NBA Power Rankings: The 15 Biggest Disappointments Heading Into December
Would you believe that we're almost a quarter of the way through the 2010-11 NBA season? Seems like just yesterday we were anointing the Heat as the greatest team ever assembled and getting ready to hand the MVP trophy over to LeBron James and Kevin Durant for the next few years.
But to quote the phrase Lee Corso made ever-so-popular—not so fast my friend!
This year has had plenty of disappointments and surprises, from the emergence of guys like Russell Westbrook and Roy Hibbert to the struggles of O.J. Mayo and the no-shows of players such as Baron Davis.
Fortunately, this year the surprises have far outweighed the disappointments. Almost every team has a player or two that's exceeded expectations and there are plenty of teams that have caught us off guard with their strong play (New York, New Orleans, and Indiana, to name a few).
However, there are several instances of players or teams not living up to our expectations. And it's not just that we consider them busts for our fantasy leagues either—we expected certain guys to make a significant contribution or take the leap into the next tier, but it just hasn't happened yet and doesn't appear like it's going to.
So what coaches, players and teams have failed to live up to the hype?
Let's count down the top 15 disappointments in the NBA so far as we head into December and get ready for the new calender year.
15. Wireless Internet in Arenas
This has nothing to do with actual game-play in arenas, but almost every night you hear that fans, bloggers or beat writers in attendance at NBA arenas are unable to update posts because there isn't a reliable wireless service.
If we have reporters covering games, we don't want to wait until after the game or read about what's going on in huddles or player injury updates in the newspaper the next day. We want new updates as they happen.
Come on NBA owners, it's almost 2011. We can't develop a consistent wireless-internet signal in our brand-new, hundred-million dollar, state-of-the-art arenas? Really? Is it that hard?
14. Marcus Thornton
Marcus Thornton was one of the surprise breakout rookies last year, widely considered one of the most impactful second-round draft picks (along with DeJuan Blair). He burst onto the scene when Chris Paul was injured, scored in double-figures in 42 of the final 45 games of the season, and seemed to ease himself into the starting two spot.
But this year he's been a complete non-factor in New Orleans despite the fact that the Hornets are one of the league's best teams.
New coach Monty Williams has stressed defense and while he insists that Thornton hasn't done anything wrong and is getting better on that side of the ball, his role on the team is still in question. He's fighting for playing time behind Jarrett Jack, Willie Green and Quincy Pondexter.
He's started to get some more time on the floor recently, playing 20 minutes on Sunday against San Antonio (his highest total of the month) and tallying 11 points.
We were expecting Thornton to build on his impressive rookie season and take an even bigger step forward in 2011. Instead, he's started to regress.
13. James Harden
The Thunder selected James Harden with the No. 3 pick in the 2009 draft over guys like Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry because they liked his scoring, ability to space the floor, and thought he would fit in with their budding chemistry. He wouldn't rock the boat, so to speak, if he didn't get a lot of shots.
He definitely wasn't a disappointment last season. Averaging nearly 10 points a game as a rookie and being a key bench-contributor for a 50-win team is hardly living up to expectations.
However, the Thunder need him to either stretch the floor with his three-point shooting or provide a strong scoring spark off the bench, and this year he's not really doing either.
He's not a great a catch-and-shoot player—definitely more adept at putting the ball on the floor and creating his own shot. But a deadly perimeter shooter is what Oklahoma City needs to space the floor and keep driving lanes for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant open.
Harden's field-goal percentage, points, and assists are all down from his rookie year. Granted, it's a small sample size. And maybe he's just in a slump. After all, the Thunder are winning games and he's not doing anything detrimental to that.
But he's not having as much of an impact as originally anticipated.
12. Anthony Randolph
It seems every year we've been waiting for the Anthony Randolph explosion, but it has yet to come into fruition.
In his rookie year, he was still learning the ropes and then-coach Don Nelson was notorious for not getting along with first-year players. He played just 17.9 minutes per game for the season.
In his second year, he still struggled to get consistent playing time and an ankle injury forced him to miss a majority of the year.
Then 2010 was supposed to be his coming out party (finally). A change of scenery, a new team, a system that fits his style of play...it was all going to add up.
He wasn't healthy for the entire preseason, missing the first few games before finally joining the team on Nov. 4 against Chicago. But in 11 games since his return, he's played more than 12 minutes just once and is putting just 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds for the Knicks.
It got so bad that, at one point, Shawne Williams was ahead of him in the rotation.
We're still waiting, Anthony...
(Photo from New York Daily News)
11. Doug Collins
I thought it was interesting that 59-year-old Doug Collins gave up a comfortable job announcing games for TNT to come back and coach the Sixers, a young, rebuilding team that was obviously some time away from being a contender in the Eastern Conference.
In fact, he's never really been a great coach. His Chicago teams didn't flourish until Phil Jackson took over. He coached a young Washington team led by an aging Michael Jordan from 2001-2003, but it failed to make the playoffs in both seasons.
He's only had two 50-win teams in eight seasons and advanced past the conference semifinals just once. He's an intelligent basketball mind but maybe one that doesn't mesh with all of his players.
