Head to Head: Which Veteran Declines Next Year?
Which veterans will decline next year? Our writers discuss.
Last week, Cody Taylor, Moke Hamilton and Jesse Blancarte discussed which players will bounce back in a big way in the 2015-16 NBA season, which you can read here. This week they discuss which veterans are likely to decline next season:
The inevitable course of an NBA career finds that players experience highs and lows along their respective ways. For David West of the Indiana Pacers, though, this past season may have been the beginning of the end.
After the horrific leg injury suffered by Paul George put their season in immediate jeopardy last summer, the Pacers knew that they would need heavy lifting from the other members of their core—a core that has been led by David West.
It is difficult to believe that West is a rather ripe 34 years old and that he will be 35 years old by the time next season begins. With Paul George set to return, the hope for the Pacers is that they can revert to the team that they were during the 2013-14 season, where they won 56 games and were the top team in the Eastern Conference.
That season, though, West played about 31 minutes per game, scoring 14 points and grabbing 6.8 rebounds per contest. Last season, he played a few less minutes and saw his scoring dip to just 11.7 points per game. That was his lowest scoring output since 2003-04—his sophomore season. Back then, as a member of the New Orleans Hornets, West played just 18.7 minutes per game and was behind the likes of P.J. Brown, Jamal Magloire and Lee Nailon on the depth chart.
Now, after having taken his talents to Indianapolis, West was one of the major catalysts for the franchise emerging as a contender over the past few years. The major issue, however, is that the window for the Pacers may have already closed.
In the Eastern Conference, with LeBron James having joined up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, it is difficult to imagine them not being amongst the top teams in the conference for the next few years. This summer, the Atlanta Hawks will have important decisions to make with regard to DeMare Carroll and Paul Millsap, both of whom will be free agents. But assuming the Hawks core remains intact, they would join the Cavaliers and perhaps even the Washington Wizards as teams that have better pieces and higher ceilings than the Pacers.
There has been some conjecture as to whether the Pacers should give their core group another opportunity to make a run at the Eastern Conference, or if things should be blown up. Regardless as to which route Larry Bird opts to take, the Pacers are believed to be targeting a young big man prospect with the 11th overall pick in the draft.
Either way, as he approaches his 35th birthday, it would seem that we have already seen the best of David West. Still a fighter, still a leader and still a sage, he will remain an important part of whatever team he finds himself on next season.
But if we are talking numbers and measurable on-court productivity, I think he is poised to take a step back over the next few years.
– Moke Hamilton
Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert has become one of the most scrutinized players in the NBA in recent years. He’s shown stretches of inconsistent play and has disappeared at crucial times in the playoffs. He currently holds a $15.5 million player option for next season and it’s hard to envision a scenario in which he doesn’t exercise that option given the upcoming big man market this summer with the likes of Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler set to become free agents.
Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird told reporters at the end of the season that the team will be playing a different style of basketball. The new style is said to include smaller lineups in an attempt to play an up-tempo offense, a style that doesn’t fit well with Hibbert’s skillset. The Pacers are even considering playing Paul George at the stretch-four position at times to be as small as they can. While there is still no guarantee Hibbert is on the team next season, it could become incredibly awkward if he does opt in or if the Pacers are unable to trade the 7’2 center.
“We’ll have to see how it all plays out and what the roster ultimately looks like, but there’s a possibility that Roy’s role will be diminished, if we’re trying to play faster and trying to play smaller,” Vogel said at the end of the season media session. “But a lot of stuff is going to happen this summer. We’ll see how the roster shapes out coming into next season.”
At this point for Hibbert, it appears as though he’s going to be in for a long 2015-16 season with the Pacers. The Pacers will undoubtedly try to trade Hibbert this offseason if he opts in. He’ll be the Pacers’ second-highest paid player behind George’s $17.1 million salary next season so it would prove beneficial for the team to try and dump his salary. Hibbert still has a lot of value to offer a team, but only if the system fits his style and it’s beginning to look like that won’t be in Indiana. While his offense leaves much to be desired, he is still a capable defensive player in the post. During the 2013-14 season, Hibbert finished fourth in the league in blocks, sixth in defensive rating and fifth in defensive win shares.
The market may not be in favor of Hibbert this offseason and teams won’t necessarily be lining up to take on the $15.5 million owed to him. He’s said to be already working out this offseason on his lateral quickness, which could prove he’s ready to try to fit into the new system and make the best out of his situation. It would certainly benefit both parties involved if he had a role in the new system.
– Cody Taylor
Arron Afflalo has earned a reputation for being a stingy wing-defender and solid three-point shooter throughout his career. Through hard work and determination, Afflalo has carved out a nice 9-year career for himself. A career that has exceeded the expectations that surrounded Afflalo as a prospect coming out of UCLA.
On his career, Afflalo has averaged 11.4 points, two assists and three rebounds, while shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range. His best individual season came in 2013-14 with the Orlando Magic, when he averaged 18.2 points, 1.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds, while shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 42.7 percent from three-point range.
Earlier this year, on February 19, Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey executed a trade with the Denver Nuggets to bring Afflalo to Portland to help the team make a deep playoff run. At age 29, Afflalo was still contributing at a high level and seemed to be an addition that really could help the Trail Blazers take the next step. Unfortunately, starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews suffered an Achilles tear on March 6, which thrust Afflalo into the starting unit.
Afflalo was underwhelming in his time as a starter, often looking timid and complacent within the Trail Blazers’ offense. The drop off from Matthews to Afflalo was apparent, though to Afflalo’s credit, that may say more about how valuable Matthews is, rather than how ineffective Afflalo might have been. But at 6’5, 215 pounds, Afflalo was at the very least supposed to hold things down defensively. Instead, Afflalo looked a step slower than his usual self. At this point, Afflalo may be overrated as a wing-defender, though he is still solid. But he is not the biggest wing-defender around, and as he continues to age, his ability to slow down opponents will continue to fade.
There is still hope for Afflalo to maintain his usual production, however. While he seemed to be an ideal fit within the Trail Blazers’ three-point heavy offense, it turned out this wasn’t the case. The Trail Blazers like to either feed Aldridge, shoot three-pointers, or attack the rim. When Afflalo isn’t open for a three-pointer, he is more likely to attack off the dribble and pull up for a mid-range jumper. With his shooting percentages down across the board, Afflalo’s preferred style and drop off in accuracy made it so that the loss of Matthews was a bigger loss than expected. But, if Afflalo can tailor his game to Portland’s system and find his usual shooting stroke, he could hold off his decline a little while longer.
Also, to Afflalo’s credit, he did suffer a shoulder injury after just a few weeks as a starter and he never returned 100 percent healthy. If he decides to stay in Portland, he may find his niche on offense and find new life in his defensive game. But at age 29, and after watching him struggle to fill in for Matthews, there is little reason to believe Afflalo will be able to find the level of success he had in the 2013-14 season.
– Jesse Blancarte
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