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NBA 65-game rule, explained: How injuries, missed games impact MVP, DPOY, All-NBA and more end-of-season awards

The NBA’s 65-game rule is in the spotlight.

Now that we’re more than halfway through the 2023-24 season, several stars have missed extended time with injuries and face the possibility of not being eligible for the big end-of-season awards.

The most notable is 76ers center Joel Embiid, who won his first MVP award last season. He’s putting together one of the most dominant seasons of all time, averaging more points (35.3) than minutes (34.0), but he can only miss five more games if he wants to remain eligible for Most Valuable Player and All-NBA.

How exactly does the 65-game rule work? Here’s everything you need to know.

MORE: Full list of starters for the 2024 NBA All-Star Game

What is the NBA’s 65-game rule?

Starting with the 2023-24 season, NBA players have to appear in at least 65 games and be on the court for at least 20 minutes in those games to be eligible for Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, All-NBA and All-Defense.

The 65-game rule does not apply to Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and All-Rookie.

As The Athletic detailed before the season, there are protections against season-ending injuries (62 games), near misses in minutes (two games of at least 15 minutes) and bad-faith circumstances. There are also procedures in place for players to attempt to regain their eligibility, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps and Bobby Marks, though the pathway to achieving it is said to be “a narrow one.”

Basically, if a player misses 18 games, they  likely won’t be eligible for a number of end-of-season awards.

Who is at risk of the 65-game rule this season?

Here are some notable players who have missed 10 or more games as of Feb. 1, 2024:

  • Lauri Markkanen, Jazz: 10 games
  • Bam Adebayo, Heat: 10 games
  • Joel Embiid, 76ers: 12 games
  • Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers: 13 games
  • Jimmy Butler, Heat: 13 games
  • Jamal Murray, Nuggets: 14 games
  • Kristaps Porzingis, Celtics: 14 games
  • Kyrie Irving, Mavericks: 20 games
  • Evan Mobley, Cavaliers: 22 games
  • LaMelo Ball, Hornets: 24 games
  • Darius Garland, Cavaliers: 24 games
  • Zach LaVine, Bulls: 24 games
  • Bradley Beal, Suns: 24 games
  • Mitchell Robinson, Knicks: 27 games
  • Marcus Smart, Grizzlies: 27 games

Do NBA players like the 65-game rule?

The 65-game rule is not very popular in its first season.

Former NBA player Jamal Crawford said on NBA on TNT that players “shouldn’t have to risk themselves and their livelihood to say ‘I need to meet a quota’ to be eligible for this stuff.”

Haliburton took it a step further.

“I think it’s a stupid rule, like plenty of the guys in the league, but this is what the owners want, so as players, we gotta do our job and play in 65 games if we’re able to,” Haliburton said. “So, that’s what I gotta do, take care of my body to be able to play in those games, and I think you’re seeing other players in the league kind of face the same thing. As long as the owners are happy.”

Warriors forward Draymond Green also spoke out against it. He said on his podcast that Embiid returning from a two-game absence from a knee injury “felt very much so because of the 65-game limit,” calling it “quite bulls—.”

“Guys didn’t face those rules before,” Green explained. “But those same All-NBA Teams, those same MVP awards, Defensive Player of the Year, those lists are the same … In turn, you get Joel who comes out there tonight and he forces it. Freak play with him and [Jonathan Kuminga] diving for the ball, but maybe it’s not as bad if the knee isn’t already banged up.

“I don’t really bang with it and now we’ve got one of our premier faces in this league, the MVP of our league possibly hurt for an extended period of time because he’s forcing it.”

MORE: The latest updates on Joel Embiid’s knee injury

How would the NBA’s 65-game rule have impacted previous award winners?

Most Valuable Player

In the NBA’s history, five players have won MVP while playing less than 65 games.

  • Karl Malone in 1998-99. Malone appeared in 49 of Utah’s 50 games in a lockout-shortened season.
  • Bill Walton in 1977-78. Walton appeared in 58 of Portland’s 82 games.
  • LeBron James in 2011-12. James appeared in 62 of Miami’s 66 games in a lockout-shortened season.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2019-20. Antetokounmpo appeared in 63 of Milwaukee’s 73 games in the COVID-impacted season.
  • Bob Cousy in 1956-57. Cousy appeared in 64 of Boston’s 72 games.

Defensive Player of the Year

Six players have won DPOY while playing less than 65 games.

  • Alonzo Mourning in 1998-99. Mourning appeared in 46 of Miami’s 50 games in a lockout-shortened season.
  • Rudy Gobert in 2017-18. Gobert appeared in 56 of Utah’s 82 games.
  • Tyson Chandler in 2011-12. Chandler appeared in 62 of New York’s 66 games in a lockout-shortened season.
  • Jaren Jackson Jr. in 2022-23. Jackson appeared in 63 of Memphis’ 82 games.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2019-20. Antetokounmpo appeared in 63 of Milwaukee’s 73 games in the COVID-impacted season.
  • Kawhi Leonard in 2014-15. Leonard appeared in 64 of San Antonio’s 82 games.

Most Improved Player

Four players have won MIP while playing less than 65 games.

  • Darrell Armstrong in 1998-99. Armstrong appeared in 50 of Orlando’s 50 games in a lockout-shortened season.
  • Ja Morant in 2021-22. Morant appeared in 57 of Memphis’ 82 games.
  • Ryan Anderson in 2011-12. Anderson appeared in 61 of Orlando’s 66 games in a lockout-shortened season.
  • Brandon Ingram in 2019-20. Ingram appeared in 62 of New Orleans’ 72 games in the COVID-impacted season.

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