Before the beginning of every NBA season, pundits and casuals alike await the year by projection how each team will fair. The number of people who wear their psychic hats often grows to a point of consensus, where a range usually begins to form for where most teams will land.
As the season begins and drags along, more and more times we see some surprise teams emerge as great success stories. Just this season, we’re witnessing the Sacramento Kings in the playoff picture despite already being over a third of the way into their season. THE SACRAMENTO KINGS!
However, basketball is a zero-sum game at its core, so as the positive surprises emerge, so too do the shocking disappointments. These disappointments can range from hopeful contenders brought back to earth, all the way to already inadequate teams performing even worse than expected.
Here’s the first part of the NBA’s Most Disappointing Teams so far in the ongoing 2018-2019 Season:
Tier 1: Who’s going tell them that they’re not as good as they think they are?
Houston Rockets (Current Record: 16-15)
Carmelo Anthony is not the reason the Rockets are underperforming this year.
While it’s true that the future Hall of Famer should probably hang it up, the Rockets problems go far beyond Melo’s inability to play basketball at a high level. They let go of their depth in the offseason when they dropped Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in order to resign both Clint Capela and Chris Paul. They now trot out guys like Gary Clark and James Ennis expecting the same type of production, and it just isn’t working out for them.
Defense was also another reason why they were able to win 65 games and challenge the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals last season. The Rockets are now at 27th in the league in Defensive Rating, after finishing last year at 7th in the category. They resigned former assistant coach and defensive specialist Jeff Bzdelik back in November to fix the problem, but they’ve only gotten worse since the signing.
Chris Paul has also had an abysmal year, showing his first real signs of decline at age 33. Paul－ who is often lauded for being one of the most efficient point guards in NBA history － is shooting a career worst 41.5% from the field, and turning the ball over three times a game. This is after he had just signed a massive four-year, $160 million deal to stay with Houston last July.
Daryl Morey is definitely the last GM who will rest on his laurels, and the rest of the league is already waiting on his next move. With CP3 now out for at least a couple of weeks, the Rockets are in danger of both falling out of the playoff hunt and overworking James Harden.
I predict Morey does make a major move soon, and let me say it here first: Don’t be too surprised if Morey pulls off a shocker by trading CP3 to another disappointing team. Perhaps the…
Utah Jazz (Current Record: 16-17)
>Raise your hand if you thought the Jazz were a lock for a top four seed in the West!
Don’t worry, I definitely thought so too.
The Jazz went 29-6 after the Trade Deadline last year, outplayed the Thunder in the first round, and showed plenty of promise against the Rockets in Round Two. But just like those Rockets, the Jazz find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the tight Western Conference Playoff Picture.
The problem with the Jazz is that their defense can no longer seem to hold the fort for a subpar offense. They’ve fallen off from 1st in Defensive Rating (102.9) last year, to 7th this year (105.8), and have also seen a drastic fall in offensive efficiency from their players. In fact, Joe Ingles is the only Jazz starter shooting better than 31% from three, which is basically suicide in today’s modern NBA.
But I’ll stop beating around the bush here: Donovan Mitchell’s lateral development has been the biggest issue. He’s still definitely a great player who has the potential to be a star, but his dip in efficiency (41.1% FG, 29.6% 3PT) is a major reason why Utah’s offense has been so putrid.
There’s definitely still room for Utah to get into the playoffs and make noise, especially because they have by far the easiest schedule remaining in the league (Per ESPN.com). The team also did pick it up in the second half of the season last year, and Mitchell has shown to be a very late bloomer in all levels of his basketball career.
Still, it’s difficult to expect Utah to make a second half run as crazy as last year’s. We might have to start wondering what the ceiling of this type of team is in the loaded Western Conference.
Washington Wizards (Current Record: 12-20)
Oh Wizards, my Wizards. The biggest inspiration behind this tier.
This was a team that’s major offseason additions were Dwight Howard (Nine games played) and Austin Rivers (just got traded), but still had local media clamoring for a possible Top Three seed behind a healthy John Wall. A third of the way through the season and the Wizards have the 6th worst record in the league.
The behavior of overestimating the team’s actual capabilities starts all the way from upper management and has trickled down to the stars of the team. Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld is literally the Juan Ponce Enrile of the NBA; He’s currently the third longest tenured GM in the league (behind former Executive of the Year Winners GMs R.C. Buford and Danny Ainge), and has a grand total of ZERO fifty-win seasons to show in sixteen years of service.
Despite that, he continues to make band-aid moves in an attempt to bolster a team he wants to believe is still capable of a Conference Finals run. His most recent move: Trading Kelly Oubre Jr. (the team’s only rookie first-rounder from 2014-2017) and Austin Rivers (supposed bench savior entering this year) for 33 year-old, former Wizard Trevor Ariza. This screams of a GM that cannot let go of his team’s slightly-above-average years.
The team’s star point guard John Wall continues to light up the box score, but the advanced stats show he’s nowhere near as a good a player as he once was. His VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) stands at a measilly +0.5, good for 99th in the league (Per Basketball Reference). This is miles away from the 19th place rank he finished with during the 2016-2017 campaign.
Their really isn’t much the Wizards can do given their cap situation, but blowing the team up entering a top-heavy 2019 draft should definitely be an option. Plus, John Wall already made his audition tape for the Lakers this past week anyway.
Boston Celtics (Current Record: 18-13)
The Celtics are probably the best team on this list, and at an 18-13 record, they are still on pace to finish with wins in the high 40s. However, entering the season, this team was pegged as the top competitor to challenge Golden State in the Finals. With how they’ve played up to this point, they may not even make it out of the first round in East.
The return of a pair of superstars from injury has really left Brad Stevens in a tough spot. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are extremely talented players, but their re-entry forced a rehashing of roles that has taken a toll on the team’s overall performance The young trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier － who carried the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals last year － have been mostly underwhelming.
In particular, Jaylen Brown has struggled the most. He showed his potential as an offensive player in last year’s playoffs, but has fallen back to earth with a shooting split of 41.5% FG – 28.4% 3PT – 67.7% FT.
The Celtics did answer back from a 10-10 start by winning eight in a row, but they did not defeat any worldbeaters. They haven’t won a game over a team above .500 since November 16th, and their position in upper echelon of the East is legitimately in question.
This next stretch is going to be very telling for the Celtics, as they face seven straight teams with a winning record. The first game of that stretch didn’t look too promising, though.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Part 2 will be published tomorrow.)
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