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Achilles injuries can be devastating. In most cases, they’re career-altering. In some instances, they’re career-ending.
John Wall shouldn’t be at risk of falling into the latter category. So much of his game is rooted in speed and burst, but he’ll offset some of whatever athletic deficit he suffers with high-IQ passing.
Still, he hasn’t played since basically Christmas 2018. When he returns in 2020-21, he’ll have missed at least half of the Washington Wizards’ games in three consecutive years. Left knee injuries cost him a chunk of 2017-18, and most of the last two seasons were ruined by his torn left Achilles.
Predicting what Wall looks like in the aftermath is futile. His age and stardom might safeguard him to some extent, but the track record of players recovering from Wall’s injury isn’t great. As the New York Post‘s Marc Berman wrote after speaking with Northwestern University’s Dr. Anish Kadakia, a leading Achilles expert, about Kevin Durant’s ruptured Achilles:
“According to Kadakia, 68 percent return and 32 percent never play again. Further, it takes until the second season back for the player to return to his normal ability, taking into consideration ‘aged matched controls,’ he said.
“‘Very few players play past two seasons,’ Kadakia told The Post. ‘Two seasons and that’s it. But after two years and you’re still playing, studies show you’ll be as good as you’d be as if you didn’t rupture—factoring in decline with age. You probably haven’t lost anything but time. But in three years, it’s not the same Durant from three weeks ago.'”
This timeline, or something similar, isn’t hopeless. But it does put the Wizards in a bind.
They bought themselves a cushion by extending Bradley Beal. They can see how Wall fares at the beginning of next year and reevaluate their position heading into the 2021 trade deadline. If they’re not fit to contend by then or don’t see themselves hitting that apex in the near future, they can still maximize Beal’s value by flipping him with a season-and-a-half left on his deal.
But that doesn’t give the Wizards a ton of time. If they can’t know what version of the 29-year-old Wall they’re having for another year or more, they’ll have to decide between keeping their two-star core intact and starting over, presumably by trading Beal, without having the full picture in view.
Franchise trajectories don’t get more tenuous.