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Roundtable: Can John Wall bounce back to full strength from an Achilles injury like Breanna Stewart?

The Seattle Storm forward and 2018 WNBA MVP regained her form in just one year after tearing her Achilles tendon in a EuroLeague Women championship game. It’s not the same league, but the Washington Wizards are likely hoping for a similar turnaround from their franchise player.

John Wall (L) has yet to return from his Achilles injury. If he can bounce back for the Washington Wizards like Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart (R) has, the future can look promising. Otherwise, a rebuild looms.
L - Sean Gardner, Getty Images; R - Stephen Gosling, Getty Images

This is the second part of our roundtable on the Washington Wizards’ 2019-20 season. In this part, our team talked about John Wall and how strong his comeback from an Achilles injury has to be for the team to return to playoff form.

Like the Wizards, the WNBA’s Seattle Storm were in a similar circumstance last season when their superstar power forward Breanna Stewart suffered a torn Achilles. She suffered the injury while playing for Dynamo Kursk when they played UMMC Ekaterinburg in the 2019 FIBA EuroLeague Women championship.

Because of Stewart’s injury, it put the ... inevitability of a Seattle dynasty in doubt — and it helped the Washington Mystics win the WNBA title last year. It may be an unpopular opinion here since we’re in Washington, but I don’t think the Mystics would have won the championship if Stewart wasn’t injured (Sorry Diamond Holton!).

The Storm wasn’t a championship threat without Stewart (and long-time franchise player Sue Bird), but they still went 18-16 and made the second round of the playoffs.

And this season, Stewart’s back, and more than ... just on track. She’s averaging 18.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game to date in the WNBA’s bubble in Bradenton, Florida. Stewart is still shooting over 50 percent from the field overall. But she’s also making a career-high 46.2 percent of her three point shots (including 2.2 made threes per game), and her free throw shooting percentage is a career-high 87.5 percent (3.8 free throws out of 4.4 attempts).

If you don’t believe me that she’s 100 percent, Stewart scored 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting (including 3-of-5 from three) against the Connecticut Sun last Sunday in a 95-72 win, their eighth straight since a 89-71 loss to the Mystics on July 30.

In short, Stewart bounced back into MVP form. And Seattle is leading the WNBA standings to date this season with a league-leading 10-1 start after being pegged as the preseason championship favorites. Stewart’s return isn’t the only reason why, but it’s a major part.

So we now move from Washington State’s professional basketball team to Washington, D.C.’s NBA team. Wall has been working to get back on track after his Achilles injury. He has looked good in limited scrimmages and the team is optimistic about his return.

Granted, Wall is not a power forward like Stewart. He isn’t considered to be an NBA MVP caliber player like Stewart is for the WNBA. And he will be 30 this season while Stewart will turn 25 on Aug. 27.

But Wall should still have several NBA seasons left in the tank. With the advancements in medicine, perhaps he could regain much, and for our sakes, all of his pre-injury self like in the 2016-17 season when he made the All-NBA team.

Is it possible? And could we see a better-than-expected 2020-21 Wizards season along with it?

Albert: Now, let’s head to the second question of this roundtable. So let’s talk about John Wall. He looked good on social media and in practice in the months before and during the coronavirus pandemic.

We have seen Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart bounce back into WNBA MVP form after missing last season due to the same injury. Wall plays a different position in a different league than Stewart, but if he “snaps back” to his 2016-17 self, how far could Washington go? I’m not optimistic about it happening, but it seems that the Wizards are hoping Wall could recover like Stewie did.

Kevin Broom: If Wall comes back at All-NBA level, the Wizards will be good.

Unfortunately, it’s more likely he’s going to be pretty average. Remember, it’s not just the Achilles. He missed at least half of the two previous seasons (2017-18 and 2018-19) and all of this past one. And he’s about to turn 30. And players like him have tended not to age well anyway.

