Highway to the Danger Zone?

Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Timofey Mozgov, Arron Afflalo. They all have missed game this season with an ankle sprain.  Some have been serious (Gallo) some have been much less so (Afflalo).  However, I think I speak for Nuggets fans everywhere when I ask, “What is with all the ankle sprains?”

Let me propose two potential causes that are the two pillars of Denver’s offense, pace and paint points, two categories in which they lead the entire NBA.  Maybe the Pepsi Center should be known as the Danger Zone.

Sprained ankles happen in basketball.  Most sprained ankles occur when a player steps on another player’s foot.  Consider the Nuggets offense.  The crux of their offense is having their players drive into the lane continuously in order to score points in the paint.  Opponents know that to beat the Nuggets you stay in or near the lane prepared to help out on penetration.   Nuggets players are constantly forcing their way into the lane, which is generally filled with defenders.  Every time they drive or jump or plant their foot, they are at risk of doing one of those things on an opponent’s foot.  Judging statistically by their points in the paint and viscerally by their style of offense and the way they are defended, no team has their players with as much potential of spraining an ankle as Denver.

Now consider their league leading pace factor.  The Nuggets have a pace factor of 97.4, which leads the NBA.  The average pace factor is 93.8.  That means Denver packs an extra 3.6 possessions into every 48 minutes they play than the average NBA team.  It does not seem like much, but over the 35 games they have played, that is an extra 126 possessions the Nuggets are completing, which at their pace equates to an additional 1.3 games worth of possessions than the average team.

Is the Nuggets offense dangerous to their players’ health?

Considering the types of possessions the Nuggets conduct and the additional number of possessions they utilize I think it makes sense that the Nuggets would be more at risk than other teams to losing players to ankle sprains than other teams.

Certainly the percentage of times a player drives or jumps or changes direction and sprains an ankle is an incredibly tiny number.  It is possibly so small that even with extra possessions and added forays into a crowded lane that those extra repetitions are statistically insignificant.  Whether that is the case or not, I certainly can see a correlation between Denver’s style of play and their injury isses.

Even putting the sprained ankles aside, consider their other injuries, Nene’s groin, heel and calf and  Fernandez’s back, the added stress of playing at a fast pace and putting additional torque on the body could create additional opportunities for injury.  Now add in the compacted schedule and the fact Denver has played more games than 22 other teams and they would seem to be the odds on favorite in the league to get bitten by the injury bug.

Now consider the fact the Nuggets are weighing a long term commitment to Wilson Chandler who has a history of ankle issues.  If I am Chris Luchey, Chandler’s agent, I might steer him somewhere else, or request hazard pay to play in the Danger Zone.

And yes, I named the post Highway to the Danger Zone just so I could embed this video:

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  • evan

    “Most sprained ankles occur when a player steps on another player’s foot.”

    -But is that how those Nugget’s sprained their ankle?
    That’s the only thing that really matters.

    • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com Jeremy

      Gallinari, whose sprain was the worst, was from stepping on an opponent’s foot. Afflalo’s was the same. Mozgov’s and Lawson’s sprains came without stepping on a defender’s foot, but both were on fast break layup attempts.

      I do not think the only thing that matters is how they sprained their ankles, or how they were injured, the thing that matters is that they are hurt. I am just raising the question of whether or not the Nuggets are suffering a rash of injuries because of the way they play.

      I do not think we can arrive at a definitive conclusion, it is just something I found interesting to consider.

  • Charlie

    Interesting theory, but I’m not sure I can buy it. There’s nothing different about what George Karl is doing now than what he’s done his whole career in Denver, and the Nuggets haven’t been an injury plagued team.

    To me, the Gallo injury was bad luck at the worst time. Instead of suffering a routine sprain, it turned into a fracture compounded by a previous incident.

    Injuries are just up in this lockout year. Almost every team is dealing with it, and the Nuggets just had this perfect storm of losing everyone at once during their most difficult portion of schedule. The pace argument is valid, but a Denver rotation player sees fewer minutes than many other team’s rotation players. Thus, they’re playing a similar amount of total possessions despite playing faster and perhaps being more “at risk” in the Nuggets system.

    The really interesting bit is the paint points argument, and I fully agree with that. The Nuggets are on a historic pace in terms of the amount of their offense generated in the paint. When your entire strategy is geared towards every player bulldozing towards the rim and attacking the paint that’s not good for guys health. I’d argue you cannot adopt such a simple offensive strategy in back-to-backs because it’s so unlikely to work, not to mention dangerous.

    • John

      One change might be more players buying into the strategy because non-agressive players don’t get playing time (Miller being an exception).

  • magster

    Is there any precautionary equipment the players can use, like tape the ankle pre-game or wear high tops that are more rigid around the ankle? I know that speed and agility might be compromised a little, but maybe there’s a way to have something that props the ankle when a foot is stepped on. I dunno….

  • Tmac

    I’ve been wondering about the ankles too, kind of reminds me of the knee troubles in Portland…if it is truly due to the style of play and extra possessions and not the training staff (which has been blamed in Portland) wouldn’t we see similar issues on the Mike D’Antoni Phoenix Suns teams who played with a similar pace to the current Nuggets? I have not researched the correlation but I’d be interested to see if anyone knows if the Suns experienced similar troubles???

  • Andrew

    Jeremy, interesting theory, but you would need statistics from other teams and their number of ankle injuries to show a correlation between ankle injuries and a team’s paint points and/or average pace factor. I would bet that the correlation will not be that strong with the pace factor, but that there will be some (though not great) correlation with paint points. Of course, strong half court teams with good bigs get a lot of paint points, too, don’t they?

    • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com Jeremy

      You are right Andrew, it would take a massive amount of research to prove/disprove my hypothesis. I would say that there is a big difference between paint points from Dwight Howard scoring at the rim on post ups and offensive rebounds and the kind of paint points Denver scores due to an all out assault on the rim by any and everyone.

  • Andrew

    By the way, ever since I saw the movie Sleep With Me back in the 90’s, references to Top Gun always remind me of Tarantino’s hilarious screed about Top Gun. “You can ride my tail anytime, Maverick!” The movie was fairly average, but the monologue by Tarantino about Top Gun is pretty hilarious.

  • bosc0

    The Nuggets need sponsorship from http://www.asoankle.com/
    I’ve used one since i did my ankle.

  • Jeff

    There’s something to be said for players that don’t jump all over the court (Miller and Harrington). While athleticism is valuable and fun to watch, I don’t think Blake Griffin will have as long a career as Andre Miller.