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.
7. Bradley Beal
Pre: 17.1 PPG, .414 FG%, .430 3P%, .809 FT%
Post: 16.4 PPG, .385 FG%, .385 3P%, .800 FT%
If the Wizards want to be more than an afterthought and an easy first round out they’ll need more from Beal. For being a such a terrific shooter, his percentages are far from pretty. While like Lillard, you look the other way to an extent when he’s knocking them down, it’s glaringly obvious when he isn’t.
When Beal shoots 50 percent or better, the Wizards are 13-3. When Beal shoots less than 40 percent, the Wizards are 9-19. A cold jump shooter can kill an offense awfully quickly–it kills movement, momentum and flow. It’s the reason we rarely if ever see NBA champions who rely on outside shooting. They may not be the “Splash Brothers” but John Wall and Beal will need to be in sync if the Wizards want to avoid embarrassment in the postseason.
6. Monta Ellis
Pre: 19.3 PPG, 5.7 APG, .461 FG%, .306 3P%, .803 FT%
Post: 17.7 PPG, 5.7 APG, .424 FG%, .345 3P%, .752 FT%
Ellis really stuck it to his critics early on this season. He wasn’t nearly as inefficient as he’d been previously and appeared to be a very competent second option for Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks have been playing good basketball of late but unfortunately in the West, that’s not enough. The Mavericks will have to be great from here on out or they’ll be gone fishing in late April.
Although at this point every game is crucial, against the Clippers on Thursday, Ellis really cost his team. He shot 19 times but only converted on four of those attempts. He took several poor percentage, contested jump shots in the late part of the game and while he wasn’t responsible for the loss he definitely wasn’t helping the cause. That is and always has been the fear with Ellis–he’s fearless. He has no off switch–this guy is going to keep shooting regardless of result.
The Mavericks are .500 when Ellis has more shots than points, but again, good isn’t good enough. The Mavs need Ellis to come down a notch and monitor his shot selection a little better if they want to play playoff basketball.
5. Andre Iguodala
Pre: 9.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.4 APG, .484 FG%, .381 3P%, .591 FT%
Post: 8.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, .429 FG%, .270 3P%, .769 FT%
Iguodala is the glue for this Warriors team. Curry is their best player, Klay Thompson and David Lee alternate on the second option role but Iggy is their jack of all trades. He pushes them from fun to watch to hard to ignore. He’s not on this list because they need him to score 15 every night; he’s on this list because of late he’s failed to convert in his minimal offensive role.
Iggy has shocked the viewing audience with multiple game-winners and big shots this year. The Warriors need that from him, when Curry and Thompson are drawing the double-teams. The Warriors are 13-2 when Iggy hits two or more three-pointers. The Warriors are 11-3 when Iggy has six or more assists. Point being: the Warriors are a better team when Iggy is involved in the offense. With four big road games against Dallas, San Antonio, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Portland still on the docket, the Warriors will have to stay sharp. The Warriors are only two games up on eighth seed Memphis and ninth seed Dallas. Caution is the word.
4. Chandler Parsons
Pre: 17 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.7 APG, .502 FG%, .399 3P%, .723 FT%
Post: 13.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 4.9 APG, .396 FG%, .301 3P%, .808 FT%
While the Rockets have been seriously balling over the past month, Parsons has not. Before the All-Star break he had a case as the league’s best third option. Since then, he’s had a horrid and scary decline. Patrick Beverley is hurt, and Dwight Howard and James Harden both have injury history. The Rockets are in need of consistency from young Parsons. They need him to steady the ship when things don’t go right. They also need Parsons to step in and take over if Harden or Howard can’t get it going, which he did on the regular prior to the All-Star break.
Parsons scored 20 or more points on 16 separate occasions before the break, and he’s done it only once since. Parsons, who averaged above 50 percent earlier this year, hasn’t shot above 50 percent in even one of the Rockets’ six losses since the break. He needs to pull it together as the Rockets have the talent to make a real run this postseason but will need everyone to be at the top of their game.
