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The mind-blowing science behind Klay Thompson's return


If you’re a basketball fan, you are eager to see Klay Thompson back on the court. The 77th best player in NBA history gave us so many spectacular moments on and off the court that every game without him is a major loss for everyone. Close to the finish line, Woj’s report revealed when to expect Klay back and why his return got pushed back.

A few more weeks

Every report about Klay since the beginning of the season inspired optimism. Thompson was looking good, his rehab was on schedule, and Christmas was getting a lot of buzz out of Warriors camp. So when the news about January started to appear, we all got concerned there was a setback in his rehab process. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

As every great player, Klay doesn’t want just to come back. There’s a level of play Thompson expects of himself, and until his body and game are at that level, we won’t see him on the court.

Two key dates to keep an eye on - January 9th against Cleveland, January 18th against Detroit. ... What Klay Thompson has wanted to do was improve his conditioning so when he rejoins this team, so when he goes back out he's able to play at the highest possible level.

Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA Today

Woj mentioned January 3rd against Miami is also considered a possibility, but not very likely. So this is not a matter of health anymore; it’s just Klay making sure that he justifies the 77th best player in history title when he comes back. Thompson doesn’t want to play himself into shape, he wants to be in shape when he shows up. An interesting concept a certain Slovenian player might look into.

Doctor's report

Remember when the Spurs doctors said Kawhi was 100% ready and should play, but Leonard didn’t feel the same way? I’ve always wondered how doctors and physical therapists determine when a player is 100% to return. It can be the Kawhi scenario, but it can also be a player rushing back while not being ready.

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ESPN’s injury analyst Stephania Bell talked to Klay’s doctor, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, and shared what goes into making that assessment.

One of the things Dr. ElAttrache does is a full biomechanical assessment. He works with a physical therapist; they use cameras to look at body control. The trunk, hip, knee - are the angles where they should be when he's landing, when he's changing direction.

Stephania Bell, NBA Today

So it’s not only about the patient’s feedback. You can feel fine, say you’re good to go, but if there’s a disbalance, the cameras will pick it up. With Klay, the Warriors had to protect him from himself. If you recall, Thompson didn’t just shoot free throws on a torn ACL. He told Kerr to give him a few minutes to stretch, and he’d be back. So while a player might say to you he feels fine, teams actually have a way of measuring does the player trust his body - that’s one of the most difficult things to get back from after a major injury.

They also use it as a psychological assessment of readiness to return. There are force plates in the ground that measure how much loading is that injured leg absorbing. Is the athlete willing to land and puss off with the same force that you'd expect him to use in the uninjured side. If those things are sound, that give you confidence in the readiness to return.

Stephania Bell, NBA Today

So whatever they say, if a player is doubting himself in any way, the numbers are going to show it. That doubt may be a fear of reinjury or because they physically feel something’s still not right but are rushing to return to court. Being confident in your body is as important as being physically healed. People usually reinjure the opposite part of their body after returning from an injury because they favor the healthy side, which consequentially gets overloaded.

Dr. ElAttrache performed Klay’s ACL surgery and told Bell that he is 100% sure in Klay’s biomechanics. In fact, the silver lining with Klay being away from NBA courts for so long is that the ACL had optimal time to heal without the stress of NBA basketball. That means that” at this point the graft they used when reconstructing the ACL is biologically fully mature, so you can almost discount the ACL component and really just focus on the Achillies itself.

The fact Klay was in full rehab mode for the ACL tear when the Achilles tear happened turned out to be a good thing for his recovery. Knock on wood that all this means Thompson will come back in full force, and the wait for the Splash Brothers to reunite will be well worth it. When healthy, Steph, Klay, and Draymond are the best show in basketball. Are you ready to be entertained?

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