Every NBA Team's Biggest Disappointment So Far
The 2022-23 NBA season is nearly a month old.
More than enough time has passed for each team to have cycled through some early disappointments.
Some aren't built to last. Others will eventually emerge as the early, ominous signs of seasons that never lived up to the hype.
It's too early to tell which will fall in either bucket, but it's not too early to lay out each team's biggest disappointment of the young season.
Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young's Shooting
With in-the-arena range, slippery handles, elite vision and the willingness to share the rock, Young puts a gravitational force on defenders few players can match. However, that pull hasn't had quite as much power this year, with the scoring guard uncharacteristically struggling to find his touch.
Last season, he hit personal highs with every layer of his 46.0/38.2/90.4 shooting slash. This year, only his foul shooting (90.5 percent) has avoided a precipitous plummet.
He has nosedived to 37.9 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from distance. He has shot better than 45 percent in just two of his 12 outings and landed south of 37 percent in eight.
Because he plays such a super-sized role for this team (career-high 35.5 percent usage rate), it's not at all surprising to see Atlanta simultaneously backtracking in offensive efficiency, falling from second last season to 14th this time around.
Boston Celtics: Defensive Decline
When the Celtics hit their stride in late-January last season, there was a stretch in which they held nine out of 12 opponents below 100 points. By year's end, they had catapulted themselves atop the Association's defensive efficiency ranks.
This season, 12 of their first 13 opponents have all reached triple digits. While two of those games went to overtime, the opposition had cleared 100 before the extra session tipped. Boston suddenly finds itself 22nd in defensive rating.
The absence of Robert Williams III, an All-Defense second-teamer last season, clearly hurts, but Boston didn't figure to lose this much ground without him.
Brooklyn Nets: Ben Simmons' Lack of Impact
It feels a little strange choosing anything other than the team's off-court turmoil—which has already included both a coaching change and an indefinite suspension of Kyrie Irving after he promoted an antisemitic movie and then initially refused to apologize for it—but the Nets have taken unexpected twists and turns with this nucleus before.
The reasons may be surprising, but it's not at all shocking to be talking about things other than basketball with this group.
The bigger bummer is Simmons. The Nets may not have known exactly what to expect after he missed all of last season with injuries and mental health issues, but the hope was he'd serve as connective tissue for this team with his two-way playmaking.
That's not happening at all. His previous worst averages were 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists. Now, those numbers are down to 5.2, 6.2 and 5.9, respectively. No wonder he's saddling a rotation-worst minus-16.1 net differential.
Charlotte Hornets: Scoring Shortage
You can't say Charlotte's offensive slippage comes completely out of left field. Miles Bridges, last season's leading scorer, remains unsigned after pleading no-contest to charges of felony domestic violence, while LaMelo Ball, last season's No. 2 point-producer, missed the first 13 games with an ankle injury.
Still, the Hornets couldn't have planned on falling this far without them.
One season after finishing eighth in offensive efficiency, Charlotte has free-fallen to 28th. The Hornets have bottom-five shooting rates from the field (44.6 percent, 26th), from distance (33 percent, 26th) and at the line (71.8 percent, 29th).
Leading scorer Terry Rozier is shooting just 37.5 percent overall. Breakout candidate P.J. Washington is shooting worse than ever from the field (42.3 percent) and from range (33.3). James Bouknight, last year's No. 11 pick, is also shooting worse from every level (34.0/23.1/62.5) than he did during his colossally disappointing rookie season.
Chicago Bulls: Anemic Attack
The Bulls are built to win with offense. You don't construct a roster around DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević and reasonably expect to play any other way.
So, if you hear any sirens blaring around the Windy City, it's because this club sits an unforgivable 24th in offensive efficiency. Would they be better off with a healthy Lonzo Ball, the best table-setter on the team? No question. Still, having all three of DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević upright should be enough to field at least a league-average attack.
Yet, DeRozan's role has decreased a bit from last season (27.7 usage rate, down from 31.8), LaVine's close-range finishing has flatlined (58 percent shooting inside of three feet, down from 70) and Vučević too often gets overlooked. That Patrick Williams remains a developmental project and not the second coming of Kawhi Leonard isn't helping, either.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Crunch-Time Collapses
Had this assignment been undertaken a week ago, nit-picking would have been a must. Back then, the Cavs were 8-1 and looked every bit the part of a basketball buzz saw.
