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ACL Recovery Times in the NBA
What's the deal?
With many prominent players sidelined with ACL injuries, such as Derrick Rose, Baron Davis, Rajon Rondo,Danilo Gallinari and others, there has been a fair amount of conversation about how long it takes to recover from ACL repairs. The first acknowledgment to make is that each person and injury is different, so there is likely to be some variance that is more or less meaningless. Likewise, sometimes the time to recovery is hard to gauge due to the timing of the injury; the player cannot return if the NBA is in its offseason. The following recovery times will be marked with an asterisk if the player's return occurred on the first day of the next season, since this may indicate that the player was ready before that time.
Below is a listing of recovery times and the players that returned in those times. This is not necessarily a complete list, but is based on nearly exhaustive research done by Robert Bradley at apbr.org. I have selected injuries only of players who are or were very recently in the NBA and who are of sufficient reputation that their return was unlikely to be slowed down by trying to find a job. Bradley's research comes with the date of each injury and the "return" date is based on the player's first NBA regular season game post-injury, according to Yahoo! Sports game logs. In parentheses is the date of injury for reference's sake. I have added additional notation when I am aware that the player tore more than just an ACL.
Bonzi Wells* (April 6, 2001)
Kendrick Perkins (June 15, 2010)
Jamal Crawford (July 2001)
Leon Powe (April 19, 2009)
Al Jefferson* (February 8, 2009)
David West (March 26, 2011)
Iman Shumpert (April 28, 2012)
Ricky Rubio (March 9, 2012)
Al Harrington* (January 23, 2002)
Josh Howard (February 22, 2010)
Michael Redd* 1st injury (January 25, 2009) ACL, MCL
Corey Brewer* (November 26, 2011)
Tony Allen* (November 2, 2007)
Eric Maynor* (January 7, 2012)
Jason Smith* - 14 months (August 6, 2008)
Nene* - 12 months (November 2, 2005)
Adam Morrison* - 12 months (October 20, 2007)
Michael Redd 2nd injury - 14 months (January 10, 2010) ACL, MCL
Shaun Livingston - 20 months (February 26, 2007) torn ACL, MCL, PCL, lateral meniscus, disclocation of patella and tibia-femoral joint
Baron Davis** - TBD (May 6, 2012) ACL, MCL, patellar tendon
Derrick Rose - TBD (April 28, 2012)
* - returned on first day of following season
** - it is unclear whether Baron Davis will return to the NBA. According to this article, he is working as a member of the front office for the Knicks and will try out for NBA teams in the offseason. If he is to retire, I would not consider his recovery timetable usable or informative.
Which recent ACL victim will return the strongest in 2014?
When will player X return?
It remains difficult to say. Normal recovery times for a "simple" ACL injury (no other tears) seems to be in the 8-12 month range, with a few returning more quickly. Of those that took 11 months or longer, all either may have been held back by waiting for the season to start or the injuries suffered were more than just the ACL tear. Only one player in this analysis has taken longer than 11 months without one of those caveats: Derrick Rose. There has been plenty of speculation as to why his has taken so long, but it is likely he will eventually receive an asterisk upon a return next season. He will be the only February or later injury to need an entire season to recover among ACL-only injuries.
Beyond the Rose case, it seems likely that the players who have recently suffered ACL injuries will be ready to return within 8-10 months, if not occasionally sooner. It will be interesting to watch whether the current exception, Rose, will become the norm with marquee players. Bear in mind that every injury is unique and occurs in a different set of circumstances, so the science will remain very inexact. There has been plenty of speculation about whether players are better or worse when they return, but analyses such as Kevin Pelton's can be useful for these types of questions.