Always Speculating About Quilts, or Behind the Apparent Magic of Injury Speculation

  • i am surprised board rats are surprised Selden played hurt most of the season, or that EJ was long hobbled by injury, and so on.

    Like a good magician, I could keep my injury analysis techniques a secret. But my goal has always been to raise the level of shared basketball knowledge by transparency and good faith, in the hope that all boats rise, including mine. 🙂

    I never bet on games, and have not participated even in office pools for a long time. I just analyze the issue for the same as reason I analyze all other aspects of the game. I do it to get better at understanding the dynamics shaping the game I love. injury appears to me to be one of the most nonlinear impacts on a game that I can think of, because it dramatically alters how a team chooses to attack and defend another team. I think of injuries as redefinitions of opportunity sets that have direct and indirect effects on outcomes. But I am getting beyond the intended subject of simply identifying injuries.

    Consider Wayne Selden. Even if Wayne had never put on the quilts, what else but chronic injury could explain the sharp decline and then nagging plateau of an exceptionally talented and reasonably skilled freshman basketball player, like Wayne Selden, but injury turned to chronic injury? Sickeness comes and goes. Affairs of the heart, and family sicknesses and losses, come and go. Bad chemistry with coaches leads to the bench, not declining productivity at things a fit player should be holding steady and/or getting better at.

    I have five criteria 5 for analyzing if a player is playing with significant injury, whether for the coach, the good of the team, or out of some powerful, innate drive to perform inspire of all obstacles. I say significant injury, because in my recollection, as just a lousy high school baller, almost every player plays with some kind of minor injury almost all the time during a season of intense competition. In turn, I believe the reason some players with similar talents flourish and others lag behind is that often simply attributable to one player’s ability to not be distracted by minor injury as much as another. i believe science confirms that different persons have different thresholds of pain that distract them. But I cannot site a study on it either, so take this as reputed only. Regardless, here follows jaybate’s five criteria for analyzing injury.

    1. OBVIOUS IMPAIRMENT OF PHYSICAL ACTION; that’s the one everyone can recognize easily. But players, especially those new to us, with high pain thresholds and lots of excess athleticism and maybe some pain killers, anti inflams, and quilts can obscure the obvious outward signs with fortitude, intense psychological blocking out of pain, compensating muscle and some legal medicinal tricks. Exceptional talents like Selden seem to fall into this category.

    2. SUDDEN, THEN RECURRING WEARING OF INJURY AIDS, ESPECIALLY COUPLED WITH OCCASIONAL CHANGES OF INJURY AIDS; these were what I playfully began calling quilts when EJ, battling through knee rehab, began wearing knee wraps with a quilt-like outer surface, instead of the more traditional looking smooth wraps. Wraps on any joint betray an attempt to compensate for injury–either a major injury, or a minor injury one is trying to keep from becoming major. The longer these wraps persist, or worse, the more these wraps evolve, the more likely it is the injury has become chronic and is worsening. Of course, the dead give away of any unstable joint is a brace of any kind. Wraps support through reducing rate of change in joint movement and by discouraging, but not entirely preventing certain directions of movement. These are for injuries where the player has not yet lost control of range of movement in a joint. Braces limit range of movement and are applied to joints that the player’s muscle, tendon and ligament constellation can no longer effectively limit the adverse range of movement. After trying to understand why what seems obvious to me does not seem obvious to others, I have concluded that some are being fooled at times by players wearing two injury assists, when perhaps only one is needed. For example, a player with one mild knee injury, or hyper extended elbow, may wear wraps on both to simultaneously minimize the asymmetry of wearing one, and to camouflage from an opponent (at least in a sudden moment of action) which knee/elbow the scouting report said might be injured. Masking of weakness in all forms of competition in any setting dates at least to Sun Tzu. We should appear weak, where we are strong and strong where we are weak, chaotic where we are ordered, and ordered where we are chaotic, and so on. Also, I think some are fooled by the wearing of two wraps, one including an underlying brace and the other not. Frankly, quilts enable this. But quilts also enable all manner of possible hidden assists (e.g., topical anesthetics, topical joint warming agents, impact displacement cups, etc.) that may be used symmetrically, or asymmetrically.