Then, Cleveland went out and dropped four straight games, losing the fourth quarter in three of them—the lone exception being Sunday, when Darius Garland netted 27 of his career-high 51 points in the final frame. Cleveland couldn't rally despite Garland's best efforts, though, and dropped to 2-5 in games decided by single digits.
The Cavaliers have been a mess in clutch situations—final five minutes with a margin of five points or less—sitting 24th in net rating at minus-15.4 points per 100 possessions. On paper, Cleveland has (at least) three capable closers in Garland, Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert. In practice, though, that trio has shot a combined 23-of-62 (37.1 percent) and has nearly as many turnovers (10) as assists (11) in crunch time.
Dallas Mavericks: Support Shooters
Being a spot-up shooter should have its perks in Dallas. With off-the-dribble threats like Luka Dončić and Spencer Dinwiddie, plus Christian Wood making things happen in the middle, the Mavericks have several high-level options to collapse an opposing defense.
Those collapses are happening, but Dallas' shooters aren't making teams pay.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is shooting 33.3 percent from distance, which is both the second-worst mark of his career and one of the better splash rates in this supporting cast. Dorian Finney-Smith is at 32.7 percent, while Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber are both south of 30.
Denver Nuggets: Leaky Defense
Denver's path to the championship podium is pretty straightforward: Pair an overpowered offense with a functional defense, and that might do the trick.
The Nuggets came close to striking that two-way balance last season, ranking sixth on offense (without Jamal Murray and effectively also minus Michael Porter Jr.) and 15th on defense. This season, the offense is even more explosive (second), but the defense is trending down (23rd) despite the offseason investments in skilled stoppers like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown.
There are a number of factors contributing to this, but two of the biggest are interior defense (league-worst 71.5 percent shooting allowed in the restricted area) and transition buckets (15.4 fast-break points allowed per game, 23rd).
Detroit Pistons: Offensive Inconsistency
The Pistons aren't really playing for today, so everything this roster does must be graded on a curve. Saying that, though, there is no curve that can salvage this shooting: dead last in field-goal percentage (42.7), third-from-the-bottom in three-point percentage (32.8).
You might want to chalk this all up to growing pains, and that surely plays a part. However, their two lottery picks, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, have been among their most consistent finishers on offense, so that can't be all that's happening here.
Instead, you have Cade Cunningham regressing as a shooter (27.9 percent from three, down from 31.4) and Saddiq Bey backtracking in a big way with his touch (30.8 percent from distance; he shot 38.0 percent on a higher volume as a rookie in 2020-21). And while this unfortunately can't qualify as disappointing, Killian Hayes' sub-30.0 field-goal percentage is the latest evidence this franchise may never get what it hoped to receive from 2020's No. 7 pick.
Golden State Warriors: Klay Thompson's Tough Start
The Warriors have bigger problems than Thompson, namely a second unit that halts momentum the second it steps foot on the hardwood. However, the bench problems might be more extreme than anticipated, but they aren't at all surprising. As skipper Steve Kerr recently told reporters, "They're young guys who need to learn by making mistakes ... but we're not a team right now where we can afford to let guys make mistakes."
Golden State, therefore, needs its veteran core to be razor-sharp, and for the most part it has been. The glaring exception, though, is Thompson, who somehow appears rustier now than he did last season, when he returned from a two-year layoff.
He once had a credible claim as the Association's top three-and-D wing, but he's lacking on both ends of the floor. His 35.1 field-goal percentage and 33.0 three-point percentage are both easily career worsts, as is his minus-2.8 defensive box plus/minus.
Houston Rockets: Jabari Smith Jr.'s Sluggish Start
Leading up to the draft, Smith seemed the likeliest player to be taken first overall. It's hard to even picture that now given how absurdly dominant Paolo Banchero has been so far—and how equally unimpressive Smith has been.
Now, this isn't time for Houston to panic or anything. In addition to the usual caveats—he's 19 and all of 12 games into his career—the Rockets offense revolves heavily around a pair of ball-dominant guards in Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green. Perhaps a better passing team (Houston is joint-23rd in assist percentage) would have Smith better positioned for success.
Still, there are only so many ways to dress up dreadful shooting rates like 31.5 percent overall and 28.6 percent from three. For a prospect whose value was so heavily tied to his combination of size (6'10") and spacing, it's been a brutal, brick-filled start.
