Winners & Losers of Tobias Harris trade: Sixers push for Finals; Raptors, Celtics take major hits

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USA Today Sports

Winners & Losers of Tobias Harris trade: Sixers push for Finals; Raptors, Celtics take major hits

The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t playing around. 

After getting waxed by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year, the Sixers knew they couldn’t stand pat. They traded for Jimmy Butler in November. Then, they abandoned the Markelle Fultz starting experiment. And now, they’ve landed Tobias Harris from the Clippers. 

In a blockbuster deal, the 76ers reportedly agreed to trade Wilson Chandler, Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, their 2020 first-round pick, Miami’s 2021 first-rounder and two future second-round picks for Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Was it a good move?

Let’s break down this deal, winners and losers style.

Winners

Philadelphia 76ers
Tobias Harris is not just a good shooter. He’s a great shooter. Pop quiz: How many players have made more 3-pointers over the last two seasons and at a higher rate than Harris (295 3s at a 42.0-percent clip)? 

The answer is just two: Stephen Curry (427 3-pointers on 43.7 percent) and Buddy Hield (359 3-pointers on 44.5 percent). That’s how good Harris is from beyond the arc. And he’s shooting north of 50 percent from the corners, where the 76ers need help.

Don’t minimize him as just a shooter. Harris is a huge body at 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds who can run a pick-and-roll and run in transition. Among the 36 players with at least 250 finishing plays as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, only seven players were more efficient than Harris, according to Synergy tracking. He ranks a smidge ahead of Kevin Durant and just below LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. Harris is not as good as Durant or nearly as consistent, but Paul George may be the only superior Durant proxy in the league.

Given that Ben Simmons is still just 22 years old, are all these moves too much too soon? I’d worry about that if Harris was on the downside of his career, but he’s 26 years old, the same age as 2017 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon. He’s someone who might be an All-Star in the Eastern Conference. He may not pick Philadelphia as a free-agent destination, but now they can make it feel like home.

Boban Marjanovic is a really good backup for Joel Embiid for 10 minutes, not much more. Mike Scott is another sneaky good shooter who can be a lesser, non-rebounding Ersan Ilyasova for the Sixers. Those two pieces aren’t toss-ins. They will help in the playoffs.

There are legitimate worries about having too many cooks in the kitchen, too many mouths to feed. But I put that in the category of “good problems” to have. It means you have too many stars. 

Better yet, the 76ers still have another trick up their sleeve. Notice that Markelle Fultz was not included in the trade, leaving them with another trade chip to improve the depth. The team exchanged five rotation players -- Wilson Chandler, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala -- into two stars. Don’t be surprised if they go on a hunt for another wing shooter. Keep an eye on Memphis’ Garrett Temple, Miami’s Wayne Ellington (and Rodney MacGruder) and Orlando’s Terrence Ross. On the buyout market, Wesley Matthews is expected to be a target for Philly.

Philadelphia isn’t the favorite to win the East. But from my vantage point, no team has better odds.

LeBron James
This would be a disastrous season for James if the Lakers missed out on Anthony Davis and the playoffs. The Sixers pried away Harris, who was the Clippers’ best chance at taking the No. 8 slot and the Lakers’ biggest roadblock. Now that the Clippers’ star 26-year-old is out East, the Lakers have a clearer path to the playoffs.

That likely won’t make James feel a whole lot better after suffering Wednesday’s 42-point loss, the largest of his career in uniform. But James will take what he can get these days. The Lakers don’t appear to have completely wasted LeBron’s age-34 season. Not yet.

Los Angeles Clippers
Usually you expect a deal to have a winner and a loser, but I don’t see that to be the case here. The Clippers effectively turned Blake Griffin’s five-year, $173 million contract into their point guard of the future Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2018 No. 11 overall pick via Charlotte), Landry Shamet (Philadelphia’s 2018 No. 26 overall pick), Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick, Miami’s 2021 unprotected first-rounder and Philadelphia’s 2021 and 2023 second-round picks. That’s quite the pivot.

Most importantly, the Clippers have fully committed to the 2019 free agency sweepstakes, which will see Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving become free agents (along with Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris). If Leonard truly wants his own team, the Clippers have rolled out the Hollywood red carpet.

By moving on from Harris, the Clippers also avoid the temptation of using Harris’ Bird Rights to max him out and settling into what looks to be a middling team in the West. Those Bird Rights may have been a bug for the Clippers, but it’s a feature for other teams loading up above the cap. As a borderline All-Star, Harris is better suited as a third or fourth piece on a contender. Just like he’ll be for the Sixers. 

Last but not least, the Clippers did right by trading Harris and Boban Marjanovic together. Tobi and Bobi lives on.

Losers

The Toronto Raptors
This is a haymaker on two fronts. By trading for Tobias Harris, an All-Star-level player who fills a distinct need as an elite shooter, the Sixers have dealt a big blow to Toronto’s NBA Finals chances. The Sixers likely won’t be able to catch them in the standings, with just 28 games left to close the gap of 4.5 games, but as the Raptors found out last postseason, rotations shrink in the postseason. The Sixers just armed themselves with the best starting lineup in the Eastern Conference. They’re going to be a tough out.

On another front, by moving Harris, the Clippers have firmly opened up a max slot for the Raptors’ best player in Kawhi Leonard. Executives around the league weren’t sure that Harris was going to stay put in L.A., not with the team’s bigger aspirations of landing Leonard. (Ask former Clippers analyst Bruce Bowen how serious they are about the Kawhi sweepstakes). The Clippers can now focus all their attention on landing the big fish. Leonard is No. 1; Harris — whose Bird Rights are more valuable to a team over the cap like the Sixers — is not.

This was a great gamble by the Sixers on its own merits. But the 1-2 punch it levied against an elite East superpower can’t be discounted. Will the Raptors counter? Don’t be surprised if they make a move for Marc Gasol or Kevin Love. Raptors president Masai Ujiri is pot-committed.

Boston Celtics
Again, the ripple effects of this deal go far and wide. The Celtics came into the season hoping they’d have four first-round picks in their coffers for the 2019 draft. The outlook looked great to start the season. They’d receive the Memphis Grizzlies’ first-round pick as long as it didn’t fall in the first eight picks. They’d get the Sacramento Kings’ first-rounder (top-one protected) and the Clippers’ first-rounder if L.A. made the playoffs.

Those dreams are crumbling as we speak. By trading their best player in Harris, the Clippers seem destined to tank for that pick and swipe it away from the Celtics -- either to add to their rebuild or for trade value (Hello, Pelicans?). Seven of the Clippers’ 27 remaining games are against playoff hopefuls Utah, Minnesota, Sacramento and the Lakers. Worse yet, the Celtics have yet to play any of their two games against the Clippers, who are now incentivized to lose those games and keep the pick in L.A.

Remember, every game that the Kings win going forward dents the Celtics’ hopes of landing a lottery pick in Sacramento’s place. The likelihood that the Celtics get that Memphis pick are dwindling by the day, especially if the Grizzlies unload veterans Garrett Temple, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

The good news for the Celtics is that these picks will roll over to next season if they’re not conveyed this season. Should the Clippers miss the playoffs, the pick becomes a 2020 first-rounder (lottery protected). If the Clippers strike out on the playoffs again in 2019-20, the pick becomes a 2022 second-rounder. The Memphis pick becomes top-six protected for 2020 and if not conveyed, it turns into a fully unprotected first-rounder in 2021. We’ll see if the Grizzlies will be good by then.

There was a time that the Celtics were looking at having four first-rounders in the upcoming draft, including a top-five pick from Sacramento. Now, they might have only two, reduced to the back half of the draft.

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.