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Former Gonzaga forward Chet Holmgren’s injury is not an anomaly - or a career-killer

Sept. 5, 2022 Updated Mon., Sept. 5, 2022 at 7:16 p.m.

Chet Holmgren, right, shakes hands with LeBron James prior to the CrawsOver Pro-Am in Seattle on Saturday. Two minutes into the game, Holmgren, the former Gonzaga standout, suffered a foot injury what will sideline him for the upcoming NBA season.  (Seattle Times)
Chet Holmgren, right, shakes hands with LeBron James prior to the CrawsOver Pro-Am in Seattle on Saturday. Two minutes into the game, Holmgren, the former Gonzaga standout, suffered a foot injury what will sideline him for the upcoming NBA season. (Seattle Times)
By Glynn A. Hill Washington Post

While defending LeBron James on the fast break during a pro-am game last month, Chet Holmgren jumped to contest a layup and landed awkwardly, injuring his right foot and becoming the latest lottery pick whose debut season ended before it officially began.

Holmgren, the No. 2 selection by the Oklahoma City Thunder in this year’s NBA draft, will miss the upcoming season with a Lisfranc injury, which results from damage to the bones or ligaments that stabilize and support the arch of the foot.

A Lisfranc injury ended Udonis Haslem’s 2010-11 regular season with the Miami Heat, though he returned after six months and played in the postseason. While recovery time from the injury varies from person to person, full recovery for elite athletes typically lasts seven to 11 months, according to Amiethab A. Aiyer, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Reports on Lisfranc injuries within the NBA are sparse compared to those in contact sports such as rugby or football, where they’ve been studied more closely, said Aiyer. Within those two sports, studies show most players return from Lisfranc injuries within 11 months but experience “some declines in those first couple seasons” back.

“For the other sports that the literature is out there for, including rugby and the NFL, where it occurs much more frequently, there’s a pretty good probability – close to 90 percent or higher – of a return to play within a year,” Aiyer said. “Some studies show no real difference in pre-injury versus post-injury play, but there’s definitely some evidence of (potential) decline coming back.”

As Holmgren begins his rehabilitation, he can look to other high NBA draft picks who missed their debut seasons to injuries and returned with somewhat mixed results.

Greg Oden

Perhaps the most prominent example of recent star potential spoiled by injuries, Oden was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the top pick in the 2007 draft despite questions about his durability. That summer, the former all-American at Ohio State had an exploratory procedure after experiencing swelling in his right knee and wound up requiring microfracture surgery which forced him to miss the entire 2007-08 season.

A series of knee injuries consistently sidelined the 7-footer, who later suffered season-ending injuries during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns. Oden played three seasons for the Trail Blazers and the Miami Heat, appearing in 105 games and averaging 8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per contest. He is currently the director of basketball operations at Butler under former Buckeyes coach Thad Matta.

Blake Griffin

Like Oden, injury concerns followed Griffin from college to the pros, where he was the No. 1 pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2009 draft. Months later, during the Clippers’ final preseason game, Griffin winced as he returned to the floor after a dunk. It was later revealed that Griffin suffered a broken left kneecap, delaying his rookie debut for what was thought to be only several weeks. Instead, the former Oklahoma star missed the entire season after tests showed his knee was not recovering properly.

Despite the setback, Griffin, who was considered a rookie during the 2010-11 season, was voted to the 2011 All-Star Game and later earned rookie of the year honors. Although injuries have disrupted Griffin’s career in following years – he missed the remainder of the 2019-20 season due to a nagging left knee injury – he received his sixth All-Star Game selection during the 2018-19 campaign. Griffin, who now plays for the Brooklyn Nets, averaged 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game last season.

Joel Embiid

Arguably the most dominant NBA star who missed his first season because of injury, Embiid has been one of the best big men in the league since he was taken by the Philadelphia 76ers with the third overall pick in the 2014 draft – despite undergoing surgery on a broken bone in his right foot just six days prior.

The injury forced him to miss the first two seasons of his career after an extended recovery led to a second round of surgery on his foot, more than a year after the initial procedure. Embiid finally made his 76ers debut in October 2016, recording 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in a loss to the Thunder.

The 7-footer has since become one of the best big men in the league, earning all-star selections each of the previous five seasons. Embiid has been one of the NBA’s most formidable defensive players, but he also won the league scoring title last season while averaging 30.6 points per game.

Ben Simmons

The first overall pick in the 2016 draft, Simmons missed his first season with the 76ers after he rolled his right ankle during the team’s final training camp scrimmage. Tests revealed that Simmons had fractured a bone in his right foot and he was officially ruled out for the year after further tests showed an incomplete recovery later that season.

When he debuted the following season, Simmons averaged 15.8 points, 8.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game en route to winning NBA rookie of the year. The next season, he earned the first of three all-star selections.

Simmons has established himself as one of the league’s top defensive players, although his offensive shortcomings have increasingly come under scrutiny, and contributed to his move from Philadelphia to Brooklyn in February. Hampered by back issues late last season, Simmons has yet to make his Nets debut.

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