As we await the MRI results on the right Achilles tendon of Kevin Durant, one thing we already know is that severe Achilles injuries are generally very difficult to recover from. Most athletes who suffer an Achilles tear return to their sport as a lesser version of themselves. Below is a survey of exactly how badly Achilles tears have affected athletes across four sports.
DeMarcus Cousins, Pelicans: Injured Jan. 27, 2018, age 27, returned (with Warriors), Jan. 18, 2019
Stats before injury: 535 games, 21.5 points, 11.0 rebounds
Stats after injury: 30 games, 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds
In Cousins’ first season back from the injury, he ended up smack in the middle of the NBA Finals. Cousins slowly but surely began to look like his former self, but it’s unclear if he’ll return all the way to his former dominance.
Rudy Gay, Kings: Injured Jan. 18, 2017, age 30, returned (with Spurs), Oct.18, 2017
Stats before injury: 753 games, 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds
Stats after injury: 126 games, 12.7 games, 6.0 rebounds
The injury to Gay turned him from a near All-Star level scorer to role player on the San Antonio Spurs. Gay has yet to regain his form, and it doesn’t look like it’s coming back.
Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers: Injured March 5, 2015, age 28, returned (with Mavericks), Oct. 28, 2015
Stats before injury: 441 games, 14.3 points, 3.1 rebounds
Stats after injury: 283 games, 12.7 points, 3.4 rebounds
If Kevin Durant is searching for optimism, he should start with Wesley Matthews. While Matthews was never a star, he was always an above average player, which is exactly what he returned to being after the injury.
Brandon Jennings, Pistons: Injured Jan. 24, 2015, age 25, returned (in D-League) Dec. 17, 2015
Stats before injury: 412 games, 16.6 points, 6.2 assists,
Stats after injury: 143 games, 6.9 points, 4.3 assists
Jennings was one of the more promising young talents in the NBA at the time of his injury. In his time with both Milwaukee and Detroit, the point guard put up respectable numbers. Jennings returned as a fringe D-Leaguer and NBA 12th man, and has been out of the NBA since 2018.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers: Injured April 12, 2013, age 34, returned Dec. 18, 2013
Stats before injury: 1,239 games, 25.0 points, 5.3 rebounds
Stats after injury: 107 games, 18.9 points, 4.4 rebounds
The Black Mamba as we knew him was gone after his injury. Bryant was averaging 27.3 points the season he was injured, which was one of his most efficient seasons. Bryant barely played the three seasons after the Achilles injury, as it essentially ended his career.
Chauncey Billups, Clippers: Injured Feb. 6, 2012, age 35, returned Nov. 28, 2012
Stats before injury: 1,002 games, 15.5 points, 5.5 assists
Stats after injury: 41 games, 6.2 points, 2.2 assists
Billups was still an effective player before his injury. The guard was scoring 15.0 points per game for the Clippers, but then he went down and hardly ever played again.
Elton Brand, Clippers: Injured Aug. 3 2007, age 28, returned April 2, 2008
Stats before injury: 606 games, 20.3 points, 10.2 rebounds
Stats after injury: 452 games, 10.0 points, 6.3 rebounds
This injury shaped the majority of Brand’s career. He went from two-time All-Star to solid role player in the blink of an eye. The former No. 1 overall pick was never the same.
Patrick Ewing, Knicks: Injured June 1, 1999, age 36, returned Dec. 10, 1999
Stats before injury: 977 games, 23.2 points, 10.3 rebounds
Stats after injury: 206 games, 9.6 points, 7.0 rebounds
New York fans remember this one all too well. Ewing was forced to watch the Knicks lose to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 NBA Finals. Ewing’s career was coming to a close prior to the injury, but this sped up the process.
Dominique Wilkins, Hawks: Injured Jan. 28, 1992, age 32, returned Nov. 6, 1992
Stats before injury: 762 games, 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds
Stats after injury: 312 games, 25.2 points, 6.8 rebounds
For the 30-year-old Kevin Durant, the case of Wilkens should be the thing that helps him sleep at night. Two years older and playing the same position in an era with less advanced sports medicine, Wilkens returned to be nearly exactly the player he was pre-torn Achilles. It probably wouldn’t hurt KD to find out exactly what Wilkins did during his rehab and who performed his surgery.
Elgin Baylor, Lakers: Injured Nov. 27, 1970, age 36, returned Oct. 15, 1971
Stats before injury: 837 games, 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds
Stats after injury: 9 games, 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds
Baylor suffered his injury seven years before the first MRI was performed on a human. The injury ended the NBA legend’s career.
Zack Britton, Orioles: Injured Dec. 2017, age 30, returned June 12, 2018
Stats before injury: 290 games, 29-22 record, 3.22 ERA, 135 saves, 410 strikeouts, 7.4 K/9
Stats after injury: 70 games, 4-1 win-loss record, 3.00 ERA, 9 saves, 59 strikeouts, 7.7 K/9
Britton has returned to his form as the setup man for the New York Yankees.
Ryan Howard, Phillies: Injured Oct. 8, 2011, age 32, returned July 6, 2012
Stats before injury: 1,027 games, .275/.368/.560, 286 home runs, 864 RBI
Stats after injury: 545 games, .226/.292/.427, 96 home runs, 330 RBI
The Achilles tear essentially ended Howard’s career as we knew it. The former NL MVP never put up the same type of eye-popping numbers again.
Gabe Kapler, Red Sox: Injured Sept. 15, 2005, age 29, returned June 17, 2006
Stats before injury: 778 games, .271/.330/.421, 62 home runs, 290 RBI
Stats after injury: 326 games, .257/.327/.416, 20 home runs, 96 RBI
The current Phillies manager played up until 2010 after his injury.
Dez Bryant, Saints: Injured Nov 9, 2018, age 30, has not returned
Bryant came back for literally one practice with the Saints, and tore his Achilles. It remains to be seen if he will come back.
Jason Peters, Eagles: Injured May 15, 2012, age 30, returned Sept. 9, 2013
Peters has had an outstanding career before and after his injuries.
Richard Sherman, Seahawks: Injured Nov 10, 2017, age 29, returned with 49ers, Sept. 9, 2018
The trash-talking Sherman returned to the field not nearly as effective as he once was.
Erik Karlsson, Ottowa Senators: Injured Feb. 13, 2013, age 22, returned Oct. 10, 2013