The hardest times for Iman Shumpert were when he was lying in bed and needed to take anti-inflammatory pain medication just to get up. He felt as if he wasn't just missing basketball, but everyday life.
The rest of the world was on the go, but the Knicks' swingman's routine was rehab, ice and rest, rehab, ice and rest.
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For a 22-year-old professional athlete who thrives on competition and doesn't like being told he can't do something, those days hurt Shumpert nearly as much as when he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus.
"I was waking up and the pain was really, really, really bad early on," Shumpert said. "There was a couple of points where I was like, 'I got to take all these pills just to get out of the bed.' That was the lowest point for me -- not being able to walk. It seemed like the world was just moving, everybody was just moving, people had things to do and I couldn't really do nothing but lay in bed and ice."
Shumpert has long since graduated from that. But the Chicago product still experiences low points in his return from the devastating injury he suffered last April 28 in Game 1 of the playoffs in Miami.
He admittedly isn't the player he was last season when he ranked seventh in the NBA in steals, made the All-Rookie first team and was the only first-year player to receive Defensive Player of the Year votes.
The explosiveness isn't there. The lateral quickness isn't the same. Things the athletic Shumpert would do easily, like finishing at the rim, aren't happening nearly as much.
"It [ticks] me off," he said.
Numbers are down
In 20 games, Shumpert is averaging 4.7 points, shooting 30.8 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 64.7 percent from the foul line, and collecting 0.90 steals a game.
He's playing fewer minutes and doesn't have the ball as much. Most of his stats are markedly down from last year, when Shumpert averaged 9.5 points, converted 40.1 percent of his shots, 30.6 percent from three-point range and 79.8 percent from the line and averaged 1.71 steals.
"When I watch him on tape," coach Mike Woodson said, "it's like he wants to do it but he's reaching, he's grabbing to get where he wants to be instead of moving. Last year, he'd beat you to where you wanted to go and take it from you. Those things will come back. He's just got to be patient and not be hard on himself."
Shumpert is proud and confident, driven and determined, but also stubborn and he can be defiant.
He says his lateral movement "is fine" and has no doubt he'll eventually be better than before the injury. He's slowly showing signs of becoming a pest defensively again.
Shumpert contends his struggles have less to do with his knee and more with being inactive for so long.
"I don't feel I'm the player from last year," he said. "I just came off an ACL. I went four months with no basketball. I couldn't do anything with a basketball except really just stand-in-place stuff. So when you're trying to come back, your rhythm is all messed. Sometimes you dribble the ball. The ball doesn't come back up or it's high. There's a lot that goes into it."
Plenty of company
Torn ACLs have become all too common in the NBA. Among the players who have suffered the injury within the last 15 months are the Celtics' Rajon Rondo, the Bulls' Derrick Rose, the Hawks' Lou Williams, the Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio and Baron Davis, who tore his last season with the Knicks.
Other than Davis, who blew out his knee last May, they all have or are expected to make a full return to the NBA. Advances in ACL surgery and the rehab process make it easier than in years past.
Former Knick Bernard King missed nearly two years after tearing his ACL in 1985. It took several years, but King became an All-Star again in 1990-91, when he averaged 28.4 points.
Peterson tore his ACL on Christmas Eve 2011. He rushed for 2,097 yards this past season and won the NFL MVP award. He's the model whom everyone draws inspiration from and hopes to follow. But Peterson is the exception.
Rose's injury happened the same day as Shumpert's and the Bulls star guard isn't playing yet.
Rubio tore his ACL last March and returned in mid-December. The flashy point guard started playing and producing more in February and averaged 12.8 points and 9.5 assists last month for Minnesota.
"It takes a full year from the time of the injury just to kind of get that grogginess in your knee out of there," said Pacers forward and former All-Star David West, who tore his ACL in March 2011, when he was a Hornet.
West said he didn't feel comfortable mentally and physically last season. He averaged 12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds, his worst numbers since 2004-05. This year, West is averaging 17.7 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Pacers teammate Danny Granger missing 55 games likely contributed to West's scoring increase, but he said he's just playing and not thinking about the knee anymore.
"It takes some time to trust that the jumping and running and cutting that your body is going to be able to maintain and not let you down like it did before," West said. "It's about that. It's about knowing you put the work in, you put the time in, you were a good patient and ultimately you just have to let the body heal. You can't really speed up the process."
Orthopedic surgeon Leon Popovitz, the co-founder of New York Bone & Joint Specialists and a physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, has performed hundreds of ACL procedures. He said West's assertion that it takes about a year to feel comfortable and confident is common.
But Popovitz, who has served as team physician of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, said it could be several months less and many factors are involved, including the athlete's mental makeup.
"The textbook answer as far as being able to return to full impact and pivoting activities is six months, but that is subject to the quadriceps strength," Popovitz said. "If you don't regain your full quadriceps strength, there's a certain sense of insecurity the patient may have, so when they go back they may not be able to go all out.
"A lot of the difference between the athlete that returns at that exceedingly high level versus just a typical level is probably that quadriceps strength and the self confidence that comes with it."
Popovitz cited Peterson as someone with "an incredible sense of self-confidence and work ethic," and believes veteran athletes who have experienced success "know how to rekindle it."
It could be worse
This was Shumpert's first major injury. He missed six games in college at Georgia Tech after having his knee scoped, which is nothing compared to this.
But Popovitz also said returning "to top level" after ACL reconstruction is easier than for someone who has had microfracture knee surgery.
Allan Houston retired early after microfracture surgery. Chris Webber was never the same player. Amar'e Stoudemire has had multiple knee surgeries, including microfracture. In October, Stoudemire had a debridement and now is on a 30-minute-per-game limit.
Shumpert has seen the clip of his injury "a million times," and knows how he could have avoided it.
Heat guard Mario Chalmers pressured him, and as he came across midcourt Shumpert tried dribbling behind his back to evade Chalmers. But after planting his left foot, Shumpert fell, screaming and clutching his knee.
"He jumped the move and I tried to jump out of it," Shumpert said. "I should have just ran him over and took the charge. But I'm not thinking I'm going to tear my ACL. I'm thinking not to turn it over."
At first, Shumpert said his rehab sessions lasted six to seven hours a day and consisted of ice, muscle stimulation, joint mobilization stretching exercises, swelling-reduction techniques and range of motion, strength and balance work.
As the rehab continued, it was all that plus shooting, weightlifting and different areas of concentration each week, such as speed and explosiveness. Even now, Shumpert has treatment and does balance work before and after practice.
"It's the hardest I've ever focused on that kind of stuff," Shumpert said.
He finally is looking a little more comfortable on the court.
Shumpert moved well last Wednesday and had six steals in 22 minutes against the Warriors the night Stephen Curry scored 54 points on the Knicks. If Shumpert was all the way back his assignment would have been to try and contain Curry.
But Shumpert is encouraged by his recent play, and believes he will help the Knicks down the stretch of the season and playoffs.
Although he gets frustrated at times, Shumpert said he is thankful to be playing basketball again, and that he can get out of bed without any help and go to work.
"I appreciate basketball so much," Shumpert said. "Every day. That never left. I didn't have to tear my ACL to appreciate the game."