The NBA is a league made up of players constantly rising and falling in terms of talent and value. As the game evolves, once valued skill sets become more archaic and formerly dominant players become afterthoughts. Last week we talked about some potential breakout candidates for the upcoming season, including newcomers to the MVP discussion, veterans finally hitting their stride, and young players on the cusp of greatness. This week, our article will be used to project possible regression candidates. As unfortunate as it is to see formerly dominant talents become relegated to nearly unplayable status (see Anthony, Carmelo), regression is simply an unavoidable element of professional sports. For these predictions we will be using a similar structure to the one used in last week’s article, with three different subgroups of regression candidates. The first group we will be analyzing are superstars in danger of falling into a lower tier of players, for example the regressions we have seen from Carmelo, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard in recent years. Our next group of regression candidates will consist of veteran role players who we believe will start trending downward in terms of productivity, this being one of the most common versions of regression as it has happened to virtually every once great role player in NBA history. Some examples of this form of regression in recent years include Kyle Korver, Deandre Jordan, and Wes Matthews. Lastly there is the most unfortunate tier of regressions, consisting of young players experiencing a stall in development. While this form of regression isn’t always permanent, we have seen it occur in many high draft picks recently (Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Jahlil Okafor for example).
Superstars and Stars in danger of depreciating
PG Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
At his peak, Westbrook was among the most dominant players in NBA history, as few could match his intensity and athleticism on the court. However, the narrative surrounding Westbrook for years has been that he is a self-destructive force on the court, whose antics often lead teammates to sour on him. Considering the fact that the Rockets franchise player James Harden has very recently had issues with a fellow ball dominant point guard, there lies a chance that this vow renewal between the former Thunder teammates could end disastrously. Likewise, Westbrook’s triple-double averages from OKC are most likely not going to translate to Houston’s system, which revolves around a lot of drive-and-kick plays from Harden, on top of the pre-established offensive rebounding tendencies that almost always result in a pass back out to Harden on the perimeter. Should Westbrook adhere to these tendencies, his stats will likely suffer, but the team’s happiness and success should benefit. However, there also exists a possibility where Westbrook goes rogue, reverting back to his triple-double chasing and completely destroying the structure of the Rockets offense while maintaining a lackadaisical level of play on the defensive end of the court. With a shaky three-point shot on top of all of his bad habits, Westbrook presents a real challenge in Houston’s basketball philosophy. It is very possible that Westbrook will become the next ex-superstar to get phased out of the league if this experiment goes poorly.
SF Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
Durant will spend this season recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, but when he returns it is likely that he will be a much different version of himself. Barring a miraculous recovery, it is likely that Durant will lose some explosiveness and athleticism from his game. Expect to see an even more perimeter centric offensive game from Durant, as well as a more laid back defensive approach. I still believe that KD will be a 25 point-per-game scorer and a plus defender, however, his injury will likely spell the end of his peak as player. Luckily, when your peak is Kevin Durant, a regression still keeps you as a top 10 player in the league.
C Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
Vucevic was playing at an MVP level last season, as he made his first career all-star team during a contract year. His performance was a major factor in the Magic making the postseason, as the team rewarded him with a four year, 100 million dollar contract. Expecting the Montenegrin big man to replicate his averages of 20.8 ppg, 12.0 rpg, and 3.8 apg on 51.8% shooting from the field (with 36.4% shooting from three) would be foolish, as his career year is a classic example of a player showing out during a contract year. While I believe Vucevic will once again be the best player in Orlando, his all-star game appearance and all-NBA worthy stats could prove to be flukes this season.
SF/PG Lebron James, Los Angeles Lakers
It may seem unfathomable to think that Lebron James could ever regress to the point that he is no longer in the discussion for being the best player in the league, but that topic may be more relevant than we think this season. As he approaches 60,000 minutes played in the NBA, a mark only two other players have surpassed, The King’s basketball mortality inches closer and closer to the end of the line. If his injury last season is any indication, we now have definitive proof that James is a human, capable of being broken down by injuries. One of these days we will see regression hit, and that day may very well come this season.
