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Ball Don't Lie

A look inside the Suns legendary training staff

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Trainer Aaron Nelson performers a backiotomy on Steve Nash in 2006 (Andrew D. Bernstein/ Getty).

Any rankings of the NBA's best training staffs begins with the Phoenix Suns. They've extended the careers of many previously injury-prone players and do a fantastic job of preventing injuries so healthy players stay on the court. Given how much more successful they are than many other teams, it sometimes seems like they have some sort of magical formula.

There's a bit of a mystery for many fans as to exactly what makes them so successful. To help explain, Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns reported a long feature on the training staff's mindset and techniques:

[T]o head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson, the Suns' methods only seemed unorthodox to Shaq because he wasn't used to them.

"To him it's unorthodox, to us it's regular science," Nelson said. "It's regular kinesiology, physiology, functional anatomy."

In a nutshell, the Suns aim to ensure that a weakness in one area does not compromise other parts of the body. For example, if a player injures his right ankle he will start compensating by putting more stress on his healthy side, so the training staff treats the entire athlete and not just the injured part to ensure "there is no movement dysfunction," as Nelson put it.

More specifically, the Suns chart an abundance of information on each player. This process starts with an overall assessment in the preseason that's used as a baseline, and then rotation players are continually reassessed at least four times a week, if not daily.

There's much more in the piece, from statistical evidence that these techniques work to players' speaking about the differences they saw when they joined the Suns. Read the whole thing if you care at all about how the Suns work.

What comes across throughout the piece is that, as Nelson says, what the Suns are doing only looks unorthodox if you think of training as an NBA issue rather than a medical or scientific one. These aren't quack doctor answers to athletic injuries — they're accepted treatments and practices. As long as a team is willing to put in the money and make a very basic reformulation of their approach, they can have a training staff that works like that of the Suns. That's a good move, even if it doesn't end up quite as successful.

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