Indiana Pacers: Chris Duarte's Rocky Road
Pacers fans would have trouble finding many reasons to gripe about this group. Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin already look like cornerstone talents, and both Myles Turner and Buddy Hield should be sending their trade values into the stratosphere.
The one key player not hooping to plan, though, is Duarte.
Last season, he seemed to quickly establish himself as a building block in Circle City. This time around, he has largely looked lost on the offensive end, save for a 30-point outburst he engineered right before hurting his ankle. Even with that performance, he's averaging just 8.9 points on 39.4 percent shooting (34.2 percent outside).
Los Angeles Clippers: Atrocious Attack
On paper, the full-strength Clippers might have the best roster in basketball. In reality, they're once again without Kawhi Leonard (knee soreness), and their offense has completely collapsed in his absence.
L.A. ranks dead last in offensive efficiency, despite getting All-Star production from Paul George and watching John Wall exceed realistic expectations.
So, what's going wrong? The Clippers aren't getting the math right on offense. They're shooting the eighth-worst percentage from three (33.7) and averaging the second-fewest free-throw attempts (20.3 per game). They'd be in a world of hurt if their third-ranked defense wasn't so dominant.
Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James Is Showing His Age
You could point to a million and one things wrong with these Lakers, but they're all rendered moot if James, who turns 38 in December, is finally falling back in his fight with Father Time.
"Those problems are irrelevant if LeBron is no longer a clear-cut top-10 player," Michael Pina wrote for The Ringer. "Los Angeles was built under the assumption that he would be, even at this stage in his career. ... If Old LeBron is the new LeBron, the Lakers have no chance to make the playoffs, let alone win a series, this year or next."
James' 24.9 points per game and 45.7 field-goal percentage are both his lowest marks since his rookie year. His 4.8 free-throw attempts per game are the fewest of his career. Meanwhile, he's firing up the second-most threes he has launched (7.1 per game) while converting at a lower clip than ever before (23.9 percent). He looks like he's lost a step (or two), which feels jarring yet should perhaps have been expected for someone who has logged more than 52,000 regular-season minutes and another 11,035 in the playoffs.
Memphis Grizzlies: No Defensive Playmaking
The Grizzlies probably knew they wouldn't be the same defensively this season. Not until Jaren Jackson Jr. returned from foot surgery, at least.
Think they saw this coming, though? Memphis, which had last season's joint-fifth-best defense, is suddenly joint-19th in the category. Making this more frustrating is that the Grizzlies aren't really getting gouged any worse this time around. Last season, they were 10th overall with a 45.5 field-goal percentage against. Now, they're 11th at 45.9.
What's different now is their inability to create chaos on defense. Missing Jackson—and losing De'Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson this offseason—has left Memphis unable to make plays defensively. The Grizzlies paced the Association in steals and blocks last season. They're now sitting just 24th and 16th, respectively.
Miami Heat: Kyle Lowry's Lost Step
The Heat staked a not-insignificant portion of their championship plans on Lowry's ability to fend off the aging process and remain in his prime. While Miami has perhaps made worse calculations in recent years ($90 million Duncan Robinson says hello), this one is particularly painful because there are no obvious backup plans.
The Heat don't need Lowry to be a star, but he has to be reliable. Between organizing the offense, making the shots that come his way and holding his ground defensively, his to-do list isn't small. Unfortunately, too many of those boxes are being left unchecked.
You have to travel back a decade to find the last time he averaged this few points (13.0 per night) or shot this poorly (40.3 percent from the field). His 13.9 player efficiency rating is the worst of his career. His .120 win shares per 48 minutes are his fewest since 2008-09. The Heat don't have an alternative floor general, so they're trying to weather the storm with Lowry, whose floor presence has made them 11.4 points worse per 100 possessions.
Milwaukee Bucks: Milwaukee Bricks
The Bucks, who are awaiting the season debut of All-Star swingman Khris Middleton, have 10 wins to show for their first 12 trips to the hardwood. They can thank their league-best (by a mile) defense and Giannis Antetokounmpo's basketball brilliance for that.
The one thing not going according to plan, though, is the uncharacteristic barrage of bricks these Bucks are laying.
They have smartly loaded up with sharpshooters around Antetokounmpo, and normally the approach has yielded strong results. Last season, they had the fifth-best splash rate and, on a very related note, the joint-third-ranked offense. Now, though, they've dropped to 19th in three-point percentage and 23rd in offensive efficiency.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Below-Average Defense
The biggest of many bummers, though, has to be the defense. Even if the Wolves weren't expecting greatness—considering the colossal price they paid for Rudy Gobert, the aim should have at least been very-goodness—they couldn't have seen this coming.
