The NBA is currently in a transition period, with new stars being made and the faces of the league changing. Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett all retired in 2016, removing three of the names that have been most associated with the NBA over the past two decades. It still feels surreal to remember that those three legends are now gone from the basketball court. They knew the end was coming and retired with their skills diminishing. There are a few NBA stars currently regressing and on the decline. Some are of the older age like the retired legends, but a few have just hit a wall.
Much like any other form of competition, the new comes in to replace the old. We have witnessed many new stars take over the league. Guys like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and James Harden have seen their star power rise in recent years to become among the most popular stars in the NBA. There is currently a crop of talent on the rise getting ready to join that upper echelon. The rising stars will be household names in the near future and make up for the retirements and veterans regressing. We’ll look at both sides with eight of the NBA stars on the rise and seven on the decline.
15 Rise: Joel Embiid
The Philadelphia 76ers struggled to draft the face of the franchise over the past few years. Most of the lottery picks have either endured injury issues or failed to become a noteworthy player in the NBA. Joel Embiid was on the injured list for the first two seasons of his career forcing him to wait until year three to debut. The wait was worth it with Embiid becoming the top star in Philadelphia that gives the fan base hope for the future.
Embiid score efficiently and looks downright dominant at times in his unofficial rookie season. The big man has the athleticism and size to match up to anyone. 76ers fans will have to wait a few more years until other stars progress or acquired, but Embiid is the most important piece to build around right now. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be an All-Star within a couple of seasons. The most impressive thing about Embiid is watching him rise to the occasion against the top big men in the league. That shows just how good he can become.
14 Decline: Chris Paul
Chris Paul was the best point guard in NBA for many years and it wasn’t even close. Now he is falling far out of the discussion behind the likes of Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The wear and tear of Paul playing at such a high level is finally catching up to him. Paul continues to suffer with minor injuries forcing him out of the Los Angeles Clippers lineup in recent years.
The numbers of Paul this season are the least impressive since joining the Clippers all the way back in 2011. Paul’s Clippers has a stacked roster that should be in contention in the Western Conference, but remain behind the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs in the pecking order. We are witnessing Paul slowly regress from great to very good, and it is only a matter of time before very good turns into above average. Paul will be a free agent in the summer with his likely final chance to cash in on a big contract.
13 Rise: Jabari Parker
The Milwaukee Bucks selected Jabari Parker with the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Fans debated between Parker and Andrew Wiggins as to who the best player in the draft class would be. Parker suffered a knee injury in his rookie season and it limited in his second season. Between the lackluster results and playing in Milwaukee, everyone forgot about him until this year. Parker has started to grow into the player we all expected him to be.
As of this writing, Parker is averaging 20 points per game on 49% shooting from the field. The Bucks have a great core of young players that could see them become a force in the Eastern Conference within the next few years. Parker is only 21 years old and has a bright career ahead of him. The big jump this season is just a nice reminder that he was highly touted coming into the NBA for a reason.
12 Decline: Greg Monroe
One of Jabari Parker’s teammates is having the opposite story take place in his career. The Milwaukee Bucks signed Greg Monroe in 2015 to be the starting center and help take the team to the next level. Monroe ended up being the weakest link. The traditional big men in the NBA are becoming obsolete unless they can keep up with the faster athletic centers in the league and develop a three-point shoot.
Monroe is unable to do either of those things and Milwaukee has cut down his playing time. The lack of a place for Monroe to fit into today’s NBA sees him play just 20 minutes per game averaging less than 10 points. The Bucks are rumored to have strong desire to trade him, but will have a hard time finding a trade partner. Monroe is a tough sell to use effectively without sacrificing a lot to the opposing team and is making a lot of money.
11 Rise: Myles Turner
The evolution of the big man in the NBA has already been touched on and Myles Turner is the perfect example. Turner is playing in his second season for the Indiana Pacers and already becoming one of the better centers in the NBA. The near 7 foot tall giant has the athleticism and speed to thrive in the new atmosphere of the basketball games. Turner is currently averaging 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds along with 2.4 blocks per game.
