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Wall Week: What Kobe Bryant and other famous NBA Achilles injuries can teach us about John Wall’s recovery

Wall Week: What Kobe Bryant and other famous NBA Achilles injuries can teach us about John Wall’s recovery

This week is Wall Week at NBC Sports Washington. We are rolling out content each day centering around the Wizards' five-time All-Star point guard. Today, we examine how other NBA players have recovered from a ruptured left Achilles...

Wizards guard John Wall is now roughly seven months into his recovery from a ruptured left Achilles, which by most historical measures means he is more than half-way through his rehab. The Wizards, though, have indicated he could miss all of next season. If that scenario plays out, he is only about a third of the way towards returning to action in an NBA game.

There has been a wide variance in recovery times for ruptured Achilles injuries in the past. Most players have taken about 10 to 11 months off. But the time of recovery hasn't necessarily correlated with how successful a player has been once they returned.

Some of the best success stories have involved players returning in 10 months or less. Some of the worst-case scenarios have involved players taking a year or longer.

Here is a breakdown of some of the more notable cases of NBA players tearing their Achilles, including the time they took to recover and how they played following their return...

Kobe Bryant

When: March 2013, Age 34
Recovery time: 240 days
Before: 25.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.8 apg, 45.4 FG%, 33.6 3PT%
After: 18.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.9 apg, 36.6 FG%, 28.5 3PT%

Given he was 34 at the time of the injury, it was predictable Bryant would not return as the same player. Most interesting as it pertains to Wall, though, may be the fact Bryant returned to play only six games the following season. He could have sat out the entire year, but chose to play a handful of games even though the Lakers were en route to a 27-55 finish. Wall and the Wizards may have to face a similar decision in the spring of 2020.

DeMarcus Cousins

When: Jan. 2018, Age 27
Recovery time: 357 days
Before: 21.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 3.2 apg, 46 FG%, 33.8 3PT%
After: 16.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.6 apg, 48 FG%, 27.4 3PT%

Cousins is a guy Wall will likely lean on throughout his recovery, as he just went through it. The two were college teammates and remain good friends. Cousins, though, is not exactly a success story. Though he returned to play well for the Warriors last season, he subsequently tore his quad and then his ACL. Whether those injuries are related to the Achilles tear is not clear, but the whole saga is something Wall would certainly hope to avoid.

Dominique Wilkins

When: Jan. 1992, Age 32
Recovery time: 283 days
Before: 26.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.6 apg, 46.9 FG%, 29.7 3PT%
After: 21.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 43.9 FG%, 33.9 3PT%

Wilkins may be the best testimonial for recovering from Achilles surgery. He suffered the injury in his 30s and 27 years ago when sports medicine wasn't as advanced, yet he came back to make two more All-Star and All-NBA teams. He also did so after taking fewer than 10 months off. Wilkins later said this of why he was able to return at such a high level:

“When I came back, people had their doubts, they said I was done and my career was over, but I came back and had my best all-around season of my career,” Wilkins said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “It just depends on the person and how driven they are.”

Wesley Matthews

When: March 2015, Age 28
Recovery time: 237
Before: 14.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 44.3 FG%, 39.3 3PT%
After: 12.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.4 apg, 39.6 FG%, 36.8 3PT%

Like Wall, Matthews is a guard and he tore his Achilles at the age of 28. He suffered the injury in March and returned in time for the start of the next season. Fewer than eight months had passed before he was back in an NBA game. Though that could offer optimism for Wall, Matthews hasn't quite been the same player, at least statistically. His efficiency numbers have dropped off.

Rudy Gay

When: Jan. 2017, Age 30
Recovery time: 273 days
Before: 18.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.3 apg, 45.2 FG%, 34.5 3PT%
After: 12.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 49 FG%, 36.8 3PT%

Gay offers one of the best examples of a player who has returned from an Achilles tear. Though he hasn't scored at the same volume that he once did, he is a more efficient player now and a key component of a good Spurs team. Gay has adjusted his game now that he isn't the high-flyer that he once was. Wall may have to evolve a bit himself, depending on how the injury affects his speed.

Chauncey Billups

When: Feb. 2012, Age 35
Recovery time: 296 days
Before: 15.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 2.9 rpg, 41.6 FG%, 38.9 3PT%
After: 6.2 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.5 rpg, 36.5 FG%, 34.1 3PT%

Billups' Achilles injury happened so late in his career that he could have retired, yet he decided to come back to play two more seasons. He only managed to play 41 total games those two years and didn't log nearly as many minutes. The hope with Wall, also a point guard, is that his relative youth will give him a better chance of returning to All-Star form.

Elton Brand

When: Aug. 2007, Age 28
Recovery time: 243 days
Before: 20.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.7 apg, 50.5 FG%, 15.4 3PT%
After: 10.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.2 apg, 48.9 FG%, 0.0 3PT%

Brand returned to play eight more seasons, but was nowhere near the same player. He was a bit undersized for a big man to begin with and losing a step didn't help. The ominous sign to take away from Brand's recovery is that he was 28, the same age as Wall. And he later explained exactly what was missing when he came back:

“I didn’t have the same explosiveness that I had. … I didn’t have it. I had to change my game a little bit where I jumped off two feet, and I was a little bit slower," he said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Brandon Jennings

When: Jan. 2015, Age 26
Recovery time: 339 days
Before: 16.6 ppg, 6.2 apg, 3.2 rpg, 39.1 FG%, 35.1 3PT%
After: 6.9 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.3 rpg, 36.3 FG%, 31.6 3PT%

Jennings was an exciting score-first point guard in his 20s when he suffered the injury, just like Wall. And Jennings ended up having a recovery that was on the longer side, as Wall expects to have himself. But unfortunately for Jennings, he was never the same player again. He appeared in only 143 more NBA games (23 with the Wizards in 2016-17) and most recently played in Russia. Jennings lost a step and couldn't adjust his game properly to compensate.

