Although the NBA is loaded with game-changing superstars, basketball is a team sport. No one athlete can win—and more specifically, win championships – without a great supporting cast around him that complements the team dynamic.
Unfortunately, some of today's superstars simply don’t have enough supporting weapons to compete on the highest level.
Examples of this situation vary. Some teams with a great superstar have competed admirably in the regular season so far, while other superstar-led rosters have sputtered to losing records.
Whether these NBA superstars are surrounded by bad fits, inexperienced teammates that need time to grow or flat-out inept players, they don’t have the adequate firepower to win big in 2013.
While some superstars have the youth needed to look to the future, other superstars don’t have that luxury. Unless some positive changes happen, the following superstars will fall short with their band of teammates.
Note: Statistics in this article are accurate as of Jan. 9, 2013 (prior to games played).
James Harden has embraced the role of superstar with the Houston Rockets now that he’s out of the shadow cast by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in OKC. He’s put up massive numbers with an increase in minutes and responsibility, and that should surprise nobody.
The Rockets have truly hit their stride as a unit recently. They have an 8-2 record in their past 10 contests and a 21-14 record overall.
Jeremy Lin struggled initially, averaging 10.2 points and 2.9 turnovers through the month of November, but he’s played much better lately.
Omer Asik is in the running for the league’s Most Improved Player award as he’s embraced a huge increase in minutes as a full-time starter in Houston, and Chandler Parsons has been pouring in the three-pointers.
Even though the Rockets have been a major surprise team in the league this year, I still think they’re too young and inexperienced to make a big splash come playoff time.
The Rockets are relying on Carlos Delfino, Marcus Morris and Toney Douglas to be major role players. They’ve played solid basketball, but that doesn’t erase the fact that Morris spent the majority of last season in the D-League, Delfino received little interest from teams around the league as a free agent (eventually signing a one-year deal with Houston) and that Douglas was behind Mike Bibby’s corpse on the New York Knicks depth chart a season ago.
Behind the MVP-caliber play from Harden, the Rockets have turned a lot of heads this season. Even with Harden’s great play though, Houston is simply too young and inexperienced to win big in 2013.
Following a vastly disappointing season last year, coach Mark Jackson's Golden State Warriors have flipped the script. The Dubs have jumped out to a 22-11 record, and they’re not just beating pushovers.
Key Warriors wins include beating the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks (twice) and Los Angeles Clippers (twice). A major reason for their great success falls squarely on the shoulders of superstar guard Stephen Curry.
Not only is Curry playing at an All-Star level, but he’s knocking on the door of MVP consideration for leading this Golden State squad. The Warriors won just 23 games all season last year, and so far this season they already have 22 W's.
Curry is leading the team in points per game (20.1), assists per game (6.5) and steals per game (1.9). He’s finally healthy following a slew of ankle problems last season, and he’s carrying the Warriors with his tremendous play.
Unfortunately, outside of double-double machine David Lee, the Warriors don’t have enough firepower to compete with the Western Conference elite this season.
There’s no question that Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry headline a solid second unit. However, injuries and growing pains experienced by young players point to evident flaws with this Golden State team.
The Warriors have certainly been bitten by the injury bug so far. Despite Curry’s health (knock on wood), Andrew Bogut has played in just four games with no time table for return, and Brandon Rush tore his ACL in the second game of the season (he’s done for the year).
The Warriors needed the young guns on the roster to step up in a big way, and although the team is winning consistently, the youngsters haven’t performed as well as they need to for a deep playoff run.
Festus Ezeli has taken over as the starting center for Coach Jackson in Bogut’s absence, but he’s still an extremely raw basketball talent. He doesn’t receive many minutes (just 15.7 per contest) and provides basically nothing on the offensive end (2.8 points per game on 45.1 percent shooting).
With the injury to Rush, sophomore guard Klay Thompson and rookie forward Harrison Barnes needed to step up. Unfortunately, Thompson is shooting career-low percentages across the board compared to his rookie year (including a woeful 40.2 percent from the field). In addition, Barnes is averaging just 9.1 points per game and doesn’t add much on the defensive end.
Down the road I love this team’s collection of youth and talent. However, Curry simply doesn’t have enough weapons around him to win on the highest stage this season.
