Stephen Curry is the new Michael Jordan

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NBC Sports

Stephen Curry is the new Michael Jordan

Stephen Curry seldom resembles Michael Jordan. But on a Wednesday night in late October at Oracle, the two-time MVP was making an exception.
 
After splashing his 10th 3-pointer of the game against the Washington Wizards and sending the crowd into a mad frenzy at the end of the third quarter, Curry looked to the Warriors bench and gave his teammates a throwback -- The Shrug, a la Jordan from the 1992 NBA Finals. 

Curry’s quick 3-point attempt -- casually launched from 31 feet, just beyond the hash mark on the sideline and only nine seconds into the shot clock -- is his trademark, one that the entire NBA is chasing, just like it did with Jordan and his tongue-wagging dunks and fadeaways.

Watch the NBA on any given night and the story of this season has Curry’s fingerprints all over it. The league is taking 3s more frequently than ever, deeper than ever and quicker than ever. 

It’s time to come to grips with the fact that Curry is the Jordan of his generation, single-handedly changing the way the game is being played and being appraised. 

* * *

The dunk used to be the domain of giants like Wilt Chamberlain, but not guards. But Dr. J helped changed that, and then Jordan took it to another level. Basketball researchers dug up dunk totals from old Sixers media guides and found that Jordan’s reign coincided with a dramatic rise in the slam dunk. In ‘87-88, the year Jordan won his second Slam Dunk contest in a row, there were 5,727 dunks in the NBA. By Jordan’s final Bulls season in 1997-98, there were 9,318 dunks, a rise of 63 percent.

As the rarely questioned GOAT of basketball, it seems impossible to believe that Jordan used to be dismissed as “just a dunker” by his peers.

But Larry Bird did just that, talking to the Hartford Courant in 1987 about the MVP race.

“If I had to pick a guy beside myself [to start a team], there’s no question who I’d choose,” Bird said. “Magic’s head and shoulders above anyone else. I’ve always said, and I haven’t changed my opinion, that Magic is the best player in the league.”

Bird went on.

“Dominique [Wilkins] and Michael Jordan? They’re not Magic Johnson. They’re dunkers. Michael takes 30 shots to get to 30 points. You know, there’s a difference.”
 
Forget the fact that Jordan averaged 37.1 points on 27.3 field goal attempts and never scored below 30 points on 30 shots. But that “just a dunker” narrative would eventually change. Soon, Jordan would become a global icon. There was the “Be Like Mike” commercials. There was the generation of kids who started sticking their tongues out on the court and buying his Nikes. A barrage of high-flying guards, like Kobe Bryant, Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter and even Harold Miner, became the heir to Air Jordan, the “Baby Jordans.” 

Like Jordan, Steph has become an inspiration all his own.

For the fourth straight year, Curry led the league in jersey sales. Curry nearly single-handedly put Under Armour on the basketball map (a Morgan Stanley analyst once pegged Curry’s value to UA at $14 billion). Kids, often clad in Curry gear, are shooting so many deep 3s that the NBA and USA Basketball issued new guidelines to discourage 3-pointers in youth leagues. 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It was with Jordan. It is with Curry. Enter Trae Young and a whole generation of Baby Stephs.

* * *

It was 10 years ago, almost to the day, when Trae Young first saw Steph Curry play basketball. 

Young was just a scrawny 10-year-old who scored tickets to the Blake Griffin-Steph Curry blockbuster showdown. Griffin’s Oklahoma Sooners were facing off against Curry’s Davidson Wildcats in Young’s hometown of Norman, Oklahoma. Young sat across the student section while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sat courtside in a packed Lloyd Noble Center. 

“Steph had 40 or something,” Young says now. “Blake and him put up crazy numbers.”

Curry actually had 44, while Griffin had 25 points and 21 rebounds. It was then that Young saw himself in Curry, a scrawny guard who would one day become the NBA’s first unanimous MVP. Young began DVRing Curry’s games and maniacally watching his drills.

Young believes Curry’s skills and confidence revolutionized the game. Nowadays, point guards like Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard are routinely scoring 30 points a night with loads of pull-up, deep 3s. 

“Steph has changed the whole league, period,” Young says. “I think it’s a perfect time for a guy like me who’s not the biggest guard in the world but can shoot the ball. He’s made it OK for teams to go out and get those type of guys and play them.”

