Bottom line: Expect him to return at the beginning of the 2020-21 season. Reports on his progress are positive, but decreases in performance levels and games played upon return have been seen in multiple NBA studies for the first few years after Achilles rupture. Biomechanical data suggests that he may lose some calf strength, which is likely to negatively affect his defensive game. Few players exist who are comparable to Durant, and he may prove to be an outlier. Based on his style of play, combined with his shooting ability and high shot release point, we anticipate continued effectiveness on the offensive end.
Injury: Achilles rupture
Date of Injury: 6/10/19
Date of Surgery: 6/12/19
Analysis in Detail:
Return to Play
60-70% of NBA players return after Achilles rupture at an average of 10.5 months postoperatively. The Nets and Durant have consistently said that he will not return for the 2019-20 season, but he appears on track for the start of 2020-21.
Multiple studies in NBA players found performance declines of ~3-5 in PER (~20-25% of the included players’ pre-injury baseline) that were sustained 2 years after injury. One small study reported rebounds, steals, and blocks per game to be most negatively impacted. Data indicates that calf strength may be decreased ~15%, which would likely most affect his quickness and ability to make rapid, reactive movements, such as those required on defense. However, his height and shooting accuracy lead us to expect a continue high level of play offensively.
The injury is associated with a decrease in number of games played and career length, but those findings may reflect declines in performance rather than repeat injury. We don’t expect this to be a recurrent issue for Durant, and therefore have low level of durability concerns upon his return.
Image Source: Oskar Pilch, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0