Father Time comes for us all, he is undefeated. Every player must accept this fact if he is to do well in the later part of his career. Accepting this means the changing of one’s games to accommodate his advancing age.
Michael Jordan did it in the twilight of his career. He developed his post game and outside shot to the extent that he was able to get his second three-peat in the late 90s. Kobe Bryant worked on his footwork so much that he won back to back titles in 2009 and 2010.
You can change and develop your game to dampen the effects of old age, but you can’t stop it entirely. The player decline is natural and necessary to allow next generation’s star to prosper. Here are my top ten players that look set to take a decline next season.
Sidenote - When I say decline it can be for any reason, be it old age, change in circumstances or a reduction in minutes.
9. Tony Parker
The 00s brought some incredible basketball moment and memories. From the Laker’s three-peat with Shaq and Kobe to the drafting of LeBron James and the draft of 2003, Dwyane Wade carrying the Heat to the title in 2006 to Kobe Bryant cementing his legacy as an all-time great by winning back to back titles to end the decade. During this time there has been one force that has sat quietly in the background, slowly but surely proving itself to be the best team in Sports.
I am of course referring to the San Antonio Spurs built around Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
These three guys under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich have seen them win at least 4 titles each and a level of consistency that hasn’t been seen in any Major North American Sport. Since 1998 the Spurs have never failed to make the playoffs and have always been in the conversation for title contention.
Tim Duncan retired last year and it looks very likely that Manu will end his career this summer. That leaves just Parker left of the original Big Three. Parker is now 34 and is recovering from a torn left quadriceps muscle from this year’s playoffs. For a player game is based on speed, quickness and agility the combination of his age and injury look set to hold Parker back a lot for the rest of his career.
Don’t be surprised if Parker doesn’t start another game in his career, or if this season turns out to be his last.
8. Dirk Nowitzki
Another legend who might be playing his last season is the king of the fadeaway, Mr. Dirk Nowitzki. The best shooting big we’ve ever seen, at 38 and with a second lowest scoring average of his career last season I expect to see another decrease in his production.
Dirk is a true hero for Dallas who has scored over 30,000 points for the Mavericks over his 19-year career that has included one title, a Finals MVP, a regular season MVP, 13 All-Star Appearances and a plethora of memories that make him Dallas’s greatest ever player.
7. Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap actually pleasantly surprised me when we went to Atlanta in 2013. He became a regular All-Star and thoroughly impressed me with his all-around style of play. Due to his small stature at the power forward position, many people dubbed him as a tweener but he proved his doubters wrong.
That was when he was in his prime though.
Now at 31, the signs of old age are beginning to show. He shot a career low from the field last year at 44.2%. In the past, he had his quickness and athleticism to get around his small stature, but as time has progressed he looks set to become a liability.
Hopefully he can develop his outside shot a bit more so that he can still be effective, otherwise it looks set to be a tricky decline for one of the better players in the league.
6. Blake Griffin
5 years ago you couldn’t watch TV for five minutes without seeing a commercial with Blake Griffin in it. The man was everywhere, thanks mainly to his incredible dunking ability that has produced some of the league’s best highlights over the last 5 years.
Now though it seems that although BG is still one of the best athletes in the league, he is no longer able to produce those thunderous dunks we saw on a nightly basis a few years ago. Injuries have been the main problem for Blake, he hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year and he seems to get a new injury every year that sees him misses large stretches of the season.
Lob city was an amazing spectacle to watch with Chris Paul, Blake and DeAndre Jordan but it looks as though the show is over as Paul and Griffin set to become free agents and will be looking for success elsewhere.
5. Isaiah Thomas
I know Thomas is only 27 years old and has just entered the prime of his career, but I cannot imagine the world where a guy who stands 5 foot 9 repeats his performance of last season. Thomas was the second leading scorer in the league at 28.9 points a game and brought the Boston Garden to its feet on multiple occasions thank you his last game heroics.
The effort needed to sustain that level of output for a guy that size is remarkable so I fully expect to see a decline in his production next season. For the sake of basketball I hope I am wrong, it is incredible to see a guy who is below the national average height (5 foot 10) destroy the narrative that you need to tall to play professional basketball.
Heart over height personified.
4. Carmelo Anthony
You’ve gotta feel bad for Melo, the guy played his heart out last year for the Knicks and all he got in return was boos from the Knicks fans and being slated in the press by Phil Jackson. Night after night it was solely up to Melo to carry the offense for a Knicks team that had a severe lack of scoring options.
If Melo remains in New York I fully expect his effort level to tumble. What’s the point in trying so hard if all you get in return is a loss, your own fans booing you and your team and the manager of basketball operations insulting you every chance he gets?
He needs to get out of the toxic wasteland that is New York basketball as soon as possible, before the poison that infects that organization kills his career completely.
3. Dwyane Wade
It will be a sad day indeed when we are no longer able to watch Dwyane Wade on a nightly basis. In his prime, he was a top three player in the league and was a fan favorite all over the country. He is now in the final stages of his career at 35 and for a player whose game was built on his athleticism, we can only expect Wade’s production next year to fall.
Flash has produced some incredible moments throughout his career but he hasn’t played more than 75 games in a season since 2010. He is a free agent at the end of next year and I predict that this season is his last. Thank you Flash for all the memories you’ve given us, you will be sorely missed.
2. Chris Paul
For me, this offseason is incredibly easy for CP3. Sign with the Spurs. This is a no-brainer. Go play with Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich, it’s the only way he will get a chance to the Finals and like I said above, the Spurs have lost their starting PG Tony Parker.
This move makes way too much sense and it would allow Paul to shoulder less of the offensive burden he has with the Clippers. It’s for this reason alone why I think CP3’s stats will decline next season, he will simply be doing less because he will be on a better team.
Paul’s game is built around his incredibly high basketball IQ and passing game which only increase as you gain experience. He will be extremely effective right until he retires but he deserves to have to do less in order to be successful.
1. LeBron James
Out of everyone on this list, this is the one I hope I am wrong about. LeBron is still the best player in the league after becoming the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double in the NBA Finals.
The man simply needs more rest. In his 14th NBA season, LeBron was leading the league in minutes per game. This simply cannot continue. In the fourth quarters of every Finals game LeBron looked exhausted. He is asked to do too much every time he steps onto the hardwood. He needs to be the best scorer for the Cavs, the main ball-handler, and the best defender.
If the Cavs are to have any hope of beating the Warriors next year then they need to make sure LeBron is averaging less than 30 minutes a game, not 37 like he was last year. This reduction in playing time will see LeBron stats fall but will mean he will be primed and ready to hit the ground running come next year’s playoffs.