Dallas Mavericks

Adios, Iron Age: Big minutes are now part of NBA’s past

Houston Rockets guard James Harden, left, was second in average minutes a game this season. Even at that he sat out about 12 minutes a game.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden, left, was second in average minutes a game this season. Even at that he sat out about 12 minutes a game. AP

For NBA players, the playoffs represent a second season.

After a grueling 82-game schedule, fatigue and wear-and-tear on their bodies can become an issue in the postseason, which begins this weekend.

The ongoing rap on most of today’s players is that they’re much softer than the players from the old days.

And that they’re more concerned with being pampered and getting paid than with putting in a full game’s work.

Of the top 10 players in minutes played with a minimum of 50 games this season, only two were on a nonplayoff team.

Jimmy Butler of Chicago led the league with 38.7 minutes a game out of 48.

Houston, the Dallas Mavericks’ opponent in the first round of the playoffs, had two players in the top 10. MVP candidate James Harden was second with 36.8 minutes and Trevor Ariza was tied for eighth at 35.7.

The nonplayoff performers in the top 10 were Andrew Wiggins (36.2) of Minnesota and Victor Oladipo (35.7) of Orlando.

Those numbers pale in comparison to the great Wilt Chamberlain, the ultimate Iron Man and the all-time career leader, who averaged 45.8 minutes a game in 14 seasons.

During the 1961-62 season, Chamberlain played every minute of all 80 games for the Philadelphia Warriors. Including overtime games, Chamberlain averaged an astonishing NBA record 48.5 minutes that season while also contributing a league-record 50.4 points along with 25.7 rebounds.

Bill Russell is second on the career all-time list with 42.29 minutes in 13 seasons, and Oscar Robertson is third at 42.20 in 14 seasons.

“Since the time I’ve been in the league, the intensity of a full game has gone up,” said Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who bought the team in 2000 and believes playing too many minutes is counter-productive. “Guys have to play harder in order to be good, more than they did before.

“Other than when he played Russell, [Chamberlain] was just so much bigger and stronger than almost everybody. He just had such a huge physical advantage. Why would you take him out?”

Allen Iverson (fourth), LeBron James (sixth) and Latrell Sprewell (10th) are the only modern-day players on the NBA’s all-time minutes played per game list. The rest of the top 10 comprises players from yesteryear.

“I haven’t watched the film, but I don’t think [players in the 1960s] were running as fast as we are today,” Mavericks center Amar’e Stoudemire said. “I know we track mileage as far as players in the game, and some players run six miles a game.

“The game today is too fast and it’s too physical. To play 48 minutes for 82 games including the preseason and the playoffs, that’s asking way too much.”

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

For four consecutive seasons for the Mavericks from 1997-01, Michael Finley averaged at least 42 minutes in two of those seasons and at least 41 minutes in the other two.

“When I was growing up AAU wasn’t as big, and I definitely know it wasn’t big when Wilt was playing,” Finley said. “So you had enough energy to play those types of minutes during the year.

“I didn’t have any [major] injuries, I had no knee surgeries, and I have no ailing effects on me right now. The minutes didn’t hurt me.”

Finley, who played in the NBA from 1995-2010, emphasized that it’s the pre-NBA minutes that is making the difference with today’s players.

“Starting in grade school with this AAU stuff, they play all year round,” Finley said. “That’s why our superstars are saying that they’re tired and 82 games is a lot of games.

“It’s not a lot of games, man. But when you’ve been playing almost every day of your life since grade school — AAU — then 82 games seems like a lot.”

The athleticism, physical play and speed of the game has changed the landscape for minutes played.

“So much of our sport now is geared around depth and high energy and pace,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was a different time and a different period and a different era.

“But I guess it also speaks to the overall greatness of guys like Chamberlain and Russell that they were able to play those kinds of minutes and be extremely durable.”

Golden State Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry believes with a lot of teams loaded with talent, there’s no need to force-feed minutes to players.

“Running backs used to be able to play 12-14 years in the NFL, and now if you can make six-seven years as a running back you’ve done a great job,” Gentry said. “I look at a guy like Earl Campbell and the toll that it took on his body.

“I just think that with technology the way it is and the training the way it is, I think we know so much more about the human body now and the resistance that it can take up until a certain point. So I think people are trying to stay away from that.”

Casey Smith, the head athletic trainer for the Mavericks, says the goal is to maximize output on the court.

“You don’t want to just have them out there just for the minutes,” Smith said. “You want them to be effective while they’re out there, and you also want to look at their long-term health as the season goes on and their long-term health after basketball as well.”

Bruce Bowen has a simple reason why players don’t log big minutes today.

They don’t want to.

Bowen began his career as an undrafted journeyman before becoming a starter with the San Antonio Spurs. He had a career average of 27.6 minutes in 14 NBA seasons and 29.7 minutes in eight seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.

He noted that he had such an undying love for the game that he never wanted to come out. He said today’s players get so sidetracked by all the millions of dollars, coast-to-coast publicity from the media and over-the-top adulation from the fans that the game sometimes becomes an after-thought.

“I just wanted to be on the floor. I just wanted to play because I love the game so much,” Bowen said. “It’s not that [today’s players] don’t love the game.

“So much is given to them that they don’t miss anything and they don’t have that longing, because it’s like, ‘Here you go.’ And when you have that scenario of things, it makes it difficult to create that wanting and that longing.”

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @dwainprice

Top 10 players in minutes per game career average in NBA/ABA history.

45.8 Wilt Chamberlain

42.3 Bill Russell

42.2 Oscar Robertson

41.1 Allen Iverson

40.0 Elgin Baylor

39.3 LeBron James

39.2 Jerry West

38.8 Jerry Lucas

38.8 Bob Pettit

38.6 Latrell Sprewell

Players in 2014-15 with the highest average minutes per game (minimum of 50 games).

1. Jimmy Butler

Chicago

38.7

2. James Harden

Houston

36.8

3. Kyrie Irving

Cleveland

36.4

4. Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota

36.2

5T. Anthony Davis

New Orleans

36.1

5T. LeBron James

Cleveland

36.1

7. John Wall

Washington

35.9

8T. Trevor Ariza

Houston

35.7

8T. Victor Oladipo

Orlando

35.7

8T. Damien Leonard

Portland

35.7

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