The Real Reason These NBA Franchises Aren't Making the Playoffs This Year
If you're here, then it's for one reason and one reason alone. You want to know why your favorite team isn't going to make the playoffs this season.
Fourteen teams are going to go home soon and spend their summer watching the playoffs rather than being in them. For a lot of teams, the reason behind this is simple—they just didn't have enough talent. But other teams are going to miss the playoffs for reasons outside of having a poorly constructed squad. Maybe it's an injury or a series of bad injuries. Or maybe it's something else.
Ultimately, they're all going to end doing the same thing—going home.
All stats accurate as of 4/13/2013, and all teams chosen based on current standings.
Bad Team: Charlotte Bobcats (19-61)
After a fun 7-5 start, the Charlotte Bobcats have gone...11-56. Ouch.
The Bobcats have lost 35 games by double digits this season, 18 of which they lost by 20 points or more (per NBA.com). This isn't a team that had a few bad breaks or just couldn't get the ball to bounce their way this season. This team was thoroughly noncompetitive, and the road to relevance could be a long one.
But I'll stop with the Charlotte bashing to say this: They have some nice young players.
Kemba Walker has developed into a solid starter, Gerald Henderson has improved his outside shooting (33 percent up from 23 percent last season), and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the potential to be a two-way terror. His jumper will have to improve big time, but he's already got some defensive chops and is a tireless worker by all accounts.
They'll get there. Not this season, next season or maybe even the season after. But they'll get there.
Bad Team: Cleveland Cavaliers (24-55)
Sure, Kyrie Irving missed a hefty chunk of time, and Anderson Varejao only played 25 games. But let's get real...the problem is just that the Cleveland Cavaliers are bad.
In large part due to Irving, the Cavs' offense is just a tick under average this year at 104.5 points per 100 possessions. But defensively, the team is a train wreck. The Cavs allow 109.4 points per 100 possessions, 26th in the league (per Basketball-Reference). With Varejao, the defense was better but still very, very bad (per NBA.com).
The good news for the Cavs—they have the second-youngest team in the league (per Basketball-Reference), and young teams are rarely stout defensively. There's also the fact that Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson look like they could develop into real difference makers some day. And, of course, there's Kyrie.
Bad Luck: Dallas Mavericks (39-40)
I think we can all admit that Dirk Nowitzki's not the same player that he used to be. His scoring has dipped to 17 points per game (from 23 per game two years ago), and though he still shoots at solid percentages, he no longer takes games over the way he used to.
Dirk's getting older. No shame in that.
With that being said, a healthy Dirk is absolutely still good enough to carry the Dallas Mavericks to the playoffs. And that's why his 27-game absence following knee surgery stung Dallas so badly.
The Mavs' offense is based around Dirk's excellent inside-outside game. With him out for the start of the season—and hobbled for the rest of it—they weren't quite able to squeeze past the Los Angeles Lakers or Utah Jazz for the West's eighth seed.
The good news for Mavs fans—you got to see Chris Kaman's sweet, sweet beard for a good part of the year. Asking for more than that would have been selfish, anyway.
Bad Decision: Detroit Pistons (28-52)
I'm going to go out on a limb and say it: If Andre Drummond had gotten starter's minutes, the Detroit Pistons would be in the playoffs.
You're probably tired of hearing how awesome Drummond has been for the Pistons this season, so I'll make it quick. Drummond's 22.1 PER ranks 14th in the league, and he's one of the few players who is so athletic that he makes a huge difference on the court despite being raw. And yet, he only plays 20 minutes per game.
The Milwaukee Bucks are 37-42, and they'll make the playoffs in the East. That's who the Pistons would have to get past. The Bucks rank 22nd in the league offensively and 12th in the league defensively (per Basketball-Reference).
When Drummond is on the floor, the Pistons' offensive and defensive ratings are eighth and 24th respectively (per 82games.com). Statistically, that team could absolutely make the playoffs, even after you factor in Drummond's 22-game absence from injury.
Obviously, this hypothetical hinges on Greg Monroe and Drummond learning how to play together, but still...the Pistons would at least be in the hunt.
There's nothing wrong with bringing Drummond along slowly, but the Pistons could have at least had a shot at a playoff berth this season. In the end, though, the Drummond-Monroe-Brandon Knight core provides the Pistons with a bright future, and that's what really matters.
Bad Luck: Minnesota Timberwolves (30-50)
I mean, come on. Kevin Love only played 18 games. The Minnesota Timberwolves never even had a chance this season.
The T-Wolves were decimated by injuries this year. New additions Chase Budinger and Brandon Roy have only played in a combined 25 games, and nearly everyone on the roster has missed significant time at some point. Ricky Rubio has only played 54 games, Andrei Kirilenko is at 61 games, and Nikola Pekovic is at 62.
