NBA Stars Coasting Through the Early Days of the Season

Kelly ScalettaFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2012

NBA Stars Coasting Through the Early Days of the Season

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    Whether they are discontent players who are just waiting for the season to end or they are perfectly content players who are looking towards the playoffs, there are a smattering of players who are coasting through the regular season. 

    Players who are discontent are players who seem to have a decline in production and seem to be in situations where they aren't happy. They might be on playoff-bound teams or they might be on losing teams, but they aren't happy, and that lack of happiness is hindering their performance. 

    Other players are coasting, but understandably so. They are getting older or bear a huge onus for their teams, and as a result, are gliding through the regular season, saving something for the playoffs. In such cases, it's not a flaw in their character that they're on here. Rather, it's an admission of their prudence. 

LeBron James

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    LeBron James is such an amazing player that he can post 25.2 points, 6.9 assists and 8.5 rebounds a game, and do so essentially just coasting through the season. 

    On the offensive end, he's still playing spectacular, but on the defensive end, while he's not exactly "slacking," he's being more deliberate in how he spends his energy.

    This is partly reflected in a big bump in his opponent's Player Efficiency Rating, which has risen to 14.7 from 10.6 a year ago. 

    It's also visible in the reduction in transition plays per game, which were at six last year, and are only at four this year. 

    Make no mistake about it, that's still a ridiculous number, but it's evident that James is not applying the same focus on defense that he did last year, and that's part of the reason the Heat are struggling on defense, falling from fourth in defensive rating to 16th. 

    The Heat will pick it up again when it matters. They have the look of a team that's just not that interested in the regular season, and as such, are just playing for the postseason to arrive. 

Dwyane Wade

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    Dwyane Wade isn't what he used to be. Or at least he isn't always what he used to be. He does still show "flashes" of what he used to be. (You see what I did there?)

    Wade is still capable of being an entirely dominant player in the NBA and could take over a game or a series if he needed to. Perhaps he could even still carry a team through a season if he needed to. 

    However, he's a smart enough man to know that he doesn't need to. LeBron James has four inches and 40 pounds on Wade. And that comes out 6'8" and 260 pounds of indestructibleness, which isn't really a word, but it should be, so we could describe James more accurately. 

    Wade is smartly reserving himself for the postseason. Miami is firmly in position to vie for the first or second seed in the East, and it has no need to push itself for the top seed.  If it gets it, it comes. If it doesn't, oh well. 

    Either way, this team has been to the finals the last two years and has the experience to know how to win on the road in the playoffs. It's much better off if it has a rested and healthy Wade. He's not "regressing" so much as "reserving" his energy for when it matters. 

Paul Pierce

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    Paul Pierce is another one of those aging stars who amps it up during the postseason. One issue with that is that it presumes Boston will be there in the postseason. 

    At the rate it's going, it might not be. The Celtics currently hold a tenuous grip on the 7 seed, and that could be lost if they don't start working out some major issues. 

    One issue might be team leadership. Has Pierce yielded too much to Rajon Rondo? That's not to take away anything from what Rondo is doing, but is more about what Pierce isn't doing. 

    When Pierce is aggressive and scoring at least 20 points, the Celtics are 7-4. When he's not and he scores less than 20, Boston is 6-8. While Pierce needs to continue to allow Rondo to grow as a leader, he also needs to be aggressive and demand the ball down the stretch. 

    Rondo's scoring has improved, but he's not as clutch as Pierce. This team will only go as far as Pierce helps to carry it. 

Kris Humphries

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    Kris Humphries and the Brooklyn Nets are a match made in Jersey, which, let's face it, is a very long way from heaven. 

    They seemed to settle for one another more than want one another, and now, perhaps that much isn't even true. Humphies was moved to the bench for five games, but now in the last two, has been re-inserted into the starting lineup. Clearly, there's trouble in not-paradise.

    Humphries' numbers are way down from last year. In fact his scoring is nearly half of what it was last year, 7.1 points to 13.8. Some of that is a lesser role with the arrival of Joe Johnson, but a part of it is that Lopez just doesn't seem happy where he is.

    When the Nets aren't blocking his playing time, the refs are blocking his free throws. He needs a change of scenery.  

Rudy Gay

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    If Rudy Gay isn't coasting, he's just in danger of being the most overrated player in the game today. 

    Here's the reality about Gay this year. He's averaging his lowest scoring output since his rookie season. And his effective field-goal percentage is the lowest of his entire career.  His rebounding is down as well, from 6.4 to 6.0. His assists are up slightly, by .0.2 per game, but that's offset by his turnovers being up by the same amount. 

    His PER is down nearly two points, from 17.8 to 15.9. 

