NBA Injuries to Watch Heading Into the All Star Break

February 12, 2019 | insideinjuries | No Comments all-star break injuries

Heading into the NBA All Star Break, there are quite a few players who have been sidelined with injuries that could be returning soon. We take a look at some of these guys with analysis on their injuries, when they could and should return, and how they will play the rest of the season.

Here are a few key terms:

  • IRC = Injury Risk Category (Low, Elevated, High — this is the likelihood of a player suffering an injury in 2019)
  • HPF = Health Performance Factor (Peak, Above Average, Below Average, Poor — how we expect a player to perform based on any current or past injuries)
  • HTR = Healthy to Return (when we believe a player will be fully recovered from their injury – different from when they are expected to return)

Kyrie Irving G, Celtics: knee sprain

IRC: High – 46%
HPF: Poor – 33%

HTR: March 2

Irving suffered a non-contact right knee injury over the weekend when his knee buckled. Further tests revealed a relatively minor sprain, which we have classified as a grade 1. His Optimal Recovery Time is 2-3 weeks, so he shouldn’t return before the All Star break. While the mild sprain is a relatively good diagnosis, he still needs to be careful. If he returns before the sprain is fully healed he will be at a High Risk of aggravating the injury and potentially causing more significant ligament damage.

Irving’s 2017-18 season ended early when he was forced to undergo surgery on his opposite knee to remove screws. They were inserted when he suffered a patellar fracture in 2015. He has also had quite a few additional injuries throughout his career – most notably a hip strain, shoulder sprain and quad injury – so he could remain a High Injury Risk for the remainder of the season.

Clint Capela C, Rockets: torn thumb ligament

IRC: High – 51%
HPF: Poor – 18%

HTR: March 11

It’s been almost a month since Clint Capela suffered ligament damage to his right thumb. He was forced to undergo surgery and was given a recovery timeline of 4-6 weeks. Inside Injuries calculated a longer Optimal Recovery Time of 8 weeks, so he can return in less time but will not play as well and will be at a higher risk of injury going forward. Capela returned to practice recently and is targeting a return just after the All Star break. That’s two weeks early according to our algorithm. When healthy Capela has been a great player for the Rockets, averaging 17.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game, but expect a dip in his numbers in his first few games back.

Isaiah Thomas G, Nuggets: hip surgery

IRC: High – 24%
HPF: Peak – 90%

HTR: reached ORT

It’s been almost two years since the start of Thomas’ hip problems. Back when he was with the Celtics, he suffered a right femoral-acetabular impingement with a bruised hip and torn labrum. He opted to avoid surgery and go through an intense rehab process, but when that didn’t work he eventually underwent surgery. It’s been almost a year since the procedure and he has yet to return to the court. Thomas is making progress, though. He was spotted at practice for the first time on February 10 and could be ready to return to the Nuggets soon after the All Star Break. But because of his history and the tricky nature of hip injuries, he needs to be very cautious. He remains a High Injury Risk, but the Peak HPF suggests that as long as he avoids a setback he should actually be able to play very well.

Lonzo Ball G, Lakers: ankle sprain

IRC: High – 47%
HPF: Poor – 27%

HTR: February 23

Long before Ball went down with a grade 3 ankle sprain, Inside Injuries warned that his durability was a serious concern. Now dealing with a significant injury, his Injury Risk has jumped to 47%, which is incredibly high. An MRI confirmed the grade 3 injury, which indicates a partial tear to ligaments in the ankle. This injury comes with an Optimal Recovery Time of 5-8 weeks. He is reportedly progressing well in his rehab, no longer in a walking boot and now running on an underwater treadmill. The next step will be the Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill and then running and cutting without any assistance.

Based on where he is at right now, the initial 4-6 week timeline seems on the short end of how much time he will miss. When he is cleared to return, he will remain High Risk as the ligaments in his ankle will still be stretched out, leaving him more susceptible to another injury later in the season. Expect Ball to return a week or two after the All Star break.

Nikola Mirotic F, Bucks: calf strain

IRC: High – 34%
HPF: Below Average – 46%

HTR: February 13

A calf strain has now sidelined Mirotic for three weeks, but he is getting very close to a return. Mirotic got in a full-court workout at shootaround on Monday and said he is feeling great. Calf strains are highly recurrent injuries, so when he feels like he is back to 100%, he needs to take even more time to rehab and ensure that he really is ready to play in a game. Every movement places stress on the calf – jumping, cutting, sprinting. It won’t take much to aggravate the injury, hence his High Injury Risk. It’s important to take a few extra days now and rest through the All Star break so he can be healthy in the last few months of the season.

Robert Covington F, Timberwolves: right knee bone bruise

IRC: High – 32%
HPF: Above Average – 71%

HTR: reached

Covington remains without a timetable to return as he recovers from a bone bruise in his right knee. It’s been a month and a half since his injury, and while his recovery is going well, he doesn’t want to push it. A bone bruise might not sound like it’s too serious, but if a player returns before it’s fully healed it can be very painful and can even lead to a fracture. Covington has been ramping up his workouts but has yet to participate in any contact drills. Expect him to return shortly after the All Star break and quickly return to top form. Before going down with the knee injury he was a top 20 player on a per-game basis.

Tristan Thompson C, Cavaliers: left foot injury

IRC: Elevated – 23%
HPF: Peak – 82%

HTR: reached

It’s been a lost season so far for Tristan Thompson, who injured his foot and missed nearly three weeks, returned too soon, then ended up back on the sideline. It’s now been almost four weeks since he has seen the court, and it’s not looking like he is ready to return just yet. The exact injury remains unclear, but this is certainly more than “soreness.” Thompson has likely been battling either a foot sprain or a hairline fracture. Either way, it can be a tough injury for any basketball player to overcome, but especially a big man like Thompson. Playing on one of the worst teams in the league, there’s no reason to rush him back.

Dwight Howard C, Wizards: back surgery

IRC: High – 31%
HPF: Above Average – 76%

HTR: reached

Howard spent the first month of the season battling lower back pain and eventually underwent surgery in late November. The procedure addressed damage to the L4/L5 discs in his spine. The initial recovery time was projected to be around 8 weeks, but that isn’t realistic considering he has a history of back problems and quite a few other injuries. Now two and a half months removed from surgery, he remains weeks away from a return. Howard has been limited to walking and has yet to return to practice. Expect an update around the All Star break, but the Wizards are in no rush to bring him back. It could be awhile before we see him on the court again. When he deos return, his Injury Risk will remain High.

Goran Dragic PG, Heat: knee surgery

IRC: High – 49%
HPF: Poor – 34%

HTR: late February

Dragic underwent arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee in late December. The cleanup procedure came with a two month recovery timeline, which is in line with his HTR according to our algorithm. This likely means that there was some cartilage or meniscus damage that had been bothering him for some time and needed to be addressed. Despite the fact that he is closing in on his Optimal Recovery Time, he remains a High Injury Risk with a Poor HPF. Our algorithm is indicating that he isn’t ready to play and play well. The Heat are expecting him to be back soon after the All Star Break, and after another two weeks his injury numbers should actually improve significantly. We will need to see him amp up his workouts and then return to contact drills before we can be confident that he is ready to return.

Top Players Out for the Remainder of the Season