Will Kevin Durant be the same player when returning from rupturing his Achilles Tendon? Will he be on the court next year? These are all questions basketball fans are asking after Kevin Durant’s injury on Monday, June 10th during Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
With a tear as severe as this, it is typically managed surgically in order to return to a high level of play. There are multiple different options for surgical techniques, and he went to the best in the business, the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
So why is this such a serious injury? It is because Durant sustained a grade three Achilles tendon tear, which means there are no parts of the tendon still attached, it is completely torn and cannot act to plantarflex (point down) the ankle to allow push-off during walking, running, jumping or any other activity.
In a contract year, this could be a huge blow for Durant’s career, but could this be the end of his career? In the past, there have been some high profile players, such as Kobe Bryant, who sustained this injury and came back post-surgery nowhere near the same level of play as before the injury.
A recent study cited 18 players from the years of 1988- 2011 that sustained Achilles tendon ruptures. Of those 18, seven never returned to the NBA . Of the 60% that did return to the league, on average, 56 games were missed before return. Also those players efficiency ratings, minutes played, PPG and FG% were all decreased at two years following initial return according to this study and a recent CBS article.
What is important to note is that many of the most well-known names you see on the list of recent players with this injury are ones that were in their early to mid-30s, and more or less past their “primes”. Names such as Chauncy Billups (2012 age 35), Kobe Bryant(2013, age 34) and Anderson Varejo (2014, age 32) .
So are there success stories? Could KD come back and continue to be dominant? In short, yes, but everyone is different and we won’t know until it happens. However, complete Achilles ruptures have not been kind to NBA players in recent years as shown above.
Durant’s own teammate, Demarcus Cousins tore his Achilles last year and hasn’t yet been back to his old self since. It is important to note he is filling a different role with the Golden State Warriors since leaving the Pelicans in free agency, however, he has seen his rebound and PPG statistics drop nearly in half compared to his pre-injury numbers. Now comparatively Demarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant are very different players, with different in-game demands.
What makes KD’s case interesting is his younger age and relevant dominance in recent years compared to other players that have had this injury. We would all like to hope for a recovery such as Dominique Wilkins’ in 1992. At the time leading up to his Achilles injury, he was one of the league’s most dominant players and prolific scorers, having averages of 26-30 PPG in the five seasons leading up to his injury. (Kevin Durant’s Career PPG: 27) In the two seasons following his recovery, Wilkins continued to average 28 PPG and did not see a significant decline in rebounds, FG%. or minutes played.
So what are the determinants between those who make a good recovery from this injury and those who don’t? At the current time, there haven’t been enough success stories to determine predictive characteristics for who will do well and who will never play again.
Regarding general tissue healing, younger age tends to be a good predictive factor for recovery. In addition, the psychological aspects of being sidelined for likely an entire year must be considered and addressed.
Lastly, the type of play must be considered. The demands on the Achilles tendon and lower leg/foot and ankle from strength, power, and motor control perspectives of an outside scorer are different from that of a point guard, which are different from that of a primarily inside player. Due to Kevin Durant’s high level of technical ability and skill as well as his stature, we believe he will be able to adapt his style of play upon return and continue to be a dominant force in the NBA.
With that being said there is always the potential for complications that must be considered in surgical rehabilitation, however, as a high profile and gifted player, Durant will more likely than not make a successful come back if everything goes smoothly.
It is possible with his free agency that he steps into a new role with a new team the next time he steps on the court. Since we expect being traded can cause a dip in production initially, this may impact return to play numbers for Durant. He will also likely have to alter the way he plays and find new ways to be effective, potentially using his length or settling for perimeter shots more frequently. But no matter what team or role he lands in, we would expect to see Kevin Durant playing high-level NBA basketball in the future.