Analysis: Ingles, Bogdanovic and Gobert are Olympics-bound. Is that a good thing for the Jazz?
Fatigue and injuries are always a worry for NBA teams whose players compete in international play
The postponed 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo open on July 23. But on Tuesday, Olympic qualifying basketball tournaments kicked off, and most of the already-qualified teams have begun assembling for training camp.
Additionally, Jazzmen Miye Oni and rookie Udoka Azubuike have been invited to join the Nigerian national team’s training camp in California. The Nigerian training camp roster includes 46 players, although the roster will be whittled down to 15 before the team plays in three exhibition games beginning on July 10 in Las Vegas.
Last season, NBA players didn’t get the opportunity to play internationally because of the massive shutdowns, the timing of the NBA bubble in Orlando, and the postponement of the Olympic Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Olympic competition and playing for a national team is a point of pride, especially for international players. Many leave the States shortly after the NBA season concludes and go right into playing for their national team, despite the fatigue that sets in when they come back and gear up for NBA training camp.
“I will be so focused on the goal of trying to win a gold medal for Australia, which we’ve never done, or trying to win a medal full stop, which we’ve never done,” Ingles said. “That’s something that’s been a goal of mine since I made the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and we haven’t been able to do it in a World Cup or Olympics. It’s something that our older core of Patty (Mills) and (Aron) Baynes and Delly (Matthew Dellavedova) and that group has been together for a little while, it’s been a goal of ours since we started.”
This year in particular though, it’s hard not to wonder, is it wise for these NBA players to play in the Olympics?
There’s no doubt that the glory and satisfaction of attaining an Olympic medal cannot be replicated, but the NBA is looking at one of its shortest offseasons. The lack of rest from the condensed 2020-21 NBA schedule has already taken a toll.
A large number of injuries, many suffered by some of the top players in the league, had a huge impact on the NBA playoffs this year, and it’s difficult not to draw a line connecting the lack of a normal offseason and the condensed schedule.
Even so, that hasn’t stopped players that are currently healthy from immediately heading off to get ready for an offseason full of more basketball.
“There’s no question, there’s not a general manager or a head coach in the league that can say that he isn’t holding his breath. We’re all holding our breath that nothing happens, and that if something does happen the national team appropriately reports it to us.” — Dennis Lindsey
“There’s no question, there’s not a general manager or a head coach in the league that can say that he isn’t holding his breath,” Dennis Lindsey, then-executive vice president of basketball operations, said the day after the Jazz’s postseason run ended. “We’re all holding our breath that nothing happens, and that if something does happen the national team appropriately reports it to us.”
That’s a fear NBA teams have every year when players opt to play in international competition. What if a team’s star suffers a major injury while playing for their national team and then isn’t able to play to start the upcoming NBA season? What if they have to miss the upcoming NBA season altogether?
In that situation it would not only be disappointing for the player; one injury could upset an NBA team’s chances at a playoff berth or title run.
“And then there’s just overall fatigue, right?” said Lindsey, now an adviser and consultant for the Jazz. “And yet, if a player is healthy it’s been collectively bargained between the NBA and USA Basketball and the FIBA agreement that if he wants to play basketball, who am I to stand in his way? We want that for our guys. You just hope that they’re not tired and certainly that they don’t have a traumatic injury.”
The fatigue is particularly of interest this year. The NBA season, which began Dec. 23, 2020, ran for 72 games through May 16. There was a shortened All-Star break and the playoffs are still underway with a last possible date for a Game 7 of the NBA Finals set for July 22.
While the Jazz’s season ended earlier than they wanted, that doesn’t mean that Bogdanovic, Ingles and Gobert have a ton of time on their hands.
“We are playing in seven or eight days,” Bogdanovic said after the Jazz’s season came to an end. “So basically I’m heading right to the training camp from here.”
Bogdanovic has even less time than his two teammates since Croatia did not directly qualify for the Olympics. Croatia is one of the teams taking part in a qualifying tournament, of which there are four. The four winners from those tournaments will join Japan, Nigeria, Argentina, Iran, France, Spain, Australia and the U.S. in the 12-team Olympic tournament, which begins July 25, two days after the opening ceremonies, and concludes on Aug. 7.
Bogdanovic is coming off a season in which he played in every one of the Jazz’s 72 games following rehab from surgery on his right wrist. He had the shortest amount of time off of the Jazz’s players, with Croatia’s first qualifying tournament game Wednesday, June 30.
Ingles has joined his Australian teammates in Las Vegas for their training camp, and Gobert is not far behind in heading to France.
Ingles played 67 of the 72 regular-season games and the 33-year-old was clearly fatigued at the end of the Jazz’s playoff run after needing to take on even more ball-handling duties at the end of the regular season with Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell sidelined by injuries.
Gobert played in 71 of the 72 regular-season games and finished off the Jazz’s postseason run with a hard fall in the first quarter of Game 6 against the Los Angeles Clippers. The fall caused a major contusion and made it hard for Gobert to move properly throughout that final game.
Though Gobert was hurt and fresh off a disappointing end to the NBA season, it didn’t even cross his mind to take time off from international play.
“It’s a great goal that I have, that we have as a team, to play for a medal in the Olympics. For me it’s going to be another great opportunity to keep getting better and at the same time try to accomplish something great for my country.” — Rudy Gobert
“It’s a great goal that I have, that we have as a team, to play for a medal in the Olympics,” he said. “For me it’s going to be another great opportunity to keep getting better and at the same time try to accomplish something great for my country. It’s pretty soon, but at the same time, because we lost in the second round, I have a little time to recover.”
The Jazz, like many NBA teams with players heading to Tokyo, will be sending members of their training staff with each of their players to make sure that their training does not deviate too much from what is expected of them by the Jazz and to monitor their health and progress.
But, no matter how many people monitor the situation, there’s no way of getting around fatigue and the increased likelihood of injury that comes along with fatigue.
Whether it’s the right decision or not, the decision has already been made and Bogdanovic, Ingles and Gobert will be in the throes of competition during one of the shorter NBA offseasons in history.
After the conclusion of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, players will have just a few short weeks before they assemble back in their NBA markets in mid-September to get ready for the 2021-22 NBA season.
Could Bogdanovic use a breather? Yes. Could Ingles afford to take time off so that he isn’t burned out by the time the NBA season begins? Yes. Could Gobert use the offseason to get his body right and perhaps work on some offensive moves that would have benefitted him and the Jazz in the playoffs? Yes.
But three of the Jazz’s best players won’t be taking that breather, won’t be getting extra rest and won’t have time to expand on their games much this offseason. No matter the risks, the prospect of a reward in the form of an Olympic medal are too great to pass up.