Kevin Durant and the unfortunate history of Achilles injuries in the NBA

Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, which is an injury that has historically required roughly eight months to a year’s worth of rehabilitation just for players to get back on the court.

Durant will be a free agent in the meantime, and as we reported here earlier in the week, multiple teams are still expected to offer him a max contract this summer, including the incumbent Golden State Warriors and long-rumored New York Knicks.

This, despite the fact that he may not play a single game in the 2019-20 campaign. Suitors will hold out hope that Durant can return to superstar form in 2020-21, when the 7-footer will turn 32 just prior to the season. That’s a risky proposition, since it would defy everything we know about NBA players and Achilles tears.

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

Specialists have speculated that Durant may never be the same, but we don’t need them to tell us this. Of the 20 documented Achilles tears in the NBA over the past 15 years, it is difficult to find a single player who ever approached his pre-injury performance again. There are many more cases in the years and decades prior, and yet the wonders of modern medicine have done little to restore players any better.

Here are the 10 highest-profile cases of Achilles ruptures this century:

Warriors superstar Kevin Durant will try to defy the odds of Achilles injuries. (Getty Images)
Warriors superstar Kevin Durant will try to defy the odds of Achilles injuries. (Getty Images)

Elton Brand (2007)

Age at injury: 28

Absence: 8 months (Aug. 3, 2007 to April 2, 2008)

Pre-injury season stats ...

2006-07 (80 games): 38.5 MPG, 20.5 PPG (58.1 TS%), 9.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 23.1 PER

Best post-injury season ...

2010-11 (81 games): 34.7 MPG, 15.0 PPG (55.3 TS%), 8.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 18.5 PER

Last NBA game: 2016

***

Mehmet Okur (2010)

Age at injury: 30

Absence: 8 months (April 17, 2010 to Dec. 17, 2010)

Pre-injury season stats ...

2009-10 (73 games): 29.4 MPG, 13.5 PPG (56.1 TS%), 7.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 15.6 PER

Best post-injury season ...

2011-12 (17 games): 26.7 MPG, 7.6 PPG (46.0 TS%), 4.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 8.4 PER

Last NBA game: 2012

***

Chauncey Billups (2012)

Age at injury: 35

Absence: 9 months (Feb. 6, 2012 to Nov. 28, 2012)

Pre-injury season stats ...

2010-11 (72 games): 32.1 MPG, 16.8 PPG (61.7 TS%), 2.6 RPG, 5.4 APG, 18.7 PER

Best post-injury season ...

2011-12 (20 games): 30.4 MPG, 15.0 PPG (55.4 TS%), 2.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 16.1 PER

Last NBA game: 2014

***

Kobe Bryant (2013)

Age at injury: 34

Absence: 8 months (April 12, 2013 to Dec. 8, 2013)

Pre-injury season stats ...

2012-13 (78 games): 38.6 MPG, 27.3 PPG (57.0 TS%), 5.6 RPG, 6.0 APG, 23.0 PER

Best post-injury season ...

2014-15 (35 games): 34.5 MPG, 22.3 PPG (47.7 TS%), 5.7 RPG, 5.6 APG, 17.6 PER

Last NBA game: 2016

***

Anderson Varejao (2014)

Age at injury: 32

Absence: 10 months (Dec. 23, 2014 to Oct. 27, 2015)

Pre-injury season stats ...

2013-14 (65 games): 27.7 MPG, 8.4 PPG (52.7 TS%), 9.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, 17.0 PER

Best post-injury season ...

2015-16 (53 games): 9.4 MPG, 2.6 PPG (47.3 TS%), 2.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, 11.1 PER

Last NBA game: 2017

***

Brandon Jennings (2015)

Age at injury: 25

Absence: 11 months (Jan. 24, 2015 to Dec. 29, 2015)

Pre-injury season stats ...

