8 NBA Players Who Will Improve And 7 Who Will Regress In 2016-2017
The NBA season is a mere month away and the questions are already flying: will the union of Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors yield a championship (Probably)? Will Chris Bosh ever be able to play basketball again (Hopefully)? Will Russell Westbrook pull the stars from the heavens themselves to smite Kevin Durant (It’s a very real possibility)? This coming NBA season looks to be particularly exciting, engaging, and dramatic, with much intrigue lurking in the regular season, and a possible rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors in Finals hanging over all our heads, like a looming sword of hoops Damocles.
As always, the central focus of the NBA season (and literally every other sports season) is the players, the glorious, ultra-athletic and talented harbingers of buckets that we shell out our hard earned cash to see. Every year, certain players rise to All-Stardom and a new tax bracket, whilst others fall from grace, their usually jacked up box scores looking painfully sparse. Right now, anything anybody says is pure speculation, but the guesswork is the one of the only fun things we have as we wait for the season to finally kick off. So, without further ado, this list will try to determine which players will improve this season and which will regress. If you’re a fantasy basketball enthusiast, this list may help or destroy your season, depending on how everything shakes out. If the latter happens, sorry about that.
- IMPROVE – JAMES HARDEN
This one may be slightly difficult to buy into, because James Harden’s already the best shooting guard in the league and a perennial MVP contender, so how much better can he really get? Well, Dwight Howard left Houston this summer for the greener grass of Atlanta, so Harden’s officially the team’s only alpha dog. More importantly, however, his new head coach is offensive guru, Mike D’Antoni, the mastermind behind the “Seven Seconds or Less” offense that made the Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash such a tremendous success in the mid-to-late 2000s. So, with a basketball mind like Mikey D. stalking the sidelines and Harden’s usage rate set to somehow climb even higher, it’s not impossible to imagine that the Rockets megastar could reach even loftier heights than he’s already seen, maybe even finally winning that elusive MVP award.
- REGRESS – KEVIN DURANT
Important note: Kevin Durant is at the BOTTOM of the regress list. BOTTOM! In no way, shape, or form is KD going to stop being KD. As long as he’s alive and kicking, he’s going to be an unstoppable basketball force. He’s one of the most elite scorers in NBA history and a member of the ultra-exclusive 50-40-90 Club, proving his chops as a dead-eye shooter. However, he’s joining a Golden State Warriors team already crowded with amazing shooters and offensive talents, not to mention two time MVP Stephen Curry, undeniably the greatest shooter in the history of the sport. The Slim Reaper’s going to get his share of touches, and Steph will most likely give some of his up for the four time scoring champion, but Steph’s position as Golden State’s alpha dog means the team will ALWAYS look to run the offense through him. KD will be fine in Golden State, as he’s still a top three player in the league, but it’s hard to see him maintaining the scoring numbers he frequently put up in OKC.
- IMPROVE – RUSSELL WESTBROOK
Imagine what Russell Westbrook could do this season. Pissed off at the departure of megastar teammate, and best friend, Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s going to take the reigns of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offense and drive it down Fury Road. Every minute he’s on the floor will be beautiful chaos, orchestrated by him and him alone. The ball will go through him on every play. Russy never had any trouble racking up points and triple-doubles with Durant on the team, but now that he’s the teams go-to ball handler and scorer, it’s not crazy to imagine him gunning for Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record (Okay, maybe it is a little). OKC may struggle without Durant and Serge Ibaka, but with Russy going full Super Saiyan every night, the team will always pose an intimidating challenge. Also, it’s worth noting that Westbrook is Vegas’ odds-on favorite to win the MVP award, so the idea of him reaching new levels of basketball dominance aren’t completely unfounded.
