WASHINGTON -- Turns out there is a familiar refrain when you ask NBA players who recovered from torn Achilles injuries about the rehab process and its biggest challenges. Spurs forward Rudy Gay brought it up, and so did Clippers broadcaster and 17-year NBA veteran Chauncey Billups.
They say it is not just the process of coming back physically. There is a mental hurdle, a very specific one, they had to overcome, and they believe Wizards guard John Wall will have the same experience once he returns to NBA action.
"There's a mental component to it that's really necessary when you're coming back from something like that. You're going to be in that position in which you hurt it 50 to 60 to 70 times in one night. You have to get over that," Billups told NBC Sports Washington.
"You think about it. You think about it all the time. You have to just trust in the work you put in, you have to trust in the science and just know you can't continue to think about it because if you do, you're not going to play your game. It's easier said than done, it really is."
It makes sense. Most injuries in basketball are suffered while running, cutting or jumping. Though Wall technically tore his Achilles while falling in his house, the tendon is going to be tested over and over by every move he makes on the basketball court.
Billups said getting over that can take a long time. He suffered his Achilles tear in 2012 and was back playing in an NBA game 296 days later.
But it took much longer than that to truly get to 100 percent.
"One thing I noticed is that when I came back, I came back at [10 1/2] months. But it took me probably another 10 or 11 months to really feel like myself. I don't think that will happen with John [because] he's a lot younger and his body probably heals a lot quicker than mine did," Billups said.
Billups said his lateral movement and jumping ability were affected the most. Lateral movement is particularly important on defense, especially for a point guard who has to stay in front of some of the quickest athletes on the planet.
As for jumping ability, Wall may have an advantage as he tore his left Achilles and has always been a much better leaper off his right leg. It's why most of his dunks are thrown down using his left hand.
Given Wall was seven years younger than Billups when they suffered their injuries, Billups believes Wall is likely to get most, if not all, of his athleticism back. But he also sees a way Wall can change his game to remain effective even if he never regains his trademark speed.
"I think that John could be a very good post-up type of point guard [because] he's such a good passer and facilitator," Billups said.
"A point guard being down there and being able to pass out of the post, it's tough. Teams don't work on that. I think that's a weapon he can add, especially as he gets older. Naturally, he will slow down and his athleticism will diminish as he gets a lot older, but he can be just as effective if he can develop that," he added.
Just like Wall, Billups tore his Achilles in February. He was back playing in games by late November, so Wall has already taken longer than he did to return. The Wizards have even indicated Wall could miss all of this season due to the injury. And if he returned next year, he would end up taking about 20 months to recover.
Having been through the process himself, Billups can speak to how difficult that could end up being for Wall, to just sit out and wait patiently even if he at some point knows he can play.
"That's tough to do when you're a competitor," Billups said. "You miss the game that you love so much. It's my first love. You have an opportunity to feel like you're back after all the work that you put in, man. To feel like I can get out here and help my guys who are struggling? They're doubling Bradley Beal and they've got a young guy [in Rui Hachimura] showing some promise, it's tough to just kind of sit that out and wait and say 'when's the right time?'"
The Wizards appear intent on giving Wall extra time to heal and, it should be noted, they have a major financial investment in his future. This is the first season of his four-year, $170 million supermax contract. It might be worth punting on the first year if it ensures they get something out of the final three.
Whenever he does return, Billups has high hopes for the five-time All-Star.
"I have no doubt that John Wall is going to come back and be dominant," Billups said.
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