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NBA PM: The Most Disappointing Teams So Far

Which teams have been the most disappointing a quarter into the NBA season? Alex Kennedy shares his thoughts.

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The Most Disappointing Teams Thus Far

Phil Jackson used to say that an NBA team shouldn’t be judged until 20 games into a season. Well, we’re now at the 20-game mark and there are a number of teams that can be labeled as early disappointments. Here are the four biggest disappointments thus far:

Charlotte Hornets, 5-15: Entering this season, the Hornets had some lofty goals, but they’ve failed to live up to expectations in a big way through their first 20 games.

Last year, Charlotte won 43 games and made the playoffs for just the second time in their franchise’s history led by their defense, which was ranked sixth-best in the NBA. Going into the 2014-15 season, the Hornets were expected to be even better since they had one year of experience under head coach Steve Clifford, young players who were one year closer to their prime and veteran additions such as Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Jason Maxiell, Brian Roberts as well as first-rounders Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston. Charlotte seemed poised to be a top team in the Eastern Conference and take the next step as a franchise.

Now, at 5-15, that obviously hasn’t happened. The Hornets are outside of the playoff picture in the East, with the 12th-best record in the conference. They recently had a 10-game losing streak and they’ve already lost to non-playoff teams like the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic. The biggest head-scratcher is that their defense has been awful, ranking 25th in the NBA. Couple that with their 26th-ranked offense and it’s obvious why this team is struggling.

Stephenson has been extremely underwhelming on offense, averaging just 10.4 points while shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three-point range. His body language has also been terrible, particularly when he doesn’t get the ball.

Charlotte’s first 20 games have been so bad that the front office is reportedly looking at their trade options. Fortunately for the Hornets, they play in the East so they still have a shot at the postseason – they are only four games back from the eighth seed – but they’ll need to turn things around quickly in order to compete for a playoff berth.

Detroit Pistons, 3-18: Stan Van Gundy is an exceptional head coach, but he’s not a miracle worker. That’s what we’ve learned in the early stages of the 2014-15 season, as the Pistons continue to struggle and appear headed for their sixth-straight trip to the lottery.

When Van Gundy was hired as Detroit’s head coach and president of basketball operations, many people were excited and felt like this could catapult the Pistons into the playoffs in the wide open Eastern Conference. However, Detroit has lost 18 of their 21 games and currently have the second-worst record in the East (behind only the Philadelphia 76ers, who are putting on a tanking clinic). The Pistons are ranked 29th in the NBA in offense and 19th in defense, so they obviously have a long way to go until they’re able to be competitive. This team seems to have regressed from last year, which is tough to do coming off of a 29-win season.

While the hire will likely pay off in the future, Van Gundy hasn’t been able to turn this roster into a winner just yet. The trio of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe continues to struggle together, while Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have been shooting the ball very poorly and playing inefficient basketball.

It seems like Van Gundy will need to make major changes to this roster in order to be successful, since the current group of players aren’t executing his system well. It’s worth noting that Van Gundy inherited many of these core players, so it’ll be interesting to see what the roster looks like after this season when the team will have his fingerprints all over it. Going forward, he should have more cap flexibility so he can build the roster to his liking. Monroe will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and Smith has been mentioned in trade rumors, so their frontcourt could undergo some significant changes soon.

Perhaps the biggest individual disappointment in Detroit has been Drummond, who many expected to break out this season and thrive under Van Gundy. However, the big man has averaged just 11.4 points and 11.7 rebounds, while shooting 47 percent from the field (all of which are down from last season’s numbers). He’s also averaging a career-worst 3.7 fouls and 1.7 turnovers while playing fewer minutes. Drummond is only 21 years old, so there’s still plenty of time for him to realize his full potential as a dominant center, but he has left a lot to be desired so far this year.

This down year has been a disappointment, but it could allow Van Gundy and the Pistons to get a top pick in the loaded 2015 NBA Draft and right the ship rather quickly with a talented young core.

New York Knicks, 4-18: The Knicks weren’t expected to be a contender this season, but many thought they’d be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team. After re-signing Carmelo Anthony, hiring head coach Derek Fisher to install the triangle offense and adding players like Jose Calderon, Jason Smith, Samuel Dalembert, Quincy Acy and Shane Larkin among others, fans in New York were hoping they’d return to the postseason after missing the playoffs last year.