And this year's Sixers team doesn't seem any better than last year despite adding No. 2 pick Evan Turner and enjoying a solid bounce-back season from Elton Brand. Philly is just 5-13 and looks like it is a long ways from a playoff team, even in the top-heavy East where the final two or three playoff spots appear to be wide open.
But perhaps the worst part is we now have to listen to Reggie Miller as one of the top color commentators on TNT. Why'd you have to leave Doug?
10. Los Angeles Clippers
Let me clarify: I'm not saying that a team whose starting five consists of Eric Bledsoe (age 20), Eric Gordon (21), Al-Farouq Aminu (20), Blake Griffin (21), and DeAndre Jordan (22) is a disappointment because they're struggling to win games.
That's a ridiculously young team that hasn't had any extended time playing together, so obviously things aren't going too smoothly at first.
But what is disappointing is that the Clippers duped us in the offseason into thinking that maybe they could challenge for a playoff spot. Or at the very least, they'd win around 35 games and lay the foundation for a competitive 2011-12 season.
It's the lure of the Clippers: they stink for a majority of the season, build up momentum at the end to screw up their lottery chances and trick fans into believing they can be competitive next season. Then they do it all over again.
Damn me for believing this time could be different.
9. J.J. Hickson
If we did these rankings about two weeks ago, there is no way on earth J.J. Hickson would be on the list. But his recent struggles and inconsistent play have Cavs fans scratching their heads and wondering what's going on with their third-year power forward.
He had a terrific Vegas Summer League and a strong preseason as well. His athleticism and the way he finishes near the hoop led many to believe that he would thrive in Byron Scott's up-tempo system. Add in a much-improved mid-range jump shot and he looked like he could be a 15-point, nine-rebound guy easily.
He started the season well with 16 points and 5.7 rebounds in nine games but has dropped off considerably since. He's put up just one double-figure scoring game in Cleveland's last eight contests and tallied just three games with more than 10 rebounds.
His demeanor on the court suggests he's clearly frustrated. He doesn't know his role on the team and is still searching for not only his game to develop, but his mind as well—he needs to mature more.
When shots go up, he fades away from the hoop instead of attacking the boards. He's routinely sat out fourth quarters recently because of his lack of awareness on the defensive end.
Maybe the Cavs were expecting too much, too soon from him, but the bottom line is that he hasn't shown enough improvement.
8. Sacramento Kings
No one expected the Sacramento Kings to make the playoffs this season, but they have enough talent on the roster to score more than 94.3 points a game and have more than four wins heading into December.
The problem is that the Kings look more like a fantasy team on paper than they do an actual basketball team.
First off, they don't have a legitimate point guard. Tyreke Evans says he isn't a point guard or shooting guard, just a guard. That's all well and good, but when he has the ball in his hands a majority of the time, he needs to be doing one or the other instead of waffling in between the two.
Beno Udrih started the season well but has been a complete non-factor in the last two weeks.
Inside, the Kings have too many bodies and not enough minutes to go around. Jason Thompson was a starter last season and was relegated to a minor reserve role until he jumped back into the starting lineup in the last three games.
DeMarcus Cousins is showing why so many teams had reservations when evaluating him in last year's draft.
And their guards simply aren't performing well enough. Omri Casspi appears to be regressing and no one on the team is shooting above 39 percent from the three-point line.
It's been a long 17 games in Sacramento and the next 65 will probably be even longer.
7. John Salmons
When Milwaukee traded for Salmons near the trade deadline, the Bucks went on a 21-9 surge to finish the 2010 season as the No. 6 seed in the East.
Salmons gave Milwaukee a legit option at the two-guard, averaging 19.9 points while shooting 46.7 percent from the field, 86.7 percent from the free-throw line, and 38.5 percent from the three-point line.
He provided a one-on-one scoring threat whenever Brandon Jennings struggled and especially picked up the pace when Andrew Bogut went down for the season.
After signing a new contract in the offseason, he looks like a completely different player, lost in Milwaukee's offense and making minimal to no impact.
Twelve points a game on 36-percent shooting is not what the Bucks had in mind. All of the major statistics are down as is the impact he's having on games. He's taking fewer shots, getting to the line less, and his inconsistency has been a big part of Milwaukee's early season struggles.
6. Richard Hamilton
Rip has never been a guy that shoots a high percentage from the field or contributes a lot of rebounds, assists, or three-pointers. He's a strong mid-range shooter that loves to run off screens and contort his body into awkward leaners and runners...and he's very effective with those shots.
But it's almost painful to see him like this in Detroit.
He's never really thrived or stood out on bad teams. The Pistons are a team with too many perimeter players and not enough post presence. He's competing or splitting playing time with Ben Gordon and Tracy McGrady and it's not enough to get him into a consistent rhythm.
Averaging just 13.1 points (lowest since his rookie season) and barely shooting above 40 percent is not like Rip Hamilton. He has the ability to still contribute something to a contender. Put him on a team like Utah, Chicago, or Oklahoma City that could use a dead-eye shooter at shooting guard and he'd be fine.
