Throughout every player’s NBA career, they’ll experience various highs and lows.
Players face certain expectations based on their ability and their production from the previous year, and each time a player performs well, the public expects more. This isn’t only a year-to-year phenomenon – it happens from game to game. Some players are able to live up to expectations, but some fold under the pressure.
That’s what separates LeBron James from the rest of the crowd. Every game, people expect him to captivate the audience with a jaw-dropping performance. For the most part he has, and it’s why he’s considered the most elite player in the game right now.
However, not everyone is a phenom like LeBron. Some are doomed to play under impossible circumstances. Some set the bar too high for themselves and have no chance of improving. And yet some will create great expectations – perhaps not as high as “best in the game, but still…” – and actually live up to them.
That’s what this article is all about: players who will make progress and others that will regress. I’ve picked out three to represent both ends.
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Steve Nash is in the best situation of his career right now in Los Angeles. He’s never played for a team with so much talent.
At the wing, he has one of the greatest shooting guards of all time (Kobe Bryant). In the front court, he has the greatest center of this new era of basketball (Dwight Howard). And next to Howard he has one of the most versatile bigs ever (Pau Gasol).
He’ll be playing in an Princeton offense, which focuses on players cutting towards the basket, having various spot-up options, and working from out of the post for closer opportunities. In an offense with constant motion, Nash should thrive.
The question is, will he? Or will his production take a step back from what it was in his Phoenix days? If you ask me, it’ll lean toward the latter.
I don’t think we’ll ever see the Nash of old again. Nash played in an offensive system that revolved around him for (almost) his whole career. This new change may take some getting used to. Playing with Kobe Bryant doesn’t make things any easier for him, either. Bryant has always been a ball-dominating player. That won’t change just because Nash is there now.
Bryant’s usage rate last season was 35.7 and the season before that? 35.1. Bryant was almost always on talented teams, and still took up the bulk of the possessions for his team.
But the ball must be shared with more people than just Bryant. Gasol and Howard will eat up opportunities as well. I think Nash will take a Jason Kidd-like hit in his numbers and production.
After being traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 2007, Kidd’s production steadily decreased. Kidd’s PER was 16.9 in his first full season as a Dallas Maverick, and then dropped to 14.4 when they won the championship in 2011.
Nash will take a similar step back. The days of having a 53.1 percent assist rate are gone.
Andre Iguodala probably had the most enjoyable season of his career last year. He was on a Philadelphia 76ers team that made it to the second round of the playoffs with him as their best player; he was an All-Star for the first time; and he won an Olympic gold medal.
All of that is true, but Iguodala is on the downside of his career. He has been for a while now, and he isn’t getting much better – Iguodala’s point total dropped in each of the last four seasons by a point or more (in 2008, he averaged 19.9 points a night… last season, that number was only 12.4).
He’s 28 years old – going on 29 – and won’t have as many opportunities in Denver.
Plus, his age is a common drop off point for wing players like him. They tend to have a drop off around their eighth or ninth season in the league. A wing that had a similar drop off to Iguodala was Michael Finley.
Finley averaged 20.6 points per game in the 2001-02 season with the Dallas Mavericks at the ripe age of 28, and was in his ninth year in the league. After that year, his scoring total dropped each year until it was reduced to single digits in 2007.
Iguodala is going to suffer a similar fate this season. Going forward, he won’t be the same player he used to be. His numbers will reflect that.
Kyrie Irving performed very well in his rookie season last year. His 18.5 points and 5.2 assists per game, as well as his 21.4 PER, were good enough to earn him the Rookie of the Year award, and rightfully so.
Irving received high praise from many NBA analysts and was put into the same class as some of the top point guards in the NBA. Gone are the days of comparing him to John Wall. Instead, he’s now compared to greats like Chris Paul and Deron Williams. He even came in on ESPN’s NBA Rank at No. 22. Called the NBA’s next best thing, I don’t know if he can live up to all of the expectations. He’s a good player, but I have my doubts about whether he can get to the same level as Chris Paul, Deron Willimas and Rajon Rondo – especially if that’s expected to be anytime soon.
Irving experienced some Damon Stoudamire-type success in his first season, who came in as a point guard on a very bad team, but ended up performing beyond expectations just as Irving did last season.
Throughout his career, Stoudamire went on playing to the same standard he established as a rookie (19 points, 9.3 assists a night) but never really got any better. After he left Toronto in the second half of the 1997-98 season, he was never the same player.
Irving is faced with a similar situation on this Cleveland Cavaliers team, and is expected to perform on a high level each season. Living up to that will be hard, and Irving will either fold or stand strong under pressure. We’ll see how this season works out for him.