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The Philadelphia 76ers’ Zhaire Smith, a first-round draft pick in June, suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last week while at Tim Grgurich’s development camp in Las Vegas. Smith had an MRI shortly after that revealed the injury, and he underwent surgery this past Thursday evening.
Before the injury, Smith averaged 7.7 points, 2.7 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game for the Sixers during summer league play.
The Sixers have a track record of bad luck with rookie injuries. The No. 26 pick in this year’s draft, Landry Shamet, suffered a right ankle sprain in the first game of the summer league and missed the rest of the competition. Markelle Fultz played in only 14 games last season because of a scapular muscle imbalance. And then there was Ben Simmons, who missed the entire 2016-17 season after suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot during training camp, and Joel Embiid, too.
A Jones fracture is the most common type of metatarsal fracture and refers to a break between the base and shaft of the fifth metatarsal bone of the foot. Metatarsals are the long bones on the top of the foot that connect the ankle with the toes and help people balance while standing and walking. The fifth metatarsal is the long bone on the outside of the foot and connects the ankle with the smallest toe. This type of fracture typically results from stress on the bone from repeated motion, but it may also happen acutely because of a sudden impact or a twist of the foot.
These injuries are not uncommon in basketball players given the size of the athletes combined with the repetitive running and jumping they do. Symptoms of Jones fractures are very similar to other types of fractures, including pain, swelling and bruising.
Jones fractures are particularly troublesome because they don’t always heal well. Proper management is crucial. In athletes, surgical repair provides the most predictable outcome and return to sport. A 2016 study found that NBA players have a high return to play after Jones fractures and do not experience a decrease in performance on return to competition when compared with preinjury and with control-matched peers.
The real issue is healing time. If athletes go back too soon, they are at a much higher risk of re-breaking the bone, which can lead to more surgery and prolonged recovery times. While Smith’s injury took place earlier in the year than Simmons’, Simmons did miss all of his rookie season recovering.
There is no good reason except bad luck to explain the injury woes that the Sixers’ first-round draft picks have suffered over the last few years, but they definitely don’t want to compound their bad fortune by rushing Smith back. Hopefully, we will see him during the last few months of the season.