- REGRESS – JAMAL CRAWFORD
This one feels cheap and fairly procedural, as every year pundits claim Jamal Crawford’s finally going to decline, and every year, he manages to prove them wrong by being a masterful spark plug off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers, a perennially top five offense. Plus, he’s coming off his THIRD Sixth Man of the Year award. However, the reasons behind predicting his fall from grace aren’t insane. Crawford is thirty-six years old, entering his eighteenth season in the league, and his shooting numbers have been declining for several years now. His points averages remain high, but he’s becoming a less and less dependable shooter, and his defense remains painfully detrimental to the team. Given his age, busted shooting touch, and sieve-like defense, it wouldn’t be surprising if he lost some minutes to coach’s son Austin Rivers.
- IMPROVE – GORAN DRAGIC
Remember the 2013-2014 season, when Goran Dragic shocked the world by being one of the best guards in the NBA? He won Most Improved Player and made All-NBA Third Team, essentially making him a top-six guard in the league. He was so good, he forced Miami Heat general manager Pat Riley to offer the Phoenix Suns a Godfather offer to obtain him via trade. Unfortunately, in South Beach, he’s never been able to reach those lofty heights again. Much of this was because Dragic flourishes in a fast paced offense, but back court partner Dwyane Wade preferred to play a slower style and as the team’s alpha dog, Flash dictated the offense. However, with D-Wade off to Chicago, Dragic will take the reigns as the team’s primary ball handler, so the Dragon can run as fast as he wants, and he’ll pick up some of Wade’s many touches in the process. The Heat may not be as good as they were last season, especially if Chris Bosh isn’t allowed to play, but Dragic’s numbers are set to see a marked increase.
- REGRESS – DWYANE WADE
On one hand, Dwyane Wade seems to be timeless. Whenever he looks to be slowing down, he storms right back into the picture. On the other hand, Dwyane Wade has A LOT of miles on him. His knees are rickety and every season runs the risk of seeing one of the best shooting guards of all time break down. However, age and chronic injury aren’t Wade’s only issues. This offseason, he left the Miami Heat to join his hometown Chicago Bulls, and there’s a very noticeable wrinkle in his move: the Bulls best player and alpha dog, Jimmy Butler, plays the same position as Wade. Now, Butler is a swingman, meaning he can play small forward if need be, but his natural and best position is shooting guard. It seems like a strange strategy for a team so desperate to win, and prone to conflict, to bring in a prized free agent that could clash with their best player. As good as Dwyane Wade can still be, it would be risky to prioritize him over a younger All-Star with better defense and a better shooting touch. It seems inevitable that Flash could see his box score suffer in the shuffle.
- IMPROVE – MYLES TURNER
Remember a few years ago, when the Indiana Pacers were LeBron James’ biggest rivals in the East? That lasted roughly twenty whole minutes. Now, every member of that team’s starting five, besides Paul George, is gone, coach Frank Vogel is on the Orlando Magic sidelines now, and the team has switched from defense-first to a “fast” paced system. Former Texas Longhorn standout Myles Turner is one of the new-look Pacers brightest up-and-comers. A versatile defender with a developing three-point stroke, Turner showed out in his rookie season, when he received decent minutes, and he looks to continue that momentum this season. He averaged 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game on 22.8 minutes per game last season, so an uptick in playing time good see him ascend to possible All-Star heights. His versatility will allow him to play the faster style the Pacers want to implement, but if they stay slow, which seems very possible, considering their new head coach, Nate McMillan, is one of the slowest in NBA history, Turner will excel, as well. He’s damn good. Don’t be afraid to jump on the Myles Turner Extravaganza Bandwagon!
- REGRESS – VICTOR OLADIPO
Victor Oladipo was at the center of one of the most confusing trades to take place this past offseason (More on that later). Long story short, he’s a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder now, slated to play Robin to Russell Westbrook’s next level, Flashpoint Batman. While playing alongside Russy gives Dipo a better teammate than he’s ever had, it also means he has to adapt to a very new situation. On the Orlando Magic, he was the leader of a very young team and the ball, for better or worse, ran through him. He’s a disappointing shooter and an inconsistent defender, but playing with a monster like Westbrook should hide some of his flaws. However, he’s definitely not going to demand the usage rate he had in Orlando. It may take a while for him to get used to his new, off-ball role and his box scores will likely diminish as a result.