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New Orleans Pelicans medical staff on track to vastly improve standing on NBA injury front

It’s time the training staff receives at least some praise for advancements with their injury prevention techniques.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Despite subtle personnel changes, the New Orleans Pelicans are on pace to significantly improve upon their league-leading 351 games missed to injury from one year ago, yet one wouldn’t know it by all the snide remarks that continue to be made in reference to the team’s medical and training staffs.

The Pelicans sport an 18-27 record through the first 45 games of the season, just a difference of one game from last year’s 17-28 mark through the same part of the schedule. Consequently, it’s not surprising that many have overlooked or don’t care to talk about New Orleans missed-games-to-injury tally, especially with the team starting slowly out of the gates without Jrue Holiday or Tyreke Evans.

Man Games Lost

At first glance on Mangameslost.com, one assumes 95 missed games to injury/illness in 2016/17 is nothing to write home about because it’s on track for a season-ending figure of 173 games, the league’s sixth-highest total. However, if we were to remove Quincy Pondexter and his 45 missed games from the equation, the total drops down to a very palatable 50 games — a mark that would be good for ninth-best in the league.

Projected out to a full season, New Orleans would finish with 91 missed games — their lowest total in years as evidenced by this graph from In Street Clothes.

In Street Clothes

Removing Quincy Pondexter from last year’s total would have still resulted in 269 missed games, a figure that would have remained awful with a fourth-worst placing among the NBA during the 2015-16 campaign.

Going from 269 games to 91 games is something to write home about; however, all I continue to read are articles about former players on this roster and how they’re enjoying rebirths elsewhere. For instance, Jake Fisher just published a solid piece about Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson and how the two made a point to single out the training differences with the Houston Rockets.

Gordon believes the Rockets’ training staff is the secret ingredient to finally maximizing his talent and athleticism. Houston constantly rotates its players through the weight room. “I’ve never lifted this much,” Gordon said. The Rockets’ strength and conditioning program is a modified version of the plan first molded by the team’s former health science guru Joe Rogowski, previously the Orlando Magic’s strength and conditioning coach when Anderson first entered the league.

“I’d do postgame lifts occasionally in Orlando,” Anderson said. “Everything is very thought out and thoughtful towards making sure your body is the most refreshed it can be for game days, so I think that this is definitely the most—the only word I can just think of is ‘thought.’” Now, Rockets director of athletic performance Javair Gillet—his LinkedIn profile picture shows him beaming alongside Bill Nye—has further engineered the program. “There’s just so much attention to prevention and attacking an issue before it becomes an issue,” Anderson said.

Gordon and Anderson related their personal experiences and indirectly made comparisons to their training, or lack thereof, in New Orleans. However, who’s to say it isn’t radically different since they were last here?

In case you’ve forgotten, Anthony Davis made an appearance on the Black and Blue Report in September and he made mention of a variety of new techniques and corrections made in his exercise routines thanks to the Pelicans training staff.

“We corrected a lot of stuff that was wrong with my hips, knee, ankles, all that stuff,” Davis said. “So, I feel better; I feel great; I feel more explosive, more powerful. I can’t wait to put it all to use starting tomorrow.”

...

“I have never had anyone correct me on how I should squat or how I should jump or anything like that. Constant pounding and constant pressure on your knees when you’re squatting, jumping or running the wrong way is going to stir some things up inside the knee.”

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“I think just being able to work with some of our guys, Jason, Jared, Duane, all of them guys, and correcting everything that I do,” Davis said. “Like I said, all that stuff that in as far from the shoulders or ankles, I never did do all of that stuff last year.”

In addition to the changes implemented by the training staff, perusing the Pelicans media guide reveals the addition of two new physicians on the team’s staff directory.

Title 2015-16 Pelicans Title 2016-17 Pelicans
Physical Therapist Jared Lewis Physical Therapist Jared Lewis
Head Athletic Trainer Duane Brooks Head Athletic Trainer Duane Brooks
Athletic Training Assistant Todd Hooks Athletic Training Assistant Todd Hooks
Head Strength Coach Jason Sumerlin Head Strength Coach Jason Sumerlin
Assistant Strength Coach Michael Ruffin Assistant Strength Coach Michael Ruffin
Team Physician Dr. Scott Montgomery Team Physician Dr. Scott Montgomery
Team Physician Dr. Matthew McQueen Team Physician Dr. Misty Suri
Team Physician Dr. Andrew Gottschalk

All three listed team physicians specialize in orthopedics, but it’s interesting to note that Dr. Gottschalk has previous NBA experience with the Cleveland Cavaliers and specifically LeBron James — a player with a stellar injury-track record. In addition, Gottschalk is reportedly the only doctor in New Orleans who “offers groundbreaking stem cell injection therapies, platelet rich plasma therapy (PRP) amalgamation treatments, corticosteroid-based injections, viscosupplementation procedures, and minimally invasive Tenex procedures to improve pain and functionality outcomes.”

Sure, Davis has suffered from a malady of nicks and bruises, but it’s important to note they haven’t been too threatening and he’s yet to miss two or more straight games.

A few of these injuries occurred when Davis went flying into the stands, assisted by the shove of an opponent or not, or more recently were sustained by a contact injury from unavoidable in-game action — like having his fingers bent in an irregular motion or suffering a charley horse. This type of stuff is bound to happen!

Since the 2005-06 season, the Pelicans have lost 1842 games to injury. That’s 20th-worst over that span and a yearly average of 167 missed games. If one removes Pondexter’s injury — and why wouldn’t we considering it occurred at a time New Orleans was perhaps deficient in their methodologies and execution — the Pelicans medical and training staffs are now shining.

New Orleans Pelicans Game Notes

Dante Cunningham is the only member of the team who has missed a double-digit number of games since the start of the season, and 12 DNP’s don’t sound like much considering he broke his leg. Oft-injured players like Holiday and Davis have missed 3 and 4 respectively.

It’s beginning to look like the first steps out of the Dark Ages have been taken so it’s probably time to dispense with some of the disparaging remarks about the Pelicans perceived inability to keep their players healthy. And if New Orleans can maintain this exemplary record, chances are free agents will have one less thing to complain about when weighing the pros and cons of playing next to Anthony Davis.