Indiana had high expectations to contend in the Eastern Conference this season, but have struggled. Turner is the one person that can avoid blame. The youngster is stepping on both offense and defense to pick up the slack of those around him. Paul George will be the face of the Pacers for a long time. Turner is developing into the perfect sidekick good enough to become an All-Star and compliment him as Indiana moves into the future with two stars.
10 Decline: Pau Gasol
The San Antonio Spurs signing Pau Gasol in the recent free agency made headlines, but it has yet to provide much of a difference. Gasol is currently averaging a career low 12.3 points per game in a smaller role for the Spurs. It is obvious that the Spurs are managing the minutes of Gasol in hopes of his best days of the season coming in the playoffs.
Gasol playing his sixteenth season in the NBA means this will be among the final chances for him to win an NBA Championship after securing two with the Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately, he is just not at a stage in his career where he can contribute on a nightly basis. Gasol is a secondary player that will have a few runs of hot streaks. San Antonio is hoping the hot streak will come when it matters most in the months of April to June.
9 Rise: Zach LaVine
Most NBA fans think of highlight dunks when it comes to the career of Zach LaVine due to the fact that he’s the reigning and defending two-time Slam Dunk Contest Champion. LaVine has entered his third season with a new motivation to prove he’s more than just a flashy dunker. The Minnesota Timberwolves have given him more playing time and it is leading to huge results.
LaVine is currently averaging 21 points per game. The percentages are tremendous with LaVine shooting 47% from the field, 41% from three-point range and 87% from the free throw line. A young star scoring a lot of points is one thing, but he is doing it in the most efficient of manners. LaVine has quietly become one of the top young stars in the NBA. Everyone loves to talk about Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but LaVine is right there with him among Minnesota’s future superstars.
8 Decline: Tony Parker
Tony Parker quietly put together a Hall of Fame career together during the legendary San Antonio Spurs run. San Antonio has seen a few changes in recent years and Parker’s regression is one of them. Parker is no longer the top star on the team due to his play going downhill. The current numbers of Parker sees him with the lowest points and assists per game since his rookie season.
Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are the new stars leading the Spurs into contention. Parker is transitioning into a role player. Many are wondering if San Antonio is more effective when reserve Patty Mills is on the court as point guard over Parker. Regardless, we are witnessing the gradual decline of Parker from superstar to role player. The Spurs legend could very well be inching towards retirement. No one wants to see their HOF career end in lackluster fashion. Parker is holding out hope another title or two will come his way.
7 Rise: Devin Booker
The success of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as primary three-point shooters on the offensive end making the Golden State Warriors a juggernaut has changed the NBA. All teams are looking to secure an elite three-point shooter. The Phoenix Suns drafted Devin Booker, but he has actually struggled to develop his outside game despite his success from three-point range in college. Despite not living up to the potential of a three-point specialist, Booker has stepped up big time.
LeBron James singled out Booker in the off-season as someone he believed would become a future superstar in the NBA. Booker answered the expectations in his second season this year with an average of over 18 points per game so far. That’s with an abysmal 32% three-point shooting percentage. Once Booker starts to feel more comfortable with his shot, the sky is the limit for him. Phoenix rightfully views the 20 years old as one of their building blocks for a better future.
6 Decline: Dwyane Wade
A shocking NBA story of 2016 saw Dwyane Wade leave the Miami Heat to join his hometown Chicago Bulls team. Wade felt disrespected by the Miami Heat for their refusal to offer him the contract he has wanted during his final years on the team. Chicago scooped up Wade and the new beginning has started. The Bulls have seen ups and downs with their new look team.
Wade has delivered a couple of outstanding performances looking like the superstar we have become used to. The difference is that isn’t a common thing anymore. Wade averages 19 points per game, but has deferred to Jimmy Butler. Chicago is still Butler’s team and Wade is the sidekick in this current version of the team. Wade is a smart basketball player. The future Hall of Famer knows he can no longer be the best player on a legitimate contender and is propping up Butler to lead Chicago into the playoffs.
