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Covering sports injuries from the perspective of a certified athletic trainer and backed by analytics.

Examining Dante Exum’s ACL Injury and Other Injuries in International Play

In 1992 the Dream Team took the world by storm as NBA players collectively returned to the Olympic stage. Their impact still resonates today, as players from 15 different countries were drafted during the 2015 NDA draft, including two international players, Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja, taken in the first five selections as well as second round selection Satnam Singh Bhamara, the first draft selection from India. Just last week NBA players participated in the NBA Africa Game, an exhibition game in South Africa that marked the first ever NBA game on the continent of Africa.

Prior to the start of the 2014-15 season, the NBA announced a record 101 international players from 37 countries and territories would appear on opening night rosters. As the league continues to expand globally, the number of players participating in offseason activities with their home national teams is also on the rise. Multiple players including Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, and Nikola Mirotic will participate in the upcoming Eurobasket 2015 while JJ Barea, Andrew Wiggins, and several others are planning to suit for their respective countries in the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship. The USA is also preparing for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, hosting 34 NBA players including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry in a mini-camp next week.

With the sheer amount of NBA talent participating in international play this summer, an injury is bound to occur. Tuesday that inevitability came to fruition when Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum suffered a left knee injury while playing in one of Australia’s tune-up games prior the FIBA Oceania championship series. Exum returned to Salt Lake City where testing confirmed a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Exum will undergo surgery in the near future and is expected to miss the entire 2015-16 season.

InStreetClothes.com has previously detailed what the Jazz can expect from Exum when he does return to action when examining the ACL tear of his draft mate Jabari Parker. Like the Bucks forward, the 20 year-old Exum has age on his side and should be able to return to a high level of play. Nine of the previous 12 players to suffer an ACL injury before the 24th birthday went on to have their career-best Player Efficiency Rating (PER) following surgery.

Exum’s injury is the latest injury to occur during international play but it’s hardly the first. Last year Indiana Pacers forward Paul George infamously fractured his leg during a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas. Pacers teammate Ian Mahinmi suffered a dislocated shoulder during a team practice for the FIBA World Cup just a few weeks later. Spurs guard Tony Parker has endured several minor injuries playing for France and Pau Gasol has needed two surgeries to fix injuries sustained while with the Spanish National team. Former Rockets center Yao Ming rushed his recovery from a navicular fracture to take part in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and would play in just 82 games over the next three NBA seasons as reoccurring foot injuries prematurely ended his career.

These injuries and numerous others will serve as evidence for those that advocate against professional players participating in international competition. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has vocally criticized the way in which NBA players are utilized in international basketball, citing the exploitive nature of the agreement between FIBA and the NBA. Cuban has pointed out that the FIBA and the IOC financial benefits from the participation of NBA players while the owners assume the inherent injury and financial risk. Players can decline invitations to participate in FIBA sanctioned events but a NBA can only intervene if they are able to cite “reasonable medical concern.” Even then it’s complicated as the Spurs are now finding out. The team recently sent a letter to the Serbian Federation informing them that they were exercising their option to withhold rookie Boban Marjanovic from Eurobasket 2015 after discovering significant bone edema on his left foot and congenital defects in both feet. The Serbian federation is expected to protest the decision citing Marjanovic’s ability to play with the issue over the past few seasons.

While the arguments of Cuban and others have real merit, restrictions on international participation isn’t going to completely eliminate offseason injuries. Basketball players are going to play basketball in the offseason whether it’s with their home country, the summer league, or in league-sanctioned pro-ams like the Drew League. In fact, many national teams utilize NBA-level athletic trainers, making these teams better equipped to manage an injury when one does occur. Furthermore most injuries that have occurred during international competition haven’t resulted in missed NBA games with George and now Exum the notable exceptions.

Instead of directly addressing a difficult situation, the NBA remains proactive in maintaining player health. The recent formation of an alliance designed to promote health and wellness and reduce injuries helps and ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently revealed that the early drafts of the 2015-16 schedule has drastically reduced the number of four games in five nights.

By continuing to take steps toward insuring players are healthy and reducing fatigue during the season, the NBA can help lessen the intrinsic risk associated with offseason activity. International participation will always be topic for debate amongst the league and its players but steps can and are being taken to protect all parties involved.