After the injury, Kevin Durant is still great and we need to talk about this more

When athletes tear their Achilles, they usually never look the same. Some retire, some sit out the rest of their careers after being starters, but some find a way to become…better than they were before their injury?

It’s not talked about enough, but Kevin Durant’s recovery from his torn Achilles that he suffered in 2019 NBA finals has been nothing short of remarkable. In 137 regular-season games since the injury, the University of Texas product found a way to get even better. With an average of several points per game, better shot splits and more assists, Durant has proved all the prognosticators wrong who thought he could never be the same.

To help contextualize just how truly remarkable his comeback has been, I was lucky enough to catch up with Dr. Nirav Pandya, an associate professor at the University of California San Francisco and 95.7 The Game’s Injury Analyst.

When asked how Durant’s recovery would have been different if his injury happened 10 years earlier, Dr. Pandya: “Achilles recovery has advanced significantly over the last decade. The surgical techniques have become less invasive, the repairs have become stronger, and (most importantly) the rehabilitation after surgery has become more advanced.” Therefore, “athletes can limit some of the major problems with this injury, such as stiffness and weakness.”

“The one player who came back to a high level after this type of injury was Dominique Wilkins, who I think was 32 when he suffered the injury,” said Dr. Pandya when he mentioned other players who have suffered torn Achilles in the past. “He returned to a high level the following year, which was quite remarkable given his vertical style of play and the fact that it was several decades ago. Klay Thompson would be the other example of a player who returned close to his previous form after suffering this injury.”

Because of Dr. Pandya’s close following Golden State Warriorswas he able to compare how both Durant and Klay Thompson have both recovered from the same injury in recent years.

“They both spent a good amount of time making sure their bodies were ready to return to play. Many athletes try to rush back, but extra time working on strength, flexibility and endurance can make a huge impact over the long term. Both players had stretches in their comebacks where they matched or exceeded their previous year’s stats, something you simply don’t see very often with players coming from [sic] an Achilles injury. “

While Durant immediately made a strong impression immediately upon returning from his gruesome injury, he has proven to be a departure from the norm.

“Most data from NBA players shows that [sic] there will be career-long changes in the player’s efficiency rating, minutes played/game and games started. In addition, it can take 2-3 years after the injury before athletes finally feel somewhat “normal”. Some may never get back to the same level (which is more common).”

“The prolonged rehabilitation is grueling and the difficulty in regaining explosiveness/flexibility can be tough on athletes,” said Dr. Pandya when discussing the hardest part of recovering from a torn Achilles. “In addition, the mental part of the rehabilitation process (the fear of tearing the Achilles tendon again) can be difficult for many athletes to overcome. Additionally, it can be difficult to avoid secondary damage caused by your mechanics being altered; especially early in the recovery period.”

When he was on JJ Redick’s podcast last year, The Old Man and the Three, Durant talked in detail about his rehab process and cited some of the trials and tribulations he went through while recovering.

“I went through my Achilles. I had a lot of those days where I felt like my jumper was fine and then it would feel a bit off here and then I went, I remember taking a break for my birthday , I was in Cabo and I swear I didn’t feel good cause I was like F*** Like I can’t believe what’s going on with me basically like I shoot the sh** left I go just right, I really thought about this and I had to, it’s like questions you ask yourself am I too involved in this shit?’

Like all great players, Durant is measured mostly by the number of wins he has achieved in his career. But sometimes we just talk about the games that the players win or lose. When it comes to his achievements in the rehabilitation process, he should be considered a champion. Just as many of his critics like to point out that “not all rings are worth the same,” not all playoff performances should be evaluated equally either.

The Slim Reaper deserves a lot more credit than he’s gotten for some of his recent playoff performances, especially his two spectacular performances against the Bucks in 2021. With James Harden seriously injured and Kyrie Irving completely unavailable, Durant put the Nets on his shoulders, almost single-handedly defeats the future champion Milwaukee Bucks. Playing 95% of the final three games of the series, Durant turned in historic performances in Games 5 and 7, scoring 49 and 48 points, respectively, and making one of the best shots in recent NBA history, and maybe if his shoe size were half size shorter, he would have three rings right now instead of two.

Many Phoenix Suns fans may be a bit disappointed with the team’s performance this past postseason. Every game against the Clippers felt like a nail-biter, even though Phoenix won in 5. It took two heroic performances from Devin Booker and Kevin Durant to pull off wins against Denver, all only to be humiliated again in an elimination game at the Footprint Center, second years in a row. For this upcoming season, however, Durant is having his most consistent offseason since his final year in Golden State, and he will look to continue to build on the impressive resume he has put together since his injury.

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