2013-14 (80 games): 34.1 MPG, 15.5 PPG (48.6 TS%), 3.1 RPG, 7.6 APG, 15.6 PER

Best post-injury season ...

2016-17 (81 games): 22.2 MPG, 7.1 PPG (47.9 TS%), 2.4 RPG, 4.9 APG, 12.1 PER

Last NBA game: 2018

***

Wesley Matthews (2015)

Age at injury: 28

Absence: 7 months (March 5, 2015 to Oct. 28, 2015)

Pre-injury season stats ...

2013-14 (82 games): 33.9 MPG, 16.4 PPG (58.8 TS%), 3.5 RPG, 2.4 APG, 15.7 PER

Best post-injury season ...

2016-17 (73 games): 34.2 MPG, 13.5 PPG (53.3 TS%), 3.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 11.9 PER

***

Mario Chalmers (2016)

Age at injury: 29

Absence: 19 months (March 9, 2016 to Oct. 18, 2017)

Pre-injury season stats ...

2015-16 (61 games): 22.5 MPG, 10.3 PPG (56.1 TS%), 2.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 17.3 PER

Best post-injury season ...

2017-18 (66 games): 21.5 MPG, 7.7 PPG (50.3 TS%), 2.4 RPG, 3.0 APG, 10.4 PER

Last NBA game: 2018

***

Rudy Gay (2017)

Age at injury: 30

Absence: 9 months (Jan. 15, 2017 to Oct. 18, 2017)

Pre-injury season stats ...

2015-16 (70 games): 34.0 MPG, 17.2 PPG (53.8 TS%), 6.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 15.5 PER

Best post-injury season ...

2018-19 (69 games): 26.7 MPG, 13.7 PPG (58.3 TS%), 6.8 RPG, 2.6 APG, 17.5 PER

***

DeMarcus Cousins (2018)

Age at injury: 27

Absence: 12 months (Jan. 26, 2018 to Jan. 18, 2019)

Pre-injury season stats ...

2017-18 (48 games): 36.2 MPG, 25.2 PPG (58.3 TS%), 12.9 RPG, 5.4 APG, 22.6 PER

Best post-injury season ...

2018-19 (30 games): 25.7 MPG, 16.3 PPG (56.2 TS%), 8.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 21.4 PER

***

J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks and John Wall of the Washington Wizards joined Durant in suffering the same injury this season. Time will tell whether more recent developments in training methods can lead to better outcomes for them. That is also the hope for Cousins, who never looked fully healthy after returning in January.

Many careers have been derailed completely, over within a years of suffering the injury, but we have never been faced with an injury like this — to arguably the game’s greatest player in the prime of his career. Durant’s size and skill separate him from so many of these players, but his athleticism takes all of it to another level.

Who is to say the same attributes that have made Durant one of the 20 greatest players in NBA history will not allow him to overcome the obstacles that have left lesser players to merely chase some semblance of consistency in their returns.

The exception to the rule regarding Achilles ruptures has always been Atlanta Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins, who tore the tendon at the age of 32 on Jan. 28, 1992. The Human Highlight Reel returned less than 10 months later, on opening night of the 1992-93 season, and scored 30 points opposite Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks. He averaged 29.9 points per game — his best production since his age 28 season — on career-high shooting efficiency in an All-NBA campaign.

Wilkins made two more All-Star teams, but when his contract was set to expire for the first time post-injury, the Hawks traded him at the deadline to the Los Angeles Clippers. Wilkins played out his final All-Star season in L.A., signed with the Boston Celtics and saw a precipitous decline in his production as he bounced between European and mercenary NBA stops for the final five years of an illustrious career.

That isn’t the course we saw Durant’s career going into next decade, when we expected him to climb the all-time scoring list and knock legends from the ladder of all-time greats. That exception was also nearly 30 years ago, so here’s hoping KD can defy the odds that suggest he will never play at the height of his powers again.

– – – – – – –

Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

More from Yahoo Sports:

What to Read Next