Young drew an onslaught of Curry comparisons after leading the NCAA in points and assists per game with a 180-pound frame and a propensity for deep 3s. And it’s no surprise that Travis Schlenk, former Warriors executive turned Hawks GM, chose him as the franchise guy in Atlanta. This summer, executives around the NBA noticed when it came time for Schlenk to hire a new head coach and new trainer, he reached back into the Warriors organization with Golden State assistant Lloyd Pierce and head trainer Chelsea Lane. Consider it Warriors East.

Curry didn’t just alter the way the NBA plays, he influenced the direction of another franchise.

“The way Steph has changed the game, it’s been great,” Young said, before launching a pair of 30-footers in Curry’s hometown of Charlotte later that night. He missed both. 

The opposing point guard that night, 6-foot-1, 184-pound Kemba Walker, made 4-of-10 of his 3-pointers en route to 29 points. Before Curry’s MVP season in 2014-15, Walker had taken double-digit 3-pointers in a game just once in his career. Now, he averages 10.4 3-point tries a night.

* * *

It’s been four years since Curry’s storybook ‘14-15 season, and yet, he continues to elicit dumbfounded reactions. Take, for example, these responses after his 51-point explosion against the Wizards, when he made 11-of-16 from downtown.
 
“You got a guy taking 40-footers,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after that October game against the Wizards, “and you’re on the sideline going, ‘Yeah, that’s a good shot.’ Nobody’s ever done what he’s doing.”
 
Wizards coach Scott Brooks was asked for his perspective after the game, and could barely get out the words.
 
“Uhh, not, I mean, some of the shots that he was making, they were just, they were … you don’t see that,” Brooks said. “He’s a special player, special scorer, special shooter. I mean, he was taking 35-foot shots. It’s hard to double-team a guy that is that far out. And he makes them. He makes them like they’re layups. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

On that night, Curry took eight 3-pointers from 28 feet and beyond, and made six of them. This season, per Basketball-Reference tracking, Curry has taken 25 3-pointers from this area and made a jaw-dropping 16 of them. That’s a conversion rate of 64 percent -- on shots near the halfcourt logo.

Brooks calls them layups. But if you do the math, they’re more like dunks. The bonus point within a 3-pointer means that on these deep 3s, Curry is averaging 1.92 points per attempt this season. Dunk attempts are averaging 1.82 points this season, according to Basketball-Reference.com tracking

Yes, Curry launching from deep this season has been a smidge more efficient than a friggin’ dunk.
 
Teams are struggling to adapt. Curry’s incredible shooting has at times necessitated his own version of the Jordan Rules, the famous bullying tactic the Detroit Pistons deployed on Jordan in the playoffs. After the game, Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal was asked how to defend Curry when he’s in the zone. His response could have been straight out of Chuck Daly’s playbook.
 
“Foul the sh-- out of him,” Beal said. “And even when we did that, he was still making them. So, I don’t know.”

Beal then closed his eyes, raised his eyebrows and turned his head as if someone just asked him to explain the physics of gravity. 

* * *

The 30-foot dunks have put Curry into hallowed ground. 

The early favorite for MVP, Curry is on track to go down as the NBA’s most efficient scorer ever. If you pull up the 55 NBA greats who boast a career scoring average of at least 20 points per game on Basketball-Reference.com, Curry’s true-shooting percentage of 62.3 percent is the best ever (minimum 500 games). Said another way, Curry is an incredible 62.3-percent shooter when you factor in 3-point attempts and 1-point attempts (free throws). For reference, LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal check in at a career 58.6 percent and Jordan at 56.9. There have been plenty of 20-point scorers, but no one has done it this efficiently.

Just as Bird discounted Jordan’s unconventional game while MJ terrorized the league, Charles Barkley has been the dismissive critic of Curry. In February 2016, months after Curry won the MVP and a championship, Barkley was asked by DIME magazine if Curry is as dominant as he and Shaq were in their prime. Barkley disagreed.

“He’s just a great shooter. It’s a totally different animal.”

He’s more than a just a shooter, right? Barkley’s response: “No. He’s not more than a shooter. He’s just a great shooter.”

Jordan was just a dunker. Curry was just a shooter. But both are incredibly valuable skills on a basketball court. If you can seemingly slam the ball in the basket on command, you’ve figured out a cheat code. Same goes for sinking 30-footers that are worth three points. 

Should you need proof of why Curry’s superhuman shooting ability is not to be belittled, consider the fascinating Nylon Calculus research that showed Curry’s mere presence helps lift his teammates’ shooting percentages better than anybody in the game -- even LeBron James. 

