Zhaire Smith, the 76ers’ top draft pick, underwent successful surgery on his left foot Thursday evening, the team announced Friday.
Smith’s injury, a Jones fracture, occurred Monday while he was attending a basketball camp in Las Vegas.
No timetable was given for the guard’s return to play, but typically with this type of injury, a recovery time of 10-12 weeks is expected, according to Kenneth Jung, an orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
The Sixers made a draft-night trade, sending No. 10 overall pick Mikal Bridges to the Phoenix Suns, to acquire Smith, a Texas Tech product who was taken with the 16th overall selection.
Smith joins a growing list of Sixers first-round picks who have dealt with injuries that interrupt or delay their debut NBA seasons. The team is even familiar with Jones fractures. Ben Simmons missed all of his rookie season after suffering one in September 2016.
So what exactly is a Jones fracture?
It is a fracture to a junction between two areas of the fifth metatarsal (long bone on the outer edge) of the foot. That area is unique because it doesn’t have a high amount of blood flow, which affects healing time.
“I tell patients it’s kind of like an area between two sprinklers on a lawn,” said Jung, who is listed as a consultant for the Lakers and did not perform the procedure on Smith. “It can be a little slower healing because of the location. So it’s like that area between two sprinklers, where the grass just doesn’t grow as well because it’s in between water flow and not directly under a supply of water — or, in this case, blood.”
The surgery to repair a Jones fracture technically is more about stabilization.
An athlete would not be cleared for play until the bone is fully healed. The typical surgery for this injury, an insertion of a screw into the shaft of the bone to stabilize it, does not actually increase the time it takes for the bone to heal. What the surgery does is allow for an increased level of rehabilitation activity so that when the athlete is cleared to play, he will have been able to maintain good range of motion and a level of strength in the leg and foot.
According to Jung, without some type of hardware to reinforce the bone, especially in the case of high-level athletes, any pressure, stress, or strain to the area would increase the risk of further injury or re-injury, depending on the person.
“Higher-arched individuals will put more pressure on the outer aspect of their foot, and some individuals just load more weight on that bone,” Jung said, adding that nutrition and lifestyle and hormonal factors also can play roles in the healing process.
Though there can be a range in healing time, within three months is a good place to start expectations. That is just a time frame for the bone to heal and for the player being cleared for full activity and does not include any additional rehab or practice time before returning to play.
It means that, best-case scenario, Smith might return sometime in early November. But with the Sixers’ tendency toward a conservative approach, it’s likely Smith’s return will come later.