Sports injury analyst reflects on Mitchell Robinson’s slow recovery
With three weeks to go to the start of the new season, New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson has yet to progress to contact drills. Its availability during the opening night remains a question mark.
“There really is no schedule,” said Tom Thibodeau after practice Thursday. âWhen he’s ready, he’s ready. We talk to doctors every day. We talk to Mitch to see how he’s doing. I think it’s important for us to get the big picture with him.
In such a critical season where his future with the team and his next contract are on the line, this is not the ideal situation. But Robinson has grown so much and is smart enough to know that a wrong move could cost him not just a million. But a full truck.
Robinson can’t wait to flex the muscles he developed during his recovery. But when asked if he was ready to play on opening night, Robinson was elusive.
âAs a player, I think so. But I still need to listen to these guys (the medical staff). They’ve been through that sort of thing. So I give them all my trust. So even though I know I want to go out and play, I’ll be smart and let them handle that. I’ll just do what they ask, âthe 23-year-old center said after Thursday’s practice.
The Knicks can’t wait to see him back on the pitch to assess how much he’s really worth. But they’re also smart enough to know that pushing him away might help them in the immediate future but might hurt them in the end. So in the regime, where patience and prudence reign, the Knicks are content to see Robinson take small steps rather than playing in leaps and bounds.
âEvery day he does a little more. He’s still working on his conditioning, doing a little more basketball, doing little practice games. There is a progression in what he does, âsaid Thibodeau.
“Eventually he will be allowed to do all contactless [drills] and we’ll start with one on one, two on two, three on three until he can make contact. Going from zero to one hundred makes no sense. So at each step, once he has taken it, he moves on to the next. He’s really making good progress.
Robinson did a lot of individual exercises – light jogging, handling the ball while sitting in a chair, shooting from the chair, stationary shooting, form shooting, cardio exercises in the pool and on the bike. Thibodeau revealed that Robinson also did a lot of extra work on the sidelines with Aaron Brooks, the Knicks’ two-way liaison.
âHe does a great job in training with the things he can do. We just want him to be completely healed. When you are out with the allotted time, he should prepare for speed. So this is really the first step. Then once that happens, he will be allowed to do more and more in training, âsaid Thibodeau.
It has been six months since Robinson had surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal foot. By normal standards, he should have been healed by now. But Jeff Stotts, a certified athletic trainer who runs the instreetclothes website, which analyzes sports injuries, believes the Knicks are taking the right approach.
According to the Stotts database, the average time lost to fifth metatarsal fractures during the season was 42 games (about 10 to 11 weeks). It’s shorter (around 15 games) when the injury comes in the offseason, which is why Zion Williamson, who suffered the same injury, is optimistic he could be ready by opening night. But the timeline is more difficult to assess in the case of Robinson who suffered the injury late in the season.
âThe variability of a metatarsal injury can be quite high because with these types of injuries it depends on how the injury happened and when the injury happened,â Sotts told Empire Sports Media .
âThe problem is, if it’s located near the base of the foot, in that fifth metatarsal where the fifth metatarsal connects the bones of the midfoot to the bones of the little finger, if it occurs closer to the midfoot, the blood supply in this area is very low, which is why surgeries are often needed. Even if surgeries have been performed, there is no guarantee that the bone will heal quickly. It may take some time, ” Sotts explained.
Ben Simmons missed his entire rookie season with the same injury. Brook Lopez missed 100 games. Kevin Durant only played 27 games in the 2014-15 season.
“Kevin [Durant] had some complications with his fifth metatarsal when he had this. You must therefore take your time to recover. Because if you don’t, the re-injury incident is pretty high. There is also the potential for complications with the surgical equipment, âsaid Stotts.
Lopez and Durant underwent further surgery. Durant even had a third operation. Simmons avoided it after having a bone marrow injection.
In Robinson’s case, given the information available, Stotts believes he’s on the right track to a full recovery, but he’s not quite there yet. Bone tissue, according to Stotts, heals well if given an appropriate amount of time, which is the frustrating part of this type of injury.
“It’s likely the Knicks understand these things and what they’re doing is slowing down his recovery to make sure that [Robinson] doesn’t suffer a setback that will end up pushing back its schedule again, âsaid Stotts.