It's hard to blame head coach Rick Adelman—or really anything but dumb luck—for not winning games when he has to piece together new lineups every other night.
That all adds up to a pretty rough year for Timberwolves fans, especially considering some of the teams' contract situations.
Pekovic is an unrestricted free agent and is going to command a lot of money this summer. Rubio now inches closer to the end of his rookie deal. And since Minnesota curiously (stupidly) gave Love a four-year extension with a player option, he can opt out of his deal in just two years if he continues to be unhappy with the team. Not a lot of fun at all.
Bad Luck: New Orleans Hornets (27-53)
It's hard to say that the New Orleans Hornets would have been a surefire playoff team had Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon played more games, but they certainly would have been in the playoff hunt.
The Hornets' oft-injured young stars have missed a combined 56 games this season, 40 of which have come from Gordon.
Davis and Gordon are the Hornets' best defensive and offensive players, respectively. They need to be on the court if New Orleans is going to win. Greivis Vasquez and Ryan Anderson are nice young pieces, but they can't carry this team on their own. It's just not going to happen.
The Hornets have lost 30 games this year by 10 points or fewer (per NBA.com). They haven't picked up a lot of wins, but they've been competitive. If Davis or Gordon could have swung half of those games the other way (which doesn't seem too crazy), then the Hornets would be in the mix for the eighth seed.
Hopefully next year, we'll get to see what this team is really made of.
Bad Team: Orlando Magic (20-60)
To be honest, the Orlando Magic have actually had a pretty good year.
They weren't that great in terms of wins and losses, but the franchise knew that this was going to be a rough season as soon as they lost Dwight Howard. What became important was developing young players and securing a good draft pick. Things are going well in both of those departments.
The Magic have the second-worst record in the league and a 20-percent chance of snagging the first pick in this year's draft (per ESPN's Mock Draft Machine).
Better yet, Nikola Vucevic—a throw-in from the Philadelphia 76ers in the Dwight trade—has been a rebounding machine this year. The 22-year-old center is averaging 13 points and 12 rebounds per game and has posted four 20-20 nights.
Somehow, the Magic might have been the winners in a trade that was widely panned by critics. And when you consider that they're virtually swimming in future picks right now...their outlook appears pretty promising.
So, yes, Magic fans, your team was downright bad this year, and that's the real reason they missed the playoffs. But you're probably too busy watching Vucevic slap up 30-20s or counting all of Orlando's future picks to care. Understandable.
Bad Luck/Bad Decision: Philadephia 76ers (32-47)
If we've learned anything this season, it's that it's never good when an NBA team's year is decided in a bowling alley. As Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins angrily pointed out in his late-February rant,tThe 76ers kind of got screwed this season.
Philadelphia gave away its best player last year (Andre Iguodala) and a young center who's been a total stud for the Orlando Magic (Nikola Vucevic) for a player who will most likely never suit up for them.
To be fair, the Andrew Bynum trade was a calculated risk—Bynum's had problems with his knees long before this season. But the bowling alley injury...that was just bad luck, plain and simple. And it ruined the 76ers' season.
But with that being said, some blame has to fall on Collins' shoulders for his inability to adjust an offensive system that clearly hasn't worked.
Collins' offense places a premium on mid-range jumpers—the least-efficient shot in the game. The 76ers are taking a whopping 32 shots from 10-23 feet per game, topping in the league (per HoopData), and the direct result is the NBA's 26th best offense (per Basketball-Reference).
It's not like Collins has no talent to work with. Philadelphia has a few nice pieces, including an All-Star guard in Jrue Holiday. It's up to Collins to put them in a position to succeed, and his decision to stick with his offense was a poor one.
Bad Team: Phoenix Suns (24-55)
In the Phoenix Suns' last two years with Steve Nash at the helm, they were kind of like a three-legged table—they were wobbly, but they stood upright. So when Steve Nash was traded this summer, the table collapsed. Hard.
The Phoenix Suns are easily the worst team in the Western Conference, and there aren't all that many bright spots to be found. The Suns are the league's 28th best offensive team and its 23rd best defensive team (per Basketball-Reference).
It's starting to look like they may have whiffed on the Kendall Marshall pick, and even if Marshall develops, it's unclear if he can play alongside Goran Dragic (though they've been solid together so far via NBA.com).
To be fair, Dragic has been awesome fun to watch this season—he can get in the lane and finish at all sorts of weird angles, and he's a gifted passer. You could do much worse for a Nash replacement.
But at the end of the day, the Suns have a long and arduous rebuilding process ahead of them. They'll have a solid pick in this year's draft, so we'll have to see what they can do with it.
Bad Bench: Portland Trail Blazers (33-46)
If you just glance at the Portland Trail Blazers' roster, you'll probably say, “Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum...how did these guys miss the playoffs?” And then when you get to the bench, you'll probably say, “Oh, that's why.”
