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NBA AM: Bounce-Back, Redemption or Decline In 2018?

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At the start of every NBA season, there will be players seeking redemption and looking to bounce back from a prior campaign that didn’t live up to expectations. Some will be successful, while others will have to face the possibility of enduring the inevitable and irreversible decline.

Similar to last year’s edition, today we’re going to evaluate players and teams that fall into the following categories:

  • Redemption: players or teams looking to rebound from injuries and unforeseen setbacks
  • Bounce-Back: players or teams that had an “off” year in 2017, but primed to thrive next season
  • Decline: players or teams that endured a rough 2017 season and are headed for more of the same in 2018

 

Joakim Noah, Center, New York Knicks
2016-17 Stats:
5.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 49% FG, 44% FT, 46 games played
Status: Decline

Noah signed a massive four-year, $72 million deal in free agency prior to the start of last season to join the Knicks. The move, at least on paper, was credible, as New York was trying to instill a winning culture in the locker room. Noah, a former two-time All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year, seemingly fit the bill. However, the veteran center managed to play just 46 games before being shut down for the remainder of the season due to injury. In fact, the argument could be made that Noah was the third best center on the Knicks’ roster last season behind Willy Hernangomez and Kyle O’Quinn.  Noah has only appeared in 75 games combined over the past two seasons, so there’s little reason to believe the 32-year-old center is in for a bounce-back campaign.

Jahlil Okafor, Center, Philadelphia 76ers
2016-17 Stats:
11.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 51% FG, 67% FT, 50 games played
Status: Redemption

The future is bright in Philadelphia. Center Joel Embiid is oozing with star potential. Rookies Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons will be in the mix for Rookie of the Year honors and second year forward Dario Saric came on strong after the All-Star break last season.

But Okafor is the team’s biggest question mark heading into next season. The former Duke University standout regressed significantly last season after a promising rookie campaign, and not surprisingly, the trade rumors have begun swirling.  However, Okafor possesses a knack for scoring the basketball and that’s where his value remains with the 76ers. Okafor has missed over 60 games in the past two seasons since entering the league. At 21, Okafor has plenty of time to rediscover the form he displayed during his strong rookie campaign. There’s no reason to believe Okafor won’t put the full package together – eventually.

Chandler Parsons, Forward, Memphis Grizzlies
2016-17 Stats:
6.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 34% FG, 81% FT, 34 games played
Status: Decline

Parsons is only 28 years old and should be entering his prime years, unfortunately, the six-year veteran’s career has been throttled by injury – lots of them. From 2013-2015, Parsons was a nightly 16-point and six rebound per game threat. The talent is there for a season of redemption, but the injury history could be the warning signs of a continual decline.

Emmanuel Mudiay, Guard, Denver Nuggets
2016-17 Stats:
11.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 38% FG, 32% 3PT, 55 games played
Status: Decline

The Denver Nuggets are cooking with grease headed into next season. Center Nikola Jokic has the tools to become a future star. The team signed All-Star forward Paul Millsap in free agency and the team has plenty of young and versatile assets to either develop or broker a trade. The Nuggets’ trajectory is on the upward swing, but Mudiay’s role is unclear. Mudiay lost his spot in the starting rotation last season and missed significant time due to injury and coach decisions. Heading into season three, Mudiay is a sub 40 percent shooter with a below average assist-to-turnover ratio and it’s fair to question whether he will ever develop into Denver’s floor general of the future.

Kris Dunn, Guard, Chicago Bulls
2016-17 Stats:
3.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 38% FG, 29% 3PT, 78 games played
Status: Bounce-Back

The expectations were high. Dunn was expected by many to compete for Rookie of the Year honors last season. The guard was also supposed to be Minnesota’s point guard of the future and the reason the team would eventually trade Ricky Rubio. While the Timberwolves did ship Rubio away this summer, it wasn’t to free up space for Dunn, as Minnesota shipped him to Chicago as part of the package that landed All-Star Jimmy Butler. Heading into season two, Dunn lands in a rebuilding situation with plenty of minutes open in the Bulls’ backcourt – which is a favorable scenario for a bounce-back campaign.

Blake Griffin, Forward, Los Angeles Clippers
2016-17 Stats:
21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 49% FG, 34% 3PT, 61 games played
Status: Bounce-Back

The Chris Paul era in Los Angeles is over, but the Clippers still have former All-Star forward Blake Griffin in the fold to slide into leading man status. Griffin hasn’t played 70 games since the 2014 season, so Griffin’s potential bounce-back campaign will be rooted in how long he can stay healthy.

The Detroit Pistons
2015-16 Record:
44-38
2016-17 Record:
37-45
Status: Bounce-Back

The Pistons were one of the breakout teams of 2016, reaching the playoffs and showing the signs of a promising future, but last season, things came crumbling down as Detroit missed the playoffs in one of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory. The team has been busy this summer acquiring veteran guard Avery Bradley, signing Langston Galloway and drafting guard Luke Kennard. The acquisition of those shooting guards marked the end of the three-year starting two guard run for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.

D’Angelo Russell, Guard, Brooklyn Nets
2016-17 Stats:
15.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 41% FG, 35% 3PT, 63 games played
Status: Redemption

Russell was once considered a core building block for the Los Angeles Lakers’ future. But the team’s front office, headed by Magic Johnson, felt Russell was expendable once the club drafted Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick of the 2017 draft. Now, Russell heads to Brooklyn and will have every opportunity to live up to the hype on a rebuilding team devoid of top level talent and assets. Russell’s stat line looked good on the surface last season. The man has game but leadership and character are the biggest question marks surrounding Russell heading into year three.

Without question, the 2017 offseason has been chock full of moves that could change the power dynamic in the respective conferences. Some players and teams are poised for respectable campaigns, while others will continue to decline.

In short order, we’ll know who’s who.

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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons