10 NBA players off to a disappointing start
It’s far too early for any NBA fans to be panicking — we’re only three weeks into the season! But that doesn’t mean we should discount the start of the season entirely.
Some teams that were expected to contend for a top seed have fallen short of expectations (looking at you, Sixers, Jazz, Lakers, and Celtics). On an individual level, some players have also gotten off to a sluggish start. Here are 10 players who have struggled early in the season.
10. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Gasol will soon turn 34, so we had to know his decline was coming soon. Unfortunately, it looks like the 7-foot-1 Spaniard only has a couple years left in the league. He’s still getting plenty of burn (32.4 minutes per game) and his rebounding numbers (8.9 per game) are respectable, but his offensive productivity and efficiency have dropped. His scoring average has been on a gradual decline since 2016, and it’s now down to 14.4 per game. He’s shooting only 42 percent from the field, the lowest number of his career. The Grizzlies are off to a somewhat surprising 6-4 start, and they could hang around the West’s eight-seed line – but they’ll need more output on offense from the skilled big man.
9. Stanley Johnson, Pistons
When Detroit hired Dwane Casey, the reigning Coach of the Year made it clear that he was determined to help Stanley Johnson. Johnson entered the league out of Arizona with tons of promise. In fact, before his debut season, his peers voted him No. 2 in the annual Who Will Win Rookie of the Year? poll. Needless to say, that didn’t pan out, and his NBA career has been a disappointment. Johnson is still only 23, but his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 5.3 is one of the worst in the league. His minutes per game have slightly decreased, and he’s shooting only 36.4 percent from the field, including an abysmal 28.2 percent from downtown.
8. Lou Williams, Clippers
After breaking out with Toronto (where he won his first Sixth Man of the Year award) and Houston, Lou Will finally got the opportunity to lead a team last season with the Clippers – and he didn’t disappoint. Though he was snubbed from the All-Star Game, Williams was one of the top guards in the West. This season, he’s coming off the bench as usual, but he’s playing eight fewer minutes per game (32.8 to 24.2 MPG). His performance hasn’t changed all that much — he’s still putting up 19.1 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting — but his productivity has declined because he’s not playing as much. Doc Rivers has given some of his minutes to rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, which is understandable, but Williams is one of the best bench players in NBA history and deserves more burn. The decrease in his playing time is likely driving fantasy owners mad.
7. Brandon Ingram, Lakers
This one comes with a caveat. Ingram missed four games due to suspension for his role in the Lakers-Rockets fight, so we’re basing this evaluation on a limited sample size. Though Ingram has played fine so far, he hasn’t taken the leap some were expecting. One report indicated the Lakers viewed Ingram as a “Kevin Durant lite.” Ingram’s scoring remains the same at 16.1 points per game, his rebounding has dipped from 5.3 to 4.0, and his assist average has plummeted from 3.9 to 1.9. He’s taking more shots and more threes per game, but he’s getting to the line less frequently. Look for him to get better as the season wears on and he becomes more accustomed to playing alongside the most impactful player in the game. He needs to be more aggressive attacking the rim.
6. Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves
Wiggins is an uncomfortable situation in Minnesota. Jimmy Butler has made it clear that he wants out, and there are obvious tensions between the triumvirate of Butler, Tom Thibodeau, and Karl-Anthony Towns. For that reason – and because Wiggins hasn’t lived up to No. 1 pick expectations on the court – the former Kansas star has become a forgotten man. Still only 23, Wiggins is averaging 17.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. By comparison, in 2016-17 — before the Wolves acquired Butler — Wiggins averaged 23.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. His efficiency is down, too; he’s shooting only 41.6 percent from the field.
5. Gordon Hayward, Celtics
It was clear someone would need to take a backseat for the loaded Celtics, and Hayward has been the star to do so. This is another selection that comes with a caveat, as we should have expected the Celtics would ease Hayward back as he recovers from a gruesome broken leg injury. He’s playing only 25.0 minutes per game — fewer than Marcus Morris — and averaging only 10.1 points. In his final year in Utah (2016-17), Hayward averaged 21.9 points. Back then, he was taking 15.8 shots per game, whereas he’s now taking only 9.7. But again, Hayward is still in recovery mode. Expect his minutes to increase as the postseason chase heats up, and his productivity to increase as he becomes more confident in his leg.
4. Markelle Fultz, 76ers
We heard all summer that Fultz’s jumper was on the mend. Early in the season, it has become clear that is not true. His shot is still broken. The Sixers have stuck to their plan of starting Fultz and giving him more minutes (24.3 per game, up from 18.1 in his limited action a season ago). He’s playing more aggressively and shooting more frequently. But his playing style seems to clash with that of Ben Simmons, who also doesn’t have a reliable jumper — the Sixers’ floor-spacing is all out of whack. One bright spot for Philly: Joel Embiid has been in beast mode and letting people know it.
3. Josh Jackson, Suns
Jackson made it his aim this season to win Most Improved Player, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards. In fact, the second-year swingman has taken a sizable step back. His scoring his decreased from 13.1 per game to 7.4, his rebounding average has dropped from 4.6 to 1.8, and his three-point shooting is still rough (26.3 percent). Looking back at the 2017 draft, some of the players at the top — like Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, and Frank Ntilikina — have continued to improve and look like studs. But others — like Fultz and Jackson — still need plenty of work.
2. Harrison Barnes, Mavericks
Barnes has a PER of only 7.4, and his scoring average has dropped from 18.9 per game to 15.0. He’s played in only seven games, though, so this is another selection that comes with the caveat of a limited sample size. The Mavericks gave Barnes a four-year, $94 million contract in 2016, and Barnes has a player option in 2019. We fully expect him to take advantage of that. There’s no way he’d garner more than the $25 million he’s owed on the open market – especially considering how many stars (like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Klay Thompson) could be shopping for a new team.
1. Andre Iguodala, Warriors
At this point in his career, Iggy takes the regular season off. We know that. We’ve seen it before. But, with the veteran battling numerous nagging injuries, this regular season has been different. Iguodala has seen his minutes-per-game average drop from 25.3 to 19.0, his scoring drop from 6.0 to 2.8, his rebounding drop from 3.8 to 2.4, and his shooting percentage drop from 46.3 to 35.7. The Warriors aren’t relying on him as much, and with the unbelievable play of Thompson, Durant, and Steph Curry, they haven’t needed much from Iguodala. But that could change in the postseason, where Iguodala’s defense has been a major boon for Golden State in the past. Iggy will turn 35 in January, and he’s under contract through 2020. With his production on the downswing, we wouldn’t be surprised if he retires when his current deal expires.
Aaron Mansfield is a freelance sports writer. His work has appeared in Complex, USA Today, and the New York Times. You can reach him via email at [email protected]