Dante Exum’s latest injury scare and offseason implications

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets
Apr 29, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) dribbles the ball against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second quarter in game one of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Yet again, Dante Exum has been struck down with an injury that threatens to derail the Australian guard’s fledgling career. Just how will this latest setback affect his offseason contract extensions hopes?

The Houston Rockets took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series on Monday (AEST) as they defeated the Utah Jazz 100 – 87 in Salt Lake City. But the big talking point coming out of this game, was the injury sustained by Dante Exum in the third quarter, which could spell disaster for his offseason contract aspirations.

With around five minutes remaining the third quarter and the Jazz trailing 72-57, Exum dribbled past James Harden towards the basket in a seemingly innocuous drive. As he neared the hoop, Exum began hobbling and kicked the ball out to teammate Jae Crowder before appearing to to run straight towards the change rooms. Exum, upon realising an official substitution had not been made, re-entered the court to take a jump shot, before a foul was then called on the proceeding play. 

During the game stoppage, Exum hobbled straight to the Jazz dressing rooms before pulling up lame just outside the court and falling straight to the floor.

 

The moment of madness is encapsulated by two of the Jazz medical staff leaning over a clearly distraught Exum, who is writhing in pain and overcome with emotion. 

Yet again, Exum had been let down by his body at the cruelest moment, when he was starting to reach the top of his game.

Exum left the game and did not return, finishing with nine points on 4-for-6 shooting, while also continuing to hold Harden to a modest night. Exum, so far in this series had been playing exceptional basketball and was starting to live up to the hype he had around him, after he was drafted back in 2014 with the fifth overall pick.

Exum was unavailable for comment post-game, as he was swiftly rushed out for an MRI on the affected leg, with a hamstring tear the likely culprit.

Thankfully for Exum and the Jazz, the injury appears mild as he has reportedly been placed on day-to-day management only and is now a chance to face Houston in game five on Wednesday (AEST).

According to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports, the MRI revealed the injury to be a strained hamstring and placed him on a day-to-day watch list.

At this stage, it looks like the injury is likely to be a grade one tear.  

How severe is a grade one muscle tear?

It’s easier to think of muscles like a piece of rope when talking about tears. A grade one muscle tear is when the strands of the rope start to fray either side, but for the most part, the rope holds firm. A grade two tear is when around 50 percent of the rope begins to be worn away and the steadiness of the rope begins to come into question. Finally, a grade three tear is when the rope is torn completely.

From a management point of view, grade one and two tears are often managed conservatively (without surgery) while grade three tears are often always managed via reconstructive surgery. Obviously when it comes to grade one and two muscle tears, the more extensive the tear is, the more difficult it becomes to rehabilitate the injury.

Generally, conservative management of these types of tears involve rest and building up the muscles surrounding the tear to ensure they can take the weight off the healing site. Often in the case of grade one tears, they can be played on if absolutely required. Given the nature of Utah’s must-win predicament (currently trailing Houston 3-1), Exum may just be asked to play through the pain in Game 5.

What does this mean for Exum heading forward?

The injury timing couldn’t be much worse. Exum was in good form on both ends of the floor and appeared to be syncing well with Utah’s star rookie Donovan Mitchell. After losing so much time in his career so far to a torn ACL (2015-16) and dislocated shoulder (this season), this is yet another setback. With Exum’s free agency looming this offseason, he will be hoping this injury is just a mild setback and he would not have to lose more time to yet another injury.

In the long term, it is unlikely this injury will cause him too much grief, but in combination with his previous medical history, general managers around the league could be wary of signing Exum to long-term deals. If Exum is to receive a contract this offseason (which is still highly likely), the deal may look something like what Embiid was offered from the Philadelphia 76ers.

Embiid has stipulations in his deal which pay him, based on how available he was throughout the season, basically turning his health into a performance metric. It’s a deal which would allow Exum to stay in the league, while also protecting any potential team that takes a punt on the Australian.

Exum at his best is worth a go. But teams are also well within their rights to be wary of Exum and his long medical history.

Dante Exum, Joe Ingles and the Utah Jazz play again on Wednesday morning, 9 May 2018 10.00am AEST as they face the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of this series.

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Aussie Physio by day, 🏀🏏🏒⚽🏈🏟️ by night.

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