefferson started his NBA career with the New Jersey Nets in 2001. He appeared in 82 games four times in 17 seasons, including back-to-back seasons in 2007–08 and 2008–09. He also played every game in 2013–14, despite being 33 years old.
However, statistics reveal that there is significantly less focus on playing every game than there was before.
42 players participated in at least 82 games during Jefferson’s first season in 2001–02. After switching teams, two players, Bo Outlaw and Jalen Rose, participated in 83. After five years, the number of players who made 82 appearances dropped to 36 in 2006–07.
We’ll go forward to 2012–13 since 2011–12 was a lockout season. That season, just 28 players appeared in 82 games. The last time the NBA played an 82-game schedule was in 2018–19, when 21 players played every game.
In 1967, the NBA switched to an 82-game schedule. 26 players appeared in 82 games throughout the season. However, only 12 teams and 151 players were on the list. In terms of percentages, 17.2 percent of NBA players did not miss a game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, despite his endurance, has never participated in all 82 games. He came closest in his second season, 2014–15, when he registered 81 minutes.
Given the scale of contracts, especially for superstar players, the long-term investment takes precedence over the daily grind. If there’s any chance a player may turn a minor ailment into a long-term issue (or, worst-case scenario, a career-ending illness), the organization will take precautions.
That only makes commercial sense in the era of nine-figure contracts. Playing in every game is a good bragging right to have, but it’s not worth jeopardizing a team’s season or the future of a franchise merely to put a number on the stat sheet.
Basketball Reference and Stathead provided the statistics.
Scottie Pippen admires Giannis Antetokounmpo’s perseverance in the face of adversity and willingness to be humiliated: ‘We’ve seen him shoot airball 3s, teams force him to shoot 3s, and he’s put in a lot of time and effort into his craft.’
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