Unexpected Benefits of the NBA Bubble [injury analysis]

Posted on 17 November, 2020 by Dimitrije Curcic

172 games were played in the Orland bubble, 89 seeding, and 83 playoff games. We analyzed the first 89 games of each of the past 5 seasons (corresponding with 89 bubble seeding games), along with 5 previous playoffs.

We counted the total number of games NBA players missed due to injury during this period and compared the bubble with “outside”.

Key findings

NBA bubble turned out to be the safest on-court environment for the NBA players:

  • Players in the bubble missed 28% fewer games due to injury compared to the average of 5 previous seasons.
  • Injured players missed 2.9 games in the bubble, 24% less compared to the 5-season average (3.7 games).
  • Playoff injury rate in the bubble declined 31% compared to the average of 5 previous playoffs.

Bubble vs. outside

The NBA bubble proved to be the safest on-court environment in the NBA, as players missed 28% fewer games in the bubble compared to the average of 5 previous seasons.

 

 

Here is a by-season breakdown of injury-missed games. The bubble season is the only one with 300 or less missed games due to injury:

 

 

We also examined the severity of injuries during the bubble seeding games. We did this by looking at the average number of games injured players missed.

Injured players missed 2.9 games in the bubble, down 24% compared to the 5-season average.

 

Bubble vs. start of the season

Considering the 4-month break, it’s logical to compare the bubble games with the start of the NBA season, where players usually have a couple of months off before returning to action.

It turns out that the bubble (247 games missed) proved to be safer compared to outside (339), where players missed 38% more games in the opening 89 season games.

 

 

Year-to-year progression of injury-related absences shows that the bubble injury rate is the lowest over the last 5 years (and lower than the beginning of 2020 season):

 

 

Compared to the average of 5 seasons starts prior to the bubble (and start of 2020 season), injured NBA players missed 27% fewer games in Orlando.

 

Bubble playoffs vs. "outside" playoffs 

Bubble Playoffs are among the most injury-safe postseason in recent NBA history. Players missed only 53 games in 83 Playoff clashes in the bubble, while the 5-season average prior to the bubble stands at 77 (82 games played on average). This is a 31% drop.

 

 

The bubble playoff games are among the safest in recent NBA history in terms of players’ on-court safety:

 

 

In terms of severity of playoff injuries, the bubble once again proves to be one of the safest postseasons with injured players missing 3.8 games on average. This is a 10% drop compared to the 5-year average in previous postseasons (4.2 games missed).

 

Conclusion

The bubble experiment proves successful for the league. We saw lots of great games, amazing comebacks, and an overall high level of basketball. Injuries were one of the major concerns for everyone going into the bubble. However, they are on a historically low level, which raises some questions about the effect that long offseason break has on players' health.

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Author
Dimitrije Curcic
Dimitrije Curcic

Dimitrije Curcic has been playing basketball for over 22 years. Like Manu Ginobili, he’s a left-hander whose moves led him to a better career-shooting percentage than the Argentine himself. After playing professionally for 10 years, Dimitrije moved to coaching for two seasons before he became a basketball statistician for StatScore, and FanSided contributor for the San Antonio Spurs. Dimitrije loves to tell hoop stories through numbers and graphics and has been featured on Fansided, FiveThirtyEight, Eurohoops, and TalkBasket among the others.

dimitrije@runrepeat.com