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NBA PM: Who Disappointed in the Preseason?

Which players have been the biggest disappointments of the 2015 NBA preseason?

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It’s common to hear prognosticators across the NBA remind their readers and listeners that taking the preseason too seriously from a predictive standpoint is a hazardous practice. There are too many variables that differ too much from standard NBA play – conditioning, systems, player availability and actual emphasis on the scoreboard among them. It’s hard to get too excited, for instance, if your team blows out an expected contender if said contender had their five best players sitting out for rest and recovery considerations.

Like NBA Summer League, though, there are times when gleaning bits of legitimate info from the performance of a player or team is useful during the preseason. And near the top of the list, unfortunately, is assessment of guys playing badly. It’s easier to discount a strong performance because top players are often limited or not present; discounting a guy coming well short of expectations is a lot tougher under the same context, especially if it’s a supposedly proven guy doing so against typically weaker overall competition.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few individuals who have really disappointed thus far, even within the confines of preseason.

Jimmer Fredette, San Antonio Spurs

What had been a tumultuous career up to this point for the former lottery pick looked to finally be finding a bit of calm this summer, with Fredette signing on with the league’s most stable franchise in San Antonio. It looked like a chance for Jimmer to get the developmental attention he needed in an organization famous for resurrecting wayward careers.

But the on-court results have been more of the same for Fredette. A summer working with Chauncey Billups in Colorado and a positive change of scenery unfortunately don’t seem to have done much for the former BYU product.

Fredette appeared in just two games for the Spurs, shooting 2-for-10 and missing all his three-point attempts. His more advanced metrics were far uglier. He posted a -4.6 PER (the league average 15), a figure that would be almost impossible to maintain over a larger sample. Worse yet, the Spurs were more than doubled by their opponent in per-possession points while he played. It was ugly.

Today, it was announced that the Spurs had cut Fredette and had even eaten over $500,000 in guaranteed money just to do it. It’s clear his time in San Antonio was a huge disappointment, and his prognosis as an NBA player seems more in doubt than ever.

Tim Hardaway, Jr., Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks’ acquisition of Hardaway was always something of a strange deal. Atlanta sent away the mid-first round pick that became Kelly Oubre just for Hardaway, which was a bit weird given that most would have pegged the 24th pick in 2013 at a lower raw value than a higher pick in a deeper draft.

Hardaway was never meant to replace DeMarre Carroll, but he certainly appeared to be another warm body with size on the wing who the Hawks hoped would help fill Carroll’s void. While it’s still early, Hardaway hasn’t really shown he can even approximate some of that load.

The Hawks have tried on multiple occasions to plug him in as another Kyle Korver-esque piece on the perimeter, rocketing around screens for catch-and-shoot jumpers and stretching the defense. The only problem is, so far he’s shot the ball about as well as Korver would if he had one arm tied behind his back. Hardaway checks in at a miserable 24.2 percent from the field through five games, and an even uglier 22.2 percent from deep. It’s not a great look for a guy who already saw his shooting numbers dip from his rookie season to his sophomore year in New York.

There’s still time for Hardaway to develop, and he has the physical template. But his skills continue to lag behind at this point, and his preseason hasn’t done much to validate Atlanta’s risk.

Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets

Motiejunas hasn’t played yet this preseason, but that’s the entire reason he makes this list. Perhaps he’d never have been in line for big minutes after undergoing back surgery in April, but it’s concerning to those close to the situation that his recovery period has extended as long as it has. There have been some positive signs in the last week or so, with Motiejunas putting together some solid workouts without major setbacks, per local beat writers, but Houston’s stretch big remains well behind schedule.

It should be of particular concern to Motiejunas himself, who for just over a week remains eligible for an extension that would take him off the restricted free agent market next offseason. Fellow Houston big Terrence Jones is in the same situation, and many around the league assume the Rockets might be forced to pick one or the other for the long-term given a tight cap situation next summer even despite big incoming TV money.

Jones hasn’t been a superstar by any means, but he’s a more modern player. And, perhaps more importantly, has been on the court for the Rockets and is a safe bet to do the same once the regular season begins. The Rockets could always let both head to restricted free agency next summer and allow their play this season to determine who they prefer, but if they choose to lock Jones up now, Motiejunas could be the odd man out. And if his back issues continue to linger, his value could drop dramatically.

Bryce Cotton, Utah Jazz

The undersized Providence product was a flash in the pan for the Jazz down the stretch last season, filling in for others due to injuries and rest and providing a spark at the point guard position as the Jazz closed out their strong post-All-Star break run. He mostly ran the show again at Summer League, and when starter Dante Exum was sidelined for the year with a torn ACL, Cotton entered camp as part of a three-way race with Trey Burke and Raul Neto for time at the point.

Cotton could never get his feet off the ground, though. He was third on the depth chart when preseason play began, not even appearing in the first couple games at all as the Jazz ran Burke, Neto and a series of lineups featuring no traditional point guard. He was clearly pressing when he did see the court, sinking just four of his 19 shot attempts and frequently making the wrong decision with the ball in his hands.

Like Fredette, Cotton’s shot at a roster slot ended this week when the Jazz cut him on Tuesday. It was a surprising move to some given that it leaves two mostly unproven point guards as the only options at the position, but it’s a signal that the Jazz are comfortable with their options and don’t think Cotton could crack the rotation even without any star power ahead of him. It’ll now be a waiting game for Cotton to see if he can catch on elsewhere and stick – a disappointing end to a Jazz tenure that began so positively.

Which players have stood out as disappointments to you this preseason? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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