15 NBA Ballers Destined to Take a Major Step Back Next Season

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IJuly 23, 2012

15 NBA Ballers Destined to Take a Major Step Back Next Season

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    The new NBA season is fast approaching, and I'm excited to see how the stars of the game do in a full season as opposed to one shortened by a lockout. 

    It's safe to say that some numbers were a bit padded last year given the short campaign, and it's even safer to assume that there are a small handful of fans out there who will expect the same big stats.

    Those fans will most likely be a bit disappointed as some All-Stars' numbers will surely take a hit next year. 

    Take Dwight Howard, for example.  Not only is he coming off of back surgery, but he is quite unhappy in Orlando and given how he's been a bit of a diva about it, I wouldn't at all be shocked if he dogged it on the court until he gets his trade wish granted.

    Unfortunately, he is just one of many stars due to take a giant step back in 2012-2013.

No. 15: Kobe Bryant

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    I've been a fan of Bryant since I was 11 years old and if there's anyone who's bummed about him stepping back next year, it's me.  Yet, his regression will not be a bad thing by any means.

    You see, for the past several years, the Lakers' offensive approach has been simple: get the ball to Kobe and let him take over.  There was no truly effective point guard on the roster, so shot selection got a bit off and the team fought and clawed its way to two championships in 2009 and 2010.

    This season, however, the offense will be different.  Bryant has Steve Nash as his starting point man, and we all know that Nash likes to spread the ball around and utilize all potential scorers. 

    Seeing as how Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are slated to be in the starting lineup next year, expect Bryant's numbers to drop, albeit only slightly.

No. 14: Chris Bosh

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    For the past two years, the Miami Heat relied heavily on their Big Three, and seeing as how Bosh was the weakest link compared to Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, his numbers were the lowest. 

    Yet, now that GM Pat Riley has been adding depth on the bench each of the past two offseasons, expect Bosh's numbers to drop even more.

    More importantly, the Heat have Ray Allen on the roster now.  Given how he is probably a more reliable contributor than Bosh, expect the power forward to have a bit of a rough 2012-2013.

No. 13: Serge Ibaka

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    Ibaka is one of the best low-post defenders in the game, having averaged 3.7 blocks per game last year. That's definitely an impressive stat but again, it was in an abbreviated season.

    That said, now that a full season is on the horizon, I'd expect that Ibaka's numbers next season will be a bit more evened out.

Nos. 12 and 11: Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum

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    Bynum is coming off a career year and didn't miss one game due to injury, and I have no problem calling that a fluke/luck..  In a full season, I'm anticipating that he'll come back down to Earth and miss maybe 10 games when his balky knees start acting up.

    In Gasol's case (and Bynum's too, for that matter), his scoring is probably going to drop simply because of the team-first approach that is coming to the Lakers. 

    Steve Nash is one to spread the ball around and given how he's a decent scorer himself, I just don't see Gasol being the dominant scoring power forward he has been for most of his career.

    Both players will certainly regress, though certainly not in the most awful way.

No. 10: LeBron James

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    James is coming off of an MVP season, not to mention his first NBA championship.  He's going to have a great year, but probably not in terms of what we're used to from him.  Not only are the Heat a deeper team now, but something tells me that James' personality could come into the picture.

    Yes, the former No. 1 pick is one of the greatest players in basketball history, but he isn't exactly the definition of maturity.  His "Decision" will forever label him as a prima donna, and while I may be completely wrong here, I can't help but think that he'll coast a bit through next season.

    He'll still put up good numbers, but certainly not eye-popping ones.  He's destined for the Hall of Fame now that he has his ring, so why go all out anymore?  I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

No. 9: Derrick Rose

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    Rose is currently recovering from major knee surgery and though he is said to be ahead of schedule on his rehab, knee problems are nothing to be taken lightly.  To be honest, I'd be shocked if Rose came back at all this season.

    Yet, assuming he does return at some point, chances are that Bulls management will want to play it conservative with his knee. 

    He will most likely receive limited minutes and only gradually get the playing time to which he is accustomed.  Rose is a great player, but his injury is setting him up for a step back this season.

No. 8: Russell Westbrook

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    Westbrook is a scoring point guard, and that isn't a bad thing by any measure.  It's how he plays the game, plain and simple.

    Yet, the former UCLA Bruin gets a bit overenthusiastic when he's on a roll, resulting in his taking some bad shots instead of dishing the ball off to teammate Kevin Durant or reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. 

    His Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the NBA's ever-improving teams and given how they basically got clowned in the NBA Finals this past season, chances are that coach Scott Brooks will be looking to make some changes on offense.

