The Oklahoma City Thunder played 37 games before ringing in the New Year, only the Boston Celtics played more, and the heavy load has cost them Andre Roberson, their best perimeter defensive specialist, for the past 3 games with a condition known as patellar tendinitis.
Also known as “jumper’s knee”, patellar tendinitis is a common problem among athletes that take part in sports that involve jumping such as basketball and volleyball. Unfortunately for the Thunder and anxious Robes fans, rest and rehab are the only solutions.
Patellar tendinitis is a common overuse injury, caused by repeated stress on your patellar tendon. The stress results in tiny tears in the tendon, which your body attempts to repair. But as the tears in the tendon multiply, they cause pain from inflammation and weakening of the tendon. When this tendon damage persists for more than a few weeks, it’s called tendinopathy.
Ignoring the issue and playing through it is not an option as continued use could lead to tendinopathy, a much more serious, chronic and possibly career-altering condition.
The suffix “pathy” is derived from Greek and indicates a disease or disorder. Therefore, tendinopathy literally means a disease or disorder of a tendon. Tendinopathy (sometimes spelled tendonopathy) is typically used to describe any problem involving a tendon.
While most experts define tendinopathy as an umbrella term to describe all tendon conditions, others may use it to describe a chronic tendon condition that fails to heal. For example, a runner who has suffered a hamstring tendon rupture that does not heal properly may be diagnosed with tendinopathy.
Basketballreference.com reports that Roberson will be out at least until mid-January but that projection may be optimistic.
Doctors typically begin with less invasive treatments before considering other options, such as surgery.
Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others) may provide short-term relief from pain associated with patellar tendinitis.
A variety of physical therapy techniques can help reduce the symptoms associated with patellar tendinitis, including:
Stretching exercises. Regular, steady stretching exercises can reduce muscle spasm and help lengthen the muscle-tendon unit. Don’t bounce during your stretch.
Strengthening exercises. Weak thigh muscles contribute to the strain on your patellar tendon. Exercises that involve lowering your leg very slowly after extending it are particularly helpful.
Patellar tendon strap. A strap that applies pressure to your patellar tendon can help to distribute force away from the tendon and direct it through the strap instead. This may help relieve pain.
Iontophoresis. This therapy involves spreading a corticosteroid medicine on your skin and then using a device that delivers a low electrical charge to push the medication through your skin.
Surgical and other procedures
If conservative treatments don’t help, your doctor may suggest other therapies, such as:
Corticosteroid injection. An ultrasound-guided corticosteroid injection into the sheath around the patellar tendon may help relieve pain. But these types of drugs can also weaken tendons and make them more likely to rupture.
Platelet-rich plasma injection. This type of injection has been tried in some people with chronic patellar tendon problems. Studies are ongoing. It is hoped the injections might promote new tissue formation and help heal tendon damage.
Surgery. In rare cases, if other treatments fail, your doctor might suggest surgical repair of the patellar tendon. Some procedures can be done through small incisions around your knee.
In the Meantime
Replacing an elite defensive talent like Roberson is not simply a matter of looking down the bench and throwing someone out there. After the 2016/17 season, Robes was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team. Some would argue he deserved first team honors, but either way, the fact remains that he is one of the best on planet earth at what he does and the Thunder have clearly been negatively affected by his absence, especially in the first quarter.
In their last 3 games, minus Roberson, the Thunder have given up an average of 31.3 pts in the opening quarter. Granted, the Thunder gave up 35.6 first-quarter points in their 3 games prior to losing Robes, however, two-way specialist Paul George was also missing from one of those line-ups and patellar tendinitis is a progressive type injury. There is no information at this time that dates when Robes problem began affecting his play, thus the 20.5 first quarter pts average the Thunder gave up in the six-game stretch between December 15th and 23rd gives a better indication of the impact Roberson has on the Thunder’s ability to stop opponents early. For the season, including the games missed by Roberson, the Thunder have allowed opponents a stingy 24.9 pts in the first quarter.
Credit the Thunder for re-tightening their defensive grip and holding their last 3 opponents to an average of 78.4 points in the final 3 periods, but that is still 3.3 pts more than their 75.1 season average. Combine that with the 6.4 pt first quarter letdown, then look back at the recent 2 point loss to Milwaukee and the 3 point disappointment against Dallas, and it is very obvious how critical Roberson is to the Thunder’s future success.
Turn those back-to-back losses into wins and chances are very high that the Thunder are waiting to catch a flight from LA to Phoenix for their Sunday evening match-up with the Suns sporting a 10 game winning streak, a respectable 24 and 15 record, and sitting in a tie for 4th place in the Western Conference.
Filling the Void
Again, unless you have a spare elite level defensive player in your pocket or stuffed in a duffel bag, you can’t simply replace Roberson, all you can do is circle the wagons and adjust.
Alex Abrines is not an option. Coupled with the young Spaniard never being confused with an elite defensive player, his 3-point shot isn’t falling consistently. The Thunder gave up 38 first quarter points in Abrines’ lone start when Paul George was nursing a sore knee against the Buck. Whether 5 Thunder turnovers combined with 12 of 13 misses during Abrines’ 9:42 minutes were more or less to blame for the 20 point hole the Thunder found themselves in by the end of the first quarter or Abrines’ personal defensive deficiencies is debatable. But Milwaukee’s determination to prevent the Thunder’s second best 3-point specialist from offsetting his defensive woes with offense was not and Coach Billy Donovan had no option other than sit Abrines for the rest of the game.
Josh Huestis stepped in for Abrines against the Bucks and helped the Thunder battle their way back and come within a horrible call of forcing overtime. That performance earned Huestis the start against Dallas. Unfortunately, another big first quarter for the Mavs (35 pts) coupled with an 0 for 3 shooting night from Huestis forced yet another adjustment against the Los Angeles Lakers.
To be fair, Huestis didn’t play poorly defensively, in fact, he is probably way ahead of the learning curve for a player with no more NBA court time than Josh has logged. He just doesn’t match up well against opposing guards. Battling opposing forwards and guarding the paint are more suited to the Stanford product’s current skill set. Experience may change that, but Robes is out now so Donovan rolled the dice and took a chance....
on 19 year-old rookie Terrance Ferguson.
To say the gamble has paid off at this point would be pre-mature, but the initial indications are that T-Ferg is the Thunder’s best option until Roberson returns even though a 10 to 0 start in less than 3 minutes kicked things off on a sour note in the rookies first start against the Lakers. While not at the lock-down defensive levels the Thunder enjoyed with a healthy Roberson on the floor, OKC has managed to lower their last two opponents 1st quarter average below 30 points.
Ferguson is playing with more poise defensively than earlier in the season and in the second half of his first start, the kid set a new Thunder record with 6 made 3-point attempts in a single half. Although Ferguson’s hot hand cooled somewhat the following night against the Clippers, he along with Josh Huestis, have combined to offer Donovan at least a serviceable alternative until the Thunder medical staff allow Roberson’s return.
How concerned are you about Roberson’s knee?
This poll is closed
Concerned the Thunder may rush Robes back in too soon
I wasn’t concerned at all until I read this post.