After missing over three weeks with knee stiffness, the LA Clippers’ superstar returned to the floor. In his 24 minutes, he notched six points, five rebounds, and four assists. Though the numbers are not eye-popping, he was a plus-26 on the court. Although he will not look like himself for a bit, everyone must be patient with Kawhi Leonard.
ACL surgery is no small task. Even Leonard noted that recovery is a two-year process. And he is right. Most see on the outside that athletes return after about a year post-surgery. But many former athletes who have experienced this claim that they do not usually start to feel like themselves until the second year back from injury. It becomes even more paramount with Leonard since he did not partake in 5-on-5 until training camp in September. About fifteen months since playing. At that time, he was rehabbing, working out, and doing the little things to get his body back to full strength progressively.
Even with all that preparation, getting back into the swing of things after over a year will face challenges. That goes for injuries or anything in life. The team steadily ramped him up from training camp to the preseason and even had him come off the bench to start the regular season. Though the latter decision may not have been ideal for most, the team was at least willing to try it so that they could have Leonard play regular second-half minutes to help close games. The effort that Leonard and the franchise are putting in should not go unnoticed as both have the same goal of the superstar coming back to full strength by the postseason.
When Leonard sat out the next three weeks due to knee stiffness, many worried about his knee being the same after the injury. It is not uncommon for people to experience pain or tightness after ACL surgery. Especially with a long layoff from intense basketball to going back into it. While the length of Leonard’s absence was cause for concern, he still returned and moved solidly against Detroit.
When watching Leonard, his quickness and movement with the ball in his hands stood out. Sure he Isn’t the Spurs-Kawhi, but he did not look to labor as the game went on. We won’t know what Leonard really feels during the game or even afterward. And this is the first game back after a short layoff. It may be common to see him struggle for the next month or so. His legs still need to get used to NBA games and his conditioning will improve as time goes on. But all he needs is time. Jumpers, attacks to the rim, and defensive intensity will get tested late in games. But as more reps are added and minute restrictions lift, Leonard will start to look like himself again. The man put in ‘maniacal’ work to get back to where he is now.
It’s not even a quarter into the season. So we should give him a chance to get reps and return to who he was. It may take until next season to fully look like himself. It could come sooner. But to panic over the past few weeks is a bit premature. If it becomes a recurring issue then sure. But for now, it’s time to be patient and let time tell the story.