When you see a guy like LeBron James streaking down the court for a one-handed tomahawk slam in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, it looks easy. In reality, the amount of conditioning an athletes needs to muster enough energy to rise above the rim after playing nearly 40 minutes of basketball is staggering. It's why players who come into training camp or the regular season out of shape can see their production drop and their time on the court plummet. Keeping their bodies in prime shape is critically important for NBA players.
Here are five guys who have worked hard to turn out-of-shape frames into NBA physiques.
Anthony Bennett's rookie year was doomed from the start. The UNLV product was taken first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, placing enormous pressure to perform on a player who simply wasn't ready for it. Complicating things further, Bennett was coming off shoulder surgery, which slowed his off-season conditioning. Battles with sleep apnea and asthma only made things worse.
Prior to his second year, Bennett set out to change the narrative. He had surgery during the off-season to remove his tonsils, allowing him to breathe easier on the court and helping to cure his sleep apnea, which had left him feeling tired and sluggish during the day. He also shed a fair amount of weight, and he looks completely slimmed down compared to last season. Bennett played fairly well during the Cavs' recent stint in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, honing his jump shot and not completely running out of breath as he moved around the court. Bennett will look to become a serviceable player for the Cavaliers in his second season.
When Jared Sullinger took part in the 2012 NBA Combine before being drafted by the Boston Celtics later that summer, he weighed 268 pounds. Sullinger's weight has always fluctuated, and when he hit 280 pounds toward the end of last season, both he and the Celtics knew it was time for a change. The former Ohio State Buckeye is working to lose 20 pounds before the start of the 2014-2015 season.
Injuries have played a large part in Sullinger's inability to keep his weight in a desirable range. In February of his rookie season, he had back surgery that ended his year and led to weight gain as he recovered. He ended last season with a few minor injuries as well. But he still averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds per game, numbers the Celtics coaches expect to shoot up if Sullinger indeed sheds some pounds. Stay tuned.
During the 2011-12 NBA season, as a member of the Washington Wizards, Andray Blatche was benched for being out of shape. After missing over a month due to a strained left calf, he returned for nine games, in which he posted just five points and three rebounds per game, while struggling to stay on the court for more than 15 minutes. His weight had ballooned to over 280 pounds, and the Wizards let him go at the end of the season.
After signing with the Brooklyn Nets in September of 2012, Blatche put his career—and his conditioning—back on track. He got his weight down to around 260 pounds; and he contributed 11 points and five rebounds per game as the Nets made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs. Staying in game shape can still be a struggle for Blatche—he was rumored to be suspended for four games last season because of lack of conditioning—but he's certainly put in the work to become a solid contributor in the NBA.
In 2013, as the Michigan Wolverines basketball team made its first run to the Final Four in two decades, center Mitch McGary was in the process of reshaping his body. He was overweight and, by his own admission, eating extremely poorly. So the Michigan strength and conditioning department put him on a high-protein, low-fat diet. McGary promptly lost 20 pounds.
McGary missed most of the next season due to back surgery and a suspension, but he's been able to continue to follow his training and diet regimen. He was selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2014 NBA Draft. Looking fit, McGary averaged 15 points and six rebounds in four summer league games. He just might be the Thunder's secret weapon.
You'd never know it if you watched Mills go en fuego from the 3-point line during the 2014 NBA Finals, but the little gunslinger wasn't always so little. He wasn't large, by any means, but during last off-season, he was pushed to drop his body-fat percentage. He obliged, going from 12 percent to 5.8 percent body fat. The difference in his body was obvious. As a result, the Australian's playing time went way up, along with his numbers, as he morphed into a key role player during the Spurs' championship run.
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