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Ranking NBA’s least improved players in 2017-18

NBA - Nov 25, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) leaves the court after the loss to the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeat the Thunder 97-81. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Who are your top candidates for the NBA‘s Most Improved Player this year? There are a lot of guys who have an argument, including Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon and Kristaps Porzingis.

But not every player can improve his on-court impact from one season to the next. Just as a large crop of players take a step forward, many also struggle to recapture their previous level of play.

Which NBA players have regressed the most from a season ago? Let’s find out who the top seven least improved players are.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

2017-18 per game statistics: 22.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 9.9 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, 21.5 PER, 0.131 win shares per 48 minutes

When you’re the reigning MVP, expectations are high. Westbrook led a very blah supporting cast to 47 wins a year ago, and this season, his Thunder are on a 39-winΒ pace despite adding Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

While all three members of the trio have underperformed, Westbrook has been the worst relative to last year’s level of play. He’s shooting 27.3 percentΒ on all 2-point attempts that aren’t at the rim, and those shots represent 36.7 percent of his total shot attempts. His free-throw percentage is a career-low 71.6.

Let’s be clear: Westbrook is still a star and is putting up a nice line of basic statistics. But the combination of five turnovers per contest, a poor true shooting percentage of 50 and his lack of improvement on defense is troubling.

GEORGE HILL, SACRAMENTO KINGS

2017-18 per game statistics: 8.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 12.3 PER, 0.054 win shares per 48 minutes

Hill was supposed to be the main reason the Kings wouldn’t completely tank this season. He had an excellent campaign for the Utah Jazz in 2016-17, putting up 16.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists with excellent efficiency both shooting and taking care of the ball.

The $57 million man has fallen a long way from that production. He’s posting his lowest scoring and assist averages since his rookie year, and his shooting efficiency has regressed, too.

Head coach Dave Joerger even benched the veteran point guard in the Kings’ 109-104 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. Hill didn’t take too kindly to that.

On the bright side, Hill isn’t hindering the Kings’ tank effort. That will stay the case until the 31-year-old floor general starts playing more aggressively on the offensive end.

JAE CROWDER, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

2017-18 per game statistics: 8.6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 9.3 PER, 0.047 win shares per 48 minutes

When the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade first went down, many saw it as a major win for the Cavs. In addition to nabbing Thomas, they were landing the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick and Crowder, who was a two-way stud for the Celtics last season.

A player who was a positive on offense and defense is now arguably below-average on both ends. There hasn’t been just one or two specific areas in which his numbers have fallen off. The decline has been nearly across the board. Maybe his worst statistic this year is his 4.3 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is happening despite him guarding 4s a lot of the time.

Crowder’s production has clearly improved a bit in the Cavaliers’ current 12-game winning streak. But he’s still not close to the consistent producer he was for Boston a season ago.

TYLER JOHNSON, MIAMI HEAT

2017-18 per game statistics: 9.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks, 10.1 PER, 0.043 win shares per 48 minutes

A fringe Sixth Man of the Year candidate a year ago, Johnson hasn’t sniffed that level of play this year. His scoring and assists per game are both down (he was at 13.7 and 3.2 last year, respectively) despite identical turnover numbers and only a slight dip in playing time. His performance has made it very clear that he’s not a point guard.

Johnson’s dips in production and efficiency wouldn’t be quite as cumbersome if it weren’t for his contract. He’s making an acceptable $5.9 million this season, but his annual salary skyrockets to approximately $19 million in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. If the 24-year-old guard doesn’t pick up his play significantly, Miami will have a tough time finding a taker for his contract.

MAURICE HARKLESS, PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

2017-18 per game statistics: 5.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, 8.5 PER, 0.073 win shares per 48 minutes

Harkless developed a reputation early in his career as a strong, versatile defensive player who wasn’t skilled enough on the offensive end to warrant a consistently big role. Last season, that changed, as the 24-year-old combo forward notched a shooting slash of 50.3/35.1/75. The field-goal and free-throw shooting numbers were major career highs, and his three-point shooting was his second-best year. Portland rewarded him with 69 starts.

He’s back to his old ways this season. His percentages from two- and three-point range are both way down, and his usage rate has fallen to a career-low 11.5. He’s just a complete afterthought in the Blazers’ offense.

Unfortunately, Harkless just suffered a bruised quad muscle against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday. If the injury does take him out some time, maybe he can use the time to refocus and find ways where he can positively impact the team on offense.

VINCE CARTER, SACRAMENTO KINGS

2017-18 per game statistics: 2.6 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 3.9 PER, -0.063 win shares per 48 minutes

I take no pleasure in putting the beloved Carter on this list. He’s the oldest player in the NBA and dealt with kidney stones last month, so he deserves a bit of his slack for his performance. The fact that he’s still playing at all is impressive.

That said, Carter has been aggressively bad for the Kings this season, and far worse than he was with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016-17. His role is small, and he has yet to develop an offensive rhythm (38 true shooting percentage). He doesn’t have the quickness to be a defensive asset, though his old man strength does help him now and then.

Remember, Sacramento did give Carter $8 million this summer for just one year of play. You’d expect at least a little bit of help on the court from a guy making that kind of money.

PATRICK PATTERSON, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

2017-18 per game statistics: 2.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 5.4 PER, 0.049 win shares per 48 minutes

I’m pretty sure the The Thunder’s Patterson signing made every single “free-agency steal” or “most underrated signings of the offseason” list before the season. Given his pedigree, Patterson getting three years and $16 million was admittedly solid value, despite his offseason knee surgery.

2Pat’s stats were never gaudy with the Toronto Raptors or any of his previous teams. He brought some 3-point shooting, very good defense and grit on the interior, though. Those qualities made him a plus-minus hero β€” in 2015-16 and 2016-17, Patterson made Toronto more than 10 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court.

However, Patterson’s minutes are way down this year. The fact that he’s neck-and-neck with Josh Huestis in playing time is not a good sign.

The veteran big man’s defensive impact has slipped, but it’s mainly on the glass (4.5 rebounds per 36 minutes) and with his shooting (45.8 true shooting percentage) that he’s fallen off. His famed success in the plus-minus department has also reversed course. OKC is 9.8 points per 100 possessions better when Patterson is on the pine.

Dishonorable mention:Β Sean Kilpatrick (Brooklyn Nets), Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets), Shabazz Muhammad (Minnesota Timberwolves), Ricky Rubio (Utah Jazz), Dion Waiters (Miami Heat), Wilson Chandler (Denver Nuggets), Ian Clark (New Orleans Pelicans).

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