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Dwight Howard trade a step toward resetting Wizards' culture

Dwight Howard trade a step toward resetting Wizards' culture

The Wizards are attempting to change the culture of their organization and few things symbolize that better these days than trading Dwight Howard.

By now, he is used to it. This is the third straight time a new front office architect has promptly traded Howard soon after taking over their post. It happened to him in Atlanta, then Charlotte and now Washington with Tommy Sheppard, who is currently running the Wizards with an interim tag.

The Wizards shipped Howard to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday for veteran forward C.J. Miles. It was yet another move that signals the Wizards are undergoing a significant makeover, one that is showing all the signs of a franchise rebuild.

Howard could have helped them this upcoming season, at least in theory. They need rebounding and defense and those are his two best selling points. Even coming off a back injury, he could have been of use.

But now Howard exits after playing only nine games with the Wizards. They are tearing their roster down to the studs and Howard makes that process nearly complete.

The Wizards now have a team headlined by John Wall and Bradley Beal that is flush with young players and veterans on short-term contracts. They have financial flexibility moving forward and cheap players with upside.

The roster has been overhauled and it's notable that Sheppard remains in charge. Owner Ted Leonsis continues to let Sheppard guide the Wizards through the meat of the offseason while he is conducting a search that could lead to his replacement.

At this point, given all he has already done this offseason, it seems like Sheppard is either going to be given the job long-term, or he's being tasked with cleaning the slate for someone else to take over. The latter would be an unusual route to take.

Regardless, the direction of the franchise is becoming clear. The Wizards are favoring their long-term outlook over competing next season. They appear to see Wall's injury as reason to take a step back in hopes of taking two steps forward.

By getting Howard out of town, they will pave the way for Thomas Bryant to start. He re-signed this week on a three-year deal. At 21 years old, he is the future and will have a good opportunity to develop.

All of this, though, makes one piece of news from this week even more interesting. The Washington Post reported the Wizards have spoken to free agent DeMarcus Cousins. It was described as a casual conversation, but quickly ignited Wizards fans who have long called for the team to sign him.

Signing Cousins would flip much of what the Wizards have done in recent weeks on its head. He is someone who would make them better in the short-term, get in the way of Bryant's development and raise questions about their culture. Though he was by all accounts on good behavior in Golden State, he has a reputation for contributing to locker room dysfunction, fair or not.

The Wizards had been trying to move on from Howard for weeks. On Friday, they made it happen.

Their goals this offseason are becoming increasingly obvious. But will they stay the course?

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A revitalized DeMarcus Cousins poses the most unique challenge of Thomas Bryant’s young career

A revitalized DeMarcus Cousins poses the most unique challenge of Thomas Bryant’s young career

The Golden State Warriors, it's probably safe to say, present a unique challenge defensively. They have two MVPs and five All-NBA selections. If you ask Scott Brooks, they have six future Hall of Famers, including Andre Iguodala off the bench.

With DeMarcus Cousins now in the fold, the Warriors can roll out a five-man lineup of guys who can put the ball on the floor and shoot from the outside. Long range shooting for them, of course, has a different meaning than other teams. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant are deadly from 30 feet, and sometimes beyond. 

As a team, the Warriors shoot 39 percent from the perimeter on 33.5 attempts per game. Stopping them is a gargantuan task, but the Wizards will give it a shot on Thursday night with an 8 p.m. tipoff set for national TV on TNT.

The Warriors' ability to spread the floor and move the ball from shooter to shooter with unrivaled range is difficult to keep up with, not only for the wing defenders chasing them around. It will also present a unique challenge for Wizards center Thomas Bryant, who at 21 years old and in his second season will be new to it all.

Bryant has only played the Warriors once in his career. That was earlier this season, with the Wizards on Oct. 24. He logged nine minutes, but those were late in a 22-point blowout loss. The game occurred about a month before he was promoted to the starting lineup.

It may seem counterintuitive that Bryant, a big man, will be one to watch as the Wizards battle a team tailored for the perimeter. But he will have plenty of responsibility on the backline of Washington's defense. 

"He has to be a quarterback," Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. "He has to talk. Their bigs, they hand the ball off a lot and we'll be switching tomorrow. He has to make sure he's able to guard Steph, Klay, K.D. at times. He's going to be switched out to guys. Making it difficult for them with his length and playing with energy, that's what we need."

Bryant, indeed, could very easily find himself on an island at the three-point line, tasked momentarily to stay in front of Curry, for instance. The Warriors will do their best to find mismatches, and they are good at getting them.

Bryant has quick feet and long arms that suggest he can guard in space, but doesn't do a ton of perimeter duty for the Wizards. He is 85th among centers in contested threes per 36 minutes. Usually, he stays home around the rim.

However, he'll almost certainly have to venture out against Golden State, even if he is trailing Cousins. Last season, when he was healthy, Cousins averaged 6.1 three-point attempts per game. This season, through two games back from Achilles surgery, he has taken 40 percent of his shots beyond 16 feet.

"They put so much pressure on you defensively that all five guys need to be on-point," Brooks said. "A lot of times in transition, Thomas is going to be guarding smaller guys because they're coming at you all over the floor. You have to be able to manage that and guard that."

Bryant will get his chance against the Warriors, but the leash could end up being short. Brooks has the option to go small with Jeff Green at center. He could favor a lineup with Green in the middle alongside Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter Jr. at forward and Beal and Tomas Satoransky at guard. That would maximize their ability to switch.

Bryant, though, will start. Whether he stays on the floor could depend on how he fares defending outside shots, which he hasn't done a whole of this season.

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