If there is anything good that came out of this debacle, it was that Robinson fell in love with the process of taking care of his body and working out. He said he works with the Knicks’ conditioning coaches and that his trainer Marcell Scott is always listening to New Orleans to stay on track.
âI just fell in love and now I can’t stay out of the weight room,â said Robinson. “It’s crazy!”
But being in shape isn’t the same as being in game shape, according to Stotts.
When asked if Robinson could be ready by month one or two of the season, Stotts said it was a pretty reasonable estimate given what we know about his progress in recovery.
While Robinson is out, the Knicks will rely on Nerlens Noel and grizzled 36-year-old veteran Taj Gibson to anchor their defense which finished in the top five last season.
âIt’s the great value to have a guy like Taj,â said Thibodeau. “[Taj] has been an elite defenseman throughout his career, so even though he’s a little older now but remains ready, he remains in great shape.
âHe’s locked into everything we do. That he’s not on the rotation, he just trains hard with his teammates to help the team in any way he can and then when you need to plug him off the bench he can handle that. If we have to plug it in as a starter it can handle that. He has played two positions throughout his career. He started, he got off the bench, he finished a lot of games so he’s invaluable to us.
Robinson is eligible to sign a $ 53 million four-year extension until the end of the season, but the Knicks are still hesitant to discuss an extension until they see what he looks like on the pitch after the injury.
The good news is that a 2016 study found that NBA players who suffered the Jones fracture did not show a drop in performance upon their return.
Lopez, Durant, and Simmons all survived and thrived after the injury. Only Rasheed Wallace, 38, at the end of his career in 2013 with the Knicks, was forced to retire due to the same type of injury.
But Robinson, whether he admits it or not, is under pressure to deliver big over a one-year contract.
âI focused on the comeback. I don’t worry about the contract and stuff like that. I just want to do the hoop, âsaid Robinson. “Whenever [my agent] tells me that’s what they’re going to do, so we’ll only talk about it then, but for now I’m just trying to start playing again.
The most frustrating part about the time of the injury was that Robinson had started to feel comfortable under Thibodeau’s system.
As their relationship started off on the wrong foot, Thibodeau eventually became a Robinson fan. On Thursday, Thibodeau explained why Robinson’s blocks went from 2.4 and 2.0 per game in his first two seasons to 1.5 last season despite a career-high 27.5 minutes.
âA lot of times when we talk about defensive ratings and different measures, sometimes you can see a guy who’s high on interceptions and he’s rated very well because of that and a lot of times he’s the guy who knocks you down. And the same if you are just chasing blocks all the time and not fulfilling your team responsibilities. Again, your blocks may be high, but you may not be effective in terms of team defense, pick and roll defense or whatever, âThibodeau explained.
âThe most important thing for us is to correct his mistakes and I think he did a great job with that. And there’s always rim bullying. The guys are looking to see where he is. So I think his discipline has improved a lot. He does not fly recklessly everywhere. He has more discipline in his game. He impacts shots in the paint and in the restricted area in a very effective way.
Robinson managed to reduce his fouls to just 2.8 per game, the lowest of his first three years in the league. Thibodeau was full of praise unlike last year’s training camp when he said he had plenty of room to improve in terms of professionalism and impact on the win.
This offseason, Robinson has taken a 360-degree turn, growing physically, emotionally and mentally.
âWhat I liked about what he did was he maximized the time in a way that he could do. And he did them. In terms of strength and conditioning. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the pool or the bike, but physically he’s mature. He’s not a young child anymore. He looks great,” said Thibodeau.
âHe’s definitely a lot stronger than he was. He’s been doing a lot of work, in terms of watching movies, and he’s doing everything he can. I think he’s very engaged with his teammates. When he’s on the sidelines he knows what’s going on and arrives early with the first group and stays late. He will come in at night. So he’s in the building all the time is a big plus.
With all the emotions pent up, his first comeback, while it might come with a minute restriction, should be a cracker.
âI feel a lot stronger, my body feels better,â said Robinson. âI’ll just see how it goes. I want someone to punch me in the chest. I want to see how it feels.
Robinson said he was so missing the action.
“It’s better to play than to sit on the sidelines, obviously,” said Robinson. “Sure, you learn a little bit more but I want to be in the fight, man!”
With so much hype about his growth and excellent physique, his return to the pitch just couldn’t come soon enough.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo