The Biggest Letdowns of the NBA Season to Date

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2014

The Biggest Letdowns of the NBA Season to Date

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    As thrilling as it's been to watch Kevin Durant and LeBron James battle for MVP votes during legendary stretches this season, the 2013-14 campaign has also been chock-full of disappointments. 

    From Anthony Bennett headlining a dreadful draft class to the comical New York Knicks and a host of teams that have failed to live up to expectations, this season's cons have oftentimes outweighed its pros. 

    It's a sad reality, but the dichotomy between the Association's prosperous and downtrodden teams and players this season has been particularly noteworthy. 

    And with so many letdowns to sift through, we're here to provide a comprehensive breakdown of which parties have been responsible for a year that's been rather underwhelming at times. 

    One quick note before we get started: Qualifiers for this list were selected based on preseason projections and the performance of certain players and teams relative to them. Therefore, even a team like the Brooklyn Nets that ranks among the Eastern Conference's playoff contenders is fair game to be categorized as a disappointment.  

     

    All statistics current as of Wednesday, March 5, and courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless noted otherwise.

Anthony Bennett and the 2013 Draft Class

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    Outside of a select few outliers such as Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 2013 NBA draft class has been a tremendous disappointment. 

    Otto Porter, Cody Zeller and Alex Len—who were selected third, fourth and fifth, respectively—have combined to play 1,479 minutes this season, which is 503 less than Oladipo. 

    However, the biggest letdown has been No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, who's averaging a meager 4.2 points on 35 percent shooting in 12.8 minutes per game. Not only that, but Bennett's player efficiency rating also sits at a paltry mark of 7.03, which ranks 24th among all rookies, per ESPNThere's also the matter of Bennett's minus-0.4 win shares, which is just 0.1 outside of the bottom spot for first-year players, per Basketball-Reference

    Also consider that Bennett is shooting below the league average from nearly every basic zone on the floor, per NBA.com, and it's evident that he's emerged as the face of one of the most underwhelming draft classes in recent memory. 

    Carter-Williams' successes have been a nice distraction (he leads all rookies in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game), but it's hard to ignore just how putrid this freshman class of talent has been in a macro sense.

Derrick Rose's Absence

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    The highly anticipated return of Derrick Rose lasted all of 10 games. And while we did get to see a glimpse of the old Rose in that small sample, the Chicago Bulls and fans alike were deprived of the opportunity to watch one of the game's most electric talents night after night. 

    After sitting out the entirety of the 2012-13 campaign to rehab from a torn ACL, Rose fell victim to a torn medial meniscus that sidelined him for the remainder of this year's campaign. 

    Although struggles were prevalent during Rose's return to the floor (he shot 35.4 percent from the field and averaged 15.9 points over 10 games), it was encouraging to see him generally move around the court without the operated knee hindering his seamless shifts into high gear and his quick lateral cuts. 

    The good news for the Bulls is that they've discovered new life without Rose thanks to the spectacular play of Joakim Noah, who's put together a career year behind averages of 12 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists, a mark which leads all centers.  

    Occupants of the Eastern Conference's No. 4 seed, the Bulls have once again proved that they have what it takes to remain resilient in times of medical distress.

The New York Knicks

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    The New York Knicks are an unmitigated disaster. There's really no other way to put it. 

    After going 3-12 in October and November, the Knicks have spiraled out of control despite posting a winning record of 10-6 in January. A record of 2-11 in February then squashed all of the team's playoff hopes, which were minuscule to begin with. 

    Excluding Carmelo Anthony, who's been carrying the Knicks offense behind 28 points per game on a career-best 42.4 percent shooting from three, the team has been woeful in nearly all aspects of the game. 

    Despite owning an average offense that's generating 106.1 points per 100 possessions, the Knicks' No. 27 ranked defense has made any offensive progress a moot point. 

    Surrendering 109.5 points per 100 possessions, the Knicks have emerged as the laughingstock of an Eastern Conference that's loaded with embarrassments. New York's defense is also allowing opponents to shoot 37.7 percent from three, the fourth-worst mark in the Association. 

    And as if the on-court disappointments weren't enough, the Knicks have had to deal with off-court distractions from Raymond Felton and a public reprimand from the team's resident clown, J.R. Smith. 

    "It's not a mental thing, it's a heart thing," Smith said following the Golden State Warriors' thrashing of the Knicks last week, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley

    In the words of Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley, "when the court jester stops laughing, it's time for a regime change."

The Wretched Eastern Conference

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    Just how bad is the Eastern Conference? Well, if you scan the Western Conference standings, you'll see that the Memphis Grizzlies (34-26), who sit a game outside of the eighth and final playoff spot, have a record strong enough to be the No. 3 seed in the East. 

    In addition, five Western Conference teams have already compiled at least 40 wins, while only two teams in the East (Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers) have accomplished that same feat. 

    Need more depressing numbers? The East has them in spades. 

    As of this writing, only six of the East's projected playoff teams have a record over. 500. There are 10 teams in the West who can boast that relatively mundane achievement. 

    Perhaps more telling, though, is that the Eastern Conference possesses five of the league's seven worst teams. The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics have all become masters of futility, with the Sixers leading the pack despite having won three more games than the Bucks. 

    Through Wednesday, the Sixers have lost 15 games in a row and compiled a record of 12-46 since starting the season 3-0 behind defeats of the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards.

    With just over a month left in the regular season, it feels safe to say that the NBA draft's No. 1 overall pick will belong to an Eastern Conference squad come May.

Kobe Bryant's Injury Woes

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    Like Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant's season has been ravaged by injury. 

    Six games into his comeback from a ruptured Achilles tendon, Bryant suffered a left tibial plateau fracture, one that's sidelined him indefinitely since Dec. 17. 

    And like Rose, Bryant looked like a shell of himself in the few games that we were able to see him play this year. In 177 minutes, Bryant averaged 13.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting from the field and a lowly 18.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc while recording a below-average PER of 11 and an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 85. 

    Considering the severity of the injury that he was returning from, those statistical struggles are completely acceptable. However, it's been a letdown for his throng of rabid supporters and the Los Angeles Lakers that he wasn't provided the opportunity to slowly work himself back into a groove. 

    Without Bryant, the 21-40 Lakers have entered a tailspin and sit beside the Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz in the Western Conference cellar thanks to offensive and defensive ratings that both rank among the league's 10 worst (22nd at 103.8 and 25th at 109.3, respectively). 

    When evaluating the Lakers' woes this season, also consider that they've had Steve Nash on the floor for just 10 games. Unfortunately, it looks like that number's going to hold steady, as Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni isn't expecting the 40-year-old to return this season, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

Brooklyn's Performance Relative to Expectations

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    The Brooklyn Nets entered the 2013-14 season with lofty expectations. After dealing for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, signing Andrei Kirilenko and appointing Jason Kidd as the team's head coach, it was clear that Brooklyn was all-in. 

    More than four months into what was considered to be a campaign that would shake up the landscape of the Eastern Conference, the Nets have failed to validate the hype. 

    Following a 10-21 start to the season, the Nets have rebounded and find themselves in the running for an Atlantic Division title with a record of 30-29. But even if they do pass the Toronto Raptors (33-26) for the Atlantic's top spot, Brooklyn's upside is capped. 

    With an aging core that's been unable to meet league-average marks in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency, the Nets simply aren't going to challenge Miami, Indiana or even Chicago come playoff time, as sad as that sounds. 

    Once thought to rank among the East's elite, this year's Nets serve as a cautionary tale for why we should wait to crown unestablished superteams before they step on the floor.

Minnesota's Inability to Make the Leap

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    This was supposed to be the season that ended the Minnesota Timberwolves' nine-year playoff drought. Instead, Rick Adelman and the Timberwolves appear to be headed for an early vacation for the 10th straight season. 