Minnesota's defense has dropped six spots from last season, falling from 13th to joint-19th. The Wolves have more often allowed 120-plus points (five times) than they have held opponents below 110 points (four).
New Orleans Pelicans: CJ McCollum's Shooting Funk
While the Pelicans technically could've won more games during their 7-6 start, it would have been tough to write a better opening chapter for this campaign. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are—knock on wood—healthy and hooping, and New Orleans is getting enough shooting and defense to hint at having a skyscraper's ceiling.
McCollum is smack dab in the middle of that success, pacing the team in assists (6.3, against just 2.2 turnovers) and posting one of its top net differentials (plus-10.2 points per 100 possessions). However, he has yet to hit his stride as a scorer and can't find his shooting touch.
Entering the campaign, he had never shot worse than 41.6 percent from the field or 37.5 percent from three. His new category lows are now 39.1 and 27.9, respectively. History says he'll snap out of his and maybe in enormous fashion, but he's clearly trying to find his place in this perpetually evolving offensive hierarchy.
New York Knicks: RJ Barrett's Stagnation
The Knicks have made multiple high-roller bets on Barrett, from drafting him third overall in 2019 to granting him a $120 million contract extension this summer. When he has it rolling, it's easy to see why.
"I think he can be an All-Star," Jalen Brunson said, per Ian O'Connor of the New York Post. "I think he can be a very impactful player. I think he can lead a franchise, and that's what he was picked here to do. He can do it."
So, when will Barrett start doing it? And not doing it in flashes, but rather reliably summoning that kind of impact on a nightly basis?
This would've been a great season to start. He could've justified his extension (if not made it appear discounted) and perhaps even made Knicks fans forget about the team's failed Donovan Mitchell pursuit. That would've been something. Instead, Barrett's numbers are backtracking in most relevant areas, and his 12.9 player efficiency rating is down lower than it's been since his rookie year.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Lu Dort's Offensive Skid
Griping about anything basketball-related things should be banned in the Sooner State. Sure, maybe these early wins will come back to bite the Thunder in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, but this franchise has been down long enough. This fanbase deserves some actual basketball success to cheer about. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander deserves a chance to compete.
Even spotlighting this disappointment feels a little icky, since Oklahoma City isn't playing Dort for his offense but rather his, as Luka Dončić put it, "top-three" defense. Even on the offensive end, Dort deserves some praise for pairing a career-high 10.6 assist percentage with a career-low 6.3 turnover percentage.
All of that said, he is infinitely more helpful to this team when he poses any type of scoring threat. That just isn't happening enough right now. His 13.5 points per game are his fewest in three seasons, while his shooting rates are either the worst (25 percent from three) or second-worst (39.2 from the field, 77.3 at the line) of his career.
Orlando Magic: Attacks from the Injury Bug
The Magic have played 13 games so far. Only four players have suited up for the entirety of that baker's dozen.
Jonathan Isaac still hasn't played since August 2020. Markelle Fultz saw his debut delayed by a fractured toe. Gary Harris hasn't suited up either with a torn meniscus. Ditto for Mo Wagner, who has struggled to shake a foot sprain.
Cole Anthony at least played four games before an oblique injury forced him out of action indefinitely. Even top pick Paolo Banchero, who has basically breathed fire every time he's touched the ball, hasn't been immune to injury, as a sprained ankle has sidelined him for two straight. While the injury bug will bother every team at some point, this run of awful luck feels particularly...well, awful.
Philadelphia 76ers: Middling Offense
The Sixers seem unstoppable. They might run a little top-heavy, but what kind of defenses are equipped to hang with an offense featuring Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris?
Turns out, more than you'd think.
Despite the name recognition and sometimes mind-boggling numbers, Philly is officially average on offense. The team sits joint-14th in offensive efficiency, 14th in effective field-goal percentage and 17th in assist percentage. The potential is spectacular for this squad, but it feels like the whole hasn't measured up to the sum of its parts.
Phoenix Suns: No Resolution to the Jae Crowder Situation
The Suns need help at forward. That was true as soon as they mutually split with Crowder, who's been awaiting a trade out of town since the summer, and it's more relevant than ever following Cameron Johnson's meniscus tear.
In a perfect, drama-free world, it'd be Crowder filling the Crowder-sized hole in this lineup. In our reality, though, this saga keeps playing out with no end in sight.
