They starred as teammates at the University of Kentucky, were top-five draft picks in the same class and remain very close friends, and now John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins can relate in an unfortunate way. The two perennial All-Stars have seen their careers disrupted by major injuries basically on the exact same timeline.
Due to knee problems, a heel injury and a ruptured Achilles, Wall has played in only 73 games the past two seasons and could miss all of the 2019-20 campaign. Cousins has played in 78 games during that span because of a torn Achilles, a torn quad muscle and now a torn ACL, of which news broke on Thursday. Like Wall, Cousins could now miss all of next season.
Both Wall and Cousins have now had their Age 27 and 28 seasons decimated by injuries with a high likelihood the same happens in their Age 29 season. That is especially unfortunate when you look at the average peak of an NBA star.
Hoops Hype did a study last year on the prime age of NBA players, using the criteria of All-NBA selections. They found that the peak age for NBA stardom is 27.7 years. By that measure, both Wall and Cousins have been stripped of what should have been their best years.
For Wall and Cousins, it could make the difference between them being Hall of Famers someday. Wall was well on his way statistically before injuries took a major toll starting with the 2017-18 season and Cousins wasn't far behind. What they had done at their age and for their position ranked them among all-time greats.
Wall, for instance, is one of only four players in NBA history to average at least 19 points and nine assists per game with at least 500 games played. The other three are Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas.
Cousins' career numbers, 21.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, are similarly elite. He is one of only 12 players ever to average at least 21 and 10 in those categories (min. 500 games) and the other 11 are all Hall of Famers. The list is a who's who of the greatest big men of all-time like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Wall and Cousins could still get back on that track, but major injuries have put what once were superstar careers into question. Wall is known for his speed, yet now has to prove he still has it after one of the most devastating injuries an athlete can suffer. Cousins came back from an Achilles tear himself, but now has to deal with a torn ACL. Though the success rate of ACL recoveries is high these days, most who go through it aren't 6-foot-11 and 280 pounds.
The difference between Wall and Cousins, as many will note, is that Wall has a more secure financial future. He suffered these injuries after he signed a supermax contract worth $170 million over four years, a deal that doesn't start until this upcoming season.
It is guaranteed money, so he is set. He has already made $108 million in his career and by the end of this contract will have brought in about $198 million in total.
Cousins, on the other hand, has missed out on tons of money by getting injured. He tore his Achilles just months before he was due to hit free agency for the first time. He could have signed a contract well north of $100 million, but after the injuries had to settle for $9 million in total across two years.
At their peak, Wall and Cousins were both top-10 NBA players. But by the time they return to the NBA, they will come back having essentially lost three years of their prime. No matter how much money they have made, that is a shame.
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