The NBA's Biggest Busts So Far This Season
Try as the NBA's underachievers might to sneak by unnoticed, they just can't. We have a sixth, bust-detecting sense when it comes to this stuff. And it's exploding at the moment.
Disappointments are too common in the Association. For every new-frontier-exploring version of the Golden State Warriors, there's a Charlotte Hornets squadron trying to avoid personal-worst lows. Those are the early-season turkeys we're after.
Candidates can—and will—be a collective or individuals. All of them, though, are league fixtures who haven't lived up to snuff or, in some cases, the hype.
Say a team was supposed to be good and it's not. We'll be there. Say a player was supposed to make the leap but is instead careening down a slippery slope, further and further away from his expected ceiling. We'll be there too.
Nothing and no one is off limits. The NBA itself is a business, and as spectators of this fine sport, it's our business to identify parties that are, for now, going bust.
Sacramento Kings Management
Firing Mike Malone may prove to be the right move long term, but the timing and etiquette behind his dismissal shine a dark light unto a Sacramento Kings contingent that appeared to be headed in the right direction.
Forget about the party responsible. Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski identified owner Vivek Ranadive as the catalyst for such a move, while general manager Pete D'Alessandro took responsibility for making the call at a press conference, per Bryan May of KXTV News 10 in Sacramento.
Stylistic differences have also been cited throughout all this. But while that's something to consider, it's not the point. As Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com argues:
The Kings will fire their coach, official announcement still to come, in a move that proves the preseason speculation right and shows they should not have brought him back in the first place. If you dump a guy when he is headed toward a double-digit improvement despite a skid without his star, if you cut a guy lose after 24 games when he delivered wins with a healthy roster, he wasn't your guy to begin with.
If the Kings were going to dump Malone in favor of a pace-promoting sideline-stalker, it should have been over the offseason, when they could have pointed toward a 28-win season and team-wide overhaul. It should not have happened in the throes of 2-7 DeMarcus Cousins-less stretch. It should not have happened after Malone led the team to a 9-5 start, Sacramento's best 14-game opening since 2004-05.
Malone forged legitimate relationships with franchise cornerstones Cousins and Rudy Gay. Not only was he at the forefront of Cousins' meteoric rise into matured stardom, but he was one of the reasons Gay signed a contract extension to remain in Sacramento, per Wojnarowski. Both he and his players deserved better.
The Kings had—and continue to have—their reasons for moving forward sans Malone. Like Wojnarowski pointed out, they wanted to play faster and had higher expectations for this sub-.500 roster. Their delivery, though, was off-putting, and it's something they must atone for as they march into the future.
It's been tough sledding for the Detroit Pistons in 2014-15. Ugly too.
A regime change was supposed to help the Pistons climb the ladder of respectability. They have a new coach and president in Stan Van Gundy, and they spent truckloads of money on floor-spacers to improve the offense. But nothing has changed.
Van Gundy's prized free-agency signing, Jodie Meeks (back), hasn't yet played in five games; Andre Drummond's usage rate is up, but his playing time and efficiency totals are down; Josh Smith is shooting a career-worst 38.8 percent from the floor; the Pistons are hitting just 32.6 percent of their three-pointers (25th); and the team ranks 29th in offensive efficiency.
To top it all off, Greg Monroe wants to be traded ahead of 2015 free agency, according to the Sporting News' Sean Deveney. Though Monroe later denied the report, per MLive.com's David Mayo, the big man's future is yet another uncertainty casting a cloud over Detroit's disastrous season.
"At this point, it's definitely annoying, because we're trying to turn things around right here, right now," Monroe said, "and I've got to come in here and answer something that I've got absolutely nothing to do with, that I know I didn't say."
Turning things around isn't possible. Not entirely. Fresh off a 13-game losing streak, with the Eastern Conference's third-worst record, the apparently much-improved Pistons have devolved into a genuine and gargantuan bust.
Offseason aggression should have left the Hornets contending for a top-four playoff spot. They added Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams, still had Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, drafted Noah Vonleh, acquired P.J. Hairston and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's jumper looked almost normal.