The Trail Blazers have the worst bench in basketball by a large margin. The group's leader in PER is rookie center Meyers Leonard, who clocks in at a whopping 12.4, and eight bench players have a PER in the single-digits.
Among NBA benches, Portland ranks dead last in points, rebounds and assists per game, and it ranks in the bottom three in every relevant statistical category outside of turnovers (per Hoopsstats.com).
As a result, the majority of the Portland starters are playing 38 minutes a game. There are nights when it looks like Lillard or Aldridge can barely move, but they play big minutes anyway because head coach Terry Stotts is terrified to replace them.
It's not often that subs cost a team a playoff shot, but it's not far-fetched to think that Portland would be competing for a berth with even a decent bench.
Bad Decision(s): Sacramento Kings (28-51)
It's not just this year. The Sacramento Kings didn't make the playoffs because of a long, long line of bad decisions from their front office.
Out of all the teams in the NBA, the Sacramento Kings might be the most poorly constructed. The Kings have picked in the lottery for six consecutive years (this will be their seventh), and yet they've never eclipsed 40 wins in that time span. Heck, in the last five years, they haven't even gotten past 30 wins.
It's not that the Kings don't have talented players—they do. But they don't have players who fit together. It's almost as if Sacramento drafts the best player available every single year. There's nothing wrong with drafting for talent, but in the end, you have to have players who can play together. It's not an All-Star game. Everyone has to fit.
Again, the Kings have good players—their 12th ranked offense alone proves that (per Basketball-Reference). DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Thomas...these are all talented individuals.
But the Kings' 29th ranked defense is more indicative of what this team is all about (per Basketball-Reference). They don't fit together, and they don't know how to play together.
Until the front office figures this stuff out, the Kings will always miss the playoffs.
Bad Team: Toronto Raptors (31-48)
Like a lot of the teams on this list, the Toronto Raptors have had some big names miss some time.
Andrea Bargnani has only played 35 games this season, and Kyle Lowry has only played 65 (and been banged up for the rest). But unlike most of the teams on this list, it's hard to say that changed the outcome of Toronto's season. In reality, it seems like Toronto just isn't that good.
Bargnani's usually a solid offensive player, but this season he's been a disaster, shooting just 40 percent from the field and 31 percent from three. And his defense...well, that's always been a nightmare.
Lowry's had a good year, but he had to share the point with Jose Calderon (before Calderon was traded) because the two were never able to play well together (per NBA.com). Honestly, those two injuries were pretty negligible.
Even after acquiring Rudy Gay, the Raptors are just a middling offensive team (16th in the league) and a poor defensive team (22nd in the league per Basketball-Reference). They've improved since the trade, but only marginally, and with their pick going to the Oklahoma City Thunder this year, there's not a lot of room for an immediate upgrade.
Not fun times in Toronto right now.
Bad Spread of Talent: Utah Jazz (42-38)
Yeah, it's a little strange. But the Utah Jazz aren't a bad team, and you can't blame their problems on the trade deadline because it's hard to imagine them getting much for two outgoing free agents (Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson).
The main reason that the Jazz won't make the playoffs is because their talent is almost all centered in one place—their big men.
Utah has four legitimate starters at the power forward or center positions—Millsap, Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Usually, it's nice to have that kind of depth, but not when the bench bigs can only play 20 minutes a game and when the Jazz need serious help at point guard and the wings.
Mo Williams has been okay running the point for Utah, but he's a poor defender and tends to get carried away with his shot selection. The Jazz's other weak link, Marvin Williams, is getting almost 25 minutes per game despite the fact that he kills what would otherwise be a near top-five offense (per 82games.com).
Definitely a weird problem for an NBA team to have. The Jazz have a bright future in Kanter and Favors, but the fact that all of their talent is centered in one place probably cost them the playoffs this season.
Bad Luck: Washington Wizards (29-51)
The Washington Wizards are generally written off as a horrible team, but since John Wall's comeback, they've been fairly good.
Without Wall, the Wizards were 5-28 and looked destined to be at the bottom of the lottery. With Wall? They've gone 24-23—a win percentage that would put them at sixth (!) in the Eastern Conference.
With Wall at the helm, the Wizards have somehow reinvented themselves as a top-tier defensive team. Since January 12th (Wall's return date), the Wizards have allowed just 99.4 points per 100 possessions—sixth in the league and just 0.1 points back of the Miami Heat's vaunted defense. That's up from 11th in the league before Wall returned (per NBA.com).
Wall's allegedly improved jumper has still been awful (he hits 28 percent from 10-15 feet per HoopData). But part of that can be blamed on his injury too, and when Wall does have it going, Washington is downright scary.
Honestly, you could probably look at this as good for the Wizards. They may have missed the playoffs, but they get to add a lottery pick to a team that was actually pretty good in the first place. Not too shabby.