The big news in the NBA is that Greg Oden is going to undergo microfracture surgery and probably miss the 2007-08 season. The question facing Oden (and fans of the Portland TrailBlazers) is how likely is it that a player can recover from such a procedure? And by recovery, we don’t mean return to the court. What Oden wants (and Blazers fans as well) is a return to the same level of productivity we think we would have seen had this never happened.
Kevin Pelton of SuperSonics.com provided a history of microfracture surgery in the NBA (hat tip to Henry Abbott and TrueHoop.com). Pelton’s report listed every player who needed microfracture surgery, as well as how the player did – in terms of individual stats and John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating — the season before and after the procedure. What I wish to do is focus on the players who played substantial minutes both before and after this operation. And although the season before and after is important, I also want to see what happened to career performance both prior to and after surgery.
Pelton’s list included 23 players. Given the focus on players who both played substantial minutes before and after this event, I am only going to look at 13 players. These players will be examined from two perspectives. Again like Pelton, I will examine what the player did his last season before the surgery (and by last season, I mean last season the player played at least 1,000 minutes). And this performance will be compared to the first season after the surgery (again, except for Pat Garrity – who never played 1,000 minutes again — minimum 1,000 minutes played). Beyond a comparison of season performance, I will also examine career performance both before and after.
As noted, there are 13 players who meet these criteria. Two of these players – Anfernee Hardaway and Matt Harpring – went under the knife twice. So our total sample is 15. Table One reports the evaluation of this fairly small sample.
Okay, let’s start with the good news. Jason Kidd and Amare Stoudemire appear to have fully recovered from this procedure. Both players actually played better after the surgery. And although Kerry Kittles declined in the season following his operation, his career performance afterwards (albeit just four seasons), did improve.
Unfortunately, the other ten players all declined. And five of these ten – Pat Garrity, Anfernee Hardaway, Allan Houston, Eduardo Najera, and Chris Webber – were quite a bit worse. In fact, it appears that this injury resulted in Hardaway, Najera, and Webber transforming from “great” players into distinctly “below average” performers.
As often stated in this forum, NBA players are quite consistent. At least, relative to what we see in football and baseball, basketball players are amazingly consistent across time. Injuries, though, appear to be one factor that can adversely impact player productivity. And this particular injury, despite a name that sounds “small”, appears capable of causing huge declines in performance.
It’s important to note that Pelton provides a complete list, which includes players like Terrell Brandon and Jamal Mashburn who never played substantial minutes after this operation. So the negative impact of this surgery may be under-stated by my list.
Now does all this mean that Oden and the Blazers are doomed? No, it’s possible he will recover just like Kidd and Stoudemire. Of course, it’s also possible that he will not, just like all the other names on the list. And unfortunately, that latter possibility cannot be considered exactly good news .