How many players are offered a 5-year $100+ million contract while still rehabbing from a torn ACL?
Not many. And yet, that’s exactly what the Dallas Mavericks did with Kristaps Porzingis.
Yeah, you could call that a risk.
But Kristaps made a great recovery from his torn ACL. Based on historical data, I predicted he would average 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game on 42 FG% and 35 3PT%. His actual season averages were 20.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks on 43% FG% and 35%.
The season was not without a few bumps and bruises though. In the end, he tore his meniscus. That’s definitely not as serious as a torn ACL, but it’s a knee injury nonetheless.
After another knee injury, some questions start coming back up. Should the Mavericks be concerned about Kristaps’ injury history? Is there something wrong with his body?
Kristaps’ Injury History
Take a look at the injuries Kristaps dealt with in his 3-year career with the Knicks.
- October 2015 – Tweaked Left IT Band (Games Missed: 0 – Before Season Start)
- October 2015 – Left Quad Strain (Games Missed: 0 – Before Season Start)
- March 2016 – Right Shoulder Strain (Games Missed: 7)
- January 2017 – Sore Left Achilles (Games Missed: 4)
- November 2017 – Sprained Left Ankle (Games Missed: 1)
- November 2017 – Lower Back Tightness (Games Missed: 1)
- November 2017 – Sore Left Ankle (Games Missed: 2)
- December 2017 – Sore Left Knee (Games Missed: 2)
- January 2018 – Left Knee Irritation (Games Missed: 1)
- February 2018 – Torn ACL in Left Knee (Games Missed: 116)
As Mavs fans, we’d like to think all of that is behind him, but here’s a list of injuries (minor as they may be) he’s dealt with in just one season with the Mavericks.
- January 2020 – Right Knee Soreness (Games Missed: 10)
- August 2020 – Left Heel Contusion (Games Missed: 1)
- August 2020 – Torn Meniscus in Right Knee (Games Missed: 3)
It’s not unreasonable to acknowledge the fact that the same knee that bothered him enough to get a PRP injection in January is the same knee that suffered a torn meniscus in August.
Is Kristaps “Injury-Prone”?
So, is there a problem? Are these just fluke injuries? What’s going on with his body?
There’s the theory that taller players are more injury-prone. According to research by fivethirtyeight.com, lottery picks drafted since 2000 who were 7’ or taller missed 23.5% of their potential NBA games because of injury over the course of their career.
Players who were 6’8 or shorter missed only 13.5% of their potential games.
Jeff Stotts, a certified Athletic Trainer and owner of InStreetClothes.com, said this about Kristaps’ string of injuries:
“It would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that he’s had a left quad injury, a left hip injury, a left IT band injury, all these things in the left. Maybe there is something going on with that left kinetic chain…You got to make sure that these seemingly minor things aren’t all connected and result in something major.”
Stotts made that comment to Bleacher Report in February 2016, two years before Kristaps tore his ACL in, you guessed it, his left knee.
I also talked to Dr. Rajpal Brar, a physical therapist and owner of 3CB Performance, a performance and sports therapy clinic. When I asked if he would classify Kristaps as “injury-prone”, he said:
“Many of his injuries and nicks have been of the non-contact variety so I would lean toward injury prone’.” However, that’s not the final word. Dr. Brar pointed out:
“On the outside looking in, we don’t have enough information to know what’s truly causing the injuries. [Are there] underlying issues? Is it something to do with his movement mechanics, is he anatomically more prone to have certain injuries, is it due to inherent risk after a previous injury?
That last point is what could spell trouble for Kristaps. Whether or not he was injury-prone before his torn ACL, that injury could have lingering affects on his body. Although some players have successfully recovered from a torn ACL, some players were never the same again.
“We know injury risk increases across the entire board for the rest of the lower body following an ACL rupture, and further research shows it can take up to two years to regain full confidence in the knee and have true side-to-side symmetry.”
Kristaps is far from a finished product. In a review of 48 studies evaluating 5,770 athletes, only 63% had returned to their pre-injury level of performance after an average of almost 3.5 years of recovery from a torn ACL.
Should Kristaps Change the Way He Plays?
This question comes up a lot, and it makes sense. If these injuries are happening while playing basketball, maybe he should play basketball differently to avoid those injuries. Here’s what Raj said:
“If there are mechanical issues at play that can’t be fixed such as when he’s rolling to the rim or jumping to crash the boards, then you adjust [his style]. What I’d look at first are plays where he’s taking a lot of punishment or wear over the course of the game like post-ups and take that out.”
It makes sense. Those “high-risk situations”, as Dr. Brar called them, involve a lot of contact, require more physical exertion, and put Kristaps in a crowd of people.
By keeping Porzingis out of the crowd and using his skills as a shooter, the Mavericks capitalize on his unique versatility and lower the risk of injury.
There’s also the idea that putting on muscle would solve the problem, but that’s a two-edged sword. Extra weight means extra force that’s being exerted on your joints, and that’s multiplied when running and jumping.
Mavericks fans remember what happened to Chandler Parsons. After putting on 20 pounds of muscle in one summer, Parsons had severe knee issues that pretty much ended his career.
It’s not as simple as getting stronger. The Mavericks will need to continually manage any problem areas, look at ways of improving his mechanics (if they see issues), and utilize his skills in ways that don’t put him in high-risk situations.
Should the Mavericks be Concerned?
As mentioned at the outset, Kristaps’ latest injury is not serious. Dr. Brar explained in a recent video breakdown that the fact that Kristaps’ meniscus tear is eligible for repair is a good sign for the future. The alternative would be to remove a portion of the meniscus, and that’s something you want to avoid at all costs, especially with the lateral meniscus. Dr. Brar explains: “That meniscus takes on more stress and wear due to a couple biomechanical properties. Being able to repair and keep that lateral meniscus completely intact is even more important for KP’s long-term health and fitness.”
However, Raj made an interesting point about what it will take to keep Kristaps healthy:
“Generally, they may want to limit his high risk situations, but that’s always a tough call because there’s so much inherent risk in the game, especially for a superstar player who is going to be in crowds regularly.”
Kristaps is a star. He’s going to have the ball a lot. He’s going to be involved in the offense. If they have to limit how many games he plays and what situations he’s in on the floor, does that impact his effectiveness as a go-to option behind Luka Doncic? Availability is just as important as ability.
I think that’s the real question. It’s not just about keeping him healthy. It’s about whether or not you can rely on him even when he’s on the court. If he’s limited in availability, playing time, and in-game impact, can he still be what the Mavericks need him to be or should they try to bring in a third star to offset his limitations?
As Dr. Raj brought out, there’s a lot we don’t know as outsiders. Many of these questions will be answered next season. The Mavericks’ training staff has earned our trust with whatever program they implement for Kristaps, whether it includes load management or not.
The Mavericks could use more depth anyway. If bringing in more players makes the team better and lets Kristaps manage his playing time and style, I call that a win-win. And hopefully that leads to real wins.
 Ardern, C. L., Webster, K. E., Taylor, N. F., Feller, J. A. (2011). Return to sport following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the state of play. British journal of sports medicine, 45(7), 596–606. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2010.076364