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In today’s NBA, load management and stars missing games is now the norm. This trend has received a lot of criticism, though, especially in comparison to how previous generations of players approached the game. In the Michael Jordan era, for example, sitting out games was unthinkable for most players and medical staffs were not as careful with minor injuries.
Up to this day, AC Green still holds the all-time NBA record for the longest streak of consecutive games with 1,192. Nobody expects any modern-era players to attempt to break that record – this might actually be one of the few records that are not meant to be broken – but players should by expected to participate in at least 70-75 regular season games if they aren’t dealing with major injuries. Last season, however, only 30 players in the entire league played 95 percent or more of the regular season games and this season does not look to play out much differently.
This is especially a problem with high-usage star players and becomes painfully obvious when comparing the All-NBA Teams from the 1992-93 season to last season’s top players. The 1992-93 All-NBA First Team consisted of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, and Mark Price. All of these players played between 70 and 82 regular season games, and so did the All-NBA Second Team members that season. Over his entire 12 seasons with the Bulls, Jordan actually only missed a total of 71 games, and 64 of those were due to a broken foot in his sophomore season. Karl Malone similarly played at least 80 regular season games in all but one of his 18 seasons.
Last season’s All-NBA First Team was made up of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Nikola Jokic, Devin Booker, and Luka Doncic. Out of these five players, only Tatum and Jokic played more than 70 games with 76 and 74 respectively. Booker played 68 regular season games, Antetokounmpo played 67 and Doncic only 65. On the All-NBA Second Team, only DeMar DeRozan played more than 70 games and Kevin Durant and Ja Morant even played less than 60 games each.
Similar patterns have already led to criticism concerning players’ load management this season, but there still are players fighting for their Iron Man status. Let’s look at some of this season’s durable high-usage players:
1. MIKAL BRIDGES
Mikal Bridges is the NBA’s contemporary Iron Man. He has played every single game of his career so far, and thus has the longest active streak of consecutive games. The last game he missed was actually in his junior year of high school and even then, his coach had to force him to stay home and not try to play sick.
Considering that Bridges guarded the opposing team’s best player, ran the floor a lot, and carried a scoring load for the Phoenix Suns night in and night out, that is quite the feat. As the lone healthy Suns’ starter, Bridges averaged 36.4 minutes this season and played an average of almost 40 minutes in last season’s playoffs. Despite carrying such a big load, Bridges appears to be indestructible and will now offer that same reliability to the Brooklyn Nets, as he will continue his Iron Man streak there.
2. KEVON LOONEY
The Warriors’ big man struggled with injuries and finding his place in the rotation early on in his career, but in recent years, he has become the reigning champions’ constant steadying presence. Last season, he played every regular season game and every single playoff game up to the Warriors’ last finals win. He then continued his streak in the new season, not missing a single game so far and starting the majority of them, too. As of now, Looney averages around 23 minutes a game, which is the highest average of his career. In that time, he reliably grabs offensive rebounds to grant his trigger-happy team second or even third chances, plays solid defense, sets screens, and does all the other little things. Because of that and his constant availability, he has become pretty much irreplaceable for the Warriors.
3. BUDDY HIELD
In April 2021, Buddy Hield missed his first game since November 2017. Until then, he had the second-longest active Iron Man streak, with 272 consecutive games. Last season, the Pacers’ sharpshooter only missed one game, and now he is back on track to try and play an entire regular season. As one of the best three-point shooters in the game, Hield carries a lot of responsibility every game and averages around 32 minutes per contest. Especially when Tyrese Haliburton missed significant time, the pressure on Hield to score even more was high. Nevertheless, he showed up and performed every game so far on his way to potentially start a new Iron Man streak.
4. JULIUS RANDLE
Julius Randle played and started all 56 Knicks games thus far and seems on track to play the entire season. The last time that happened was the 2017-18 season with the Lakers. In the timespan since then, he only missed two games in the bubble and only one game in the 2020-21 season. Randle is currently top 25 in usage and only one of three players on that list to not miss a game yet (Anthony Edwards and Jordan Poole are the other two), which makes it all the more impressive. He also leads his team in minutes per game with 35.9, points (24.7), and rebounds (10.4) and was a big part of the Knicks turning their season around.
5. ANTHONY EDWARDS
Anthony Edwards is the only Timberwolves’ player who did not miss a game yet this season. He even suited up after a nasty fall against the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this year. The Timberwolves should count themselves lucky that Edwards is so durable because he is the engine powering their turnaround after an underwhelming season up until January. He leads the team in scoring, steals, and minutes per game with 36.2. As of now, Edwards is fifteenth in usage among NBA players, but despite carrying such a big load for his team in only his third season and in the absence of his co-stars, he shows up every night and delivers.
Edwards also played all games in his rookie season, but then missed ten with a knee injury last season. If he can continue to avoid serious injuries in the future, Edwards could become one of the NBA’s new iron men.
6. JORDAN POOLE
After signing a big contract with the Warriors, Jordan Poole is not resting on that. Instead, he is one of only two Warriors to not miss a game yet. Poole is currently fourteenth in usage among all NBA players thus far this season, and the only Warrior in the top 25 of that list. He plays around 30 minutes every night and carries a giant offensive load as a scorer while also learning to become a better facilitator. Especially with Curry missing a lot of time this season, the pressure is on Poole to pick up the slack. Poole is still young and learning as a player, but he is doing his best to keep them afloat, which is why it is so huge for the Warriors that he has not missed a game yet and will hopefully play the entire regular season.
Other notable players who have not missed games yet this season:
- Harrison Barnes
- Jevon Carter
- Tari Eason
- Tyus Jones
- Kenyon Martin Jr.
- Bennedict Mathurin
- Jalen McDaniels
- Isaac Okoro
- Mason Plumlee
- Nikola Vucevic
- Patrick Williams
- Derrick White