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Klay Thompson, Warriors, Dominique Wilkins

Klay Thompson inspiration: The only player to be better after an Achilles tear

Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson was handed a massive blow last week, going down with an Achilles tear. But after seeing Dominique Wilkins return in better form after this injury, he will be hoping the same is possible. With Stephen Curry and Thompson set to return this season, Golden State had their eyes set on another playoff run after posting the worst record in the NBA in 2019-20.

But now, they will be without Klay, who will likely miss all of this season and possibly, even part of next. Achilles injuries aren’t uncommon in the Association, with Kevin Durant going on the shelf with the exact same problem after tearing his in the 2019 NBA Finals.

The inspiration for Thompson

There is always a small array of hope that a player could return stronger than before from any serious injury. Hall of Famer and nine-time All-Star Dominique Wilkins suffered the exact same injury during the 1992 season and missed a total of 51 contests across the next two campaigns. Before Wilkins went down, he averaged 28.1 points per night that season. After the injury, “The Human Highlight Reel” actually put up even better numbers, posting just under 30 per game and also went on to play seven more seasons in the league, making two more All-Star teams in the process.

For example, it took DeMarcus Cousins 357 days to heal from an Achilles tear. Wilkins, who played in a time where there was much worse technology and treatment available for serious injuries, was only out for 284 days (seven months!). We still don’t know how Durant is going to respond to his Achilles issue, but, unfortunately, most players struggle to return to their previous form from this injury, with the exception of Wilkins.

The negative side

Once 1970 rolled around, this injury seemed to be happening more often. Former Lakers legend Elgin Baylor was the first player to tear his Achilles tendon, just six months after starring for LA in the NBA Finals. After the injury, he played just nine games in the following season and ended up retiring not long after.

Bob Rule is another example. He went down with the exact same problem at 26 years old and ended up retiring by the age of 30. There’s been a long history of this injury in the NBA since. John Wall, Cousins, Durant, Kobe Bryant, and now Klay Thompson are numerous players who have suffered from this painful injury. Cousins has struggled to return to his All-Star form since tearing his Achilles in 2018, averaging almost 10 points less with the Warriors the season after he left the New Orleans Pelicans. We’re yet to see how Durant and Wall will fare, as both are set to return this season.

Klay Thompson, Warriors

Could Thompson come back stronger?

Everyone’s body is different as well. It simply comes down to just how quickly you heal and the proper treatment you receive. But, we’ve seen players return from knee and back injuries a lot more successfully than Achilles issues.

However, Thompson has a point to prove. Critics will be quick to say there’s no way the 30-year-old can be an impactful force again after overcoming an ACL and Achilles tear. But it’s important to note, Wilkins was 32 when he returned. Thompson will be close to the same age as well once he takes the court again.

Wilkins is currently the only player to have actually produced better numbers after the injury. But, he also never became that aggressive finisher at the hoop again. Wilkins had to improve his mid-range game and playing on a very good team in the Atlanta Hawks at the time, he was able to flourish in his new role. Thompson is a shooter above anything else anyway, so it may not be as difficult for him to find his rhythm again. Only time will tell.

But after seeing how good Wilkins was after the injury, it will certainly give Klay Thompson hope that a return to his dominant, 3-point sinking self is very much in the cards.

It will be a long road to recovery, but anything is possible, no matter what history says.