Most disappointing teams of the NBA season so far
“With great power comes great responsibility,” a fictional arachnid man’s uncle once famously said. Personally, I would revise that adage to say, “With great expectations come great responsbility.” Many an NBA team has lived up to said expectations so far this season, and many others have flopped worse than Marcus Smart. Here’s looking at those who fall into the latter category.
*Stats courtesy of NBA.com and ESPN*
Oklahoma City Thunder
Going back to actual team basketball after Russell Westbrook’s “I AM the Senate” season was always going to be difficult, especially with the arrival of glitzy but needy new running mates in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. But the Thunder have been such mayhem that Allstate won’t even touch them. The ball sticks like velcro, weak-side motion is eschewed in favor of a merry-go-round of isolation play, and fourth-quarter crunchtime is where the entire team goes to die.
Rest assured, there’s reason for optimism — Oklahoma City’s hyper-switching defensive scheme ranks second in the league with a smothering 98.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, and they are still a tremendous offensive rebounding team despite the loss of Enes Kanter. A blowout win over Golden State on national television Wednesday was nice too. But 8-10 is not good for a team that had such high expectations heading into the year, and the luxury of time unfortunately doesn’t exist in the abusive Western Conference.
The Bucks have an MVP frontrunner megatron in Giannis Antetokounmpo and swung an earth-rumbling trade for Eric Bledsoe to give Antetokounmpo a confident and legitimate pick-and-roll/playmaking partner. So why are they hovering at just 9-8 on the year? True, a Jabari Parker-sized hole is proving tough to fill for the time being. But Milwaukee is operating at the third-slowest pace in the league — not exactly the best strategy when they also own its 23rd-ranked defense. Coach Jason Kidd can hardly figure out who he wants to trot out on the nightly beyond Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe, and Khris Middleton.
This is a team that can topple elites like San Antonio on one night and get their clock cleaned by cellar dwellers like Dallas the next, so until they start showing some consistency, those “Bucks in six” memes will live forever.
Dante Exum, Joe Johnson and, most importantly, Rudy Gobert are all down for the count, and that’s bad news on the doorstep for a thinned-out Jazz roster. Rodney Hood (a career 41.5 percent shooter from the field) leads the team in shot attempts, and Ricky Rubio (career 37.6 percent) isn’t far behind. That’s just not a winning formula, even if Joe Ingles is good and Donovan Mitchell has been a revelation in his rookie season. The sad part is it’s not Utah’s fault — Gordon Hayward left just when they were knocking on the door of contention. But it’s hard to sugarcoat going 8-11 against one of the NBA’s weakest schedules so far with a bottom-five offense and a quickly-tumbling defense sans Gobert. At least they can still fall back on their sense of humor.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have been cooked like a Thanksgiving turkey by injuries. Danilo Gallinari, ideally the team’s No. 2 option offensively, and Milos Teodosic, the best pure passer on their roster, are still in the midst of multi-week absences. Meanwhile, top defensive guard Patrick Beverley returned on Monday against the Knicks after missing the last five games only to promptly undergo right knee surgery that will sideline him for the remainder of the season. Three starters biting the dust will put a cramp on any team’s vibe, but that doesn’t absolve the Clippers entirely. Their defense (106.4 points allowed per game) often looks like a human rights violation, and they were outscored by a farcical 88 points during their just snapped nine-game losing streak. [cues up “Baby Come Back” on iTunes while cradling a picture of Chris Paul]
The Cavs are currently riding a seven-game winning streak, but it has been a mere Band-Aid covering their bacterial infection of a regular season so far. Granted, “regular season” is the operative term here as Cleveland does this dance every year only to pancake the entire conference come the spring. But their issues are becoming progressively more concerning. The Cavs have by far the oldest roster in the entire league, and the few 20-something players that they do have (Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose) are hurt. Their sewer-line defense has also been the NBA’s worst all year, and their overall sloppiness has resulted in the second-lousiest assist to turnover ratio in the East to this point. Now to be fair, screaming “LEBRON JAMES” in all caps is usually enough to stymie any argument of “Are the Cavs vulnerable?” But that still won’t make the image of them apathetically tripping over their own feet these next several months any less painful on the retinas.
The Wizards have been talking like a 18-0 team when in reality they are a 10-8 team. John Wall and Bradley Beal are still nightmare fuel for opponents, Otto Porter is playing like he’s got the shoes from “Like Mike,” and Kelly Oubre’s emergence as a quality sixth man has been a cool story. But beyond that is where the uncertainty abounds.
What is a power forward? What is a bench? What is fashion? These are the basic questions the Wiz have been forcing us to consider with their largely unspectacular start to the season that has already featured Ls to Dallas, Phoenix, Charlotte, and the Lakers. On the bright side, only two more seasons or so until they can get out of Ian Mahinmi’s contract.