To be fair to the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, they actually managed to put some solid talent around the Kevin Love/Ricky Rubio duo. Andrei Kirilenko has played tremendous basketball on both ends of the court in his return to the NBA, and Nikola Pekovic has picked up where he left off last season.
Despite that fact, neither Love nor Rubio have been healthy enough to make much of an impact this season. Love returned to the court after suffering a broken hand, shot a paltry 35.2 percent from the field in 18 games and re-injured the hand. He will now miss an additional eight to 10 weeks of the season, according to InsideHoops.com.
Love has continually made a case to the media that he’s not happy in Minnesota with the talent surrounding him. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Love was frustrated about being the only member of the USA Olympic basketball team who hasn’t reached the postseason.
Love has said, “My patience is not high,” and pointed to other players around the league with better talent surrounding them, according to Spears.
At some point though, the actual winning needs to be Love’s responsibility. He can’t continue blaming the front office for the team’s failures when Love is the unquestioned leader and best player.
Considering that Kobe Bryant once led a team highlighting Smush Parker and Kwame Brown to the playoffs, Love has no excuse.
It’s fair to say that Love doesn’t have the weapons around him to compete for a championship, but he certainly has the talent to make the playoffs at least as an eighth seed.
With the hand injury and Love’s evident gripes about the organization, missing the playoffs yet again may be the last straw for Love in Minnesota (fair or not).
Given the tremendous breakout season from Jrue Holiday in his fourth professional year, NBA fans are left wondering just how impressive this Philadelphia 76ers team would be if Andrew Bynum were healthy.
As it stands, the Sixers are six games under .500, have lost four games in a row and may not make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Even though Holiday is quickly establishing himself as an elite point guard in the NBA (despite turning the ball over a whopping 3.8 times per game), the Sixers simply don’t have the assets around him to compete. That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that the Sixers gave up Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic and rookie Maurice Harkless for what (at least to this point) has netted them only a washed-up Jason Richardson.
There’s a future in Philly if they can re-sign Bynum and get him fit to play at a high level, but Holiday’s teammates don’t bring enough to the table.
Dirk Nowitzki has already proven that he can lead a team to a championship as that team’s alpha dog. At the moment, he’s trying to work himself back into shape as he returns from injury. With all the changes in Dallas, however, the Mavericks may not even make the playoffs, let alone compete for a championship.
New addition O.J. Mayo is having his best season since his rookie year in Dallas. Despite that fact, since Nowitzki returned to the court on Dec. 27, Mayo is shooting just 35.6 percent from the field. That’s well below his season average of 45.8 percent from the field.
Mayo is on his way to a career year, but that’s an early sign that Mayo and Nowitzki need to learn how to coexist on the court together.
Additionally, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Elton Brand have been average at best this season as they get older.
The former identity of the Mavs no longer exists. Unless they can right the ship quickly and overcome being nine games under .500, looking toward next season may be the better outlook.
If I wrote prior to the season that Kobe Bryant didn’t have enough weapons around him to compete this season, I would have been laughed out of the country.
As odd as it may be, that’s the state of things in Lakerland. Even when the Lakers have had all of their core players (Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol) out on the court and healthy, the team has looked old, slow, confused and uninspired.
The defense has been abysmal throughout the season, and “abysmal” doesn’t even begin to describe how bad the Lakers' transition defense has been.
Now that Howard, Gasol and Jordan Hill are out due to injury, the Lakers have to rely even more heavily on their appalling bench. The Lakers' bench ranks 28th in the league in scoring this season. Only the second units in Cleveland and Portland have been worse.
Now those same guys who have been part of an extremely inconsistent bench unit have been thrust into a starring role (including the 2012 NBA draft’s “Mr. Irrelevant,” Robert Sacre).
The continuing struggles even led Nash to say that there’s no guarantee the Lakers will turn things around, according to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.
Bryant is experiencing perhaps his greatest season ever at 34 years old. He’s averaging 30.2 points per game while shooting 47.7 percent from the field (a career high) and 35.5 percent from three-point land, while adding 5.2 rebounds per game and 4.8 assists per game. But even Bryant’s most efficient year on record can’t help the hapless Lakers.