    On top of that, his Synergy numbers reflect his defense has gone down too. While he averaged .83 points per play last season, he's giving up .86 this year. 

    Gay is a player that many projected to be one of the five best small forwards in the league this year. He's been pretty average all things considered and is either regressing or coasting through the season. 

Dwight Howard

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    Dwight Howard, in his defense, has been slowly coming back from a back injury. That doesn't say anything about the things that are coming out of his mouth, though. 

    There's a kind of a ambivalence mixed with clowning to him. 

    Whenever it comes to the Lakers losing to start the season, he just has an "Oh well, things will get better" attitude. Never was it more true than when he mooned a camera man and then seemed more concerned about getting his candy for making free throws after a loss than that they actually lost a game. 

    Now, granted, you can't get hung up on every loss, but great players aren't cavalier about losing. Howard seems to be. 

    He's scoring about two points fewer, grabbing two fewer rebounds and his defense isn't anything close to Defensive Player of the Year caliber, though that has something to do with three different head coaches and a "system" that no one seems to grasp as well. 

DeMarcus Cousins

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    I wonder what DeMarcus Cousins wants to be when he grows up. 

    Scratch that. 

    I wonder if DeMarcus Cousins wants to grow up.

    I don't mean that in a kind of sweet Peter Pan sort of way. I mean in a pouty, entitled, Spauldng Smails sort of way. Now, I accept that I am the first and only person to ever make that particular comparison, and their backgrounds are very different. 

    Yet both want things they don't earn, or deserve, and get really angry and miffed when they are denied them. Cousins, in particular, wants respect he hasn't earned. 

    And frankly, Cousins is coasting, which is why he isn't earning any respect.

    He entered the season with many believing he could become the league's second-best center, but he's taken a step back. His scoring is down from 18.1 to 16.9 points per game, and his rebounding is down from 11.0 to 9.7. 

    More egregious is his "shooting," which is atrocious. His field-goal percentage is .413. His shooting chart looks like Joakim Noah's night-life, i.e. paint the town red. 

Carlos Boozer

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    Carlos Boozer plays like a teenager waking up. Every 10 minutes, he jumps up, shows a momentary sign of life, hits the snooze button and goes back to sleep. 

    The Chicago Bulls were really hoping they could rely on him with Derrick Rose being injured for the first part of the game. 

    To be fair to Boozer, there are times when he really shines. There are spurts of time when he can take over a game. Then, inexplicably, he disappears. 

    If it weren't for the slight scent of spray-on hair on the court, you wouldn't even know he was there. 

    Boozer isn't just coasting through the season, he coasts through virtually every game, with occasional bursts of effort. 

Roy Hibbert

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    You could make an argument that no player has been more disappointing this year than Roy Hibbert. After signing a hefty max contract, he has promptly come out and accomplished mediocrity, if that. 

    Hibber is scoring a meager 9.7 points per game. He's grabbing only 8.3 rebounds. He's shooting .393. 

    How does a 7'2" center shoot .393? In the history of the NBA, no one of that height has ever attempted at least 10 shots a game and shot that poorly.

    Look. When you're at the bottom of a historical list, something is clearly going wrong, especially when you're doing it in the first year of a max contract. 

    Maybe it's because he's only attempted 18 dunks all year? Frank Vogel needs to stand on a chair, and get in Hibbert's face and scream "YOU'RE SEVEN FOOT BLEEPING TWO!!!! DUNK THE BALL ALREADY." 

    To be fair, his defense has been rock-solid, but the Pacers weren't paying him max dollars to just be a good defensive player. 

Pau Gasol

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    For this slide, I could almost just post the picture and move on. Pau Gasol is not the most popular man in Los Angeles right now. 

    With an uncertain future and an uncertain present, it doesn't appear that Gasol is bringing his A-game to the Lakers any more. 

    It might not even seem like the Lakers even want him to, as he sat out down the stretch in his first game back from his knee injury.

    According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

    Gasol "voiced his displeasure afterward as swiftly as when he throws a lob to Dwight Howard. "Hopefully it won't happen too often," Gasol said. "When the game is on the line, I need to be on the court. That's what I get paid to do."

    So it doesn't look like Gasol is happy, and it doesn't look like the Lakers are happy with Gasol, and when those two things collide, you end up with less-than-superhuman efforts.

    The thing is that any trade value Gasol has is getting wrecked by the circumstances. Teams aren't generally willing to send over $20 million worth of player for a guy who is going to bring back 12.4 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. 

    That's even less that what Carlos Boozer offers. And it's not like Gasol is a defensive juggernaut either. 

    It might be fair to say that right now, Gasol has the worst contract in the NBA, due $40 million over the next two years and providing the type of production you can get for a fraction of the price.