A Gordon Hayward/Paul George injury rehab comparison

In my recent article arguing that Gordon Hayward should go back into the starting unit, many reader comments compared Gordon's comeback to that of Paul George. Those comments prompted the following.

Paul George broke both bones in his right-lower leg on August 1, 2014. He faced surgery very quickly - was shooting jumpers in late October, 2014 - went through his first full practice on February 26, 2015 - and played his first game back on April 5, 2015. He ended up playing the final six games of the season, averaging 15.2 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 1.0 APG. The following season, in the month of November, PG13 averaged 36.1 MPG, 29.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, and 4.3 APG. He was back to form 15 months after his injury. There was no indication from any of the literature I surveyed of any joint or soft tissue damage connected with the bone breaks. That is important.

Gordon Hayward's injury is a different animal. It involved the break of the tibia AND the dislocation of his left ankle. We all remember the cringe-worthy nature of his dislocation. Hayward suffered the injury on October 17, 2017, and we are now at the 15-month mark of his recovery. Here is CBSSports' Jack Maloney questioning a medical expert on Hayward's injury, recovery - and why the soft tissue damage in his ankle differs from the Paul George injury:

JS: Connective tissue can take a long time to heal, especially if it's repaired. It's one reason why a broken bone sounds worse than a torn ACL, but you have to go in and repair that ligament. Connective tissue, once it's past a certain point, it's hard to get it back to its original strength, it takes time, and often requires surgical intervention.

JS: It's very likely they're gonna put plates and screws. It's a little bit different than the Paul George thing where they put the rod in the middle because you just want to stabilize the injury site. Here you're talking about, because of the dislocation, because of the forced rotation of the bones, likely using a plate and screws to stabilize any of the area.

JS: Yeah, definitely (comeback from severe ankle injuries for basketball players is difficult). The ankle is key. You make hard cuts, he plays a position that has a high demand of lateral movement, so those areas are gonna be stressed. There's a reason the ankles are the No. 1 injured body part in the NBA. Ankle sprains are way up there, and it's because they're vulnerable, they're exposed in the sport. It's a problematic area.

That has been my point all along. Both Paul and Gordon's injuries were gruesome - PG13's more so than Hayward's - but Gordon's soft tissue damage in the ankle joint makes for a longer and more-difficult rehab than a bone break. Here are Hayward's stats for the month of January, followed by the same stats on a per-36-minute basis:

January stats: 12 games - 24.6 MPG - 12.3 PPG - 3.8 RPG - 3.3 APG - 48% FG - 33% on 3's

Per-36-minutes: 12 games - 36.0 MPG - 17.9 PPG - 5.6 RPG - 4.9 APG - 1.1 SPG

Now look up again at Paul's 36.1 MPG stats upon his full return in November, 2015. Yes, his stats are better than Hayward's at the same 15-month mark, but now try this. Sit down and flex, extend and rotate one of your ankles. It is a very complex joint. Now try to bend your lower leg halfway between the knee and the ankle. Won't budge - will it? There is no joint there. Break a bone there - put a rod in it - let it heal - and you are off and running. Not so with the ankle. Let's all give Gordon a break - no pun intended.

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Photo via Layne Murdock/NBAE via Getty Images and Mark D. Smith/USAToday Sports