If the name of the game is to stuff as many points as possible into every possession, Curry belongs in the conversation with the greatest. Not just greatest shooters, but greatest ever.

And if you don’t love modern analytics, don’t forget Curry’s traditional accolades are piling up as well. Curry is now just the eighth player in NBA history with three titles and multiple MVPs. If things stay on course and Curry wins a third MVP and his fourth title this season, that list gets whittled down to just five players -- Kareem, Russell, Jordan, Magic and Curry. Not bad for just a shooter.

Tom Haberstroh is the national NBA Insider for NBC Sports. You can follow him on on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh).

Is Rockets' James Harden really having the best scoring season ever?

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NBC Sports

Is Rockets' James Harden really having the best scoring season ever?

James Harden is doing some crazy stuff this season. The former Sixth Man of the Year is nearly averaging an unfathomable 40 points per game. He just scored 60 points in a little more than 30 minutes of game action and hasn’t scored fewer than 25 points in a game since opening night. Defenses are now trying to trap him before halfcourt.

Is he the best scorer of this generation? Probably. Three straight scoring titles would cement that status.

But is he the best scorer ever? Well, that gets a little more complicated. We could simply list the best scoring seasons by points per game and leave it at that. But as you’ll see below, that would be short-sighted.

Why? Let’s start at the basics.

Harden is currently averaging 39.5 points per game. If it holds, that would rank third all-time on the scoring leaderboard for a season. The only name above him? Wilt Chamberlain, who of course sees your 40 points per game and raises you 50.

Case closed. Chamberlain is the best scorer ever, with the best scoring season ever, right? 

Not so fast. Let’s zoom out and look at the top 20 scoring seasons in NBA history. 

Notice anything odd? Hint: Look at the season column. Yeah, that’s a lot of of the 1960s. Eleven of the top 20 scoring seasons of all time came within an eight-year span. What’s up with that? 

Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Rick Barry were incredible scorers, to be sure. But it has to be mentioned that they played in an era where teams regularly took over 100 shots per game. In an eight-team league playing at a crazy-fast pace, and in which Chamberlain was one of three 7-footers playing in the league, the NBA was ripe for an outlier season. 

Though we didn’t have a complete picture in the box score (turnovers didn’t become an official stat until 1973-74), we can get a pretty good idea of how “fast” the league was in that season by using Basketball Reference’s best estimates. We find that Chamberlain’s team, the Philadelphia Warriors, played a whopping 131.1 possessions per game, the fastest of the eight teams. The slowest team, the Chicago Packers, played at 122.9 possessions per game. Even taken as a ballpark figure, that’s a Formula 1 race car compared to the speed of the modern era.

If you thought today’s pace-and-space era was fast, the back-and-forth NBA of the 1960’s leaves them in the dust. The fastest team this season, according to Basketball Reference tracking, is the Washington Wizards and they churn out 105.2 possessions per game. To put it in perspective, the slowest team in 1961-62 played almost 18 additional possessions per game than today’s fastest team.

That’s almost an entire quarter’s worth of extra hoops in which to rack up points. You might be asking yourself, “Well, what what happens when we take that same top 20 and adjust for pace?” 

Good question! I tweaked the per-game numbers by normalizing it to a 100-possession environment. Players that played on a slow team (below 100 possessions per game) will get a boost and players that played on a fast team (above 100 possessions) will have their numbers fall back down to Earth a bit. 

After making this adjustment, we get an entirely new leaderboard. Lakers fans, you might want to sit down for this one.

Holy, Kobe Bean Bryant! After adjusting for pace, Bryant’s 2005-06 campaign floats to the top of the list, up from his previous spot of 11th-best. It’s one thing to average 35.4 points per game, but it’s another to do it while playing at a snail’s pace. In Phil Jackson’s return to the Staples Center bench after a one-year hiatus, the Lakers barely cleared 90 possessions per game, over 40 fewer possessions per game than Chamberlain’s record-holding ‘61-62 campaign.

A comparison between Bryant’s 81-point game and Chamberlain’s 100-point game -- the two highest-scoring individual performances in NBA history -- further illustrates the difference in eras and playing styles. In Chamberlain’s infamous 100-point outing, the Warriors fired up 118 field goal attempts, which is 30 more scoring opportunities than the Lakers had when Bryant went for 81. (Chamberlain’s Warriors scored 169 points in that game, which was only the sixth-highest scoring game in NBA history at the time. Again: Pace.)

