Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Road to Recovery: NBA's Torn ACL feat. Iman Shumpert & Ricky Rubio

Iman Shumpert of the Knicks blowing-by Ricky Rubio of the Timberwolves

Hi –my name is Kong from theKONGBLOG™, and I (use to) belong to a New York Knicks Group on Facebook — it's a basketball fan discussion group and there's been pessimistic talk –as of late, about the slow return of Iman Shumpert — last year's "prized" rookie from Georgia Tech from his torn ACL suffered during the 2012 NBA Playoff Series between the New York Knicks -vs- Miami Heat.

Left ACL and meniscus tear suffered by Iman Sumpert in 2012 NBA Playoffs
Similar to the 2012 season-ending injuries of Chauncey Billups (Los Angeles Clippers), Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls), Shump is also recovering from a torn ACL — anterior cruciate ligament are long, rope-like bands that fasten bones together and helps give the knee its stability.

Although the injury is common among athletes, it is one of the most difficult to make a complete recovery — especially if the injured player depends on pure athleticism and physical skills to succeed.

Past notables who tore their ACL but made a complete recovery — coming back better and stronger than ever before were Baron Davis, Jamal Crawford and Al Harrington.

Perhaps the most awe-spiring & poignant recovery in all of sports was none other than Adrian Peterson — superhero running back from the Minnesota Vikings who returned ahead of schedule from both an ACL & MCL injury to capture NFL's 2012 MVP Award.

Unfortunately, there's a slew of NBA players who never made it back to their original form — Tracy McGrady and Michael Redd never re-captured their physical form to play at an All-Star level. Hopefully, Iman Shumpert can take a page out of Sport Illustrated's book article about the slow progress and eventual recovery of NBA's modern day version of Pistol Pete...

...Ricky Rubio.

The Fundamentals: After Slow Start, Ricky Rubio Looks More Like His Old Self

Players who capture the NBA world’s imagination have the misfortune of bearing the highest of public hopes, and it was under that burden that Ricky Rubio’s season seemed buried.

The point guard’s return from the ACL tear that he sustained in March was highly anticipated after his exhilarating rookie season. That the injury-plagued Timberwolves badly needed the spark he provided as a first-year player and the promise that his very presence might provide only added to the expectations.
Ricky Rubio pulls-up for a jumper against Derrick Rose

But when Rubio finally did make his season debut on Dec. 15, he looked to be a completely different player. Some rust was to be expected after nine months without game action, but as the weeks wore on, Rubio only seemed to grow more tentative. The charms of his game were unsettled by worry and likely by lingering soreness, and the Wolves did their best to compete alongside a poor imitation of their franchise-changing floor leader.

For 19 games, Rubio averaged 8.4 points (on 31 percent shooting from the field), 8.2 assists and 3.8 turnovers per 36 minutes — numbers that don’t adequately convey the uninspired quality of his play or his clear detriment to his team’s performance. Once a wizard with the ball, Rubio now looked to be uncomfortable when put in control of the offense. He deferred to backcourt mates Luke Ridnour and Alexey Shved far more frequently than one might expect, even as he logged more games and more minutes as his comeback progressed. The sight of an anxious Rubio was almost distressing, as it betrayed the exuberant style of play that is so central to his basketball identity.

Rather quickly, hope withered into tolerance, which decayed into concern. Many wondered how a player who seemed to have physically recovered from his surgery could be so fundamentally different from the one who made the Wolves playoff hopefuls a season ago. It wasn’t just Rubio’s production that had vanished, after all, but the joie de vivre that made his game so audacious and effective. Rubio was struggling and he knew it, and his spiraling frustrations left him as one of the least effective lead guards in the league. Things indeed grew that dire, until the quality of his play changed suddenly.

Ricky Rubio has played more aggressively lately as he seeks to regain his rookie form. (Jim Mone/AP)

I couldn’t tell you what happened to Rubio on Feb. 3 (a cosmic event? A particularly focused meditation session? An especially fulfilling meal?), but after that off-day he reverted to wonderfully spirited form. Yes, Rubio had shown glimpses of his full game on rare occasions, but it was in a 100-98 loss to the Trail Blazers on Feb. 4 that the Spaniard finally rediscovered his basketball self. He finished with 15 points and 14 assists, and the 22-year-old hasn’t looked back since. In the last nine games, Rubio has averaged 15 points, 9.9 assists, 3.8 turnovers and 3.2 steals per 36 minutes while playing far more aggressively with the ball.

The fact that his scoring has jumped so significantly isn’t a coincidence of hot shooting, but a product of Rubio’s will. The tentativeness that defined his first 19 games is mostly absent of late, as Rubio has consistently made it a point to probe and attack defenses off the dribble. That’s quite an adjustment for a player whose lack of confidence around the rim has occasionally deterred him from driving, but the payoff has been profound. Here are a series of half-court plays showing Rubio’s assertiveness in getting into the paint and drawing fouls.

He’s also made a concerted effort to seek out contact in the open court, particularly when his teammates aren’t in a position to score or the opponent plays him to pass:

As a result, Rubio has averaged 8.2 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes over that nine-game stretch — a mark that rivals the season averages of Kevin Durant and James Harden. What makes this aggressive streak especially beneficial is that the Wolves already draw fouls effectively as a team, making even the non-shooting fouls that Rubio is able to draw valuable in building toward the penalty. Add in the shots that Rubio creates for his teammates by penetrating more, and his comprehensive offensive effect begins to take shape again. That strain of Rubio’s performance may be a bit exaggerated relative to his rookie-year play, but it nevertheless allows him to take advantage of his handle, passing and ability to find openings in the defense in familiar ways. Ricky’s back, and he has the game at his fingertips once again:

And just as important, Rubio’s defensive timing seems to have improved rather dramatically over the last handful of games. Rubio’s defensive play a year ago was one of the NBA’s best-kept secrets, though his skills on that end understandably didn’t hold up well after missing so much time. He still has a ways to go in terms of finding that perfect chemistry with an overhauled Wolves team, but it’s reassuring to see him clogging the right passing lanes and making controlled gambles again after a few weeks of missing his marks. He’s not the quickest or the strongest guard, but Rubio has fantastic hands and an innate sense of how to impede the offense without abandoning his man. He has a knack for sliding over just enough to create a deflection or cause a shooter to hesitate, and though those instincts were still present throughout his struggles, his execution was unsure.

No longer. Rubio’s resurrected confidence has bolstered his entire game, though now the Wolves are learning to work alongside a player with whom they’re not quite familiar. It’ll take some time, and isn’t likely to pay off quickly enough for 12th-place Minnesota to return to the Western Conference playoff race. That’s a shame given all that the Wolves have endured this season, though I suspect they’ll settle for getting all of their core pieces healthy for a new season and seeing an animated Rubio in full command of his game once again. — Rob Mahoney | Sports Illustrated

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