LeBron James and 10 other players who have taken a step back so far this season

LeBron James and 10 other players who have taken a step back so far this season

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LeBron James and 10 other players who have taken a step back so far this season

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Recently, we took a look at various NBA players who have taken a leap so far this season, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lauri Markkanen.

Today, we’ll take a look at players headed in the opposite direction, the guys who have taken a step back, either in production or impact – in some cases both.

Some of these players can blame age and mileage for their regressions while others are a bit more difficult to figure out.

Below, check out the NBA players who have taken a step back thus far in the 2022-23 campaign, a list Klay Thompson just barely missed out on after his recent explosion against the Houston Rockets.

LeBron James (LA Lakers)

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 30.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 6.2 apg, 61.9 TS%
2022-23 stats: 24.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 6.9 apg, 51.8 TS%

Los Angeles Lakers fans and LeBron James fans (they don’t always coincide) may not want to hear it, but for the first time, it looks like Father Time may have caught up to the GOAT candidate.

His true shooting percentage has dropped considerably, he’s missing looks around the basket he would have thrown down via dunk in years prior and he just doesn’t look like the same athletic marvel he once was (obviously).

The numbers reflect that, too, as for the first time in his entire career, James boasts a negative swing rating, with the Lakers performing 9.6 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor. Just two seasons ago, that number was a +10.6 in the opposite direction with James in the game.

Should we call it a coincidence that in his three-game absence, the Lakers are 3-0 with Anthony Davis looking like an MVP candidate again?

Not only is James shooting a lower percentage from around the rim than last year, the percentage of his field-goal attempts that are dunks is 5.5 percent, the lowest mark of his career.

Of course, this could be injury-related as James could return from his abductor issue and look like his 2021-22 self again soon. It’s just surprising to sort of see the King’s advanced numbers look a bit more mundane than we’re used to, with his BPM at +4.3 (the second-lowest clip of his time in the NBA), his WS/48 at 0.063 (lowest of his career) and PER at 20.1 (second-worst).

Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)

Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 17.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.4 apg, 65.6 TS%
2022-23 stats: 14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.2 apg, 59.6 TS%

The story for the Phoenix Suns over the last few years has been that they are a different beast when Deandre Ayton is fully engaged, attacking the glass and protecting the paint while knocking down some midrange jumpers to lighten the load offensively for Chris Paul and Devin Booker.

Thus far this year, the numbers say Ayton has taken a step back in that regard, with his BPM going down from +2.8 to -0.1 and his VORP at a very modest +0.2.

Even more shocking is that the Suns have been a whole lot worse with Ayton on the floor, as the big man’s swing rating at -10.7, an absolutely shocking number for a player with his ability and potential.

Then again, maybe it’s not so shocking of a number considering Ayton did try to leave this summer and join the Indiana Pacers. Might Ayton be less engaged this year because he truly wanted out of Phoenix?

It’s possible.

Either way, the Suns are not going to reach their championship ceiling without Ayton turning things around and playing like the former No. 1 pick did last season.

Zach LaVine (Chicago)

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 24.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.5 apg, 60.5 TS%
2022-23 stats: 20.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.9 apg, 54.1 TS%

After back-to-back All-Star seasons, Zach LaVine has taken a step back so far this season, with things going so poorly that he was even benched late in a recent game, a 108-107 defeat for the Chicago Bulls at the hands of the firmly rebuilding Orlando Magic.

It’s hard to blame Bulls head coach Billy Donovan for the benching, as LaVine was a laughable 1-for-14 that night with four points and -19 plus-minus on the evening.

Making matters worse for Chicago is that LaVine actually said after the game he didn’t think he should have been benched (via The Athletic):

LaVine didn’t agree with the decision, which Donovan anticipated. Zach LaVine on sitting out the final 3:43 of tonight’s loss to Orlando: “That’s Billy’s decision. He’s got to live with it. Do I agree with it? No.” “That’s Billy’s decision. He’s got to lay with it,” LaVine said. “Do I agree with it? No. I think I can go out there and still be me even if I go out there and miss some shots. But that’s his decision. He has to stand on it.”