Bryant has always been considered one of the best scorers of all-time, but he happened to rule during the NBA’s Deadball Era, in which point totals slumped across the board. The 2004 Lakers scored 68 points in an entire Finals game for crying out loud. Under the terms of our exercise, Bryant would average an extra 4.4 points per game simply by adjusting to a pace of 100 possessions per game. 

And Harden? He’s still near the top of the list. His current season is docked 1.8 points per game because the Houston Rockets have stepped on the accelerator this season with Russell Westbrook on board. The Rockets’ pace, according to Basketball Reference tracking, sits at 104.9 this season, up from 97.9 last season with Chris Paul running the point. By this measure, Harden’s season is almost a mirror image of last season’s scoring campaign.

More importantly, even through this new lens, Harden’s ‘19-20 scoring binge is still not superior to Chamberlain’s monster '61-62 season, but the gap is smaller. Once we put the era’s pace into context, Harden and Chamberlain are less than one point per game apart. If Harden’s season average surges to 40.3 points per game, that would put him on par with Chamberlain in adjusted points per game. (He’d need to finish at 40.6 and 40.8 raw points per game to catch Jordan and Bryant, respectively).

Is Harden having one of the best scoring seasons ever? Most definitely. It’s right up there with the legendary scorers in NBA history. If he starts regularly putting up 42 points a night in this environment, he’d have the best scoring season ever in my book -- better than Wilt’s 50.4 season -- but it’s hard to see Harden pulling that off. Then again, no one saw a Sixth Man of the Year averaging nearly 40 points per game, either.

Follow me on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh), and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories and videos and subscribe to the Habershow podcast.

Can Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid handle life as a guard?

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NBC Sports

Can Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid handle life as a guard?

Karl-Anthony Towns held the ball while Rudy Gobert, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, guarded him tightly. The pair of 7-footers weren’t wrestling in the paint like traditional centers would. On this late November night, they were 25 feet away from the basket, and Towns was stuck.

Enter Jeff Teague, the Timberwolves’ nominal point guard. He shuffled over to Towns and instead of asking for the ball, the 6-foot-3 ball-handler set a screen -- that’s right, set a screen -- for the 7-foot center. That misdirection prompted another. Using the pick would have meant Towns had to dribble to his right in the direction of his dominant hand. Instead, Towns juked right-to-left, dribbled hard past the arc with his opposite hand and abruptly shifted into reverse for a stepback 3-pointer, displaying the quick footwork of a ballerina set in fast-forward.

“Karl is the modern-day NBA big,” said Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas on the latest Habershow podcast. “He was one of the major reasons, if not the major reason why I took this job.”

Towns is currently taking more 3-pointers and making a higher percentage of those shots than Stephen Curry did in his 2014-15 MVP season. But it’s not just the shooting that jumps off the page. Watch the NBA on any given night and you’ll witness seven-footers like Towns running pick-and-rolls, shooting 3-pointers and zipping around the floor like they’re six-footers. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose towering dimensions appear to be designed in an NBA laboratory, has pounded out more dribbles this season than Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, per NBA.com player tracking data. LeBron James is the size of Karl Malone and leads the NBA in assists. Luka Doncic, behind James on the assist leaderboard, stands 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, roughly the same as Xavier McDaniel -- only heavier.

Other skilled giants like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis often play outside-in, not inside-out. It’s clear that the guardification of NBA bigs has taken over the sport. What’s not clear is whether their enormous bodies can handle it.

* * *

Athletes around the world are bigger, faster and stronger than previous generations. Last month, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya ran a sub-2-hour marathon, clocking in four minutes faster than the world record set a decade ago. The average weight of NFL offensive linemen in the 1970s was 249 pounds compared to today’s weigh-in of 315 pounds. In 1999, Tim Isaac became the first man to bench press over 800 pounds (802 to be exact). Today, that record is 1,102 pounds, belonging to a man named Tiny Meeker.

Oddly enough, the NBA hasn’t gotten appreciably bigger or taller, on average. The average NBA player, according to Basketball Reference tracking, is actually an inch shorter and seven pounds lighter than they were in 2010-11. But NBA players have gotten markedly more athletic, allowing giants to move like hummingbirds. 

In the eyes of Dr. Marcus Elliott, the load management conversation has skipped over this critical piece of the puzzle. The founder of P3 Peak Performance labs in Santa Barbara, Calif., Elliot and his sports science team are at the core of a global movement trying to keep professional athletes healthy. What Elliott sees from his vantage point is a fundamental shift in how NBA players are moving.

