Nylon Calculus

NBA Iron Men of 2017

We got a Charles Barkley rant the other week about how the NBA, again, is soft and not like it was in his time. Specifically, he was criticizing the NBA’s push to reduce back-to-back games from the schedule and improve travel fatigue around the league.

While one can criticize Barkley for his hypocrisy — he only played the full 82 games in his rookie season and was not exactly known for his effort — there’s this concern that he’s tapping into that’s prevalent now. The ideal of the NBA iron-man, playing every game whether strained ankle or sore back or four-in-five-nights slate, is dying — most people think it’s an extinct class of NBA player. But there are still a handful of players left who are carrying that flame.

One thing I’ve learned when compiling these iron-men lists over the years is that there’s no pattern to which type of player gains iron-man status. You’ll get the ground-bound types like Andre Miller, and then you’ll see a lot of bouncy NBA players like DeAndre Jordan. There’s no discernible pattern, which should soften the blow when I reveal the NBA’s current iron-man. After a surprising injury to Tristan Thompson, who was the iron-man last year, the new reigning king is…Corey Brewer. Yes, the now 31-year-old speed demon who’s somehow listed at 186 pounds at 6-foot-9 and runs like his turbo button got stuck down is the iron-man of the NBA.

The Tennessee native has had a unique career so far, and Brewer’s adding another bit of trivia to his resume. He inexplicably had a 51-point game three years ago in Minnesota, and his fast break scoring volume is quite impressive. Nearly a third of his total points are derived from what the NBA labels as a fast break point, which is the highest ratio for career totals for anyone with at least 1000 points since tracking has been available in 1997.

Corey Brewer has a streak of 277 regular games in a row without missing one, and 299 if you include the playoffs. Careful readers may have noticed Corey played only 80 games in 2015, but that was due to a trade — he played every available game that season, so the streak counts (The NBA agrees by the way). However, if you excuse one missed game in 2014 due to the birth of his son, the streak is 446 regular season games and 481 total; the spirit of the iron-man streak is more about being healthy and available, so I think excusing someone to attend a birth is arguably fine. That streak would be the longest in recent years with the exception of Andre Miller, and I don’t think anyone saw it coming — and this is from a guy who “ran out of talent.”

Early this season, Brewer, who was traded to the Lakers in late February, took a pass on the baseline, drove, spun, shook two defenders with a 360 and missed a point-blank shot at the rim. “Coach, I did my thing,” he told D’Antoni, “but then I got to the rim and just ran out of talent.”

“Ran out of talent,” D’Antoni repeats. “Best line in the history of basketball.”

(source: ESPN)

You can see a table of other “iron-men” from last season. I included everyone with at least two full seasons without a missed game. It’s not a huge list, but it’s about the same size I see most seasons. However, everyone except for Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng has an asterisk. Also, oddly enough, everyone except for Corey is a center. There’s a bit of myth-busting when you look at which players don’t miss games. Clearly, being skinny doesn’t mean you’re breakable, because Brewer has survived plenty fine, and size doesn’t necessarily lead to constant injuries either, because many big men are healthy year after year.

Table: Iron-men of 2017

Player RS streak Including PS
Corey Brewer 277 299
Mason Plumlee[i] 274 262
Bismack Biyombo[ii] 189 209
Robin Lopez[iii] 197 208
Karl-Anthony Towns 164 164
Gorgui Dieng 164 164
Corey Brewer[iv] 446 481

[i] Had two DNP-CD’s in 2014 in the playoffs.

[i] Suspended for a game due to excessive number of flagrant fouls.

[iii] Suspended for a game due to fighting. No mascots were involved, however.

[iv] Missed a game in 2014 for the birth of his son.

We’ll likely see some new faces next year though. Three rookies — Marquese Chriss, Jamal Murray, and Buddy Hield — played the full season. We also lost three players, however. Tristan Thompson (who had been at 447 games in a row), Andre Drummond, and James Harden all missed games for various reasons (Here’s the list from last season). Harden didn’t actually get injured; he missed a game due to the flu. All three guys were relatively big names (I’ll sneak Tristan into the group simply because Cleveland’s exposure puts him on TV a lot.)

If there’s one thing you can take away from this, it’s to never assume a certain player type will injury-prone or not. Many athletic players who play above the rim, including big men, have durable bodies, and stars and role players alike can go seasons without missing a game. Corey Brewer, the guy who dribbles and sprints as if possessed, is another member in that long, storied line of NBA players. Even if Charles Barkley thinks this generation isn’t tough enough to play in every game.

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