Mind Over Matter: Gordon Hayward’s Future

By: Isaac Carson

During the first game of the NBA season Tuesday night, we witnessed Gordon Hayward, the small forward for the Boston Celtics, go up for an alley-oop and fall awkwardly on his left leg. If you haven’t seen the injury yet, I recommend finding the video online so you know what I’m talking about. I would advise discretion, the visual of Hayward’s foot perpendicular to his leg is haunting.

The original reports were that he fractured his ankle. He was put on a medical cart and moved to the locker room where he was and examined by Boston and Cleveland medical staff.

This is likely to be a season ending injury. Hayward flew home to Boston later Tuesday night, and will likely undergo surgery within the next few days. The estimated recovery time from surgery for a broken ankle is 8-12 weeks. Followed by at least 6 weeks of physical therapy. Which will only restore his ankle to day-to-day movements. Hayward will then need to play catch up on conditioning and other basketball skills he hasn’t been able to perform due to being bed ridden. More weeks therapy will be needed to restore Hayward to game ready, before he is cleared by team doctors to play in NBA games.

NBA players have some of the best physical therapy resources available. An extremely optimistic timeline would be 6 months. If everything goes perfectly Hayward could be cleared to play by beginning of May. However it is unlikely he will return this season.

I am not as interested in his physical recovery. We live with the best medical advancement in human history, and Gordon Hayward the millionaire professional basketball player has access to them. His body will recover, but will his mind?

Mental recovery can be far more detrimental to an athlete’s career than physical. There have been other big time NBA stars will season ending injuries. They all recover physically on a reasonable timeline. Their game and performance however sometimes has significant changes when they return to the court.

Derrick Rose is a classic example. Rose tore his ACL in April of 2012. Only one year after his MVP season. He got the appropriate surgery and rehabilitation, and his ACL healed. Sadly Rose suffered a torn meniscus shortly after returning to the NBA in November of 2013. Which required more rehabilitation time.

In his 2011 MVP season Derrick Rose had 32 dunks, and dunks accounted for 2.0 percent of all of his two-point attempts. In his four seasons since he returned from the injuries he has only dunked 15 times, and they have accounted for 0.55 percent of his 2 point attempts.

Derrick Rose’s three point percentage has also suffered since his injuries. In his MVP season Rose shot 33.2 percent from deep. Which was close to the league average of 35.8 percent. However after his ACL tear in his next four full seasons Rose’s three-point percentage average dropped down to 28.2 percent, which is significantly below the league average in those years of 35.5 percent.

One might think that with Rose losing the ability to dunk he would improve as a distance shooter. However this was not the case. It’s clear the ACL and meniscus tears have affected all aspects of Rose’s game. Even though that it would be expected that a professional athlete’s body would recover after four years and he would return to his game. Especially since the injuries occurred when Rose was only 22 and still in his prime for injury-recovery.

What has held Rose back is not his body but his mind. Mentally Rose has not been the same. Its noticeable in his composure on the court. He isn’t looking to drive and dunk any more, and he noticeably once avoids contact. He is lacking the attack mentality and energy he had during his MVP season.

Jamal Crawford is a good example of the the contrary. In 2001 just halfway through his second year in the NBA, Crawford tore his ACL and Meniscus in a pickup game. Both injuries are the same as what Rose suffered, and Jamal was around the same age at 21 years old.

However Crawford’s game did not decline or plateau after he returned from the injuries. After Crawford returned his following season he had a career high in points, assists, rebounds, and steals. Crawford’s dunk attempt percentage and dunks per season did drop after his injuries, but he made up for it by consistently shooting above average from the three-point line.

In his 17 seasons since the injuries Crawford has been known as one of the best bench players in the NBA, and he has three Sixth Man of the Year Awards to prove it. Crawford suffered the same injuries as Rose and likely had the same physical recovery, but his mental recovery and approach to the game has changed his career.

What does all of this mean for Gordon Hayward. It is hard to say what exactly is gonna happen with Gordon’s recovery. Physically he will recover even if he doesn’t return this season. His career isn’t over, he is 27 years old and has time to recover and continue playing for several years.

We don’t have a recent example of a NBA player of the same all-star magnitude fracturing their ankle like this. The best comparison would be Paul George. Who after being a first year all-star broke his leg the next off-season in a team USA scrimmage.

In George’s next two full season back in the NBA injury he had career high in points without sacrificing his assist or rebound numbers, and earned himself two more all-star selections.

George’s dunks per year and dunk percentage have been cut in half since his injury. He upped his three-point percentage and changed the way he played. He didn’t let the injury limit him, he altered is play and reinvented his game to keep him at the all-star level.

Hayward has a long road ahead of him. Major injuries can have significant impact to how athletes perform. The style of their game is effected by the physical abilities, the energy of their game is effected by their mental game. When Gordon Hayward returns to the NBA we will see how he chooses to play, but more importantly we’ll see if he can mentally recovers, or alters his game.

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