5 Rise: Rudy Gobert
The Utah Jazz found a diamond in the rough when drafting Rudy Gobert late in the first round of the 2013 Draft. Gobert has been a premiere defender throughout his first three years in the league, but now he is bringing it on the offensive side. The big man is averaging an impressive double-double and his scoring game is becoming more impressive each night. Utah is having their best season in many years thanks to Gobert leading the way.
Jazz fans have reason to be excited for the first time in a long time. Gobert’s constant improvement is the most impressive thing about him. The All-Star potential of Gobert likely won’t be fulfilled this season, but it is definitely coming. Get ready to see Gobert become a force at the center position for many years to come. There’s a great chance he will also rack up a couple of Defensive Player of the Year Awards.
4 Decline: Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah finished in the top four of the MVP voting in 2014. Now he is one of the worst rotation players in the NBA. That’s not hyperbole. The New York Knicks are worse whenever Noah is on the court. Noah is averaging just 5 points per game and appears to be among the worst signings of the free agent period in the summer. The decline started a season ago, but is reaching new lows now.
Chicago Bulls fans loved Noah for his intensity and defensive excellence. Noah still brings the intensity, but is not able to back it up. The defense has regressed from superb to average and the offense is not NBA worthy. Noah could find his way out of the league if this decline continues. Knicks fans can only hope to see Noah improve to a shell of his former success or this will be one of the worst contracts in sports over the next four years.
3 Rise: Kristaps Porzingis
New York Knicks fans can’t be too upset about the disappointment of Joakim Noah. They have Kristaps Porzingis as their big man of the future. Most of the Knicks fans were livid when they drafted Porzingis fourth overall in the 2015 Draft. Porzingis has changed perception with exciting play since coming into the league. This season has seen a huge improvement with the current averages of 20 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Carmelo Anthony is still the top star on the Knicks roster, but Porzingis is right there with him. The fact that he’s homegrown could see him pass Melo to become the face of the franchise. Porzingis is the x-factor in New York having a good chance of returning to the playoffs this year. It would not be too surprising to see him make his first All-Star appearances this season. Porzingis will get there soon enough either way and become a fixture among the top power forwards in the Eastern Conference.
2 Decline: Dirk Nowitzki
The majority of the top stars of his era retiring have made Dirk Nowitzki one of the final fixtures of prior superstars still playing. Nowitzki may be second guessing his decision to return this season with everything going poorly. Various injuries have sidelined Nowitzki for most of the season. Nowitzki has played eight games and struggled immensely when on the court averaging 12 points on 38% shooting from the field to this point.
The Dallas Mavericks have become one of the worst teams in the league with Nowitzki no longer being able to carry them. Nowitzki has already started hinting towards retirement due to the pain he is going through trying to get back on the court. Every NBA fan has to respect the future Hall of Famer for his legendary career. Sadly, his time is winding down with a pace to have the worst season since his rookie year. Things don’t look good for Nowitzki returning to form as a superstar.
1 Rise: Giannis Antetokounmpo
There is no one taking the bigger step towards becoming a superstar this season than Giannis Antetokounmpo. Between playing on the Milwaukee Bucks and having a name that is impossible to spell without help from Google, Antetokounmpo doesn’t get the coverage his statistics deserve. Milwaukee saw his potential since drafting him in 2013 and his consistent improvement has proven them correct in taking the risk on him.
Antetokounmpo has reached the level of an All-Star this season with the current averages of 23.4 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. The Greek Freak does it all on the basketball court and is the main reason the Bucks have a chance to make the playoffs. Antetokounmpo is arguably the best superstar in the NBA no one wants to talk about. Be prepared for him to become a fixture in the upper echelon of the league as Milwaukee improves and he grows even more. Antetokounmpo perfectly represents the new NBA and is on the verge of being an elite star.
Sources: Basketball Reference.