The NBA and the NBPA, eliminating the possibility of an offseason lockout. Assuming this pact is ratified by both the league governors and the players, it will begin with the 2023-24 season and run for seven years, with a mutual opt-out agreement after the sixth year.
There are a number of changes in the new CBA, and one of the most notable is that, starting next season, players must appear in at least 65 games to be eligible for major awards and honors such as MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA Teams.
Load management and player availability (or lack thereof) has been a major point of concern for the league and fans in recent years, and this rule is an attempt to address the issue by incentivizing players to suit up more often. (The fact that most rest days are pre-planned by team medical staffs is a discussion for another day.) But how much of an impact will this new guideline actually make?
Less than you might think. Since the NBA moved to an 82-game schedule in 1968, there have only been 11 instances of a player winning one of the three biggest awards (MVP, ROY, DPOY) or making the All-NBA First Team in a non-shortened season while playing in fewer than 65 games. (And you add another three cases for honorees falling under the pro-rated threshold in the shortened season.) It's also worth noting that all of the players involved had at least one serious injury that kept them on the sideline for an extended period during their award-winning seasons, and were not missing the threshold because of load management.
Here's a closer look at each case:
Note: Giannis Antetokounmpo (63 games in 2020), LeBron James (62 games in 2012) and Karl Malone (49 games in 1999) played fewer than 65 games, but all of them would have passed the equivalent threshold based on the lengths of those shortened seasons.
|Winner under new rules
Bill Walton is the only player to earn an MVP Award in a full 82-game season without playing at least 71 games, let alone 65. The injury-plagued big man sustained a broken foot in February and he missed the remainder of the regular season. He returned in the playoffs, but needed a pain-killing injection to play in Game 2 of the team's first-round series against the Seattle SuperSonics. An X-ray later revealed a broken bone in his ankle, and he missed the rest of the postseason and never played for the Blazers again. Walton would later sue the team's medical staff.
If Walton had been ineligible under this new threshold, the award -- based on the voting of the day --would have gone to George Gervin, who came in second with 80.5 points to Walton's 96. Gervin averaged 27.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists for the San Antonio Spurs, who went 52-30. Though already a Hall of Famer, Gervin's legacy would be even greater with an MVP to his name.
Defensive Player of the Year
Note: Giannis Antetokounmpo (63 games in 2020), Tyson Chandler (62 games in 2012) and Alonzo Mourning (46 games in 1999), played fewer than 65 games, but all of them would have passed the equivalent threshold based on the lengths of those shortened seasons.
|Winner under new rules
San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard's narrow 2015 DPOY win over Draymond Green is the type of situation that would get quite controversial. It's one thing if someone isn't even close to 65 games, but missing the cut off by one game would create all sorts of drama, especially when it was due to a significant injury as was the case with Leonard who tore a ligament in his hand. Such a scenario would also raise the question of a minutes requirement in each game to avoid a scnario where a player, injured or not, checks in to play for a few minutes and then immediately exits.
The 2018 result is another interesting one because neither the winner, Rudy Gobert, nor the runner-up, Joel Embiid, reached the 65-game threshold. Gobert was limited to 56 games due to ankle and knee injuries, each of which kept him out for 10-plus games. Embiid, meanwhile, was on track to get there until he broke a bone in his face in late March and missed the remainder of the regular season. As a result, that season's award would have gone to Anthony Davis, who finished third in the voting.
Rookie of the Year
Note: Vince Carter (50 games in 1999) played fewer than 65 games, but would have passed the equivalent threshold based on the length of that shortened season.
|Winner under new rules
Portland Trail Blazers
To find the first example in the ROY category, you have to go back to 1986, when Patrick Ewing won the award despite only playing 50 games due to a knee injury that required surgery. Ewing was by far the best rookie that season, but even back then there were questions about whether he could win it having played so few games, even from his own head coach, Hubie Brown. "He's A-1; that's why he's going to be a star for years and years to come ... It's difficult to miss over one-third of the season and come out No. 1," Brown said. In the end, Ewing got the honor over Xavier McDaniel, who finished a rather distant second.
Thirty-one years later, there was a similar situation. Brandon Roy was only able to play in 57 games due to an impingement in his knee -- an injury that unfortunately became a foreshadowing of how his career would progress. But, perhaps because his injury came early in the season and he only got better toward the end of the campaign, there was never a question about the winner and Roy got all but one of the first-place votes.
Next, we'll check in on 2012 ROY Kyrie Irving. Though this was a lockout season that featured a 66-game schedule, Irving's 51 games were still not enough to qualify. Based on the equivalent threshold of 65 games in an 82-game season, Irving would have needed to play at least 52 games. This would have been an interesting case, as he was dealing with sprained shoulder near the end of the season, and the Cavs decided to play it safe because the games didn't mean anything to them. Would the team have let him come back for a game to qualify for this award? Like Ewing and Roy, he was by far the best rookie that season, and would've missed the requirement by the slimmest of margins, which would have led to some real controversy.
More recently, there's LaMelo Ball in 2021, who earned his honor in a COVID-shortened season. His 51 games would not have been enough to qualify, as he would have needed to suit up in at least 57 games. Ball broke his wrist in the second half of the season, which kept him out for 21 games. Under the new guidelines, the honor would have gone to Anthony Edwards, who played in all 72 games that season.
All-NBA First Team
Note: Giannis Antetokounmpo (63 games in 2020), Anthony Davis (62 games in 2020), Luka Doncic (61 games in 2020), LeBron James (62 games in 2012), Kobe Bryant (58 games in 2012), Chris Paul (60 games in 2012), Dwight Howard (54 games in 2012), Karl Malone (49 games in 1999), Tim Duncan (50 games in 1999), Alonzo Mourning (46 games in 1999), Allen Iverson (48 games in 1999) and Jason Kidd (50 games in 1999) played fewer than 65 games, but all of them would have passed the equivalent threshold based on the lengths of those shortened seasons.
|Honoree under new rules
Los Angeles Clippers
New York Knicks
Portland Trail Blazers
New Orleans Jazz
All-NBA First Team has the most examples of a player earning a major honor without reach 65 games in a full 82-game season, which is especially relevant now that players can earn more significantly money by making an All-NBA team.
Kawhi Leonard's honor came in the COVID-shortened season of 2021, but he still fell short of the equivalent threshold of 57 games. He was dealing with a foot injury late in the season, and the Clippers took extra precautions with his injury. In all, Leonard missed 11 out of the last 18 games. Under the new rules, the nod would have gone to Julius Randle, which would have been one of the biggest surprise First Team nominees in NBA history.
Back in 2014, there's another example that also would have been fairly controversial. Chris Paul sprained his shoulder in the middle of the season and was limited to 62 games, but was still a clear First Team honoree. Did he deserve to miss out because of a genuine long-term injury?
Shaquille O'Neal makes this list twice -- in 1998 and 2006. During the 1998 season, he had an abdominal injury, then broke his wrist while punching a heavy bag. Early in the 2006 campaign, he sprained his ankle. The first time, the voting wasn't even close, but the second time he eeked out the First Team spot over Ben Wallace. Regardless, he wouldn't have been eligible in either season under the new criteria, and would have lost two All-NBA nods. As a result, would've lost his first and last All-NBA honors, dropping him into a tie for sixth with six selections instead of being tied for fifth all-time with eight awards.
In 1985, Bernard King was putting together the best season of his career, but saw it cut short due to a sprained ankle and later, a career-altering ACL tear. But even though he only played in 55 games, he was so dynamic -- 32.9 points per game to win the scoring title -- that he was still named to the First Team, and rightly so.
Walton's situation in 1978 has already been covered in the MVP section, but to little surprise he was named to the First Team as well.
Finally, there's Pete Maravich. Though his second season with the Jazz was frustrating due to various injuries, which held him to 62 games, he still put on enough of a show to make the First Team -- though it's worth noting that the league was diluted due to the ABA, which featured the likes of Julius Erving and David Thompson.