The All-Star break is just that, it’s a break, a reprieve, after which NBA players are supposed to head back to work rested, refocused, and poised to pounce on the most important stretch of the season. Many players flourish after the All-Star break, coming back rejuvenated and lighting the league on fire. Kevin Durant, for example, took it up yet another notch and has averaged 35 points, seven rebounds and six assists on 51 percent shooting since returning.
The entire Spurs team knows the drill–they have only lost one solitary game since returning from the weekend.
Unfortunately not everyone can elevate their play at will. Several players are picking a very bad time to start a slump. Teams which dominated both the highlights and postseason talk just over a month ago are now trending in a downward direction. It’s always better to go into the postseason on a hot streak, and for many players, it’s time to turn things around.
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10. Luol Deng
As a Bull: 19 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.7 APG, .452 FG%, .274 3P%, .815 FT%
As a Cavalier: 14.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, .420 FG%, .345 3P%, .765 FT%
The Cavs have disappointed on the season as a whole in numerous capacities. Anthony Bennett is not the next LeBron James; Kyrie Irving isn’t taking over the NBA; the Cavs currently aren’t in the playoffs and have virtually no chance at a championship. But maybe the bar has been set just a tad too high for this young squad. Irving is hurt, but the season is not yet lost.
The Cavaliers are only two games back of the coveted Eastern Conference eight seed. One of those games is against the current eighth seed and free-falling Atlanta Hawks. If the Cavaliers are going to find meaning in what has been a dark and dreary disaster, they will need more from former All-Star Luol Deng. He hasn’t been specifically bad the past couple weeks but he’s clearly producing at a lower level in Cleveland. The former All-Star is the senior statesmen of this young and bizarre team. In what could end up being a very important game earlier in March, the Cavaliers lost to the Knicks, 107-97. The Knicks are currently the nine seed and sit one-and-a-half games ahead of the Cavs. In the Knicks loss, Luol Deng played just shy of 40 minutes, shooting a rather pathetic 3-for-12 from the floor. The Cavaliers need better if they have any hope of climbing out of the abyss.
9. Paul Millsap
Pre All-Star break: 17.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG, .463 FG%, .368 3P%, .744 FT%
Post All-Star break: 19.4 PPG, 8.3 RPG, .435 FG%, .314 3P%, .751 FT%
Remember those free-falling Hawks I mentioned? The Hawks have gone a putrid 7-13 over their last 20 games. They’ve had losing streaks of seven, six and currently just ended another six-game skid. After serving in his first All-Star appearance, Paul Millsap has failed to get things going. Noticeable drops in his field goal and three-point percentage are cause for concern, and because the ailing Al Horford is still nowhere in sight, the Hawks live and die with Millsap. They need him to provide the team with consistent offense and he just isn’t producing of late. Millsap shot above 50 percent once over his last six games.
Though the Hawks still sit in the eighth seed, if I was a betting man I’d wager they don’t finish there. The Knicks are now even with them in the win column and only sit two losses back.
8. Damian Lillard
Pre: 20.7 PPG, 5.7 APG, .424 FG%, .404 3P%, .884 FT%
Post: 21.5 PPG, 5.0 APG, .424 FG%, .347 3P%, .856 FT%
Last ten: 20.2 PPG, 5.1 APG, .375 FG%, .300 3P%, .846 FT%
Now take note of the three-point percentage. While Lillard is a bit of a chucker at times, he’s made a living cranking that three-ball this season. When he’s stroking his deep ball over 40 percent a game you can forgive his inability to convert at the rim or hit the midrange jumper on more league appropriate percentages. But when Lillard is shooting at 30 percent, you take notice. This is a guy who takes a nearly league-leading seven three-point shots a night. Only Steph Curry takes more threes on a nightly basis.
Now LaMarcus Aldridge has missed some time but the Blazers are struggling. They are 12-10 since the break and had they not banked a stable of wins beforehand, they’d be in legitimate danger of missing the playoffs. Lillard and the Blazers are most likely safe for the playoffs but you never know. I can assure you they will not go far in the wild, wild West if Lillard continues to have shooting struggles.