    3. SIGNIFICANT DROP OFFS IN STATS ASSOCIATED WITH LIKELY REGION OF INJURY; this is one many misread. It was unmistakable that Embiid’s back was still injured, even when he came back, like gang busters for a game, or two, because his blocks stat fell in half and never recovered. Embiid could amazingly still bare the pain of spin moves, but he clearly quit taking on air in ways that obviously could jar his lower back. His exceptional height and reach kept him more effective than his replacements as a rim protector, but not nearly as effective as he had been. Productivity is a hard stat for many persons analyze, because it varies some without injury. But over time, one expects to see significant improvement in weaknesses, and at least holding steady in strengths. If these are not observed in an exceptional talent, the logical first place to look for an explanation is an injury in a region likely to impair productivity in such regions.

    4. MORE JUDICIOUS USE OF ATHLETICISM THAN WOULD LOGICALLY BE EXPECTED OUTSIDE OF CRUNCH TIME; this of course usually has some autocorrelation with number 1, 2, and 3. But if 1 is not apparent, and 2 achieves successful masking, and there has not been a definitive trend line emerge in 3, then this one sometimes stands alone, especially if an injury is suspected to have occurred during the being observed. Most great athletes, even most lesser athletes at the D1, are capable of explosive impacts once or even twice on a significant injury, often late in a game, or at another decisive moment, but cannot make these explosive impacts on an intermittent game long basis, as they do when uninjured. And after performing an explosive impact, the injured player often struggles physically to get back in the action in a way he does not when not injured. This is usually an indicator that starts me wondering, even if I don’t see any of the other indicators.

    5. The long term disappearance of certain magnitudes of athleticism; this is commonly called “lost pop.” Its not logical to go from being a great leaper to be an average leaper indefinitely, unless injury and lesser wear and tear have combined to sap the basic elasticity of ligaments, tendons, and/or permanently hamper the function in muscle.

    Finally, there are two types of injury situations one typically tries interpret.

    Type 1: An injury has been announced, or a healed injury has been announced, and we are trying to decide the credibility of the extent of the injury reported, or the actual extent of the healing reported. One analyzes this, because there is a strong tactical and strategic incentive to misrepresent the extent of injury, or healing, so as to keep opponents guessing and uncertain about how much to try to exploit the injury, or to prepare for a substitute player playing substantial minutes.

    Type 2: A player’s injury is not yet reported; this happens frequently for a variety of reasons. Some times injuries do not seem severe enough to report. Some times injuries sharply worsen later from playing on.

    There is a third type but it seems virtually impossible to analyze meaningfully. This involves the vary occasional claim that a player is injured, when he is not. Out side of noting the possibility that a coach may be trying such a tactic, I have found no meaningful way to interpret this before a game. But it occurs rarely and opposing coaches seem to prepare the same regardless, so I don’t give it much consideration.

    Finally, in using these criteria and typologies, I never think in terms of certainties, only probabilities. I suppose this is why so many dismiss it as “always speculating.” But how could one do more, when it is known that coaches do not always reliably report injury, or the extent of injury, for whatever reason they may have. Further, there are many, many minor injuries to each player all season long that can be mistaken in the short term for something more significant, for an enduring injury. At times the probability can appear very high of a significant injury, but there are always other possible variables that can either explain, or combine with, an injury to explain the nature of a changing performance phenomenon.

    Regardless, this is what I am thinking about and analyzing when I am “always speculating about” quilts. 🙂

    Why coaches and players risk playing with injuries, and whether they should, is another vastly more complicated series of post I am probably not qualified to write. For now suffice it to say, that there appear to be many reasons and the most obvious one is that in the case of truly exceptional players, such incredibly gifted players can often play injured at higher levels than their backups, and with the pressure to win, many are encouraged to “play through” for “the good of the team.”

    And yes, I have guessed wrong a few times (probably more than a few times), but I perhaps I have also been right a few times, when confirmation never came about, so that I could take credit for it. 🙂 That appears not really a knock on analytical technique performed without access to insider knowledge. That is just the nature of engaging in probabilistic analysis. Even the best analytical tools yield wrong answers some of the time due to insufficient data. The question is: do they yield more useful insights than doing not doing the analysis. They do for me, but I can’t speak for others.

    Rock Chalk!

  • Great read, Jaybate. I actually read your take with a “medical filter”, and it still is just as viable and plausible (in my opinion). I also considered each point from a player-perspective, and each of your thoughts could certainly apply.

