Perhaps more so than any other league, the NBA is a star's league. Without stars, the league would just not be very fun to watch. TV ratings would not be very good and it would be hard for the league to function without those big box office names.
Currently, the NBA is in great hands with superstars and star players like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and many more. However, there is going to be a time when these superstars start to fade and the league is going to need new people to step up. This should not be a problem for the league because there are many great young players in the game. In fact, some of these young players are so good that we may see them take a big step as early as the 2017-18 season.
This article will focus on these young talents and discuss eight players that are going to rise up in 2017-18. We will also look at players that may be past their prime and take a decline. Just a heads up that by decline, I do not mean the player will suck by any means. I just think they will take a step back statistically, and perhaps not be able to dominate the game like we are used to seeing (for example, Tim Duncan in the later parts of his career).
14 Step Up - Brandon Ingram
The Los Angeles Lakers had another abysmal season, but at least there is hope for the future. Magic Johnson will be much better than Jim Buss in the basketball operations department and the Lakers have young and upcoming players like Brandon Ingram. Yes, Ingram had somewhat of a disappointing rookie season, but after the all-star break Ingram showed flashes. Ingram has the potential to be a star in the NBA and I believe he will take a big step up next year. I also really like the fact that Ingram is versatile and can play many positions. He has also has the potential to be a great defender.
Overall, Ingram will be much more comfortable in the league next year and I do not expect a sophomore slump. Ingram will make Lakers fans happy.
13 Decline - Tony Parker
The decline of Tony Parker has been happening right in front of our eyes the last couple of season and I expect it to be much worse by the time next season rolls around. Parker has played a lot of basketball over the years and relies on quickness, so this really is not too surprising. It is obvious with the eye test that Parker is not the same. Statistically, Parker's minutes have declined for four straight seasons. Parker also had his lowest scoring average since his rookie season in 2016-17.
Overall, Parker is nowhere near the player he once was and I would be surprised if he remains the starting point guard for the Spurs next year. Remember, Parker has been given the early hook in many different games this year in favour of Patty Mills.
13. Step Up - Jusuf Nurkić
The Portland Blazers flat out stole Jusuf Nurkić from the Denver Nuggets when they traded Mason Plumlee and a second round pick. I understand Nurkić became expendable with the emergence of Nikola Jokić, but still, Portland management deserves tons of credit.
Since coming to Portland, Nurkić has shown that he is going to be a double-double machine in the league for a long time and the Blazers have looked like a very good team. Nurkić is capable of scoring the ball, grabbing tons of rebound and being a good rim protector. He will form a nice "Big 3" with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Overall, it is unfortunate that Nurkić has not been able to play in the Blazers-Warriors series, as I feel Portland could have given the Dubs some trouble if he was healthy.
12 Decline - Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap is having a very good year. He is a good shooter, can rebound the ball, and play well within a good system. Millsap has also been if not the best, one of the best Hawks players over the past few seasons. He has had a very good career for someone that is considered undersized.
So why do I think he is going to decline next season? Well, he is 32 years old and he is also in a contract year. Too many times have I seen players above 30 play well in a contract year, get paid big money by a team, and then not live up to expectations. Millsap may still be more serviceable, but I am expecting him to take a big drop off next year.
11 Step Up - Nerlens Noel
The best thing that could have happened for Nerlens Noel is being traded by the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers had a log jam at Noel's position and he was never really going to get the chance to develop into the player many people thought he could be coming out of college.
However, the Dallas Mavericks will provide a ton of opportunity for Noel and he may even become a franchise cornerstone. Next year, I expect Noel to continue to raise his game defensively. He will be a great rim protector, grab tons of rebounds, and be able to switch out effectively on guards. Offensively, I expect Noel to have a big increase in numbers and Mavericks fans are going to fall in love with Noel.
10 Decline - Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry is a good player, but I do not know if I would pay him big dollars this summer. Remember, Lowry is on the wrong side of 30 and he seems to have health issues every season. Add in the fact that Lowry has not proven he can get it done in the playoffs and there is plenty of reason to be cautious about paying Lowry like a superstar.
To be fair to Lowry, he is a heart and soul type player. He leaves everything on the court, takes charges, dives for loose balls, which is everything you want in your leader. He can take over games during the regular season with his pitbull playing style. Thus, in the end, I still think some team will give him big money for the reasons mentioned, but be warned.
9 Step Up - Myles Turner
There are two major reasons why I expect Myles Turner to step next year. The first is that he is a young player that is continuing to improve. Turner has a great shooting touch, is effective in the pick and roll game, and can also have a big impact on the glass. With more and more experience, Turner will continue to prove and someday be an all-star. Who knows that could even be in 2018.
The second reason I foresee Turner stepping up is because I am expecting a Paul George trade before next season starts. This means that Turner will be forced into a bigger role with more touches on the offensive end. I expect Turner to deliver individually, but ultimately, Indiana will not be a playoff team.