Injuries to Vonleh and Kidd-Gilchrist certainly haven't aided the Hornets' progression, but they've been a special kind of awful. Their offense is somehow worse this season—27th in efficiency, down from 24th in 2013-14—and the defense ranks 24th in points allowed per 100 possessions after finishing sixth for 2013-14.
Struggles on defense are most surprising. The Hornets didn't make any moves that, in theory, should have harmed their points-preventing potential. If anything, Stephenson was supposed to strengthen their standing on both ends of the floor.
Instead, the Hornets are Bobcats-ing. Three of their first six victories have come against playoff squads—Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks—but such wins have done little in the way of providing lasting moral boons. It's been mostly doom and gloom in Charlotte.
Losers of 13—including a 10-game slide—of their last 15 games, the Hornets are ready for change. Grantland's Zach Lowe said they were willing to "talk turkey" on anyone not named Kemba or Al earlier this month, and now ESPN.com's Marc Stein brings word they're ready to unload Stephenson, their once-enshrined free-agency purchase.
And speaking of Stephenson...
Stephenson has been so much of a bust thus far he deserves his own slide separate from that of the tumbling Hornets.
Not much has changed for Stephenson since leaving the Indiana Pacers. His minutes and usage have held relatively steady, yet his numbers are downright ghastly:
|Season||FGA||FG%||3P%||PTS||REB||AST||USG%||O. RTG||D. RTG||PER|
Although Stephenson continues to rebound and create scoring opportunities at high levels—his rebounding rate (12.2) is better than Serge Ibaka's (12); his assist rate (24.4) is higher than Kyrie Irving's (23.0) and Goran Dragic's (20.9)—the Hornets offense has looked better with him on the bench.
That his new team is already prepared to move him says it all. Stephenson left the comfort of Indiana for the convenience and (short-term) cash of Charlotte. And not only is he not having the intended impact, but his individual stock has taken a sharp nosedive—the kind that tightly tethers him to bust territory.
After grappling with the Miami Heat's performance thus far, one must come to the following conclusion: They were supposed to be better than this.
Transitioning away from the LeBron James era could never be simple. But the Heat held it together by all appearances, retaining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh while adding coveted glue guys like Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. Talent alone would nab them a playoff spot in the lowly Eastern Conference.
And that hasn't changed. The Heat are still on pace to make the postseason. But they're also on track to win 38 games. Their offense has been middling at best, the defense ranks as one of the NBA's six worst and they're 5-10 against postseason-bound squads.
Player absences have killed them, as per usual. Wade has already missed seven games, Bosh is now nursing a sore ankle and McRoberts may miss the rest of this season with a torn meniscus in his right knee, per ESPN.com's Michael Wallace.
Regression was admittedly unavoidable in this situation. The Heat lost the game's best player. Lucking into sustained title contention was never possible, even after the offseason moves they made.
Still, all the bombast and bluster about their recovery created expectations. This isn't a team that was supposed to barely scrape by, stumbling into the playoffs with a losing record as a bottom-two seed. Yet, as of now, that's exactly what these injury-riddled Heat are doing.
Four years and $50-plus million should have bought the Denver Nuggets more than this.
Less than 25 games into what was foreordained a breakout season, Kenneth Faried has been underwhelming. To be certain, he hasn't been awful. He's still posting an above-average player efficiency rating and, on occasion, remains an explosive spark plug.
Faried's numbers are down across the board, though—including his playing time. He's averaging a career-low in rebounds and field-goal percentage per 36 minutes and has also come off the bench in each of his last two appearances.
That begs the question: What gives?
"One of the things that I try to remind him all the time is what made him, got him to this level, got him paid recently, is the fact that he’s always brought energy and always rebounded the ball," Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said, per The Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey. "When you look at his stats up to this point, is the energy always there? I wouldn’t say that it consistently has been."