    Again, great read, and I think it adds a valuable way of considering our near&dear KU athletes.

    For example, post-injury Embiid “picking” his moments a lot more makes perfect sense. As opposed to the reckless abandon of the uninjured, 100% healthy player (like Jamari Traylor…who seems to be an especially tough physique, always hustling & trying for the spectacular, has he ever been hurt?). Unbridled (or uninjured) “pop” coupled with an aggressive mental streak, bodes well for Selfball players.

  • I remember hearing an interview from an NBA player talking about injuries and they talked about how a certain injury limited them in what they could do, as @jaybate 1.0 described. Basically, they knew they could do everything in their offensive package, but certain things they could only do once because it put too much stress on the injury, so they would save those moves for when they really needed them, but otherwise would not use them at all.

    I think that’s what we saw from Selden. He would make a great, NBA caliber move, then disappear for the rest of the half. He could only shift into fifth gear once. The rest of the time he had to rumble along in second or third.

  • Great read and analysis, @jaybate_1.0 . And I admit I’m a wuss. I could hardly pick up my 5 kilo dumb bell before my cortisone shot in the elbow, but had no trouble shoveling the heavy snow on the driveway after it. It was amazing how the level of pain messes one’s mind.

  • Yes, very entertaining. Heck, all your injury speculation had us posting links to the knee pads/braces/quilts a ways back.

    I am curious as to the nature of Selden’s knee injury.

    I do wonder sometimes, though, if Self tries to give his players a little bailout for perceived underperformance. Maybe Selden had a little cartilage issue. That wouldn’t necessarily limit explosiveness, or stop him from scoring the basketball (it could, too).

    What I’m getting at is some of Self’s injury talk, I think, is cover for his players.

  • Thanks to all for the positives. I am “playing through” myself these days, so perhaps I have an unusual amount of sympathy for these guys in this regard. 🙂

    @HEM: It had not occurred to me that Self might use injury in this way, but given his proven sophistication in using the media in other ways it seems possible. I will keep an eye out for it.

    @Ralster: Your remark about Jam Tray is very insightful and suggests something broader to me. At certain times, Self’s teams are among the most explosive I have seen, while at others they appear like duds not going off. I have tended to attribute this largely to the self-fulfilling prophecy-effect of Self going with the normal distribution assumption of human performance (i.e., 1/3 great, 1/3 average, and 1/3 awful). But your remark about Jam Tray’s consistent explosiveness correlating with his robust physical constitution and infrequency of apparent injury, makes me hypothesize the following. Perhaps the wildly explosive team performances, you know, those games where everyone seems to be jumping out of the gym and doing amazing things, perhaps those performances occur when most everyone in the rotation is relatively healthy. Conversely, maybe the seeming dud games occur when 2, 3, or more rotation players are playing hobbled and the team is trying to nurse their way to a win on limited explosiveness due to a cluster of injuries. Its seems worth considering.

    @JAF: thanks for sharing that quote by the NBA player; that was perfect pitch on your part.

    @Wis: yeah, its not just fatigue that makes cowards of us all. injury pain does too. 🙂 And I’ve had tennis elbow twice, though never from tennis. Once after digging and planting a huge garden on California hard pan, and once from a foolish stretch of building a few pieces of large furniture and insisting on trying to do it the old fashioned way without power tools to see what it was like. Driving about three dozen screws did it. OMG was it painful! You better believe I got a shot of cortisone for that!!! For what its worth, I had a higher pain thresh than a few, but I always remember this one friend that liked to play knock buckles with everyone he met, especially with me. He had Fred Flintstone hands. and mine were kind of bony. We would stand face to face, make fists with one of our hands, and start slowly punching them together, knuckles to knuckles, softly at first, then harder and harder, until one of us quit. It was one of the dumbest things I ever did as a kid, and I did some very dumb things in those days, but try as I might I could never outlast him. And it wasn’t that he was duller than me, and so oblivious to pain and injury. He was a fabulous student and the first truly great athlete I ever knew. He could do most anything in sport. He just had a higher pain threshold than I did. On the other hand he had asthma and could not stand the heat and pollen the way I could, even though the pollen could get me pretty badly. I could always outlast him working outside in summertime. Every human being is an amazingly unique distributions of strengths and weaknesses. I believe these asymmetries underpin the efficiency and beauty of teams.

Log in to reply