Throughout the history of the NBA, some of the greatest players have had the worst declines before eventually burning out to either age or injuries. On the contrary, there have been those of the elite status that have found successful methods in changing their games over time, allowing them to stretch their respected careers to its maximum duration.
To date, their haven’t been may MVPs that haven’t been able to successfully transition their games through the years, though that trend may change in the coming years. Any former MVP that’s still active has obviously earned the right of such a title, but who’s to say where the remainder of their career will take them as the game continues to evolve?
Out of all the former-active MVPs, here is a list of whose decline will be the hardest to watch.
7. LeBron James
LeBron James’ fortune of being on the right side of this timeline gives him the hugest benefit. James is the oldest member in this current, elite fraternity of NBA MVPs. He’s also one of the fewest players in history to avoid Father Time heading while in his 30s. While known for his explosiveness, which could fail him in due time, James has adapted to adding other aspects of the game to his repertoire.
James has become a substantial passer in recent years. In fact, he was the assist leader for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2019-20 season, dropping 10.2 dimes per game, which is about two more assists (8.3) than his 2018-19.
James also began his career tallying a majority of his points from mid-range and in the paint. In times since, he’s become a legitimate threat from deep. He canned nearly 35 percent (34.8) of his 3-pointers last season.
With that, it’s highly unlikely that we as fans will even notice King James’ decline, if it ever comes.
6. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo knows his size and length put him so low on this list. The best defenders in the league can figure out certain skills, but size is an unmastered task. The six-foot big man has a slender frame that allow his athleticism to stay in peak form throughout his aging. In a worst-case scenario, his frame will allow him to roam around the paint while still posting high scoring numbers along with rebounds.
Antetokounmpo will however have to develop a solid jumpshot as the years progress. He’s only 25, which leaves much time for his shot to come around (i.e. James). His passing skills have developed seemingly. He’s averaged over five assists in the past two seasons, also with a 5.4 assist average in the 2016-17 season.
Where Antetokounmpo’s bread will continue to be buttered is in the paint nonetheless.
5. Stephen Curry
Curry’s IQ can keep his game around for a while to come. He’s already a legendary, universal shooter which will aid him in his final years in the league. He’s also a tremendous passer and playmaker as well.
Most if not all of Curry’s highlights stem from flashy dribbling followed by a quick-draw 3-pointer. The six-time All-Star has also been able found success in penetrating the paint from his efficient dribbling and attacking the rim through contact. His skill at attacking the rim won’t serve him too well as his age continues to increase, but he can still maintain his NBA MVP aura through his shooting and playmaking.
As one of the deadliest shooters known to mankind, Curry’s aging shouldn’t have an affect on his performances. As far as injuries are concerned, he’s been careful to avoid career-altering injuries to his ankles any further.
4. James Harden
Harden’s ability to continue his scoring dominance strongly depends on his stubbornness as a ball-dominant guard. His pure-scoring skills are arguably the best on the list, but that can change as time goes on. Harden has been known as a guard that’s unwilling to give up the ball, which is a smoking gun in relativeness to his downing of assists compared to his 11.2 assists he averaged in the 2016-17 season.
While Harden is an effective ball handler as well, how well that transitions to his willingness to allow the younger, up-and-coming players on his team to thrive remains a mystery. His struggles with co-stars must be noted, which could continue to pose a problem going forward.
Being a scoring champion doesn’t always pan out for some stars as their careers age (Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson come to mind). If Harden has studied most of these models, he’ll continue to evolve his game.
3. Kevin Durant
Durant may deserve a few spots up on this list, but his latest year hasn’t been a catalyst into his post-MVP life. At 32, Durant is entering what should be the prime years of his career. One of those years was painstakingly taken from the 12-year forward after rupturing his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals.
If not for that, Durant could possibly be higher on this list. The 2020-21 season will dictate much of Durant’s future not only in Brooklyn, but as far as cementing his legacy. He’s an elite scorer for his size and arguably a top-two player in the league when healthy. If he’s able to hit the ground running with the Nets, his decline could become an unrecognizable one.
Westbrook is in danger of becoming one of the worst players in terms of declining with age. At 31, he’s been able to keep up the same level of explosiveness that’s brought about his rise to stardom and gifted him his NBA MVP award in 2017. As the years progress, however, his athleticism is sure to decline with time.
While he’s been able to increase his playmaking skills in recent years, his shooting has been awfully woeful. He finished last season shooting 25 percent from 3-point range, his second lowest mark of his career. While he has the benefit of being paired with Harden, that feat isn’t guaranteed to transpire throughout the remainder of his career.
Westbrook has to find his shot, preferably in the next season. If not, his skillset could become useless as his age comes into play in the following seasons.
1. Derrick Rose
Rose has had one of the best comeback stories of the decade. After a horrible ending to his saga with the Chicago Bulls, the Englewood, Chicago native instantly became a has-been after his ridiculous athleticism had made him one of the best players to grace the Windy City. That explosiveness took a dive off the deep end after multiple injuries to his knees that would usually be career-ending.
While Rose was able to return to the game he loves, the latter part of his NBA career was never the same. He’s struggled to find a team to stick with during the final portion of his career. He has been able to turn around his game in the past two seasons, averaging 18 points in the 2018-19 season and 18.1 in the 2019-20, making him an alluring trade target this offseason.