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NBA AM: Teams That Are In Early Trouble

Which NBA teams should be concerned about their slow start to the 2015-16 season?

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The regular season is here, which means we have actual basketball to analyze. In recent days, we wrote about some notable players who have struggled early in the season. Today, we’re going to focus on some teams that seem to be in trouble.

While a handful of games is a very small sample size, it’s still possible to spot some concerning signs that point toward trouble. Early on, it seems these teams may not be as talented (or as healthy) as they need to be in order to live up to expectations for their team. It may be not be time to hit the panic button, but there’s certainly some sweating around these organizations.

New Orleans Pelicans:

New Orleans is 0-4 and things are not going well for Anthony Davis, Alvin Gentry and the rest of the Pelicans.  Their point differential is a -14.2. Granted, they’ve had to twice face the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who are a juggernaut and seem to have picked up right where they left off last season.

But still, perhaps most concerning is that the Pelicans have been hit by the injury bug. Tyreke Evans is out for a couple months as he recovers from knee surgery. Kendrick Perkins is out indefinitely with a pectoral injury. Omer Asik has only played 10 regular-season minutes thus far, as he’s been dealing with a calf injury. Quincy Pondexter hasn’t played in the regular season as he rehabs from offseason knee surgery. Evans is certainly the biggest loss, but all the players have a role and their absence negatively impacts the team.

These players will get healthy (hopefully sooner than later) and New Orleans may be able to turn their season around, but every game the Pelicans lose, there is more weight on Davis’ shoulders. At a certain point, the hole could be too large to dig out of to make the postseason.

Houston Rockets:

The Rockets bounced back from three straight 20-point blowouts to start the year with consecutive five-point victories over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic. Even after getting in the win column, the Rockets’ point differential is still a horrendous -10.

Part of the problem has been superstar James Harden is not hitting his groove. He hadn’t scored more than 22 points before blowing up against OKC with a 37-point game. He’s only shooting 29.4 percent from the field on the year, which won’t cut it, especially for a player who shoots the ball as much as Harden does. He hasn’t looked aggressive or like himself, and his defense has been lackluster once again as well.

Houston is also missing both of their rotation power forwards, with Terrence Jones out with an eye injury and Donatas Motiejunas not playing yet as he recovers from ongoing back issues. Meanwhile, Ty Lawson is trying to get acclimated to his new team and Dwight Howard has struggled at times too. Between the injuries and chemistry issues, there were a lot of problems in Houston (particularly early).

They seem to be starting to turn it around after a terrible first three games, but there is cause for concern until the Rockets can get healthy and build some consistency.

Memphis Grizzlies:

While the Grizzlies hold a record of 3-2, their record doesn’t show how bad they have been. There are certainly some issues that need to be fixed if they are going to end up in the playoffs. They have a point differential of -9.4 (and are the only team in the top eight out West with a negative point differential). And for goodness sakes, Memphis lost to Golden State by 50 points! It’s the Warriors, but losing by 50 is a sign of some deeper issues. Additionally, in their season opener, they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers by 30 points. In their wins, they only narrowly beat sub-par teams in the Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings.

A major reason the Grizzlies are not playing up to expectations on paper is they aren’t shooting well. Their four best shooting percentages need to be a lot closer to 50 percent than they currently are. These percentages aren’t going to cut it.

  • Marc Gasol (43.6 percent)
  • Zach Randolph (43.9 percent)
  • Mike Conley (43.8 percent)
  • Jeff Green (36.1 percent)

Outside shooting continues to be an issue as well (as even when Memphis is getting open looks, they’re missing them). The Grizzlies may be able to turn their season around, but they will need more efficient play from their stars and a return to grit-n-grind form.

Los Angeles Lakers:

The Lakers are still looking for their first win after dropping their first four games of the regular season to mediocre teams. It’s been ugly. Their point differential is -10. With Kobe Bryant air-balling shots and the coaching staff trying to balance “winning” and “youth development” when they can’t get a single win, there isn’t much positive to take away from Lakerland.

L.A.’s biggest problem is that they can’t play defense. They can’t force turnovers (ranked last in the league) and they can’t force bad shots (25th in opponents’ effective field goal percentage). They sit second to last in defensive rating. They also aren’t efficient at all on the offensive side of the ball, ranking 24th in effective field goal percentage, and it would be a lot worse if Jordan Clarkson wasn’t shooting an incredible 55.8 percent from the field.

The Lakers had aspirations of being better than last year with Julius Randle healthy, second overall pick D’Angelo Russell in the mix and veterans like Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass signed. They still might be able to improve on their win total, but it’s not looking like they’ll be competing for anything this season.

Brooklyn Nets:

Brooklyn is 0-5 and losing their games by an average of 14.6 points. This season has been a disaster. Yes, their schedule has been difficult. We’ll give them that. They’ve played three road games and had match-ups against the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks, so a win didn’t seem likely. Still, it’s not just the losses, but how they’re losing that is concerning.

There wasn’t too much optimism about this year’s Nets’ squad entering the year anyway, but dropping your first five games by an average margin of nearly 15 points is embarrassing. Really, the Nets’ woes can be summed up with two mirroring statistics. Brooklyn is 27th in the league in both offensive rating and defensive rating.

You just aren’t going to win games if you can’t score and can’t stop the other team from doing so. It’s going to be a long year in Brooklyn.

Based in Arizona, Eric Saar is an analyst for Basketball Insiders. He has covered the league for several years. He loves to converse about the NBA on Twitter, so follow him at @Eric_Saar. Eric graduated with honors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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