“The game has just gotten so much faster and more athletic,” Elliott says. “You can’t do apples to apples to the NBA 20 years ago.”

Elliott isn’t basing his opinion on anecdotal evidence. Over the past decade, the P3 staff has assessed the biomechanics of hundreds of NBA players -- 58 percent of the players on opening-night rosters, P3 says -- and one trend keeps popping up. 

“All of the athletes are improving their athleticism, but the rate that our bigs are improving is much faster than the guards and perimeter players,” Elliott says.

As part of the biomechanical assessments that P3 delivers to its NBA clientele, P3 leads off with an “Athleticism” score that measures an athlete’s ability to move vertically and laterally. Recently, P3 crunched the numbers and analyzed how these scores have changed over time for two groups: “bigs” and guards/wings. Before 2016, the average “big” received an Athleticism score of 62. Since 2016, however, the average big’s Athleticism score jumped to 69, an increase of seven points. Over the same window, guards and wings have improved their Athleticism score by just three points, less than half that of their towering teammates.

“A decade ago, if we had a 7-foot guy come in that had decent skills, that’s an NBA player,” says Elliott. “Now, if we have a 7-foot guy who comes in and he’s not athletic, we don’t know if we have an NBA player.”

Elliott remembers when Andre Drummond came into P3’s lab several years ago and shocked the staff with his other-worldly metrics. They analyzed his movements in every direction and his scores were remarkably consistent with NBA athletes who weighed 100 pounds lighter than him. He was, in essence, a big who moved like a guard.

“Drummond was a unicorn, but there are a lot more of these unicorns now,” Elliott says. “They’re not really unicorns anymore.”

Before Drummond, it was Derrick Favors, who at one point ranked near the top of P3’s leaderboards in just about every category.

“Pretty athletic big that we got in 10 years ago,” Elliott says of Favors. “These guys stood out. Now, it’s status quo. We expect them to be athletic and move laterally and be overall big movers. They were the exception 10 years ago.”

Now, it’s the rule.

* * *

What is driving the athletic surge in tall players? Elliott points to two factors: the increasingly global nature of the NBA and sheer economics that have incentivized players to pay closer attention to training.

As the NBA sets up academies in India and Africa, the selection pool of NBA athletes is ever-expanding. The league’s international bridges were evident when Antetokounmpo and Doncic trained together this offseason at P3’s sports science lab. Antetokounmpo, or “The Greek Freak,” is the son of Nigerian immigrants and a native of Athens. Doncic, meanwhile, is a 6-foot-7 point guard from Slovenia and the son of a professional basketball player who was born in a small town on the Solvenian-Italian border with a knack for churning out pro soccer players. If not for the international explosion of the sport, it’s entirely possible this season’s two MVP frontrunners could have put the ball to their foot rather than in their hand.

With international exposure of the league growing and TV deals in China, Europe and North America leading to a salary cap boom, NBA players are richer than ever. The average NBA player makes $7.7 million compared to $2.9 million in 2000, while the top NBA salary is Stephen Curry’s $40.2 million compared against Shaquille O’Neal’s $17.1 million in 1999-00. The increased wages make the NBA an even more desirable goal for the best athletes in the world, while also giving the ones that do make it more resources to sharpen their athleticism. The record income then trickles to secondary trainers, nutritionists and chefs, whose primary jobs are to keep players in top shape. 

“The overall selection pool has gotten so much bigger and the incentive to have a career is so much bigger,” Elliott says.

That career is also more demanding on the body. After hovering around 90 possessions per game for much of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, league-wide pace this season exceeded 100 possessions per game for the first time since 1988-89. The rise of the 3-pointer and emphasis on pick-and-roll defense has required bigs to be more perimeter-oriented. 

“When we started assessing NBA players back in 2009, if you asked most NBA bigs, what they wanted to improve, 10 out of 10 would say their vertical jump,” Elliott says. “The majority of bigs we get in now say they want their lateral movement to improve.”

That mobility comes at a cost. To Elliott, the constant chatter about load management and minutes restrictions overlooks a key point: what’s happening in those minutes. Players are objectively covering more ground in today’s NBA than in years past. Last season, players collectively ran 3,139 more miles than they did in 2013-14 despite the season length and game regulation time being held constant.

But Elliott thinks that only scratches the surface.

“That’s a pretty big change,” Elliott says, “but I really think where you’re going to really see the load of these guys is these ballistic accelerations, both negative and positive,” Elliott says. “How fast they stop, how fast they change direction, how fast they go. It’s these super high intensity stop-and-go’s that are really destructive.”

