Biggest Red Flags of the NBA's First Quarter
A quarter of the 2012-13 NBA campaign has already come and gone, with several teams and players dealing with troubling signs.
There are notable red flags surrounding some of the league's biggest stars. A few of them are experiencing prolonged injury absences, while others are simply underachieving on the court.
Meanwhile, a handful of teams are facing collective problems that may haunt them for the rest of the season and beyond.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have a few warning signs to address, as do the defending champion Miami Heat.
What are the biggest red flags in the league at the season's quarter mark?
*All statistics accurate as of December 12, 2012.
10. Royce White's Dispute with Rockets
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The first quarter of the 2012-13 season has been an eventful one for Royce White of the Houston Rockets—off the court, that is.
The former Iowa State star has yet to play in a regular season game due to a dispute with the team over his anxiety disorder. White and the team have tried working things out, but according to Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski, White hasn't been satisfied:
White has turned down NBA D-League assignments, missed practices and conditioning workouts and tried to convince Rockets officials that his anxiety order would be much, much better if they would simply play him in games...The Rockets have let him come and go this season without fining him. They owe him that patience and understanding, but they don't owe him playing time.
Will the White-Rockets marriage get patched up, or will it forever remain flawed?
9. Anthony Davis' Durability
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During his time on the court, New Orleans Hornets forward Anthony Davis has impressed us with his skills on both ends of the floor. He has looked every bit the part of a No. 1 pick who is destined for NBA stardom.
As far as red flags go, Anthony's health is a minor one thus far. If his ankle hampers him again this season or if he comes down with a different injury, then it's time to raise the level of concern
"The Brow" is New Orleans franchise big man, so it's an issue worth keeping an eye on.
8. Roy Hibbert Woefully Underachieving
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Roy Hibbert is earning $13.7 million in 2012-13, and he'll earn even more in 2014 and beyond. Obviously, the Indiana Pacers desperately wanted to keep him around for the foreseeable future.
So far, he's not rewarding their faith in him, as his production is troublingly low. The 7'2" tower is posting 9.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in 29.3 minutes, the worst per-minute numbers of his career.
Even worse, Hibbert has been extremely inefficient offensively, shooting just 38 percent from the field, including 28 percent shooting in the paint.
Part of it is Indiana's collective shortcomings, but a player as large and talented as Hibbert should be converting in the post more often.
7. John Wall's Prolonged Absence
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Before the 2012-13 campaign commenced, the Washington Wizards had the potential to be a third-place team in the Southeast Division.
With John Wall out recovering from knee surgery for the first couple of months, the season has already become a train wreck. And to make matters worse, Wall is going to be out for longer than expected, according to CSN Washington.
The report does not mention a clear return date, only stating that the former No. 1 pick is "weeks away from practicing."
This extended absence is a red flag for both the Wizards franchise and Wall as a player.
6. Dwight Howard's Free-Throw Shooting
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But what if his charity-stripe woes continue to haunt them in the spring?
Howard shot 59 percent or better from the free-throw line throughout his career until 2011-12, when he shot less than 50 percent. This year, that number has not improved.
He is downplaying it publicly, but deep down he knows how crucial his free-throw shooting will be down the stretch.
Los Angeles doesn't want "Hack-a-Howard" headlines to dominate the playoffs.
5. No Timetable for Eric Gordon's Return
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The New Orleans Hornets committed to four years and $58 million to keep Eric Gordon, but they have yet to see any return on that investment.
And they won't for some time.
Gordon's knee and thighs are healing, but according to a recent Times-Picayune report, there is no timetable for his return.
It was going to be difficult for the Hornets to compete for a playoff spot even if Gordon was healthy, so his loss isn't completely devastating from a 2012-13 perspective.
That said, his health is certainly a big-picture concern for Monty Williams and company.
4. Celtics' Three-Point Struggles
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This isn't the Boston Celtics team we're used to seeing.
They don't exhibit the consistency we've come to expect, the defense isn't quite what it used to be and they're missing the mark from long range.
Doc Rivers' crew has the second-worst three-point total in the NBA (102) and also has the second-worst threes-per-game average with 5.1 per contest.
Paul Pierce, Leandro Barbosa and Jason Terry are the only capable three-point shooters on the squad, and Barbosa alone is shooting at a respectable (40 percent) clip.
Meanwhile, Courtney Lee (28 percent) and Rajon Rondo (25 percent) are ice cold from distance.
With only 15 points per night coming from three-pointers, the Celtics are pressured to get 80-90 points inside the arc every game.
That's a tough way to stay afloat, and it doesn't point to a deep playoff run.
3. Andrew Bynum's Latest Revelation
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Andrew Bynum's knee issues were already a major storyline this season, but a recent revelation by the young center shows things may be even more tenuous.
He recently explained his latest knee concern to reporters:
Health is going to be an issue. There's nothing I can really do about it. It's arthritis in the knees. Cartilage is missing. That's not going to regrow itself. Maybe in the future, the next three to five years, there may be something out there that really does help. For right now, it's a waiting game.
The Sixers have to be pleased that they held off on signing Bynum to an extension. But they also must be frustrated that they worked so hard to trade for him in the first place.
Meanwhile, Bynum himself is staring at an uphill battle for the next phase of his career. The lack of cartilage isn't an easy fix, and he may never be the same player.
2. Heat Losing Big to Knicks Twice
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When the Miami Heat fell to the New York Knicks 104-84 on November 2, we chalked it up as an emotional victory for New York after Hurricane Sandy.
But when LeBron and company fell to a Melo-less Knicks bunch 112-92 on December 6, red flags started to go up.
The Heat will definitely go deep into the playoffs, but we have reason to believe New York can topple them this spring.
Will the Heat put the Knicks back in their place, or is this the start of a new era in which the two teams are equals atop the East?
1. Lakers' Big-4 Disconnect
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There are so many things wrong with Los Angeles (9-13) so far this season, but at the heart of it is a lack of true cohesiveness amongst its stars.
They are trying to make it work, but it's just not happening.
Kobe Bryant, despite his newfound offensive efficiency, is dominating the ball far too much. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard have yet to connect down low. Gasol's playing time (and health) have been inconsistent. Lastly, and most importantly, Steve Nash has missed more than a month of action.
We're past the point of wondering, "Does this mean that Los Angeles won't have the best record in the West?" Now, it's more like, "Will chemistry and health issues prevent this group from ever winning a title?"