This seemed realistic, since the Eastern Conference is wide open and just two years ago this Knicks squad with many of the same players managed to win 54 games and finish as the East’s second seed. When New York opened their season with a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, fans were even more optimistic.

However, since that win they’ve lost 18 of 21 games and dropped near the bottom of the east standings. New York is currently ranked 27th in defense and 22nd in offense. The Knicks have struggled with the adjustment to the triangle offense, and head coach Derek Fisher recently said that his players aren’t trusting the triangle and doubting whether the system is right for this team.

“I think there still is some doubt that we can do this the way we’re working on doing it,” Fisher said, according to Ian Begley of ESPN New York. “When the pressure goes up, the stress goes up, the tendency to revert to old habits and not sticking with what you’re developing now [happens]. It’s understandable to be that way, but we just have to continue to stretch out the amount of time that we believe in what we’re doing. … [We need to] trust that the things we work on every day will work in good times and bad times.”

The Knicks have lost eight straight games and are the third-worst team in the East. They’ve lost to non-playoff teams like the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets.

Next offseason, Phil Jackson and the Knicks will have significant cap space so it’s very possible that things could turn around rather quickly for this franchise, but this season has certainly been a disappointment. Fortunately for the Knicks, the own their 2015 first-round pick, which looks to be a pretty high selection.

Denver Nuggets, 9-11: Last season, injuries depleted the Nuggets’ roster so it was no surprise that the team finished 36-46 and outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. Entering this season, Denver was being picked as a team that could potentially make the playoffs now that they were completely healthy and had added some new contributors such as Arron Afflalo, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic and Alonzo Gee among others.

However, Denver continues to struggle. The team is 9-11 and has been incredibly inconsistent this season. They had a six-game losing streak earlier in the year and they are currently in the midst of a three-game losing streak that could go on for quite awhile since their upcoming games are at Toronto Raptors, vs. Miami HEAT, at Houston Rockets, vs. San Antonio Spurs, vs. Houston Rockets and vs. Los Angeles Clippers.

Denver is currently ranked 23rd in defense and 16th in offense, which isn’t a combination that will get it done in the Western Conference, where they’re in 11th place.

Some people around the league have speculated that if Denver continues to struggle, they could be a team that looks to sell off some of their veteran pieces before February’s trade deadline. This could make sense, since they do have a lot of attractive assets that other teams may covet such as Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov, Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo, Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye among others. Teams will certainly be calling the Nuggets if they continue losing.

Perhaps the most concerning thing about Denver’s early struggles is that a number of reports have come out indicating that there’s a lot of drama and tension behind the scenes. There was an ESPN report that the organization isn’t crazy about Faried and only extended him because their hand was forced. There was another report indicating that Lawson has butted heads with Coach Brian Shaw, with our own Steve Kyler adding that most of the roster has lost faith in Shaw.

Things in Denver are ugly and, in addition to all of the losses, there seems to be a lot of finger pointing behind the scenes.

Which team has been the biggest disappointment, in your opinion? Leave your thoughts in a comment!

Lowry, Aldridge Named Players of the Week

The Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and the Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Dec. 1, through Sunday, Dec. 7.

Lowry led the Raptors to a 2-1 week behind an NBA-best 29.3 points. He handed out 8.7 assists, grabbed 3.0 rebounds and recorded 1.3 steals as Toronto won road games in Sacramento and Utah on back-to-back nights. On Dec. 3, when the Raptors topped the Jazz 123-104, Lowry recorded a career-high 39 points (13-of-22 field goals) and added five rebounds and four assists.

Aldridge helped the Trail Blazers to a 3-0 week, which included road wins at Denver and New York. He ranked third in the league in scoring (27.0 ppg) and sixth in rebounding (11.7 rpg). Aldridge posted a point-rebound double-double in all three contests, including a 39-point, 11-rebound effort on Dec. 2, as the Trail Blazers beat the Nuggets 105-103.

Other nominees for the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Dallas’ Monta Ellis, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Houston’s James Harden, Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Orlando’s Tobias Harris, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Phoenix’s Goran Dragic, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan and Washington’s John Wall.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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