LeBron and Hughes among the least improved candidates

John Hollinger, an ESPN.com editor listed in his article today(subscription required) players that have taken the biggest steps backward. The article titled “Kirilenko, LeBron among Least Improved candidates” picks 15 players who have disappointed him the most, based not only on changes in their PER from a year ago, but on other qualitative factors such as age and previous performance history.

This is what he says about Lebron and Hughes:

LeBron James, Cavaliers
James was my pick for MVP a year ago, and like many I thought he’d pretty much take over the league this season. What we’ve seen instead is a surprising slip backward, including a dip in scoring numbers and a puzzling slump from the free-throw line.

It’s easy to blame exhaustion from the world championship, but Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki played in the same tournament, and both are dominating. A better explanation might be Cleveland’s lack of a real point guard, which doesn’t allow James to play off the ball more.

Larry Hughes, Cavaliers
Hughes’ numbers aren’t as far down from a year ago as some of the other players on this list, nor as much as teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ for that matter. So why single him out? Because we thought last year was the off year; this was supposed to be Hughes’ bounce-back season.

Instead he’s been even worse, with his per-minute numbers down across the board and his trademark free-throw drawing skill in serious remission, and that’s been as big a reason for Cleveland’s struggles as King James’ unexpected production dip.

Other players that made the list:

Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz
Mike James, Timberwolves
Jameer Nelson, Magic
Joel Przybilla, Trail Blazers
Dan Gadzuric, Bucks
Boris Diaw, Suns
Beno Udrih, Spurs
Marquis Daniels, Pacers
Hedo Turkoglu, Magic
Chris Kaman, Clippers
Jason Collins, Nets
Ben Wallace, Bulls
Antoine Walker, Heat