The problem isn't Crowder lacking trade value. Throw a dart at a board full of win-now shoppers, and you're almost certain to land on an interested suitor. The problem is those teams don't also have win-now wings to send back to Phoenix and cover Crowder's absence. It's a tricky situation, and one you have to imagine the Suns would love to put to bed sooner than later.
Portland Trail Blazers: Free-Throw Shooting
Portland is off to such a stellar start that finding any disappointment feels like searching for a certain striped-sweatshirt enthusiast. Damian Lillard is healthy and right in the thick of the MVP race. Anfernee Simons could be speeding toward a Most Improved Player honor. Jerami Grant fits like skinny jeans. The offense can be electric, and the defense looks downright dominant.
Since this exercise requires spotlighting something, though, it's hard not to notice the points Portland keeps leaving at the foul line.
The Blazers get to the line with ease (26.5 attempts per game, third overall), but they don't convert those chances often enough. Portland has a team connection rate of just 76.2 percent, which ranks 23rd overall.
Sacramento Kings: Harrison Barnes' Sagging Shooting Rates
Barnes was always going to lose some volume on offense this season. With De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis steering the attack, and the offseason delivering high-level support pieces like Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter and No. 4 pick Keegan Murray, Barnes figured to be fighting for shots like never before.
The hope was that the volume decrease would at least be accompanied by an increase in efficiency. That would make him an asset to the Kings, no matter if he was contributing to their latest fingers-all-crossed playoff pushes or being shopped around for more long-term assets.
The opposite has happened instead. He's shooting just 41.4 percent overall and a mind-numbingly bad 22.5 percent from range. Those percentages almost surely won't hold—he's at 45.3 and 37.7, respectively, for his career—but the Kings could struggle to win his minutes as long as they do.
San Antonio Spurs: Disastrous Defense
Rebuilding for the first time in decades, the Spurs are cycling through a number of young players and seeing which ones have a chance at sticking around the Alamo City. They have to be thrilled with what they've seen so far—on the offensive end, that is.
Defensively, this team has been a recurring nightmare.
Despite having a solid paint protector in Jakob Poeltl, a plucky perimeter stopper in Josh Richardson and a top defensive rookie in Jeremy Sochan, this squad sits 28th in both defensive efficiency and opponents' field-goal percentage. The Spurs have held just two opponents below 100 points and allowed three to score 134-plus points.
Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes' Offensive Woes
Everything seemed to come so easily to Barnes during his award-winning rookie season that it felt fair to expect bigger and better things from his sophomore campaign.
Then, the basketball gods apparently convened and opted to use the 6'9" swingman as the latest evidence that player development isn't linear.
It's been a grind for Barnes this time around, as he can't seem to find his scoring niche. His points and field-goal percentage are down from last season, and they're trending farther in the opposite direction. Over his last six outings, he's averaged just 11.8 points on 34.1/19.2/66.7 shooting.
Utah Jazz: Turnover Trouble
In most cases, a rebuilding team ranking 20th in turnover percentage wouldn't even elicit a raised eyebrow. It might even impress.
The Jazz are different, though, because they aren't really rebuilding. Big-picture, sure, they're starting a new chapter without Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Royce O'Neale and Bojan Bogdanović. This isn't a tear-it-to-the-studs demolition, though, and there's still a decent amount of veteran talent still residing in Salt Lake City—too much of it if they want a flier for the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, but that's a discussion for another day.
These aren't growing-pains giveaways, either. Kelly Olynyk paces the rotation regulars with 3.4 per 36 minutes. Jordan Clarkson is up next at 2.8. Both are on the wrong side of 30 years old and may not be long for Utah. The Jazz don't have superstar scorers to fall back on. If they're trying to win, they need to maximize each offensive possession. Cleaning up their miscues is the easiest way to do that.
Washington Wizards: No Perimeter Punch
With Bradley Beal perched atop this roster, you might think the Wizards have a potent offensive attack. You might also assume this one of the better perimeter shooting clubs around.
You'd be wrong on both fronts.
Washington sits joint-24th in offensive efficiency and holds bottom-third rankings in three-point makes (10.4 per game, tied for 25th) and three-point percentage (34.0, 21st). Of the 11 Wizards to log 100-plus minutes, only three are clearing 34 percent from three, and only one of them, Kristaps Porzingis, has launched a meaningful amount of long-range looks.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.