When the Philadelphia 76ers traded for No. 6 overall pick Nerlens Noel last June, oddly they did so considering his history of injuries. In a profession where the rigors are as much physical and mental, adding an injury prone player is murky territory.
On every level, basketball is a sport that places high demand on the knees. It requires running, cutting and jumping movements that put players at risk for anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, injuries.
Before Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose tore the ACL in his left knee, torn ACL injuries were a rarity. No other NBA All-Star suffered a similar injury since Danny Manning in 1995 and Bernard King a decade prior.
Ironically knee trouble has plagued 76ers rookie Nerlens Noel for years, stemming from fracturing the growth plate in his knee as a sophomore in high school. He’d later tear his ACL at Kentucky, preventing his rookie debut with the 76ers.
After Rose’s injury, ACL tears haven’t been as taboo as they were decades ago. Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert, Ricky Rubio, Al Jefferson, David West, Rajon Rondo, Corey Brewer, and many others have had them. Some of the aforementioned regained full-speed and agility — others not so much.
The former is a definite possibility. Noel may have a healthy season, not missing any games and move on to have an amazing career. On the flipside, it’s the not-so-much side of things that the 76ers need to consider. It would be irresponsible for them not to. Although the 76ers have no long-term commitment to Noel (76ers have a team option on Noel for the 2015-16 season), there’s a mystique that constantly surrounds a top-10 drafted player who’s yet to log professional minutes. There’s definitely a market for Noel, and the 76ers would be foolish not to entertain offers.
In a league where trades hinge on the “equal-value” concept, getting what you can for Noel before the possibility of another ACL tear down the line seems fitting. Although it’s not inevitable, it’s a major consideration that Philadelphia must consider. The possibility of another ACL tear, or an additional injury leave’s Philadelphia with a wasted pick, and a player with not much trade value.
Consider the Los Angeles Clippers’ situation with at-the-time-prized future point guard, Shaun Livingston. Only one year after dislocating his knee, he’d return to the court to tear the ACL, posterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and lateral meniscus. He’s just now regained notoriety as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, but it’s been a tough road. While the Clippers had been infamous for trading away talented players, they ended up with nothing for Livingston, who was pretty valuable at the time.
Two-thirds of ACL tears occur in the second half of play, which suggests fatigue plays a tremendous part in the injury. At first glimpse, it would seem that a player who’s had a year of rehabilitation and rest would be good to go, but a rookie’s body has yet to acclimate to the physical punishment that NBA contests deliver on a nightly basis. Workouts, scrimmages and summer league play don’t compare, and they’re certainly not reliable measuring sticks.
“I’ve been 100 percent for months now,” said Noel. “I feel great and continue to get stronger in all parts of my body, just continuing my growth really. I will be playing in summer games and summer league.”
Every offseason in most sports, as training camp approaches, there’s always a report of the player who spent his summer in the weight room bulking up and adding pounds of muscle. That’s a risky road for Noel to travel down for the majority of his upcoming NBA career.
As body weight increases, the pressure on joints does as well. With every pound of excess weight on the body the knees feel three times the pressure. For NBA big men, the name of the game is weight room, and adding on bulk to be effective down low is a necessity. Increased weight and the rigors of an NBA season spell trouble for players with previous knee injuries. It can also potentially spell spoiled career for Noel.
Although typically the knee that’s repaired becomes the stronger one, there’s still a great risk for Injury. In a 2013 report on ACL recovery published by the American Academy of Orthapedic Surgeons, their study found that the overall rate of another injury within two years to the ACL – on the same or opposite knee is six times greater among athletes who undergo ACL reconstruction surgery and return to their relative sport.
In a 24-month study, 24 of the 125 participants sustained an ACL injury; 23 occurred in individuals who had undergone ACL reconstruction. Although the odds are usually stacked in favor of a draft pick so high, there’s the possibility of the 76ers hopes for the future to wind up squashed should Noel sustain another injury.
There’s also the chance it all works out for Philadelphia. They need a guy to bolster their defense, and who would be a better fit than Noel. Coming out of Kentucky, he was the first collegiate player in 16 years to average nine rebounds, four blocks, two steals and 59 percent from the field. After the gloomy Andrew Bynum situation, they’re deserving of a little sunshine in Philadelphia.
So here’s to trusting trainers and a lengthy rehabilitation process. Depending on who they select at third in the draft (my money is on Jabari Parker) Philadelphia looks primed to give the eastern conference trouble this upcoming season with their youth. After missing one season, Noel will compete in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League – his first taste of NBA action. Let’s hope that time does heal all wounds for Noel and the 76ers.