* * *

As a leader in the space, Elliott has grown tired of the complaints about load management. He jokes that it’s become a dirty phrase now. 

The NBA’s most influential media voice, Charles Barkley, hates it. Michael Jordan reportedly told his Hornets players they’re paid to play 82 games. When asked if rookie R.J. Barrett was being overworked, New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale said “we gotta get off this load management crap” and referenced Latrell Sprewell averaging 42 minutes per game one season (Sprewell averaged 43.1 in 1993-94).

To Elliott, the focus on minutes misses the point. 

“There’s this constant back and forth about ‘when we played …’ ‘when we played,’” Elliot says. “I don’t think that people have given enough attention to how different the game is compared to when they played 20 years ago. These athletes are so much more ballistic and across the board more athletic. These are amazing systems driving super, super hard.”

The pace-and-space era of the NBA is putting increased demands on the bigger athletes. To Elliott, taller players face more injury risk simply because their bodies haven’t been optimized for movement patterns. A 7-footer can get by at younger levels simply by being tall, rather than being an efficient mover. But once they get in the NBA, those movement patterns can catch up to them.

“I still think that NBA athletes are a ways away from being optimized,” Elliott says. “We don’t get many athletes that have as much slack in their system as NBA athletes do. That’s one of the reasons that the game is going to get that much more powerful and more ballistic. NBA players have more slack in their physical development in almost all the professional athletes that we assess.”

Elliott says that track athletes that come through P3 are at 99 percent of where they could be athletically, leaving only 1 percent of space to improve, or “slack” as he calls it. Each percentage point can be the difference between college and Olympian grade. “They don’t make it out of high school at 90 percent.”

NBA players, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as mechanically optimized, settling in at typically 80 percent in his view. “It’s still a skill-dominant sport,” Elliot says.

The slack can be costly. Elliott recently presented new research at Harvard Medical School that studied the biomechanics of 481 NBA subjects and used granular kinetic data to predict whether a player would have a significant knee injury (ACL, MCL and meniscus) that would require surgery in the next year. The P3 machine-learning algorithm was able to predict 70 percent of those major knee injuries simply by looking at how a player moves.

“The load being placed on them is so close to what they’ll be able to manage,” Elliott says, “If they have a screw loose, something probably breaks.”

Elliot wouldn’t reveal the names of his NBA subjects in the study. But it’s safe to say that high-profile knee injuries in recent years to DeMarcus Cousins (torn ACL), Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL) and Zion Williamson (torn meniscus) were likely due, in part, to some underlying breakdown in the kinetic chain -- whether it was how aligned joints were when the player landed or the balance of force between right-to-left and left-to-right. Simply put, injuries are not 100 percent a product of bad luck.

“Doesn’t matter what size your engine is, if your brakes and suspension are crap, you’re toast,” says P3’s director of biomechanics, Eric Leidersdorf, who has the build of a high school soccer player. “You can have an engine like mine or an engine like Zion Williamson’s, it won’t matter at that point.”

For years, Elliott has wanted to get LeBron James in his P3 facility, just to witness the kinematic system that’s allowed James to perform at this level for so long. Now officially listed at 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds, James is the ultimate guard in a big’s body. In his age-35 season, James is averaging a career-high 11 assists per game while averaging 25.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. His durability is the stuff of legend, never missing more than 10 games in any stretch of his career until last season when he suffered a groin injury on Christmas. (James was playing on by far the fastest team of his career, pace-wise). 

But more important than genetics, James famously invests seven figures per year on body optimization strategies and personally employs a staff that includes a professional biomechanist, multiple chefs and masseuses. He regularly uses cryotherapy, hyberbaric chambers and NormaTec recovery sleeves to stay healthy.

It’s a lesson that Elliott hopes will inspire other premiere athletes to take extra care of their bodies, especially the bigs that have progressed largely because of their size.

“The speed of the game and the load on these players, something has to give,” Elliott says. “It’s a game that’s so hard on these players’ systems, playing 82 games at this speed that it’s played now, it’s so hard on these guys’ systems. When mechanics are messed up, they’re not going to survive.”

Elliott doesn’t see the NBA slowing down anytime soon. When asked what kind of impact those ramped-up velocities will have on the largest of human bodies, Elliott isn’t so sure.

 “I don’t know long-term,” Elliot says, “what it’s going to do.”

Follow me on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh), and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories and videos and subscribe to the Habershow podcast.