LaVine is shooting the ball very poorly this year, hitting just 41.5 percent of his field goals. Unsurprisingly, the Bulls are much worse with the former UCLA guard on the floor, too, at -7.8 points per 100 possessions when LaVine is on the floor.

He’s got plenty of time to turn things around, but the oft-injured LaVine could just be breaking down after going through so many injury issues earlier in his career.

We’ll have to wait and see, but things are looking not so great in Chicago right about now, especially with how well the likes of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter have performed since leaving.

Chris Paul (Phoenix)

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 14.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 10.8 apg, 58.1 TS%
2022-23 stats: 9.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 9.4 apg, 52.2 TS%

It’s hard to fault Chris Paul for taking a step back this season considering it’s his 18th in the NBA, all high-usage years as multiple team’s top point guard – and various runs in the playoffs (though not many very deep ones, unfortunately).

Paul’s +3.7 BPM is the lowest mark of his carer his 0.189 WS/48 is the fourth-lowest and his 17.6 PER is also the lowest.

Still, Paul’s regression hasn’t been as glaring as that of other players on this list, as he remains a positive-impact player according to the advanced metric while the Suns are still +6.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor, which is actually a higher mark than last season for Paul.

It’s just weird to see Paul averaging so little points, as the future Hall-of-Famer has seemingly been solely focused on creating for teammates, looking for his own shot less than ever.

Patrick Beverley (LA Lakers)

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 9.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.6 apg, 53.9 TS%
2022-23 stats: 4.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, 41.7 TS%

When the Lakers picked up Patrick Beverley, many believed it could be a great fit, with Beverley used to being an off-ball role player who could knock down open shots while hounding opposing point guards defensively.

Instead, Beverley has been disastrous, with the veteran floor general performing like a player on his last legs in the NBA.

Beverley is shooting a paltry 27.4 percent from the floor and 24.4 percent from three, with his VORP at a career-worst -0.2 and his BPM at a shocking -4.1. That’s the 10th-worst BPM in the entire NBA, by the way.

Beverley should be able to turn things around provided he’s able to start hitting open shots (Beverley is making just 23.5 percent of his shots that NBA.com considers to be open, 23.8 percent on shots considered wide open, two of the worst marks in the league), but if he doesn’t, his stay in Los Angeles may not be as long as previously anticipated.

Evan Fournier (New York)

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 14.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 55.4 TS%
2022-23 stats: 6.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, 47.4 TS%

French swingman Evan Fournier has gone from every-game starter for the New York Knicks to bench player and now firmly out of the rotation, and it’s hard to fault head coach Tom Thibodeau for making that decision.

Fournier isn’t happy with being out of the rotation, mind you, though that is a reasonable feeling for any player (via Basket USA):

“I’m not happy but what can I do? I can’t do much really (shrugs)… So I stay professional, I do what I have to do, and I try to be ready, and that’s it. We stay patient.” … “When I say staying professional, it’s about doing what I have to do to stay ready. Of course, you have to be a good teammate, but just because I’m told I’m not in the rotation right now doesn’t mean I’m going to slack off, much eating, party… I try to be ready. You see, tomorrow the others are going to be “off”. I’m going to work out, I’m going to do cardio, I’m going to do my weight training. When I say professional, that’s it. Prepare myself in case the coach needs me.”

Fournier has been outright poor on the year, shooting 33.3 percent from three and 34.4 percent from the floor in general, without providing much of anything on the defensive end.

The Knicks were already worse with him on the floor last season, with Fournier boasting a -6.7 swing rating in 2021-22, but this year, that number is even uglier, with New York 8.4 points per 100 possessions worse when the veteran guard is in the game.

Fournier will likely get another shot in the Knicks’ rotation but right now, the numbers are looking straight-up ugly, and if he doesn’t turn things around, the $18.9 million New York owes him for next season will look like quite the albatross.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, Fournier isn’t the only player who has taken a step back this season.

Terry Rozier (Charlotte)

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 19.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.5 apg, 56.6 TS%
2022-23 stats: 20.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.4 apg, 46.3 TS%

This one might be a bit controversial considering Terry Rozier’s counting stats are actually up from last year while his swing rating is also better than last season’s, with the Charlotte Hornets performing 2.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (+1.6 last season), but Rozier’s efficiency is way down.