Marcus Atkinson: No offense to Breanna Stewart, she is an amazing talent, but Wall is a different type of athlete. So Albert, we’re comparing apples to oranges here as you noted about positions and leagues.

A large part of Wall’s game is predicated on his athleticism. There are a lot of hurdles he needs to clear to get close to where he was a few years ago. With that said, if he is capable of playing somewhere close to the way he played in 2016-17, then I think the team will go as far as the talent around him.

Wall has the ability to carry this Wizards to a deep playoff run, but the question has always been, who are you putting around him? If the team resembles anything like what we saw in the Bubble, don’t hold your breath for much success.

Matt Modderno: Hard to predict their conference seeding without seeing what the Wizards and other teams do this fall in free agency. But the Wizards’ best case scenario feels like a 5 or 6 seed to me assuming Wall “snaps back” to his 2016-17 self.

And that’s with a good draft, re-signing Davis Bertans to a reasonable deal, and adding another veteran or two. That said, I don’t think the gap would be super wide between Washington and any of the other playoff teams outside of the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors.

Ben Becker: If John returns to All-NBA form, the Wizards can be good and can make some noise in the Eastern Conference — and it would be all the more reason to choose the “win now” path in the previous roundtable we talked about.

Keep in mind, that while no one knows how Wall will perform, the Wizards medical and coaching staff obviously have a much more informed hypothesis than we do. What they do this offseason may signal what they truly expect from Wall.

I know Kevin’s research suggests how unlikely it is that Wall will regain his old form back given his age and the amount of time off. But man, how cool would it be if Wall was actually as good or better? It would be the anti-Gilbert Arenas story and the least #SoWizards thing ever. So, yeah....uh nevermind.

Alan Jenkins: I put zero stock based on a few workouts posted to Instagram or Twitter. If Wall does indeed to what he was during the 2016-17 season then the Wizards can be a really good basketball team.

Unfortunately, that is unlikely as he’s suffered the worst basketball injury you can have and is about to turn 30. If Wall does indeed return to his 2016-17 self, Washington could compete for a 4-5 seed. However, Wall is going to have to learn a new skill set and on the fly because solely relying on his speed and athleticism will no longer cut it as we have no idea what he’s going to look like.

Yanir Rubinstein: I’m going to be the optimist. I think Wall will individually be better than he was in 2016-17, and perhaps even better than he ever was. But it’s not necessarily because of athleticism.

Two years is a lot of time to miss. But it is also a lot of time for him to think, evolve, mature, and watch tape. How far does that take Washington? In the very weak East this would virtually guarantee the Wizards a playoff spot at a bare minimum.

Osman Baig: I’m admittedly a huge Wall fan and have defended him for years. That being said, I’m past the workout videos and talk stage. He has for years talked about the things they’ll need him to improve on (playing off-ball and moving off-ball, shooting, etc...). These aren’t new offseason talking points.

I think the upside for Wall’s return is there because these are correctable things he CAN do that don’t require him to be the athlete he was at 25. That being said, the talk is old so I won’t believe it until I see it. If he adapts, he can be a solid player. If he doesn’t and tries to be what he was, the Wizards will quickly be pivoting to a full rebuild.

Ben Mehic: The 2016-17 season was the best version of Wall we saw. But the reality is, he hasn’t played an actual NBA game in two years and is coming off the most devastating injury in basketball. In Stewart’s case, she returned after just one year.

I don’t doubt that he’ll remain one of the most athletic guards in the NBA. Heck, he’s already finishing 360 dunks. But that, frankly, doesn’t matter. How will he play off the ball now that Bradley Beal has taken over as the team’s most valuable player? Will he finally become a consistent 3-point shooter? Is he going to commit defensively?

Those three questions are key for Wall’s future — and I’m not sold that, at 30 years old, he’s going to redefine himself.

Check out yesterday’s roundtable here if you missed it yesterday!

We also have one more roundtable coming up tomorrow on whether the Wizards should continue bubble play in the 2020-21 NBA season.