    However, based on advanced metrics, you'd think that Minnesota was thriving. According to Basketball-Reference, the T'Wolves rank ninth (108.6) and eighth (104.4) in offensive and defensive rating, respectively, while generating the league's third-most possessions per 48 minutes (97.4). 

    In fact, Basketball-Reference lists the Timberwolves' expected win-loss record to date at 37-22, which would have them ranked ninth out of 30 teams. But in a crowded Western Conference, a record that high above .500 is simply a pipe dream. 

    As things stand, Minnesota sits four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the West's ninth seed and five games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the sought-after eighth and final playoff spot. 

    Making up that much ground over the next month would appear to be tremendously difficult, though, especially because the Timberwolves haven't been able to piece together a stellar month yet this season. 

    Of the four full months that have been completed, the Timberwolves have recorded a winning record in just one of them (8-7 in January) and finished one game below .500 in the other three. Not only that, but the Timberwolves also can't seem to piece together wins against conference foes (17-22 against Western teams) when they've needed them most.  

    The real loser in all of this? Kevin Love, who's put together a simply brilliant season (26.6 PTS, 13.2 REB, 4.1 AST) and will likely be forced to watch the playoffs from his couch for the sixth straight season.

The Pelicans' Defensive Troubles

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    Once the Western Conference's trendiest young team, the New Orleans Pelicans were expected to be fast risers after making moves to bolster their backcourt.

    Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans were brought in to team up with Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, theoretically creating an offensive juggernaut of sorts, but that plan quickly fell through due to a litany of injuries. 

    The one aspect of the Pelicans' rapid transformation that general manager Dell Demps overlooked? Team defense, which has been New Orleans' biggest on-court problem by a mile this season. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, the Pelicans rank dead last in defensive efficiency, surrendering an even 110 points per 100 possessions while allowing opponents to shoot 46.5 percent from the field, a mark which ranks No. 26 overall. 

    And when we take a deeper dive into the advanced numbers, the story only gets uglier. 

    According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the Pelicans have trouble defending a myriad of play types. The worst is in transition, where New Orleans ranks 30th, surrendering 1.2 points per possession, but it's also inept when it comes to defending post-ups (No. 27 overall), spot-ups (No. 29 overall) and players coming off screens (No. 26 overall). 

    Perhaps a healthy core will be able to improve upon those dreadful numbers next season, but it's clear that the Pelicans have a long way to go before we label them playoff contenders.

Josh Smith and the Detroit Pistons

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    "Tumultuous" is the adjective that feels most appropriate when describing the debacle that's been the Detroit Pistons' 2013-14 season. 

    The acquisitions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings had the Pistons looking like a solid bet to creep into the Eastern Conference playoff picture even if it meant being bounced in the first round. By some measures, that would have been progress, considering Detroit hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2008-09. 

    Thirteen games below .500 and three games out of the playoffs, the Pistons continue to maintain a special place in basketball purgatory and will continue to do so after firing head coach Maurice Cheeks 50 games into his first season as the team's leading man. 

    The on-court product has been horribly inconsistent, as the Pistons have shot a putrid 31.2 percent from three while allowing opponents to sink 37.1 percent of their looks from beyond the arc. Detroit also sits at 29th in terms of opponent's field-goal percentage, with the opposition piling up points at a 46.8 percent clip so far this season. 

    And then there's Josh Smith, the overpaid, inefficient and frustrating free-agent signee who's yet to understand his limitations on the offensive end. 

    For the first time in his career, Smith's PER (14.7) has dipped below the league average of 15, and a big reason why may have to do with his unconscionable shot selection. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, Smith is shooting below 40 percent between three and 10 feet, 10 and 16 feet and 16 feet and the three-point line.

    But wait, there's more! Smith is shooting 23 percent from three, which is incredibly concerning when you come to realize that 20.9 percent of his total field-goal attempts have come from beyond the arc. 

    Needless to say, the Pistons are likely wishing they hadn't invested $54 million over four years for a player whose game isn't conducive to adaptation.