Ben Simmons missed an entire season. Brook Lopez missed 100 games. Kevin Durant only played 27 games during the 2014-15 season.
History suggests that New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson could be facing an uphill climb in his recovery from his latest injury.
Lopez, Simmons, and Durant were the latest NBA players standing 6-10 and above who successfully recovered from a fractured fifth metatarsal in their foot or most commonly known as Jones fracture, which Robinson suffered last week.
Likely done for the season
On Monday, the Knicks announced that he had a successful surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. The team did not offer any timetable for his recovery.
Dr. Martin O’Malley, HSS’s noted NBA players’ orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery on the three players mentioned above and likely on Robinson, begged off to comment on this story.
But a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist offered a bleak forecast of a Robinson comeback this season.
“If [Knicks] were being cautious, then yes [Robinson is likely done for the season]. Of course, it depends on the severity, but to undergo foot surgery this late in the season is typically season-ending. If he plays, it may be restricted play (minute restriction/load management). However, I donâ€™t know if theyâ€™d want to do that with a young, dynamic player,” Dr. Ernest Eusebio told Empire Sports Media.
The recovery can take an entire year, according to Dr. Eusebio, the founder of the Jersey City-based Wolves Performance & Lifestyle Collective, an all-encompassing high-performance consultancy providing solutions in Professional Sport, Entertainment, & Fortune 500.
“It could very well be 9-12 months until he returns to the court unrestricted, pending success of rehab & playerâ€™s ability to return to NBA shape,” he said. “[Knicks] said his surgery was successful, which could mean at best he may be back for the offseason in 4-6 months, but that does not necessarily mean playing time due to the nature of the game,” Dr. Eusebio said. “Full recovery is typically a 6-9 month window.â€
Dr. Eusebio, who has worked with NBA, MLB, NFL athletes, and Olympians, is not discounting the possibility of a postseason return for Robinson, giving him a 3-4 month time frame for recovery.
“It would be amazing to see him late in the first round of the playoffs, and it wouldnâ€™t surprise me with [Tom Thibodeau]. But I believe itâ€™s more likely that he plays in the second round if the Knicks make it which will be a huge asset,” he added.
Pau Gasol was another 7-footer who had the same injury when he was 26. He returned in four months in 2006. But Memphis put him in a 25-minute restriction. Former Washington Wizards’ 6-11 forward Andray Blatche also broke his foot in late June of 2010 and was back in early October for the training camp.
What is Jones fracture?
Dr. Eusebio, who earned the “Best in Patient Care” award from the American Health Council in 2018, explained that the regional blood supply in that area isnâ€™t the greatest. That’s why a surgical repair is necessary to return to high levels of performance.
“A fifth metatarsal fracture that requires surgery is more often than not a Jones fracture, which hints that a break may have occurred along the shaft of the bone, proximal to the base,” explained Dr. Ernest Eusebio.
“This is an unfortunate injury to deal with as an explosive player due to the footâ€™s vital role in jumping and running. Rehab is usually initiated non-weight bearing, and as pain decreases and bone healing occurs, Mitchell [Robinson] should be progressively loading his foot and sports specific movements accordingly – which can take some time,” Dr. Eusebio added.
The average missed time in the NBA for this type of injury is roughly 39 games, according to sports injury expert and certified athletic trainer Jeff Stotts who operates the website instreetclothes.com, which breaks down typical sports injuries for the fans. But as history suggests, the recovery period is longer for big men.
If there’s one thing going for Robinson, it’s his age. The 7-foot-center just turned 23 Thursday.
Simmons was 20 when he broke his foot. Durant was 26 when he had Jones fracture and was coming off his MVP season. Lopez was the same age as Robinson when he suffered the injury.
The injury’s timing couldn’t come at the worst possible time as the Knicks are in the thick of a playoff hunt, and Robinson is eligible for a contract extension this summer.
Robinson, who has been durable in his first two seasons —only missing a total of 21 games—has already undergone surgery twice this season. The Knicks went 9-6 without him earlier in the season while recovering from a broken hand. They have lost their last two games since he went down with his latest injury, which he suffered in Milwaukee ironically against Lopez.
The Knicks have signed Norvel Pelle to a 10-day contract for their 14th roster spot as insurance if Nerlens Noel or Taj Gibson misses time. They have pivoted from Andre Drummond, who eventually signed with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, because they are still holding out hope on Robinson.
The Knicks front office wants to see more of Robinson, according to Ian Begley of SNY.
Can Robinson return to old form?
While it may take longer to recover, there’s no evidence to suggest that Robinson will not return his old form.
Lopez, Durant, and Simmons all survived and thrived after the injury. Only Rasheed Wallace, who was 38 and at the tail end of his career in 2013 with the Knicks, was forced to retire because of the same type of injury.
A study on NBA players who suffered Jones fracture from 1994 to 2013 has encouraging results for Robinson.
“Four of the 26 (15%) players did not return to play in a subsequent NBA game after the season in which a Jones fracture was sustained. Twenty-four of 26 (92%) athletes were treated with operative fixation, and three players (12%) underwent secondary reoperation. Recurrence of the injury was experienced by five players (19%),” said the study published online in 2015 in the national library of medicine.
Robinson’s value takes a hit
Robinson has a $1.8 million team option, which the Knicks will likely exercise next season to make him a restricted free agent and buy them some more time to evaluate him.
Some teams were interested in trading for Robinson at the trade deadline, according to Begley. Those teams will likely take a wait-and-see approach after this latest setback in the young big man’s career.
Certainly, Robinson’s market value has taken a hit with his latest injury. But that should be further from Robinson’s mind as he needs to focus on his recovery. His performance after this injury will dictate his next contract—whether that will be with the Knicks or another team.
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