Updated December 16th, 2023 at 00:29 IST
For some NBA players, an early season injury can doom postseason award chances
The NBA added and tweaked some policies this season with hopes of getting players to appear in more games and take fewer nights off to rest.
Tyler Herro's season was off to a great start. He was averaging career-bests of 22.9 points, 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game for the Miami Heat, shooting the 3-pointer better than ever before and looking very much like one of the league’s top players.
And then he landed on Jaren Jackson Jr.’s foot in Memphis, badly turning his ankle.
Herro's season didn’t end on that play. His candidacy for postseason NBA awards did.
The NBA added and tweaked some policies this season with hopes of getting players to appear in more games and take fewer nights off to rest. Part of the enticement to play more was adding a rule where players, in most cases, need to be in 65 games so they can be eligible for postseason award voting. The league's stance is clear: if you can play, you better be playing.
But should someone miss a few weeks with a legitimate injury, they're also out of the awards mix. Herro said he isn't ready to play yet, meaning Saturday's Chicago at Miami game will be the 18th that he misses this season — and that will officially mean he's going to fall short of that 65-game minimum.
“I don't know what the right thing to do is,” Chicago coach Billy Donovan said. “I see both sides of it. But the other thing is if you have a guy that's been healthy and plays 70, 75, 80 games, those guys should also be rewarded for having the durability to endure a season that long.”
Herro was one of the players who spoke out in support of the league's push to have players appear more often this season. His stance hasn't changed, even though his ankle injury has doomed his award hopes.
“I’m OK with it,” Herro said this week.
The 65-game rule (it can be less in limited cases) is part of the new collective bargaining agreement that went into effect this summer and determines whether players are eligible for things such as the MVP award, an All-NBA Team, Defensive Player of the Year, an All-Defensive Team, or Most Improved Player. The league also approved the terms of the player participation policy in September, that focusing primarily on star players — someone who has been an All-Star or on the All-NBA team in any of the prior three seasons.
The league just didn't like the look of star players resting, especially in nationally televised games.
“It’s not just coming from the league office. I think whether it’s our teams, our Players Association, individual players, I think there’s an acknowledgment across the league that we need to return to that principle, that this is an 82-game league,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in September. “That, of course, doesn’t mean that we’re turning the clock back, that players are expected to play through injuries or that players, frankly, never need rest.
“But I think there’s a statement of a principle that, if you’re a healthy player in this league, that the expectation is that you’re going to play.”
It’s not just Herro who’s in the club of seeing award hopes dashed by early season injury. Portland’s Anfernee Simons is averaging 24.6 points, but he missed 18 games because of a torn thumb ligament — so he, too, is already assured of not playing in 65 games.
Among the big names who already have missed significant time and can’t miss much more: Phoenix’s Devin Booker (28.1 ppg, has missed nine games), Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball (24.7 ppg, will miss eighth game Friday) and Terry Rozier (23.9 ppg, nine games missed), Utah’s Lauri Markkanen (23.7 ppg, nine games missed), Brooklyn’s Cam Thomas (23.4 ppg, nine games missed), Dallas’ Kyrie Irving (23 ppg, seven games missed), Miami’s defensive player of the year hopeful Bam Adebayo (22.3 ppg, nine games missed), New Orleans’ CJ McCollum (20 ppg, 13 games missed) and Denver’s Jamal Murray (18.3 ppg, 14 games missed).
“It's unfortunate that that's the way it is,” Miami guard Duncan Robinson said. “But I do understand it to an extent. There has to be a line somewhere."
Charlotte coach Steve Clifford remembers his days as a New York Knicks assistant when the team had what it called a durability chart: players would get a point for a game, point for a practice, point for a shootaround. If any were missed, the total went back to zero.
“Those guys would be upset if they missed something,” Clifford said. “People, they pay a lot of money. Some people only get to come to one or two games a year. They pick the games in the summer. Listen, without the players, coaches wouldn't have these great lives. Without the fans, none of us would. I think it's more than fair, in my opinion, for all of us to expect guys to get out there and play — unless they're injured.”
Herro is hoping to be back in the Heat lineup in the next few days. He didn't know at the time he got hurt that it would cost him this many games, and he was hopeful of being in the award mix this season.
He's already made his peace with the reality.
“Next year then," Herro said. "Or the year after that.”
Published December 16th, 2023 at 00:29 IST