Just 18 minutes into his first NBA game, Julius Randle fractured his tibia on what was an innocent play.
Longtime Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti — entering his final season — has blamed himself for that. He shouldn’t, every other medical person consulted on this said there was no way to see it coming, but that’s Vitti. Randle had surgery that put a rod and screws in his tibia, and he spent a year in recovery. (While out, Randle also had foot surgery.) He was healthy enough to play in Summer League in Las Vegas.
But heading into the season, Vitti is still leaning toward caution and thinking long-term, as he told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
“The plan is we get to the first day of training camp, we talk to our doctors and hopefully he will be able to participate in everything. But men plan and God laughs. So that’s the plan. That’s the mid-range plan. I said there were three goals. First is to get him to play in summer league. Second goal was to get him at first day of training camp and get him to do everything. Third goal is to get him to play in the first regular season game without restrictions.”
So what are he and the doctors watching? That answer provides a brilliant look into the advanced analytics available in the NBA that are becoming the trend for monitoring player health.
“Number one is pain. The things that we look at are pain, inflammation and swelling as well as talking to him on how he feels. It’s also his performance on the court and his recovery on the court. We look at things like load and intensity. So when we’re in a game at an NBA arena, we have an eye in the sky. The eye in the sky tells us how many accelerations there are to the left and how many accelerations there are to the right as well as how many decelerations. We can tell how many accelerations and decelerations there are and the trajectory of them. That information goes in an algorithm that tells us the average speed that the player played at. We multiply that by the distance that he ran in a game. We multiply that by his body weight. That gives us a number that we call load. We look at that number. But then we also take that number and divide it by time, which is minutes played, and that gives us intensity. So what we want to see as his load goes up, does his intensity go up with it. If it does, then we’re okay.”
If not, there are changes. It’s that simple. And if/when players start wearing body monitoring devices, that will add another level to the discussion.
Hopefully for the Lakers there are no restrictions on Randle, who needs to diversify his offensive moves as he adapts to the next level of defense he will face.