6 NBA Players Primed To Regress Or Make Progress This Season

By: 10.05.12
Steve Nash

Steve Nash (photo. Indochino)

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.

*** *** ***

REGRESSING

STEVE NASH
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
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
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.

Page 2
Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry (photo. Nicky Woo)

PROGRESSING

AL HORFORD
Al Horford is due for a great season this year after missing all but 11 games last season with a torn pectoral muscle. The Hawks looked to move up in the Eastern Conference standings last year, and they probably could have if Horford was available for the majority of the season.

But now it’s time for Horford to step up and become the best player on the Atlanta Hawks roster. He’s at the perfect age (just turned 26), and is getting ready to start his sixth year in the NBA. He’s going to be the Hawks go-to option in the half-court with Joe Johnson now in Brooklyn.

In each year prior to his injury, his numbers were steadily increasing. His PER went from 17.0 in 2008 to 19.4 in 2009 to 20.7 in 2010. Now that he’s completely rehabbed, and is back from injury, I expect that number to increase.

Horford was always relatively close to breaking the 20 points-10 rebounds barrier. With so many guard-oriented offenses in the NBA, that’s very hard to accomplish. But I think we’ll see Horford do that this season.

He’ll get another All-Star appearance and be recognized as one of the top two or three centers – maybe even bigs – in the NBA. He’s just that talented on both ends of the floor.

JEFF TEAGUE
If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m expecting big things out of the Atlanta Hawks this season. They’re probably the most overlooked team in the NBA. People look at the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks upgrades and forget about Atlanta’s presence.

Most believe Joe Johnson was their best player. That’s far from the truth. But now that Johnson is out of the picture in Atlanta, they’re going to need a guard to step up and initiate the offense.

I believe Jeff Teague will be that guy. Coming into the NBA was a learning process for Teague, and he sat behind veteran guards Mike Bibby and Kirk Hinrich for the majority of his first two years in the league.

Last year was Teague’s first full season – if you can call it that after the lockout – as the Atlanta Hawks’ starting point guard. Every year he improved as a player, and last season he showed us flashes of what the Hawks believe he can do.

Teague increased his point total from 5.2 in 2010 to 12.6 in 2012. He also increased his shooting from 43 to 47 percent during that same time frame.

Without Johnson taking up the ballhandling responsibilities, a lot of the offense’s movement must come from Teague. He must show us that he’s turned the page as a point guard, can initiate his team’s offense, and more than anything else, do it consistently.

With the weapons available in that frontcourt, Teague should have plenty of support in taking this next step. He also has pressure from the guy playing behind him, Devin Harris, who has been a starting point guard and an All-Star.

Teague has more than enough motivation to get the ball rolling. The question here is whether or not he has the ability to do it.

STEPHEN CURRY
Steph Curry’s situation is very similar to Al Horford’s. He’s yet to truly break out as one of the league’s elite young players mainly because of his health. Curry must keep his ankles from breaking down on him.

Curry only played in 26 out of 66 games last season and he only started in 23 of them. Yet there’s no doubt he can put up crazy numbers: in his sophomore season, Curry nearly entered into the hallowed 50-40-90 club (48 percent from the field, 44 percent from beyond the arc, and 93 percent from the free throw line).

Curry was also the runner up in the Rookie Of The Year race in 2009. If Tyreke Evans hadn’t put up historical numbers – joining Oscar Robertson, LeBron James and Michael Jordan as the only rookies to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game – Curry would’ve won that award.

With Monta Ellis now out of the picture for a complete season, Curry will be the focal point of this offense. He doesn’t have to share a backcourt, or even shots, with another guard of similar quality. Instead, he must create for shooters like Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.

If the Warriors can manage to stay healthy, they’ll be a playoff contender. And when he’s healthy, Curry is one of the most efficient guards in the NBA. They also have Andrew Bogut, an All-Star-caliber center. Between the wing shooters and the big man in the middle, Curry has plenty of weapons to work with to improve his game and take that next step.

But as always, the key for Curry is keeping his ankles healthy. If he can do so, I believe he’ll be an All-Star next season. He can be one of the best point guards in the NBA, and in the same realm as Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo. This season will be a testament to that.

Which NBA players will surprise with how much they improve/regress this season?

Follow Michael on Twitter at @Mike_Nasty11.

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