It was just over three weeks ago when Luka Doncic's trainer was misquoted when discussing the Dallas Mavericks star's physique. "Not in top shape yet" was the translation, missing a key qualifier. So when Doncic addressed reporters last week for the first time in nearly three months, he was immediately asked about the state of his physical shape.
"He said, like, 'game shape,'" Doncic said. "I know what shape I'm in. I think I'm in good shape, and I'll just get better until Orlando games start."
Good shape vs. game shape is an important distinction. And as teams prepare for actual game play, trainers are juggling conflicting priorities: ensuring the safety of the players and staff by following the protocols outlined by the league, even though it limits the ramp-up for players in a truncated season restart.
"We never envisioned a four-plus-month layoff with no contact," said one performance coach for a team heading to the Orlando bubble.
The prognosis is about as good as can be expected: So far there are few horror stories of players falling so far out of shape that it would be impossible to recover in time. Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said his players look good physically "and have clearly worked hard to prepare as well as they can." One Western Conference athletic training official said, "It's not like all of them have just been sitting on their couch the whole time."
And multiple general managers said the pressure to not let down their teammates or appear out of shape when play resumed would motivate players -- particularly with a large national television audience tuning in.
Individual workouts have been useful. One performance coach for a team not headed to Orlando said that this window has allowed coaches to drill down on minute details in a player's skill development -- something they aren't typically able to do this early in the summer. But the ability to transition from individual to group workouts remains critical, according to athletic training officials across the league. What is difficult to replicate in individual workouts, compared with group workouts, is basketball rhythm and game shape.