Every year, loyal basketball fans pack stadiums to watch their favorite NBA stars dominate on the court. Each team has its share of young up-and-comers that fans invest their hopes for the future. There are the core players who are smack dab in the middle of their prime who lead the charge and rack up the All-Star votes.
Unfortunately, there is a third group on every NBA roster, composed of guys whose careers have reached and passed their apex. These guys are unfortunately about to begin the inevitable rapid descent into obscurity that rounds out so many otherwise impressive basketball careers. Father time spares no one, and in the world of professional sports, factors like injuries or an inability to adapt to the changing game can accelerate a player’s downward spiral even further.
On that depressing note, let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s take a look at the veteran NBA stars most likely to see a serious dip in their productivity during the 2022/23 season. Who are the guys we should expect to fall off this year?
Some may argue that Russell Westbook already fell off last year. I would strongly disagree, as the worst is yet to come. Yes, Westbrook struggled to fit into the Lakers’ system and shot horribly throughout the season. His reckless, out-of-control play style hit an all-time high as his athleticism seemed to slightly decline. However, a stubbornness to adapt and an inconsistent jumper have been characteristics of his entire career.
While attempting to share the spotlight with Lebron James (and occasionally a healthy Anthony Davis), Westbrook still put-up impressive numbers, even if they weren’t up to the standard 30-point-triple-double that we came to expect over the previous half-decade. His averages of 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.1 assists, and 1.0 steals look outstanding in a vacuum and would look like All-Star numbers if you were unaware of how detrimental his play was to the success of his team. Also, digging a bit deeper, his 29.8% from three-point range on 3.5 attempts a game is disturbingly inefficient and reckless (though, again, right on par with his career averages).
However, it is widely known that the Lakers have left no rock left unturned to move Westbrook and his enormous salary this summer and had no takers. Lebron James was frustrated with his newest superstar teammate all season. There is no doubt that Westbrook will be on a much shorter leash this season, and if he can’t improve within the Lakers’ system in 2022/23 and avoid being a detriment to the team’s success, he could find himself falling out of the rotation. And with a player as sensitive as Westbrook, a move to the bench could result in a complete breakdown between team and player, and perhaps an entire lost season.
If Westbrook and the Lakers have a complete falling out in 2022/23, he would be turning 35 heading into the following season, with declining athleticism, and no jump shot to speak of. At that point, he may find his opportunities in the league drying up.
Al Horford, as far as 36-year-old big men go, was still highly effective in 2021/22 and was a key factor in the Boston Celtics’ run to an NBA Finals berth. While his scoring numbers were down last season at 10.2 points per game during the regular season (up to 12 in the playoffs), he had a better-than-average rebounding year at 7.7 per game along with 3.4 assists. Not eye-popping numbers, but Horford was never necessarily a stat sheet stuffer on paper.
However, as a big, lumbering player in the twilight of his career, and with his numbers already steadily declining over the past few seasons, it seems like a safe prediction that Horford’s days as a double-digit scorer and full-time starter could be over.
I would anticipate Horford giving up considerably more floor time to the younger front-court players, whether it be Grant Williams, Robert Williams III, Danilo Gallinari, and even Jayson Tatum playing the four. While he will still make an impact as a veteran leader on a talented young team, seeing Horford’s numbers take a big dip to the eight points, five rebounds per game area while playing in 50-ish games seems reasonable, in what very well could be his final campaign as he is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in 2023.
Long story short, Chris Paul is an injury-prone 37-year-old. While he has still been one of the elite point guards when healthy in recent years, helping lead a resurgence in Phoenix Suns basketball, it would still be far from a longshot to predict a steep decline in Paul’s productivity in the coming years.
That said, as long as he stays healthy, Chris Paul will be the starting point guard for the Phoenix Suns this season. He was an All-Star player last season while averaging 14.7 points, 10.8 assists and 1.9 steals a game, and he is a highly intelligent player who doesn’t have to rely on pure athleticism to impact a game.
However, there is a very high probability that last season is Chris Paul’s final All-Star campaign. Father time is undefeated, even against players as tough and smart as Paul. While Paul won’t find himself riding the bench or facing adversity that dramatic, could he take more of a backseat to Devin Booker and the team’s young core? Seeing Paul’s numbers drop to a more pedestrian 11 points and seven to eight assists per game could be a realistic possibility, which would mark a considerable drop off from what we have come to expect of the legendary guard.
Similar to Chris Paul, Lowry will still play a significant role with his team in 2022/23, but it may look quite different from what we have come to expect from the veteran floor general. Lowry already watched his scoring numbers decline to 13.4 points per game as he adjusted to his new team and focused primarily on facilitating. He still averaged 7.5 assists (better than his career average of 6.3), 1.1 steals and shot almost 38% from three-point range on six attempts per game.
However, Kyle Lowry is 36 years old and has played very hard basketball throughout his 17-year NBA career. Lowry is near the league lead in charges taken every season and has never been one to avoid sacrificing his body to make a play. Injuries have begun to pile up, and he has averaged just 58 games played per season over the past four years.
Lowry is still a great leader and a crafty floor general, but it is reasonable to expect his body to begin to fail him as he approaches his 37th birthday in March. Expect Lowry to play a more limited role in the 2022/23 season, probably playing around 50 games, and seeing his numbers decline across the board in what may be his last season as an NBA starter. A stat line in the 10-point, five-assist range would not be a surprise.