As we enter December, the NBA season is really starting to take shape. There is still a long way to go, but we are beginning to see how things may play out as the season progresses. The Memphis Grizzlies have jumped out to a terrific start, making a case that they should be viewed as serious title contenders and as one of the best teams in the West. The East, on the other hand, again appears to be the inferior conference, anchored by the winless Philadelphia Sixers, who have seemingly refined tanking into art form. In terms of what’s working and what’s not, you could say the Sixers and the Grizzlies represent opposite ends of the spectrum.
This week, Basketball Insiders is taking a look at The Good, The Bad and The Ugly around the NBA to break down what has gone right, what has gone wrong and what has failed miserably. Yesterday, we kicked it off with The Good. Today, we take a glance at a number of situations that haven’t worked out quite as well.
Here are a few of the more disappointing storylines early on in this NBA season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Obviously much of Thunder’s poor start can be attributed to the absence of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. No team has been decimated by injuries more. In addition to Durant and Westbrook missing games, Perry Jones, Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow among others have been sidelined as well. Those three players were playing a vital role in filling the early season void left by Durant and Westbrook, so their injuries were devastating for the team too.
With so many of their key offensive weapons sidelined, the Thunder have slipped to the bottom of the league in points scored, averaging only 90.9 points per game. Coach Scott Brooks has been forced to play a much more deliberate pace in order to give his team a chance to win on a nightly basis. Brooks has always had the Thunder near the top of the league in pace, finishing in the top 10 the last three seasons; however this season, the Thunder are ranked near the bottom at 28th. Their struggles on the offensive end have made wins tough to come by as the Thunder currently sit at 5-12 and in 12th place in the West.
The Thunder have clearly missed their two stars and have struggled to keep their head above water while they recovered from injury. The good news is that Westbrook and Durant are back. The Thunder’s poor start is predominantly out of their control, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are currently positioned near the bottom of the West. For comparison’s sake, last season the Dallas Mavericks needed 49 wins to secure the eighth seed in the West. For the Thunder to finish with 49 wins, they would need go 44-21 over their remaining 65 games. It’s not impossible by any means, but it won’t be easy.
If they were in the East, their unfortunate start would be much less of a concern, but in the West climbing out of an early season hole and back into playoff contention may prove to be a monumental task.
New York Knicks
The Knicks have been very busy in recent months. First, the team made Phil Jackson their new team president, allowing him to oversee all basketball operations. Then, over the offseason, the organization re-signed Carmelo Anthony to a long-term deal and brought in a fresh young face as their new head coach in Derek Fisher. Finally, the team acquired some new players such as Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Quincy Acy, Samuel Dalembert and Cleanthony Early. All signs pointed to a much needed culture change in New York and the Knicks appeared poised to turn things around.
Just over a month into the season, all of the positive momentum accumulated this offseason has disappeared. The Knicks find themselves near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with only four wins through their first 18 games.
The transition early on to Jackson’s famed triangle offense hasn’t gone nearly as smoothly as many would have hoped. While Anthony continues to put up big numbers – 23.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists – his supporting cast has struggled to provide much help. J.R. Smith has been unable to consistently knock down perimeter shots, shooting only 27.8 percent from three. Also, despite starting every game, Dalembert hasn’t been much more than a big body in the middle, only averaging 4.1 points and 5.4 rebounds. And after a standout rookie season, Tim Hardaway Jr. has found himself playing less minutes, as his 23.1 minute average last season is down to 17.8 minutes this season, and he hasn’t been able to find his shooting touch in those minutes.
Unlike the Thunder, there is no savior returning from injury for the Knicks, they will have to work quickly through their issues if they have any intention of salvaging their season.
Kemba Walker has always relied more on his quickness and ball-handling than his outside shot when looking to score. For his career, Walker is only a 39.6 percent shooter, which is one area of his game that he must improve.
This past postseason, in Charlotte’s four-game series with the HEAT, Walker flashed the type of shooting ability many have longed to see. During the playoff run, Walker was dynamic, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and an even more impressive 50 percent from three, while attempting on average six three-pointers per game. Walker finished the postseason with a team-high PER of 19.6.
Walker was able to parlay his strong postseason play into a lucrative four-year, $48 million contract extension with Charlotte. Surely, the Hornets hoped that Walker’s playoff performance would carry over to this season and be something he could build upon going forward.
Early on this season, that has not been the case. While Lance Stephenson has been the team’s biggest magnet for criticism and struggled mightily himself, Walker has earned his fair share as well. He is shooting a career-low 36.4 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three – a far cry from the player that many had expected to see break out this year. The Hornets are currently in a free-fall, losers of nine straight games since starting 4-5, and now more than ever need Walker to bust out of his funk to help right the ship.
Much like the Knicks, the Pistons made big changes in the offseason with aspirations of changing the culture within the organization. Stan Van Gundy was brought in and given tremendous power as he is serving as both the head coach and the president of basketball operations.
With many talented pieces already in place and the addition of Van Gundy, many viewed the Pistons as a dark horse to make the playoffs in the East. However, through their first 17 games, the Pistons haven’t looked like anything close to a playoff team. Currently the only team with a worse record than the 3-14 Pistons is the winless Philadelphia 76ers.
Despite having weapons like Greg Monroe, Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Pistons have been one of the worst teams in the league. Offensively, they have only been able to muster up 91.9 points per game and are 28th in offensive rating. While they have done a little better on the defensive end (18th in defensive rating) it has not been nearly enough to overcome their ineffective offensive attack. They have been one of the worst shooting teams in the league, shooting only 41.2 percent from the field as a group. Two of the team’s most prevalent shot takers, Caldwell-Pope and Smith, are each shooting well under 40 percent from the field at 37 percent and 37.7 percent, respectively.
Also, the Pistons have looked to use Drummond as more of a back-to-the-basket scorer, with little success thus far. Drummond, who was near the top of the league in field goal percentage a season ago when he shot 62.3 percent, has seen his shooting numbers plummet this year – dropping down to 44.8 percent.
If the Pistons continue to pile up losses, they are one team that could be very active prior to the trade deadline (either trading for help or trading away assets in a fire sale).
The Warriors are off to a fantastic start, as they are currently 14-2 and in first place in the Pacific Division. By all accounts, new head coach Steve Kerr is pushing all of the right buttons. One noticeable change that Kerr has made is bringing veteran forward Andre Iguodala off the bench, a change Iguodala has not responded well to.
It should come as no surprise that Iguodala has had difficulties making the transition to the bench. Outside of this season, Iguodala had started in every game of his pro career, dating all the way back to his rookie season in 2004 with the Philadelphia 76ers. Although he is no longer in the starting lineup, Iguodala is still playing significant time, logging just over 27 minutes a night.
Even though his minutes haven’t dropped off severely, Iguodala has been far less productive as a bench player. He is averaging career-lows in points (6.9), rebounds, (2.5), assists (2.4) and field goal percentage (44.1). What may be most concerning is that among the Warriors’ regular rotation players, Iguodala has the worst PER at 9.
What’s scary is that the Warriors have been dominant even with the rough start from Iguodala. They are winning with Iguodala struggling now, but come playoff time they will need their versatile forward to be much more effective.
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- Denver Nuggets showing strong team chemistry in training camp
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