Hours before the 2020 NBA draft, Golden State Warriors fans received haunting news: Klay Thompson had again hurt himself in what was described as a “lower leg injury”.
Fans, players, and anyone remotely interested in the NBA were all shocked by the news.
The Warriors confirmed later that the injury was indeed an Achilles tear.
The worry is understandable because Thompson is the other half of the ‘Splash Brothers’. His partnership with Steph Curry helped the Warriors win three out of five titles from 2015 to 2019, and his ACL injury last year (along with Kevin Durant’s Achilles) was one of the big reasons that the Dubs didn’t win four rings in five years.
One of the most prolific shooters of all time, Thompson has been an integral part of the Warriors dynasty that has captivated fans worldwide. He was there long before Durant took the ‘hard road’, and his game is perfectly suited for Steve Kerr’s system. His return to the fold was a quiet cause for optimism amongst the Warriors faithful, who were expecting their team to go on a revenge tour after finishing with a league-worst 15-50 in the 2019-20 season.
Let’s not forget that Thompson once scored 37 points in a quarter:
This puts Klay Thompson’s NBA future in question. Some players have come back from ACL tears, and a select few have come back successfully from an Achilles tear. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that has tried to return to a high level of play after suffering both injuries less than two years apart.
While there were already worries about how Thompson would look returning from an ACL injury, some players had shown that it was possible to come back strong. Zach Lavine, for instance, tore his left ACL in 2017 but averaged 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in the 2019-20 season. He is, however, still only 25, while Thompson turns 31 next February.
Kristaps Porzingis, the other half of the Dallas Maverick’s Euro Duo, is another player who seems to have come back strong from an ACL tear. After suffering the injury in 2018, he averaged 20.4 points and 9.8 rebounds last season for the Mavs. Just like Lavine, he’s still only 25.
One of the most famous examples of an ACL tear derailing a promising career is probably Derrick Rose, who went from league MVP to an injury-riddled mess in the span of a couple of seasons. His first big injury was an ACL tear that took him out of the playoffs in 2012, and he was never really the same again. He’s bounced around from team to team, never capturing the brilliance of his MVP campaign. Rose never managed to be too big, too fast, too strong, or too good again.
Rose showed rare flashes of his former brilliance, like his 50-point game in 2018:
The three examples above cover recovery examples from just one of Thompson’s injuries.
His most recent one, the Achilles tear, is even more worrisome for a wing player.
The only player that seems to have retained his powers after an Achilles tear is Dominique Wilkins. The Human Highlight Film got himself hurt in 1992, when he was already 32, but somehow still managed to bounce back and score 28 points and grab seven boards a game in the two seasons following his injury.
The late great Kobe Bryant was another superstar who suffered an Achilles tear, and that happened when he was already 34. While he managed to play a few more seasons, his scoring went on a downturn. It’s hard to say, though, if age was just as big a factor in his decline. He did conjure up one final memory for Lakers fans in his last NBA game, though, where he turned back the block and scored 60 in front of his home fans:
In terms of age when the injury occured, Rudy Gay is a potentially good comparison to Thompson. He suffered his tear at age 30 in 2017. That season, he was averaging 18.7 points. Over the next three, he’s averaged 11.5, 13.7, and 10.8 points.
Looking at the other players above, it’s fair to be concerned about Thompson’s long-term future. Again, both injuries are difficult to recover from, but he’s suffered them in back-to-back years. His second injury also happened before even stepped foot in an NBA game again – as his last appearance was in the 2019 NBA Finals when the ACL injury occured.
As a basketball fan, I want Thompson to get better. Modern sports medicine certainly continues to improve, and there’s no doubt that Thompson will work his ass off to get back in shape. Whether his body agrees with him or not is what’s up in the air.
No professional athlete deserves to have their prime years taken away by injury. Let’s hope that Thompson can set a precedent for recovery.