Does Playing Time and Efficiency Change for a Player in the NBA After a Summer Competition?
I’ll frequently hear that NBA players get extremely tired in the FIBA World Cup/Olympics in the summer, and then end up playing poorly and lacking focus in the ensuing NBA season. Analysts go as far as saying that players will play fewer minutes in the coming season and get rested more often.
Well, we’re about to play myth buster here and try to find out whether there is any truth to this idea.
I looked at the USA basketball team and took the top six players (in terms of minutes played in a summer competition), comparing the number of minutes they played in the year before and the year after in the NBA. Take a look at the chart below. Each “case” represents a player from the USA basketball team that is in the top six in minutes played during one of the last three big tournaments (2012 Olympics, 2010 FIBA World Cup, 2008 Olympics). A positive number means the player played more minutes the year after than the year before. A negative number means his playing time decreased during the second year. The bolded line in the middle separates these two groups.
As you can see, there is virtually no difference in playing time. The biggest decline in playing time was three minutes per game, but there were more players with an increased playing time than there we players with decreased minutes. On average, playing time after a big tournament decreased by fewer than 20 seconds, which is insignificant in almost any context.
Now that we know the players are playing the same amount of minutes, lets look at how well they perform, in terms of PER.
PER is player efficiency rating, which shows how efficient players are by boiling down a players’ numbers all into one metric. It's not the best if you’re trying to compare different players as different styles of play produce different results, but here we're comparing the same players’ performance from one year to the next, making this a very valid comparison.
As you can see, with the bolded line being the mark of "better or worse" year over year, there are a lot more players who improved their PER than players who declined in play. On average, players improved their PER by 1.85, which is an 8.2% increase. Out of the 18 players, only four showed a decrease in PER after a major competition. This could be attributed to a number of factors, especially since many of the players that are on the national team are either entering or have just entered their prime, meaning they are likely to increase their PER regardless of the summer competitions, but the fact that there is no regression is a good sign. The improvement can virtually put an end to the discussion of whether the summer competitions hurt a player and his performance.
This is no complicated analysis, but it does show that players aren’t usually affected by these summer competitions in a negative way. There's obviously the risk of injury while playing or preparing for the tournament, as was the case with Paul George, but that’s an entirely different story altogether. All you need to know for your favorite teams’ star is that, if they return without a long term injury, they will most likely play a similar number of minutes as the season prior, and they're likely to perform even better than before.
This myth is busted.