What’s up with all these blown ACLs we’re seeing in basketball? ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh tweeted: “Someone smarter than me help me out: Why is everyone tearing their ACLs? Confirmation bias or real trend in hoops?”
Smart people are taking notice, though like Haberstroh pontificates, is it just because we saw Derick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Ricky Rubio, and now Nerlens Noel go down (and to a lesser extent, fringe players like Leandro Barbosa or in football with Adrian Peterson) within the last year?
Noel is Kentucky’s prized freshman center who was projected as a top 5 pick in next year’s NBA draft. Noel was averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 4.4 blocks for a retooling Kentucky team.
Obviously the question is subject to medical and scientific research, and probably one great article/essay about it, but yes, anecdotally, it seems ACLs are more and more becoming prominent in the lexicon of sports. As you know, a blown ACL used to mean your career was in jeopardy, and likely never being the same as before was a best case scenario. Now, medical science has made coming from from a blown ACL at something close 100% commonplace. The best example of this is Peterson pouring gasoline all over the NFL this season and striking the match. The disheartening thing about ACLs is that even in a time where you won’t have to retire due to it, it’s still a yearlong injury and one that must be handled with extreme fragility as to allow the knee to heal as strongly as possible.
For Noel, as little as ten years ago, he’d be forced to reenter to college and by then, he might never be the same athletic force. Now, Noel certainly stands a better chance to return to college to replenish his draft stock (while reaching and possibly exceeding his current peak), but it wouldn’t be insane for him to enter the draft. In a disparate and murky draft class, he could still be chosen in the top 5 by a team looking longterm and thus comfortable with handling him with caution, knowing winning “now” isn’t nearly as important.
It’s funny; Noel’s depreciation in draft stock this year may have more to do with his development than residual knee concerns. Not to say teams are willy nilly on ACL recoveries nowadays, but there’s more confidence today, especially if you believe in the talent before you (Noel as a potential defensive ace is enticing to any team). Hesitations that might force Noel into a sophomore year may be the fact that he’s about to spend the next 10-12 months focusing on recovery and not improving his limited offensive game. For an 18 year old, these are the formidable years to rapidly improve areas of rawness, and this injury puts his skill growth more in danger than an ACL injury is limiting to his ability. It’ll be interesting to see what Noel decides and as we see Rose, Rubio, and Rondo come back healthy, we just might learn something about the biggest heartbreak in sports.
Image Source: Sports Illustrated