C/PF LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
Aldridge is a sneaky old player who has sustained an all-star level of play for the last 13 years. I expect this season to be one where he finally starts to regress in a similar fashion to big men like Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and the Gasol brothers. While he should remain a valuable and successful member of the Spurs starting lineup, Aldridge is set to shed his “star” label any day now.
Role Player Regressions on the Horizon
PF/SF/C P.J Tucker, Houston Rockets
Tucker has been the backbone for the Rockets defense over the course of this past decade, as his toughness and versatility has allowed him to guard a variety of players successfully. Combining his defensive adeptness with his excellent catch-and-shoot ability has made Tucker one of the best role players in the league for a long time now, but those days will soon be numbered. At 34 years old, Tucker is playing on borrowed time as far as health is concerned. Another serious injury could very well spell the end for Tucker, as players his age rarely bounce back the same. I expect Tucker to see less and less minutes as the season goes on in favor of younger options like Danuel House. While his defense and shooting will still prove to be extremely valuable to Houston, especially in the playoffs, his days as a 20+ minute guy are drawing to a close.
C Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
Lopez shot threes at a career high 36.5% clip last season while also averaging a career high in blocks per game (2.2). The Bucks rewarded him handsomely for his reemergence, as he received a shiny new 4 year 52 million dollar deal. All of the factors for a regression are on the table for Lopez this season. His breakout last season came during a contract year, so it is fair to speculate that he will be less motivated to perform at such a high level now that he has a four year pact. Likewise, the chances of Lopez once again setting/matching a career high in three point shooting percentage and blocks are considerably lower, as he on the wrong side of thirty and has no track record beyond last season that suggests that he is in fact that player.
PG Patrick Beverley, Los Angeles Clippers
Beverley was awesome during LA’s playoff run last season, as he played tremendous defense while excelling as a shooter and playmaker. Rewarded with a 3 year 40 million dollar deal should also come with a short term regression, as complacency should set in with Beverley’s nice new contract. While he should continue to play well on offense and well above average on defense, Beverley will likely be more of an afterthought on a now star-studded Clippers roster.
SG Danny Green, Los Angeles Lakers
While Green has an excellent pedigree as a three-and-D wing from the Spurs system, he is not a player worth 15 million dollars a year, something that the Lakers will soon realize. Green appeared to have lost a step or two for the Raptors last season, as he ran rather hot-and-cold throughout the year. If that is the version of Green that the Lakers wind up with, this contract could prove to be disastrous and Green’s reputation as a reliable role player may be called into question.
PG Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons
As nice as it was to see Rose return to relevance last season, expecting him to sustain his production from last year would be a major oversight. Following a scorching start to the year, Rose’s production declined dramatically, as his lack of deep shooting led to him being exposed on offense quite often. Rose has a chance to be a very solid source of hot-streak offense and playmaking for the Pistons this year, but expecting him to be the D-Rose lite we saw at the beginning of last season will lead to disappointment.
Young players in danger of hitting a speed bump
PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Being stuck behind Chris Paul until further notice will hurt SGA’s development as a lead guard, although there are some things he can learn from Paul. However, without a CP3 trade it is hard to think that Gilgeous-Alexander will be as impressive as he was as a rookie in LA.
PF/C John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Collins is expected to get major minutes at the 5 this season with the loss of Dewayne Dedmon in free agency. While he put up all-star worthy numbers at the 4 last season, this could be a tough transition for Collins both offensively and defensively, his numbers should very well reflect that this year.
C Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets
Allen might lose his position as starting center in Brooklyn simply because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant insisted that the team pay DeAndre Jordan 10 million dollars a year for the next four seasons. Simply by losing out on possible minutes Allen should be a prime candidate for regression this year.
PG/SG Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Depending on how well Darius Garland plays this season, Sexton could very well find himself as the odd-man-out in Cleveland, as Garland plays a very similar style of basketball to him with more perceived upside. Sexton is entering a very early make-or-break year in Cleveland.
PG Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs
White looked like a star during the playoffs last season. Unfortunately his momentum should be slowed by the return of Dejounte Murray as well as the presence of Patty Mills. If the Derrick White breakout is going to happen, there is a better than decent chance that it happens in a city other than San Antonio.