Showstopping, heart-hammering, fire-emitting energy is what made Faried the unofficial face of the Nuggets. If he doesn't regain his statistical swagger soon—specifically on the glass, where he is only Denver's third-best rebounder—this is a bust label fated to last the life of his contract.
New York Knicks
Patience was always an integral ingredient of the New York Knicks' systematic—and therefore cultural—renovation. But progress has been minimal.
Learning, executing and sticking with the famed triangle offense has proved problematic. The Knicks' shot selection is often primitive, they've only just started reintroducing the pick-and-roll into their repertoire and they're running with bygone pace—the fifth-slowest in franchise history.
Outmoded schemes have earned them the Eastern Conference's second-worst record—in addition to an offense that ranks 22nd in points scored per 100 possessions—and left many questioning the substance of their rebuild. Is the triangle offense ill-fit for the modern-day NBA?
Bleacher Report's Dylan Murphy says nay:
Eventually, the Knicks will reach a point where all players are able to adapt instinctually. Time, however, is not a commodity that most onlookers are willing to afford today's NBA teams. Head coaches come and go with regularity, and the pressure to win in the present is enormous.
Luckily, the Knicks have a team president who adores the triangle and has the subsequent patience to let it develop at its own pace.
Phil Jackson's willingness to endure might pay off in the end. In the meantime, though, the Knicks have been forced to navigate and shoot down rumors of discord and unhappiness—all while knowing prospective free-agent targets are watching them unravel on the court and, to a degree, behind the scenes.
For all the expected wrongs, a longstanding downturn that pinned the Knicks to Philadelphia 76ers territory, miles away from the Eastern Conference's playoff picture, worlds apart from where they want to be, wasn't initially in the cards.
But it is now.
With each passing game it's become increasingly clear the Phoenix Suns are in over their heads.
Rather than address other glaring needs over the offseason, the Suns doubled down on their current model—the one that nabbed 48 victories and brought them within one game of the playoffs a season ago—and banked on internal development and contemporary lineups to generate improvement.
Visions of a three-headed backcourt monster have since given way to reality. Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas—who has missed eight games thus far—and Dragic have played just 33 minutes together all season, during which time the Suns are being outscored by 14.9 points per 100 possessions.
While aesthetically appealing and undeniably fast, this team is woefully undersized. It ranks 28th in percentage of available rebounds grabbed and 25th in rim protection. Worse still, a six-game slide has carried it outside the playoff picture and—thanks to the surging Oklahoma City Thunder—on the brink of never returning.
League executives now think the Suns will consider breaking up their backcourt band, according to Bleacher Report's Howard Beck. Dragic is set to enter free agency, and the team needs post presences, making it unlikely Phoenix can afford to keep this underachieving experiment afloat much longer.
Thing is, whatever the Suns do this season, whomever they trade, it (most likely) won't be enough to reach the soaring standards they're failing to meet.
The 2014 Rookie Class
Relative to lofty expectations, the 2014 NBA rookie class hasn't come close to delivering.
Touted as the best pool of talent since 2003, when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all entered the league, this season's crop of rookies are rather average. Never mind the storied neophytes from 2003—the league's current novices are paling in comparison to last season's draft.
You remember the 2013 draft class—the one in which Anthony Bennett was taken No. 1 and Rookie of the Year went to Michael Carter-Williams, an aggressive point man whose stats were bolstered by playing for the NBA's most prominent tank job. It was, in many ways, a draft to forget.
Vonleh and Aaron Gordon are the only top-10 picks notching an above-board PER (15 or higher), and the former has appeared in only three games to date while the latter is sidelined with a foot injury. And where four of last year's beginners averaged in double figures, only two—Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker—are doing the same this time around.
Perhaps this year's assortment of rookies will yield long-term superstars. Wiggins, Parker, Gordon, Vonleh, Nerlens Noel, Elfrid Payton, Dante Exum, Zach LaVine, Julius Randle (injured) and Marcus Smart, among many others, all project as top-tier talents. For now, though, this stable of pupils has fallen victim to the towering promise it's not yet ready to actualize.