This is the year of fatigue in the Big 12. When an elite team like Kansas or West Virginia drops a game or two, it is said to be because key players aren’t getting enough rest.
The explanation rises like a perennial in the spring every time the Jayhawks lose a game, and we all form a worry-circle around Devonte’ Graham’s current streak of six consecutive 40-minute games. Conversely, when the Mountaineers suffered a three-game losing streak, it was said that Jevon Carter was exhausted, and that the system itself wears out its players long before March. (Such talk has subsided now that WVU has won two straight.)
It’s interesting that we talk like this. Relative to their same-age peers in the NBA, after all, college players don’t play nearly as many minutes. That is because they don’t play nearly as many games. If you want to worry about a 22-year-old’s minutes, never mind Graham and consider Karl Anthony-Towns instead. He very nearly has Graham doubled up.
Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, Donovan Mitchell — youngsters all, and they all put their college brethren to shame in terms of playing time. And you’ll forgive 22-year-old Andrew Wiggins if he chuckles at this Graham Exhaustion Watch the next time he stops by Lawrence. (Fun fact: Wiggins and Graham were born one day apart in 1995.)
Maybe Graham is going to find he can’t run anymore, but, if so, Syracuse has to be in even worse shape, right? Jim Boeheim has three players (Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, and Frank Howard) who are playing the same percentage of conference minutes as Graham or even higher.
Sure, 40 minutes per outing is a lot, even for an NBA player in a 48-minute world. But is that really that much more taxing on the body than playing 17 heavy-minutes games in 30 days?
Andrew Wiggins’ January
Yes, college players have to juggle basketball with their academic commitments, but pro players have to balance even more basketball minutes with adulthood and, you know, life. I’m not exactly sure how we got started thinking that Carter and Graham alone must require ice packs and targeted muscle rubs to play a number of minutes that’s being eclipsed every day by same-age college and pro players on the North American continent — possibly coach rhetoric — but it is striking.
That being said, if there’s one thing I took away from “The Undoing Project” (read it today) it is that our minds will roam absolutely anywhere we need to go for a satisfactory explanation. If teams miss a lot of shots in a football stadium, it must be the shooting background in a football stadium. If Northwestern’s fallen back a step, it must be because Sanjay Lumpkin was sneakily crucial. If Wichita State’s a disappointment, it must be because their nine-player rotation (!) misses Daishon Smith (!!). (I actually saw that one.)
And, if Kansas loses, it must be because Graham is spent. That’s fine, I’m just frankly wondering how we got here. Frank Mason III played effectively an identical percentage of Big 12 minutes last year, and he won some nice awards. Kids nowadays are different, I guess.