The Indiana Pacers had emerged as one of the top would-be contenders in a suddenly wide open Eastern Conference. Fueling the Pacers’ ascension was good health as the team lost just 27 total games to injury through the first half of the regular season, the fourth best mark in the NBA. Unfortunately, that changed quickly Wednesday night when Victor Oladipo, the team’s All-Star guard and leading scorer, crumpled to the court while attempting to defend Toronto’s Pascal Siakam.
Led by head athletic trainer Josh Corbeil, the medical staff for the Pacers acted quickly, covering Oladipo’s right knee before carting him off the floor. Indiana later revealed the injury was deemed serious and further testing would be carried out on Thursday. Sadly, the MRI revealed a torn quadriceps tendon for Oladipo, an injury that will require surgery and end his season.
The quadriceps is a dynamic muscle group that plays a role in multiple joint motions. As its name suggests, the quad is comprised of four muscles, the rectus femoris, the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Together these muscle work synergistically to carry out knee extension (straightening of the leg). The rectus femoris also attaches at the hip and aids in hip flexion (bending the hip). As a result, extra care must be given during the rehab process to prevent a troublesome muscle imbalance from developing.
The four muscles are connected to the lower leg by a conjoined tendon. The patella (kneecap) sits within this tendon. The portion of the tendon above the kneecap is referred to as the quadriceps tendon while the inferior portion that connects the muscle to the tibia is known as the patellar tendon. As the knee is bent or straightened, the patella moves to modify the mechanics of the quadriceps muscle. Correspondingly, the vastus medialis of the quad stabilizes the kneecap throughout this process.
The tendon can fail at both locations, disrupting motion at the knee. Without a firm attachment site, the patella can shift from its normal location. This is likely why many initially feared a patellar dislocation for Oladipo. However, we now know that Oladipo’s injury involved the tendon above the kneecap, setting up a lengthy recovery process.
Tendon tears at the knee are relatively uncommon in the NBA with most failures occurring at the patellar tendon. Players like Caron Butler, Jeremy Lin, and Hassan Whiteside have all missed time following patellar tendon tears. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Andre Roberson is still recovering from a patellar tendon tear suffered last January. Roberson has suffered multiple setbacks in his recovery, including a recent avulsion fracture of his knee.
Quadriceps tendon tears have occurred less frequently and often are incomplete or partial tears. Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, and Malcolm Brogdon have all missed time in recent seasons with partial quadriceps tendon tears.
The best comparison for Oladipo is likely veteran Tony Parker. The former Spurs and current Hornets point guard suffered a torn quadriceps tendon during the 2017 playoffs. He underwent surgery to repair the damage and spent nearly seven months sidelined. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski’s has already stated the Pacers will look into Parker’s recovery in the months ahead.
Barring any setbacks, Oladipo should be back in time for the start of the 2019-20 NBA season. His age, relatively low career workload, and his minimal injury history should all positively influence his recovery. Oladipo will also have the benefit of working with a Pacers medical team that has become one of the top-rated units in the NBA. The injury remains an obvious setback but Oladipo should be positioned for a bounce-back campaign next year.