Blake Griffin is the most commonly talked about young star in terms of, "has he reached his ceiling?" Or "has he regressed?" Certain styles of play, especially the more athletic iterations, are more prone to critical discontent. Blake's eye-catching dunks convince some observers that this is all he is, and that when the athleticism fades, so too will his game.
I disagree on this negative Blake take. He's an excellent passer and dribbler, and there's plenty of exploring to be done of those natural talents. But, there are other relatively young players whom I fear have reached their peak. Note: It's good to be wrong on such predictions, because we always root for player growth.
The knee troubles account for the main reason as to why Andrew Bynum makes this list, but there are other factors at play for why the 25-year-old may have reached his peak.
For one, the league is producing fewer centers for a reason. Zone defense has allowed teams to swarm and front big men, making entry passes difficult. Also, the legalization of zone has led to pick-and-roll offenses that emphasize spacing the floor and shooting threes.
Should Bynum not retain all of his speed and get a bit faster, it's hard to see how he'll help any team as much as a nimble big man like Tyson Chandler does. In the NBA that favors horizontal range, guys like Bynum are becoming rare. His minutes may become rare as well, should Andrew return with less speed than before.
Well, adidas certainly want to sell us on the prospect of Derrick Rose coming back better than ever:
I hope they're correct, but Rose's style makes a doubter out of me. While it's true that Adrian Peterson has given hope to any athlete recovering from a torn ACL, there weren't fundamental issues with the way Peterson ran—apart from the fundamental issue of football being harmful to one's body.
Derrick Rose strikes with his heel, far out in front of his body. In doing this, he's shifting pressure onto parts of his legs that could bear it better if he landed on his forefoot, under his body. That, combined with Rose's proclivity for zigzagging with hard cuts makes for a risky proposition going forward. I hate to say it, but I would err on the side of 2010-11 being Rose's best year.
This is no insult, far from it. I'm just selling my stock in Carmelo Anthony, just because he's been playing so well that it appears unsustainable. If I'm wrong, then all the credit in the world to Melo, who's thrived in Mike Woodson's spread pick-and-roll.
This is no slight to Anthony, but I'm not sure the 28-year-old can maintain a .437 average on near-six three-point attempts per game. In other words, I'm not certain that Carmelo Anthony can replicate Ray Allen's career while simultaneously replicating Bernard King's best moments.
Anthony is currently claiming a 26.05 PER. Last year, he registered a 21.15. His best before that was a 22.29 season back in 2009-2010. It's difficult to buy that he's going to progress that far beyond his career averages at this stage of his life.
I used to be a huge Monta Ellis fan, back when he was playing off the ball with Baron Davis. This is where Monta found his true calling. Davis would slash in, as Monta began his dive towards the hoop from the wing.
The defense had to collapse on Baron, leaving Ellis to catch the pass with a head of steam. This was an unstoppable play, one that resulted in many an uncontested layup out in Oakland.
So why can't that old magic be recaptured somehow? The issue is that there are very few players quite like Baron Davis in his prime. Baron could not only slash, but he was also large enough to guard opposing 2's, thus allowing the undersized Ellis to match up against point guards. How many guys like that are there in the league? Maybe John Wall?
So, at age 27, Monta Ellis is probably cursed to never be properly optimized as a talent. He's also shooting south of 40 percent and making the same old mistakes offensively and defensively that he always has. He may improve, but I doubt he'll ever get back to that guy who hit .536 of his shots in 2007-08.
Here's to hoping that Dwight Howard fully recovers from his back injury. As I'm not a doctor, I can't tell you whether he'll ever fully make this recovery. When interviewed by USA Today, Dwight spoke to the difficulty of his road to recovery:
People don't understand that. They just come out and see me make a couple dunks and blocks and say, "Oh, he's back." But it does take a while for all this stuff to heal. This is not something easy, so I understand that. It will come.
Dwight Howard is 27 years old and should theoretically be ascending into his prime. Instead, he's trying to get back to the level he once was. And even if he gets there, can you imagine Howard ever being better than his Orlando self?
You could make a fair argument that Dwight Howard's best season was in 2008-09 (career high win share average), though you could also make a case for 2010-11 (career high PER). Either way, we're talking about someone who did not demonstrate much improvement between 2008-11, and then got taken out by back surgery in 2012.
He looks slow right now, and lacks lift on many nights. I do have faith that Dwight Howard, always a hard worker, will return to at least near what he was. I just don't have faith in his ability to become even better than his old peak, after that road to recovery. So much of his game is predicated on athleticism, and he's in a battle against time and his body to retain it.