Taking a look at ACL injuries, and why the Celtics should expect Rondo back when next season tips off
I'm a bit of a knee freak. I have torn my right ACL twice and struggled through the tenuous and sometimes exhaustive rehab that goes with the surgery, and because of that, I have always paid close attention to athletes who suffer the same injury. That's why when I started hearing things like 'Rondo won't be back for a year. A calendar year' today from Magic Johnson and the like, I immediately shook my head. Back in the 80's and 90's, ACL injuries were a 12-15 month process, if not a career killer all together for NBA players. Case in point - Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who blew out his knee in December, 1993 (12/16/93) and returned nearly exactly a year later (12/2/94). Another example - Tim Hardaway, who tore his ACL before the 1993-1994 season, and did not return until the '94-'95 campaign tipped-off. So at one point in history, Magic's statement rang true - but not anymore. Times have changed, and so have ACL injuries.
I wanted to take a look at some recent examples of ACL injuries and the recovery times associated with them. I broke these into two categories, players with similar playing styles as Rondo; and players with Celtic connections, here's what I found.
For the sake of the argument I'll call these players 'quick twitch guards'. In other words, players who rely on intense cutting maneuvers and lateral movement for success. ACL injuries greatly effect a players pivoting ability, so these players should generally take longer to get back.
Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves - Tore ACL/LCL in left knee (21 years old at time of injury)
Date injured: 3/09/12
Date returned: 12/15/12
Notes: Rubio is like Rondo in that he's a point guard who relies on quickness, and a ton of lateral movement. Rubio's injury was not an isolated ACL tear, as he also had to deal with a torn LCL (RG III also dealt with the ACL/LCL combo earlier this month). Whenever you add a second ligament tear to the mix, it complicates the recovery process, so it will be interesting to see if Rondo has any additional damage to his knee.
Iman Shumpert, Knicks - Tore ACL/Meniscus in left knee (21 years old at TOI)
Date injured: 4/28/12
Date returned: 1/17/13
Notes: Shumpert suffered what looked like a career altering injury in last season's playoffs against Miami. Who can forget him collapsing to the court in a heap and needing to be carried off the floor after he tore both the ACL and meniscus in his left knee? However Shumpert managed to come back in less than 9 months time and is currently shaking off the post-injury rust, averaging 20 minutes a game for New York.
Derrick Rose, Bulls - Tore ACL/MCL in left knee (23 years old at TOI)
Date injured: 4/28/12
Date returned: TBD
Rose is going to be the comparison used most often for Rondo, and for good reason. An all star caliber (MVP in Rose's case) point guard who went down just last season, Rose is still working his way back to the Bulls line-up, but he is reportedly very close. He recently was upgraded to "unplanned contact" in practice, meaning that players can bump and foul him while he participates. The goal for Rose's return has been late February, so it's looking more and more likely that he will miss about 10 months.
Tony Allen, Celtics (when injury occurred) - ACL/MCL/Meniscus in left knee (25 years old at TOI)
Date injured: 1/10/07
Date returned: 11/2/07 (opening night)
Notes: Why Tony, why?? I will always remember T.A. deciding to dunk post-whistle in a game vs. the Pacers back in the fateful '06-'07 season, missing the dunk, and blowing out every single thing of importance in his left knee. In the medical world, tearing the ACL, MCL and meniscus is known as the 'unhappy triad' because these three injuries often occur together in catastrophic injuries. The Viking's Adrian Peterson suffered this same injury late in the 2011 season, only to return to MVP form in 2012. T.A. made a similarly impressive comeback time-wise (ready for training camp for the 2007-08 season), although he certainly wasn't the same explosive player as before.
Al Jefferson, Timberwolves (when injury occurred) - ACL in right knee (24 years old at TOI)
Date injured: 2/08/09
Date returned: 10/28/09 (opening night)
Notes: Big Al was having a career season for the Wolves back in 2008-09, averaging 23/11/2 for Minnesota before tearing his right ACL in early February. Jefferson recovered quickly, and was still an All-Star caliber player when he returned, but he has never quite reached the 2008-09 level of production.
Kendrick Perkins, Celtics (when injury occurred) - ACL/LCL in right knee (25 years old at TOI)
Date injured: 6/15/10 (Game 6 of the 2010 Finals)
Date returned: 1/25/11
Notes: The most heartbreaking ACL injury in Celtics history before today (considering the stakes, maybe it keeps the title?), Perk's knee folded like an accordion under the weight of Andrew Bynum during the 1st quarter of Game 6 in 2010. While the injury quite possibly cost the Celtics the title that season, Perkins had a remarkable recovery the next season. He was back on the court just over 7 months later, and on his way to Oklahoma City less than a month after that. In my opinion, Perk definitely left some athleticism on the Staples Center floor that night, but he still is able to do most of the same stuff for the Thunder, that he used to do for the C's.
This miniature study is certainly not meant to exactly predict Rondo's return date, after all I only looked at 6 cases (This awesome basketball prospectus article says that there were 40 ACL tears in the NBA between 1999-2011), and as any surgeon will tell you - everybody's different. But the one myth that should be put to rest is that the Celtics should plan on being without Rondo until the middle of next season. There are just about exactly nine months between now and opening night, and 4 of the 6 players I looked at returned in nine months or less.
We'll know more about Rondo's exact prognosis in the coming days and weeks, but I think that there is a great chance that when the Celtics open up the 2013-14 season, #9 is on the court. How long it takes him to get back to his current level of explosiveness? Well that's an entirely different issue.
Follow Mike on twitter - Mike_Dyer13