The Achilles tendon is located in the lower half of the calf and is connected to the heel. Often a torn Achilles is very painful and even prevents you from walking properly.
For an NBA player, a torn Achilles means you are sidelined for a minimum of 9 months and often over a year to recover. When players can’t walk correctly for months, it is difficult for players to come back to full strength.
Players often have to be careful as it becomes easier to reaggravate the injury. Yet there are two superstar level players who are coming back from these injuries next year: Kevin Durant and John Wall. These players still have high expectations and can be the same players they were before the injury.
However, this is unlikely. A torn Achilles has ruined multiple careers and is the death sentence for an NBA career.
Kevin Durant and John Wall will be 32 and 30 respectively in September. Why does age matter? Well, both these players should be at the end of their primes as players start to regress after 30. Durant has previously stated that he wanted to retire at 35, however, this injury might change that.
Wall relies heavily on his athleticism which declines around age 30. Regardless, both players’ age definitely matters, and this injury could derail their careers, as there are multiple players who have torn their Achilles and never reached their peak afterward.
Luckily for Durant and Wall, there are two players who have recently had success after tearing their Achilles. Rudy Gay tore his Achilles in 2017 and has been fairly healthy while being a good bench option for the Spurs.
Wesley Matthews has also been a good role player after his injury as he is a reliable 3 point shooter and has played 60 games every season since his injury. Neither of these players returned to form but still are contributing while being available.
The same could not be said for some other role players. Mario Chalmers was traded to the Grizzlies in November 2015 and tore his Achilles later that season. He was unsigned after that season until he was resigned by the Grizzlies in 2017. He played 66 games that season and is now out of the NBA.
Mehemet Okur tore his Achilles during the 2010 playoffs, had a major statistical falloff, and played 31 games after that. Brandon Jennings had a great rookie season but never developed and was inefficient. He was having a revival season in 2014-15 and was scoring 20 PPG in January when he tore his Achilles.
Jennings’ efficiency dipped even further along with not being healthy and is now out of the NBA.
Anderson Varejao only played 2 more seasons after tearing his Achilles where his efficiency was nowhere near the same and his rebounding, one of the best aspects of his game was nowhere near the same. There are plenty of other players who were significantly worse after tearing their Achilles, and these are some prime examples.
There are two recent examples with former superstars. Some players who were stars but not superstars were Chauncey Billups and Elton Brand, both of which were never the same. Isiah Thomas also tore his Achilles and then retired. However, this was 25 years prior to Durant and Wall’s injuries and he had already considered retirement, so his case shouldn’t be involved.
The first star is Kobe Bryant. Yes, Kobe was 34, going on 35 when he tore his Achilles, but he was All-NBA First Team that season. Kobe then sustained two more season-ending injuries and was very inefficient when he played.
Kobe’s game would regularly not have fallen off like that. It could even be argued that Kobe was hurting the Lakers. However, the player we are still following to this day about this injury is DeMarcus Cousins, who tore his Achilles in January 2018 and has been very unlucky.
Cousins then took less money and a short contract with the Warriors in hopes of winning a championship, where the Warriors fell flat after Cousins tore his Quad and Durant went down. He however looked fine and was given another shot with the Lakers.
During the summer, he tore his ACL. Cousins could still make a comeback but needs to stay healthy or play on a bad team to put up good stats.
Luckily for Durant and Wall, there is one Hall of Famer who was as good before his injury: Dominique Wilkins. At age 32, Wilkins tore his Achilles while averaging 28 PPG on 46% shooting. After his injury, he missed only 11 games the following season and scored 30 PPG on 47% shooting.
Wilkins upped his production and was healthy. He also led his team to the best record in the conference in 1994 before being traded halfway through the season in an odd trade. If Durant or Wall could follow this path, they could escape the NBA’s death sentence.
Like Wilkins, Wall is very athletic and it is part of his game, while Durant is physically similar to Wilkins and is an excellent scorer. If they can either stay healthy enough or adapt their playstyle so they can remain the same, that would add on even more to their resume.
Both Durant and Wall should seriously take the steps Wilkins took so they can still be productive after this injury.
Unfortunately, it seems that neither Durant nor Wall will return to form. There are only a few players who have recovered from a torn Achilles and been productive. I think it is possible that one of them can still be productive, but the odds are against them.
There is a reason it is the NBA’s death sentence, as only one player has returned to full strength. Wilkins and Wall are both very athletic and rely heavily on athleticism, but more often than not this injury has hurt athletic players.
Durant relies less on athleticism and more on shooting, but this injury is still crucial for his future.
Durant is very lanky, and you can tell he is not strong nor built up. This is concerning coming off a torn Achilles as he is more likely to get injured.
Not to mention Durant has an injury history and is on the wrong side of 30. If he can stay healthy, he should be nearly the same player that he was previously. However, now availability is an issue.
Durant’s legacy is also a concern as he has yet to win the championship as the clear number one (I consider Durant to be 1A and Curry to be 1B). If Durant stays healthy, he should be fine but his injury history and build are working against him.
As previously mentioned, Wall relies heavily on his athleticism. Even though Wilkins also was very athletic, he didn’t rely only on athleticism. Wall also has an injury history, as he couldn’t stay healthy for his first couple of seasons in the league.
It’s a bit unfortunate as though I feel we have seen Durant’s peak, we won’t see Wall’s. Wall’s last healthy season he was All-NBA Third Team and was only 26 years old. If Wall can play more off-ball, he could still be an All-Star. He has some ability to shoot and if he has improved that, he can reinvent himself.
There is a slight chance his athleticism prevails, in which case he can play like his old self. If this did occur, I think Wall may have 3-4 more All-Star seasons as few players who rely on athleticism like Wall can be very productive into their mid-30s. If all goes well, the Wizards could be a playoff team and Wall could be a borderline Hall of Famer.
There definitely is potential for Durant and Wall to still be stars after their injuries. I could see at least one of them returning to form and being at the minimum an All-Star.
I think even if everything went right for Durant, he won’t win another MVP but a championship on the Nets is possible if Kyrie also stays healthy. Wall could make a couple of All-Star games and even All-NBA teams, though the Wizards have little to no chance at a championship.
However, the results of Kobe Bryant, DeMarcus Cousins, and multiple other players are major concerns. I believe that Durant and Wall will either not be healthy, not have the same production, or both.
Unfortunately, it seems that history says that Wall and Durant will experience the NBA’s death sentence.
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