It's not that we were expecting big things from Rip this year, but it's just disappointing how fast one of the best shooters in the game has faded into irrelevance.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
Coming into the season, I expected Milwaukee to easily claim the No. 6 seed once again in the East and have a chance to win 45 or more games—perhaps even compete with Atlanta for the No. 5 spot.
So far this season, it's been nothing but frustration for the 6-12 Bucks.
Milwaukee is last in the league in points per game with just 91.2 and as a team they're shooting an atrocious 40.6 percent from the field. Their defense has been good enough to keep them in games (four losses by six points or less) but they can't generate anything on offense, cracking 100 points just four times.
John Salmons, as mentioned previously, has struggled.
Andrew Bogut has missed multiple games due to injury.
Brandon Jennings, the team's starting point guard, is averaging over four more shots per game than the next closest player (Carlos Delfino). His job is to get others involved and that's not happening.
Not having a backup point guard hurts as well. Last year Luke Ridnour would come in when Jennings wasn't playing well and could provide a scoring spark as well as initiate the offense. But he's in Minnesota now and the Bucks are relying on Earl Boykins and Keyon Dooling as their reserves.
Scott Skiles is a coach that wears his team down over time because of his constant demands. He's an excellent coach, but eventually teams grow tired. It happened in Phoenix. It happened in Chicago.
Could it be happening now in Milwaukee or are the Bucks just in an early-season slump?
4. League-Wide Injuries
Injuries are a part of basketball. It happens every year and sometimes elite players go down for an extended period of time.
But this season it seems like the injury bug has bitten almost every team in the league, with a lot of key players missing multiple games.
Greg Oden is out for the season...again.
Yao Ming played five games for the Rockets before he went down with another knee injury. It wasn't diagnosed as serious but he's been out for over three weeks.
Speaking of Houston, Aaron Brooks suffered a severe ankle injury and has missed a majority of the season thus far.
Carlos Boozer broke his wrist in the offseason and just made his debut with Chicago last night.
David Lee got an infection when he was bitten (unintentionally) by Wilson Chandler and missed several games.
Kevin Durant has sat out three games with a nagging knee injury.
The list of other significant players that have missed multiple games includes Devin Harris, Andre Iguodala, Mo Williams, Andrew Bogut, John Wall and Brandon Roy. I'm sure there are others I've missed.
Yeah, injuries happen every year, but wouldn't it be great if we could see these guys out on the court at close to 100 percent for an entire season?
3. O.J. Mayo
Mayo had a fantastic rookie season with the Grizzlies, averaging 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists and appearing to be a legitimate building block moving forward for Memphis.
Instead of having a breakout second season as a lot of young players do, he basically stayed the same, averaging less points and assists but shot a better percentage from the field.
And this year, he's in a horrific slump. Lionel Hollins has moved him to the bench as Xavier Henry has gotten the start in the last six games.
His percentages are relatively the same but he hasn't had any impact on the floor. As one of the bright young players in the league as a rookie, his development since has been uninspiring and disappointing.
2. Baron Davis
Davis worked his way back on to the floor last night against San Antonio but has been the biggest individual disaster through the first 20 games of the NBA season.
Coming into this season, the Clippers had a promising, talented, and youthful roster. Blake Griffin was ready to do Blake Griffin things, like provide some of the most spectacular dunks of the season and almost instantly develop into one of the best power forwards in the league.
Eric Gordon was fresh off a gold medal at the FIBA Championships in which he really developed as a complete player and not just a shooter.
Add Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe to the mix and all that was missing in Los Angeles was some veteran leadership, a guy who could lead the young players both on and off the floor.
Baron Davis seemed like the natural fit. Until he showed up at camp overweight and out of shape, falling into Vinny Del Negro's doghouse, and a knee injury forced him into missing several weeks.
Davis thrives on the spotlight. He loves playing on the biggest of stages and steps his game up when it matters most. You could see it in the '07 playoffs with Golden State.
He had the ability to make this team a must-see event. And maybe he still can as the year progresses. But with the Clippers at 3-15 (as of Dec. 1) the season already seems lost.
It could have been more promising with a healthy and dedicated Baron Davis.
1. The Co-Existence of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade
It's not the struggles of the Heat as a team that's been the most puzzling thing about this season.
Everyone overvalued their offseason signings. They ignored the fact that they didn't have a point guard or any type of physical banger inside that could do the dirty work like collecting offensive rebounds and patrolling the paint on defense.
Instead, it's how ineffective LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been on the floor at the same time.
The Heat do have some fundamental flaws on offense. They run too many isolations and high pick-and-rolls instead of using something like a flex offense where guys are cutting through the lane and setting screens away from the ball.
But when James gets the ball, Wade stands around.
When Wade gets the ball, James looks clueless.
They rarely, if at all, run pick-and-rolls with each other or do anything that stands out when they don't have the ball in their hands. When one is in the game without the other, that's when they start to thrive by going back to old habits from their previous teams.
Everyone assumed James and Wade were unselfish enough to share the ball, get their own shots, and keep everyone happy. But that is not the case right now.
These two are supposed to be the leaders of this Miami team but they certainly aren't playing like it. Talent simply isn't enough in this league to consistently dominate—they aren't playing like they know how to coexist with one another.
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