Could John Wall’s Latest Injury Threaten His Career?

February 6, 2019 | insideinjuries | No Comments john wall knee injury

The Story

John Wall’s season was already over when news broke on Tuesday that he suffered a torn left Achilles tendon. He will undergo surgery and is expected to miss a minimum of 12 months. He was already out for the rest of the season.

Wall underwent surgery last month to address a chronic heel problem. The debridement procedure was expected to come with a 6-8 month recovery time, so he would have had a chance to be ready at the start of next season. Unfortunately he could now miss the entire 2019-20 season.

While at his home recovering from surgery, Wall slipped and fell, rupturing his left Achilles tendon. The injury was discovered when he went in for a follow-up procedure to address an infection in the incision. He may not have known at the time that he suffered a new injury because this is very close to the initial heel injury location, and he was likely already dealing with a lot of pain.

Wall’s History

Wall had a history of tendinitis in that left leg and recently had heel surgery, so there was a lot going on. When a player has Achilles tendinitis they are more susceptible to a ruptured tendon, and that’s exactly what happened. Everything around the ankle was weaker due to his past heel and Achilles problems, and on top of that he was experiencing weakened leg muscles following surgery.

Wall had played 32 games this season, averaging 20.7 points and 8.7 assists. He played just 41 games last season due to surgery on his left knee. He also underwent surgery on both knees in 2016, injuries that will further complicate his recovery. It’s always a red flag when a guy has had this many serious lower body injuries.

Recovery Time

We have seen time and time again how difficult it is for an NBA player to fully recover from a torn Achilles tendon. The minimum recovery time is around 9 months, but it takes most players 12-18 months to get back on the court and even longer to feel like they are close to 100%.

Wall is 28 right now, but he will be 30 if he returns for the 2020-21 season. In general, the older the player the tougher the recovery.

There are so many other factors that go into a player’s recovery and success upon return, including everything from size and position to style of play to injury history. There are quite a few factors that aren’t in his favor, most notably his injury history.

Future Expectations

Surgery for a torn Achilles and the rehab process that goes along with it have improved significantly in recent years. This injury was once often a career-ender, but now many players are able to return and have a successful career, although many see a dip in production or a shortened career. Expect that to be the case with Wall. Here’s a look at a few recent players who have suffered an Achilles tendon tear (although most don’t have the concerning history of lower body surgeries that Wall is going to have to overcome).

DeMarcus Cousins

  • Tore Achilles in January 2018
  • Returned in 11.5 months
  • So far he is averaging 22.7 minutes per game, but the more minutes he plays the higher his risk of injury.
  • Our in-depth analysis shows that in his 11th or 12th NBA season (2019-20 or 2020-21) he will start to experience a significant drop in his production.
  • 2018-19 stats: 14.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG
  • Current Injury Risk: Elevated – 16%

Elton Brand

  • Tore Achilles in August 2007
  • Played 8 seasons following his injury
  • His numbers were still solid, but they never returned to his pre-injury form
  • Before the injury he was a 20 point, 10 rebound player. This dropped to around 15-8 (or worse some seasons) for the rest of his career

Rudy Gay

  • Tore Achilles in January 2017
  • Returned in 9 months
  • Before the injury he averaged 34 minutes per game. In the last two seasons he has averaged 21.6 MPG (2017-18) and 27.2 MPG (2018-19)
  • While he is still productive, his points per game and steals per game have also dropped in the last two seasons

Kobe Bryant

  • Tore Achilles in March 2013
  • He was 34 years old and already past his prime but still a difference-maker
  • Returned in 8 months
  • Bryant dealt with various other injuries following Achilles surgery but played three more seasons
  • Across the board his stats dropped, averaging 19 PPG and and 37% shooting

Final Thoughts

While most players under 30 years old are able to return to the court within 12 months following a torn Achilles, expect Wall’s recovery to take longer. A surgery date hasn’t been set yet, and it could be delayed until the infection in his heel heals and he has made enough progress from the first surgery. Wall has also had problems with both knees, Achilles tendinitis and chronic problems, all of which will work against him. The Wizards signed him to a 4-year, $170 million max contract, so they will want to take a cautious approach and ensure that he is fully recovered before taking the court again. He could fall into the High Injury Risk category for the rest of his career.