3. Chris Paul
Pre: 19.2 PPG, 11.1 APG, 4.6 RPG, .471 FG%, .356 3P%, .857 FT%
Post: 17.7 PPG, 10.6 APG, 3.8 RPG, .434 FG%, .283 3P%, .869 FT%
Please don’t misinterpret: Paul has been phenomenal. The expectations are higher this year though, and rightly so. We all know Paul can put up pretty numbers but the consensus is it’s “put up or shut up” time for the Clippers and Paul. The talent is there, the depth is there, and the coach is there so we want to see more out of Paul than some flashy box scores and an early exit.
The .283 three-point percentage is matched only by Paul’s rookie season. These are not the phenom numbers we’ve grown accustomed to. He’s clearly capable of more and the Clippers will need more.
Blake Griffin went down with back spasms and hopefully it’s a short time lapse but if he’s hurt, there still can’t be a reprieve. Paul will have to soldier on. The Clippers aren’t out of the running for the two seed and do have one more game against the Thunder this year so there’s still lots to play for. Paul has been otherworldly in the postseason before, only to see his trophy-hoisting dreams smashed and beaten. He will need to get back on track before heading into the playoffs this year. (As I was writing this article, Paul went off two nights in a row. TouchÃ© Paul, touchÃ©.)
2. Roy Hibbert
Pre: 11.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.5 BPG, .464 FG%
Post: 9.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.0 BPG, .429 FG%
Hibbert is the most frustrating player in the NBA. Who saw that picture of him towering over Tim Duncan in the offseason? This is a monster of a man–he’s 7-2. He fills that frame up, weighing in at 280-plus pounds. How he doesn’t average at least a double-double is beyond me. He should put up 20-10 on a night-in and night-out basis. He got his second All-Star bid, I believe, solely due to anchoring the Pacers’ threatening defense. When was the last time a big man averaging 12 or less points and eight or less rebounds made the All-Star Game?
Anyways, if you weren’t disappointed before the break you probably are now. Hibbert has had 10-plus rebounds in two of a possible 21 games since the break. He averaged 4.4 rebounds per game in March; he also sho 43 percent in March. Forty-three percent for a guy who takes 68 percent of his shots around the rim is disgraceful.
The Pacers have worked very hard to convince me, quite strongly I might add, that they aren’t a championship team. They beat the Heat in a great, gritty playoff-type game and then get blown out two nights later by the Wizards. The Pacers are struggling to score and you have to wonder where it’s going to come from on the road in the postseason. By the way, while the Pacers are a league best 33-4 at home, they’re 19-18 on the road, which is a worse road record than the Toronto Raptors.
1. Paul George
Pre: 22.2 PPG, .438 FG%, .370 3P%, .856 FT%
Post: 20.3 PPG, .394 FG%, .333 3P%, .902 FT%
Last ten: 18.3 PPG, .333 FG%, .271 3P%, .881 FT%
Speaking of the Pacers, remember when Paul George was everyone’s early favorite for MVP? When we strip down the numbers, it’s apparent George is spiraling. The Pacers are 7-10 over their last 17 games. That’s not what you want to see from a title contender before the playoffs start. How bad is that 35 percent shooting over the last ten games? Brandon Jennings shoots 38 percent from the floor, to add some perspective, and DeMar DeRozan officially has a higher field goal percentage this season.
Paul George is a rising star but I will be the first to admit we may have rushed in on calling him a superstar. He can’t create steady offense for himself or his teammates. He’s struggling to knock down the three-ball and Hibbert can’t finish around the rim. It’s going to be messy; the Pacers are going to be incredibly reliant on their defense to win games. In a loss to Charlotte on March 5, George had two points and went 0-for-9 from the floor. MVP candidates just can’t have nights like that. The Pacers lost that game by 22 points but more importantly they empowered a team they could potentially see in the first round.
The Pacers, unsurprisingly, got pounded by the Spurs at home last night, and they will play the Thunder at home before the end of the season in what will need to be a statement game. The Pacers also fell out of the top spot in the East last night, a massive slip up considering they are 33-5 at home and a meager 19-18 on the road.
What do you think?
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