The road to recovery is long, and some players are never the same again.
But there are a lot of variables to consider – age, injury history, and recovery time, to name a few.
As a Dallas Mavericks blog, we closely followed the recovery and return of Kristaps Porzingis. We even used data from 69 NBA players who tore their ACL to see if we could predict his output in his return season. (We got pretty close in our prediction, by the way.) Check out the data in that article to see how another currently injured player might do in his return.
But Porzingis won’t be the last to suffer this injury. Fortunately, there are plenty of promising stories of recovery.
In this article, we’ll examine six NBA players who returned after a torn ACL. We’ll see what their road to recovery looked like and how they performed in their comeback season.
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Complete List of NBA Players Who Tore Their ACL
If you’re curious, there have been 107 recorded cases of a torn ACL by an NBA player. Some of these injuries happened before the player made his NBA debut.
As of the writing of this article, a total of 99 NBA players have torn their ACL. Nine of those players tore their ACL twice and five of them suffered a torn ACL in both knees.
Let’s examine six of those players to get a glimpse into what it’s like when an NBA star suffers this injury.
6 NBA Stars Who Tore Their ACL and Came Back
Before tearing his ACL in 2013, Danilo Gallinari was averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, and was shooting 41.8%. He was having the best season of his career up to that point and was the Nugget’s second-leading scorer.
He was thriving.
The Nuggets were hot.
The team was third in the Western Conference.
After his injury, Gallinari missed the rest of the 2013 season and the entire 2014 season.
But he was 24 years old and hadn’t had any serious injury problems up to that point.
When he came back in the 2015 season, Gallinari averaged 12.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game, and shot 40% from the floor.
He was clearly not the same.
Danillo Gallinari – Before & After Torn ACL
But the road didn’t stop there.
The following season, Gallinari averaged over 19 points and 5 rebounds per game and shot 41% from the floor. It was the best season of his career.
Well, it was, until the 2019 season when he was even better, averaging nearly 20 points a game.
Danny Manning was 22 years old when he tore his ACL, the same age Kristaps was.
As a rookie, Manning was averaging 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1 block per game, and was making over 49% of his shots.
As the number one pick in the 1988 draft, there were high hopes for Manning, and he was living up to the hype.
Just 26 games into the season, Danny Manning tore his ACL and had arthroscopic knee surgery.
He missed the rest of the season and returned the following season.
In his return season, Manning’s minutes took a slight dip. He went from playing over 36 minutes a game to 32. But his production hardly changed.
He averaged 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and .5 blocks per game, and shot over 53% from the floor.
Danny Manning – Before & After Torn ACL
He only got better from there. He averaged 20 points a game for multiple seasons, made the All-Star Team twice, and won Sixth Man of the Year.
Mark Price was just reaching his prime when he tore his ACL. He was 26 years old and coming off the best season of his career.
In the 1990-1991 season, Price was averaging 16.9 points per game. He dished out 10.4 assists per game and made 49.7% of his shots.
After tearing his ACL 16 games into the season, Price missed the rest of the 1991 season. He returned the following season.
Surprisingly, his scoring went up. He averaged 17.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 1.3 steals per game, and shot 48.8% from the floor.
Mark Price – Before & After Torn ACL
The Cavaliers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and Mark Price made the All-Star Team and an All-NBA team.
He had three more seasons of high-level play, but had injury problems later in his career.
Zach Lavine tore his ACL just a few months after the Minnesota Timberwolves extended his rookie contract. He was rewarding the Timberwolves for their trust. Lavine was averaging 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game, and was shooting nearly 46% from the floor.
The season was halfway over when Lavine tore his ACL in February 2017. The Timberwolves then traded him to the Bulls in the summer of 2017.
Lavine made his season debut in January 2018, 11 months after having surgery to repair his knee.
On his new team, Lavine averaged 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3 assists per game, and shot a career-low 38% from the floor.
The advanced stats show this was the least efficient season of his career.
Zach Lavine – Before & After Torn ACL
But Lavine continued to work. He bounced back in the 2018-2019 season. In that season, he averaged 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1 steal per game, and he shot 46.7% from the floor – all career highs.
In the 2008-2009 season, Al Jefferson was the Timberwolves’ leading scorer. He was having his best year, averaging 23.1 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game, and shooting nearly 50% from the floor.
Al Jefferson tore his ACL on February 8, 2009, in the final minute of a game against the New Orleans Hornets. He made his triumphant return on opening night of the 2010 season, nine months after his injury.
In his comeback season, Jefferson averaged 17.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game, while shooting 49.8% from the floor.
Al Jefferson – Before & After Torn ACL
But he averaged nearly 20 points a game for the next three seasons, peaking at 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in the 2014 season.
When Bernard King tore his ACL, that kind of injury was a career-ender. Only five other players had torn their ACL after making their NBA debut.
Those five players played a combined five seasons after their injury.
On top of that, he had torn knee cartilage and a broken leg bone. It was one of the worst injuries the NBA had ever seen.
King was having an unbelievable season, averaging almost 33 points (!) per game, along with 5.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.3 steals, while shooting 53% from the floor.
But King worked hard to come back, rehabbing five hours a day, six days a week, for a year. (Seriously, if you haven’t read about King’s journey back to the NBA, give this article a read. It’s incredible.)
At 30 years old, he returned to basketball. He was able to play the final six games of the 1986-1987 season. Out of those six games, he started four of them. He averaged 22.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game, and shot 49.5% from the floor.
Bernard King – Before & After Torn ACL
Over the next four seasons, he averaged 22 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game, and shot 48.3% from the floor. He made his fourth All-Star Game appearance at age 34 in the 1991 season.
These are just six of the 99 players who tore their ACL and came back. There is some hope for a player who suffers this injury to still have a solid career.