    That could mean having Westbrook, who averaged a career-best 23.7 points per game last season, take more of a pass-first approach.  Should that change happen and improve the team, expect the dynamic point man to slip down in the scoring rankings.

No. 7: Joe Johnson

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    In the seven years he spent with the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson was the go-to scorer.  The team relied on him to carry them to a win and during his tenure there, he averaged 20.9 points per game.

    Yet, Johnson was recently traded to the Brooklyn Nets, where his point guard will be effective scorer and passer Deron Williams.  Throw in scoring center Brook Lopez, and chances are Johnson's numbers will be effective, though not as high as we're used to seeing from him.

    His year won't be god-awful, but probably not the 18-20 points per game that has become his forte.  If anything, I'd expect him to average maybe 15 per game and also be an effective three-point shooter.

No. 6: Jeremy Lin

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    After Linsanity took the league by storm last season, there is probably more pressure on Jeremy Lin than anyone else in the NBA going into 2012-2013.  After leaving New York to get a new start in Houston, he's already set a high bar for himself in the form of a three-year, $25 million deal.

    Unfortunately, I just see Linsanity going from a roaring bonfire to a flickering flame next year.  Nothing against Lin, but it just isn't clear what his role in the Rockets' offense is going to be.  Will he be one of the go-to scorers or just someone to play defense and get the stars the ball?

    Unless coach Kevin McHale comes out and says that Lin is the alpha dog on the team, I can only assume that he'll regress next year.

No. 5: Brook Lopez

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    Brook Lopez just signed a max-level contract with the Nets, and he was certainly valuable to the team as the only reliable scoring option besides Deron Williams over the past season and a half.  Were he not injured most of last season, perhaps his team would have fared better.

    Yet, the Nets are a new-look team entering the new season, as Williams and Lopez are no longer the only reliable scorers on the team.  From the aforementioned Joe Johnson to Marshon Brooks to even Gerald Wallace, multiple players can help out in the offensive department.

    Seeing as how Lopez will probably have to play some defense and not focus so much on putting the ball in the hoop this year, expect his scoring numbers to take quite the hit.

No. 4: Ray Allen

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    Allen is one of the most reliable three-point shooters in the game, not to mention the all-time leader in three-pointers made.  Yet, this will also be the first time in his career that he will not be a starter.  In all likelihood, he will end up being the Miami Heat's sixth man.

    That said, just how much he produces next year remains to be seen.  He could show zero signs of age and be as productive as James Harden, or he'll simply be a bench scorer who relies on the three-ball in the same way that Glen Rice did in his playing days.

    Either way, don't expect much from Allen.

No. 3: Dwight Howard

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    Howard's production next year depends on one of two things: his attitude going into the season and just where he ends up playing.  Still, no matter what the circumstance, I just see him posting lower numbers than he usually does.

    First, if he stays in Orlando for the entirety of the season, I anticipate that he'll be playing unhappy and just dog it until the team either benches or trades him.  Despite all of the drama, the Magic are a team that still wants to win and with a team cancer being lazy on the court, that just won't happen.

    Yet, if the rumors should come true and Howard becomes a Los Angeles Laker, his numbers will drop for a different reason.  There, he'll be part of a team that has multiple scoring threats, particularly in Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. 

    Since he won't be the man being relied upon to carry the offensive load, his scoring will probably dip below 20 points per game, given how the Lakers aren't a fast-paced team in the scoring department.

No. 2: Antawn Jamison

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    Jamison has been a scoring forward for most of his career and averaged 17.2 points per game for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season.  Yet, next season is bound to be quite different for him.

    The former North Carolina Tar Heel just signed a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum to play for the Los Angeles Lakers and will come off the bench.  He'll have a fine point guard getting him the ball in Nash, but Jamison is also 36 years old and slightly on the decline.

    Just what his role with the Lakers will be is unclear, be it pure bench scoring, leadership or being the sixth man, but one thing is for certain.  With Nash utilizing all potential targets, his scoring will probably top out at no more than 10 points per game, if that.

No. 1: Paul Pierce

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    Pierce averaged 19.4 points per game last season, no small feat for someone 34 years old and slowly approaching the twilight of their career. 

    That said, seeing as how the former Kansas Jayhawk turns 35 in October and isn't as strong on defense as he once was, I'm anticipating that this coming season will be the one where he starts to finally show signs of age.

    Don't get me wrong.  Paul Pierce will still have a good season in terms of scoring, but he won't be the surefire bet that he has been for most of his career. 

    The Celtics are looking to get younger and seeing as how Jared Sullinger has been looking good in the Summer League, something tells me Pierce will take a backseat and  start to mentor the younger players.

    Again, his year won't be bad, but his numbers will definitely drop.