8 Decline - Dwyane Wade
Aside from his health issues, Dwyane Wade had a much better season with the Chicago Bulls than I expected. I was expecting Wade to fall back to the 14-15 points per game range because let us face it, by basketball standards, Wade is old. However, Wade was able to be a reliable option for the Bulls by averaging over 18 points per game. He is also helping a Bulls surprise many with post-season play.
However, I fully expect Wade to decline next season. For one, I expect Wade to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers and he is going to have to sacrifice much of his game for LeBron, Kyrie, and Love. Wade will be a 4th option and he will not be nearly as effective as we are used to seeing.
7 Step Up - Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins took a big step up this year in terms of scoring, but I expect even more next year. Wiggins will come back in 2017-18 as a better scorer, rebounder, defensive player, and perhaps most importantly, shot creator for his teammates. The Minnesota Timberwolves are not going to go anywhere until Wiggins learns to strengthen his all around game. If Wiggins is able to create for his teammates and average around 5 assists per game, I am calling the Timberwolves to make the playoffs next season and perhaps even make the second round.
Wiggins will also be better in crunch time and along with Karl-Anthony Towns, they will not allow their team to blow as many big leads as they did during the 2016-17 season.
6 Decline - Carmelo Anthony
I am almost certain that Carmelo Anthony will not be in a New York Knicks uniform next year. I am also certain that his game will take a decline next year. I think his game will decline for a variety of reasons. First, Melo is getting up there in age and father time is undefeated. Secondly, I think Melo will get traded to a much better team, such as the Clippers. Therefore, not only will he be unable to carry a team like he used to, but he will not be expected to. If I was Melo, this is a trade off I would not refuse, especially if it means getting out of New York, where he is playing for a president that clearly does not like him.
Overall, I think Melo's scoring average will fall to around 20 points per game next season, but the bright side is he will still be able to get a bucket for you when you need it the most.
5 Step Up - Giannis Antetokounmpo
The scary part about having Giannis Antetokounmpo being on this list is that he is already one of the top players in the game so him stepping up could be a scary thought for the rest of the league. The Greek Freak is so versatile and in my mind, will be the best player in the NBA in about three years.
Overall, Antetkounmpo is essentially a one man fast break, can drive to bucket at will, and is a great play-maker. Antetokounmpo is also a problem for teams on the defensive end. He is very long and disrupts whatever player he is guarding. In time, he has the potential to be on the all NBA defensive team. Basically, the only thing missing from his game is a consistent jump shot. With time, his jump-shot will become consistent and teams will have no answer for him.
4 Decline - Russell Westbrook
The major reason I think I Russell Westbrook is going to decline is because it is impossible to imagine someone averaging a triple double two years in a row. Westbrook will still be a force on the offensive end and lead his team to the playoffs, but I am willing to bet a lot that Russell Westbrook is not going to average a triple double again next year. I am also expecting the Thunder to bring in more help for Westbrook next year, which is going to force him to less ball dominant.
Therefore, Westbrook's statistical decline may not be such a bad thing for the Thunder next year. It will mean that the Thunder are not relying on Westbrook to carry them every single game. Overall, Westbrook will still be an all-star in 2017-18, but his stats will not be the same.
3 Step Up - Karl-Anthony Towns
As I already suggested in this article, next year will be very crucial for the Minnesota Timberwolves, especially Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, Towns took a big step in his development during his sophomore season and I am expecting him to do the same thing in his third year. Towns has all of the tools to be one of the games best big men for the next 10 years, if he is not already. He has nice post moves, rebounds the ball well, and perhaps most importantly, fits the style of the "new" NBA, where big men being able to shoot from the outside is critical.
The Wolves have experienced tough losses and have learned lot over the last couple of seasons. The time to rise is now and Towns along with Wiggins will lead this.
2 Decline - LeBron James
I have said this to myself before: never bet against LeBron James. However, the man has played basketball for a long time and he needs to tail off sooner than later. Remember, LeBron's basketball season is not like most others. He usually ends up playing into June, whereas other players are done in April. He's been to the NBA Finals six years in a row. That's a lot of basketball. LeBron has also played a ton of international basketball. Certainly this means LeBron is going to tire out sooner rather than later and I am of the belief that his decline starts in 2017-18.
Now I still think LeBron will be very good and capable of taking over games, but just not as often as we are used to seeing. In addition, LeBron may have to rely on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love more than he has in these past two seasons.
1 Kristaps Porziņģis
Of all players in the NBA to step their game up in 2017-18, I expect Kristaps Porziņģis to be at the top of the list for a couple of reasons. First, I expect Melo to be on a different team, which means Porziņģis will officially become the face of the franchise. This also means that Porziņģis will have a much larger role. Porziņģis will capitalize on this opportunity and show that a franchise can be built around him.
The second reason I expect a big step up from Porziņģis is that he will be in his third season. Surely, he will be more comfortable of how the league operates and will take that to his advantage. Experience is important regardless of what players and coaches try to say. Overall, I do not expect the Knicks to be a winning team just yet, but eventually they will be under Porziņģis.