Breaking Down Kawhi Leonard’s Injury

The Spurs have been one of the more healthy teams of the 2013-14 season. That’s not to say they’ve been impervious to injury but the ability of their medical staff to minimize the impact of Tim Duncan’s chest contusion or Tony Parker’s shin contusion has allowed them to remain in the upper echelon of the Western Conference. Unfortunately Wednesday’s loss to the Thunder was particularly painful as forward Kawhi Leonard suffered a fractured bone in his hand.

It has been reported the Leonard suffered a fourth metacarpal fracture. The five metacarpals sit just distal to the tiny carpal bones of the wrist and make up the hand itself. The metacarpals serve as a transition between the fingers and the wrist and some serve as an attachment site for the muscles of the hand.

The fourth metacarpal is particularly vulnerable to breaking, especially with a direct blow or a fall on an outstretched hand. Fractures of the fourth metacarpal are also referred to as Boxer’s fracture for their common occurrence following a punch. The recovery time for a Boxer’s fracture is dependent on whether or not the bone remains aligned and if any neighboring bones were also damaged. Luckily for the Spurs, early reports hint that Leonard’s fracture is non-displaced, suggesting treatment without surgical intervention remains a possibility.

Earlier in the season both New Orleans center Anthony Davis and Brooklyn forward Paul Pierce suffered non-displaced fractures in their hands. Pierce suffered a non-displaced fracture of the third metacarpal in his right hand and returned to action after four missed games. Davis wasn’t quite as lucky and missed seven games with a fractured fifth metacarpal.

Leonard’s injury is more comparable to Davis’ than the one suffered by Pierce. The second and third metacarpals are mostly immobile and heal quicker. However the fourth and fifth metacarpals do have a degree of motion that aids in movement at the wrist and pinkie. The importance of this motion means the bone will require additional time to properly heal. It should also be noted that Leonard’s injury occurred to his shooting hand. Regaining full range of motion in the area will be key to insuring Leonard’s shooting mechanics are not altered by the injury.

Fortunately for Leonard, head athletic trainer Will Sevening and the Spurs medical team are quite familiar with handling these types of injuries. Matt Bonner and Tony Parker both suffered fractured fourth metacarpals during the 2009-10 season. Bonner was sidelined for 15 games while Parker sat for 16. Furthermore teammate Danny Green is currently out with a fractured second metacarpal.  Green was expected to miss four weeks following the injury on January 12.

In the meantime the Spurs will rely on Marco Belinelli and Manu Ginobili to fill the void left by Leonard, at least until Green is able to return. The team could also elect to employ a three-guard lineup or use Boris Diaw at small forward.