He’s hitting just 37.0 percent of his field-goal attempts this year compared to 44.4 percent last year and 30.8 percent of his triples (37.4 percent in 2021-22).

As such, his BPM is down from +1.7 to -2.4 and his VORP is at a solid 0.0 in 2022-23, making him a fully replacement-level player. His Win Shares per 48 minutes have also dropped into the negative at -0.013.

RJ Barrett (New York)

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 20.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 51.1 TS%
2022-23 stats: 17.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.9 apg, 48.8 TS%

The Knicks were always taking a risk when they extended RJ Barrett to the tune of a four-year, $107.0 million deal, but could they be having buyer’s remorse so soon?

Based on Barrett’s play, that may not be totally out of the question, as the Canadian swingman has been one of the least efficient high-level players in the league this year. Barrett is shooting 39.1 percent from the floor this season, 25.3 percent from three (Barrett has actually hit just two of his last 25 three-point attempts, an 8.0 percent mark) and making the Knicks a preposterous 10.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he’s on the court.

That number wasn’t much better last year at -7.9, by the way, making his extension deal all the more surprising.

Barrett’s BPM (-4.6) is the fifth-worst in all of the NBA, his VORP (-0.4) is tied for the worst and his WS/48 (0.002) is the sixth-worst.

For a player being paid like a franchise cornerstone (something his numbers have never reflected), Barrett taking a step back this quickly has to be hugely concerning for New York.

Jordan Poole (Golden State)

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 18.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 59.8 TS%
2022-23 stats: 15.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 4.5 apg, 55.0 TS%

Another player whose game has taken a step back immediately after getting a huge rookie-scale extension is Jordan Poole, who many were dubbing the third Splash brother based on his play last season.

Poole has regressed pretty heavily thus far in 2022-23, shooting just 41.4 percent from the floor and 34.2 percent from three, causing Stephen Curry to carry an even bigger load to this point in the campaign.

If the Warriors are to repeat, they’ll need a lot more out of Poole (and Thompson, who was going to make this list before his 41-point, 10-triple explosion against Houston recently).

Poole has been far from a positive-impact player this year, as his turnstile-like defense looks worse than ever while he hasn’t been able to mask that with scoring explosions. He’s been so bad, in fact, that the Warriors are a shocking – sit down before reading this – 24.1 points per 100 possessions worse when he’s on the court, a number that is legitimately hard to fathom this far into a season.

Yikes.

PJ Tucker (Philadelphia)

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 7.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 59.3 TS%
2022-23 stats: 4.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.9 apg, 67.0 TS%

Last season, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was able to get a career year out of PJ Tucker by using him creatively, getting Tucker to run some pick and roll and giving him the green light to look for his own shot around the floater area as opposed to just settling for corner threes.

So, naturally, in Year 1 under Doc Rivers, all of that has gone out the window as Tucker has returned to his role as an all-defense, little-offense contributor.

Tucker has scored 17 whole points in the entire month of November, a stretch where he’s averaging nearly 30 minutes nightly, making the feat all the more impressive.

Still, the Sixers are far better when he’s on the court, with Tucker a +12.2 in the swing-rating department. But the advanced analytics don’t rate him all that well, as Tucker’s -3.5 BPM is a bottom-20 mark in the league while his 6.0 PER is the league’s third-worst clip.

If only Rivers had recent tape on how to maximize Tucker’s abilities on the offensive end from when he played under an elite head coach not that long ago.

Oh, well.

Will Barton (Washington)

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

2021-22 stats: 14.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.9 apg, 54.8 TS%
2022-23 stats: 7.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 47.7 TS%

There was a time Will Barton was considered one of the top sixth men in basketball.

That time is no longer, as Barton has regressed this year, putting up his fewest points per game since 2013-14 while shooting 37.0 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three, looking borderline unplayable at times for the Washington Wizards.

The Wizards have been 18.3 points per 100 possessions worse with Barton on the floor this year, a hugely concerning mark considering the team isn’t so loaded with talent they can simply choose to keep playing Barton until he figures things out.

Maybe his shot will regain its form, but it looks like Barton has just lost a step athletically, as he’s no longer as able to get by defenders or finish through contact like he used to.

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