NBA Stars With The Worst Supporting Casts
As much as we like to throw #Ringz into the NBA's GOAT debates, we can all agree no player has ever collected the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy by himself.
Stars might be the focus of this league, but their supporting casts often have a massive say in their team's success.
That's good news for any of the Golden State Warriors stars, who can all rely on each other. It's less fun for all the solo stars trying to simultaneously fend off teams with multiple elites and compensate for their less-than-special teammates.
With the Feb. 7 trade deadline bearing down on us, it's the perfect time to identify the Association's stars with the worst supporting casts. For the sake of simplicity, we're focusing only on players who have made at least one All-Star appearance. While not every past All-Star still qualifies as such, it's hard to characterize any players as elite when they've never made that cut. (Sorry, Mike Conley.)
That also means supporting casts around up-and-comers like Luka Doncic and Devin Booker can breathe a bit easier, since they're not going under the microscope yet.
Everyone else is fair game, though, and we've ranked those with the worst supporting casts in terms of insufficient star power, unreliable depth, poor on-court fits and, when applicable, long-term injury issues.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
There are powerlifters who couldn't shoulder the burden the Beard must carry for the injury-riddled Rockets. While he's three-point bombing and free-throw shooting his way through a historic scoring stretch, he's doing everything he can to mask the absences of Chris Paul (hamstring), Clint Capela (thumb) and, until Wednesday night, Eric Gordon (knee).
Take that trio out of the mix, and Houston's top non-Harden scorers are Austin Rivers, Danuel House and Gerald Green. If that was the best Harden ever had around him, he'd run away with the No. 1 spot.
But as soon the injury bug allows Houston to get back to its normal hierarchy, Harden will have no place in this discussion.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Who's still buying the idea of Love as an NBA star? Push past the megamoney he's collecting and the five All-Star trips he's previously booked, and it feels faulty to assume the 30-year-old remains a card-carrying member of the Association's elite.
He spent the past four seasons as a second or third option in Cleveland. He's spent all but four games of this one on the sideline rehabbing from November foot surgery that still has him "weeks away" from a return.
One of the better indicators for a subjective status like "star" is a player's value around the league. Between Love's contract and defensive limitations, his trade market might be nonexistent. As one Western Conference executive told Bleacher Report's Ken Berger, "you're not getting an asset for him under any circumstances."
Had Love qualified as a star, though, his supporting cast would be right there among the worst of the worst. Cleveland's next-best scorer is Jordan Clarkson, a 26-year-old with a middling 15.2 career player efficiency rating.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Since Porzingis hasn't played all season while recovering from a torn ACL, it's tough to throw the star label at him. Not to mention, it's impossible to know what kind of impact his gravitational pull on defenders might have on his new teammates.
That said, it seems to safe to wager the 23-year-old's skill set of three-point shooting and shot-blocking will keep him on the superstar trajectory whenever his body cooperates. It's also probably fair to assume a supporting cast led by Tim Hardaway Jr., Emmanuel Mudiay and Kevin Knox would let Porzingis down more often than not.
5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Given the uncertain future of Anthony Davis—and the devastating impact his defection would have—it's easy to look at his supporting cast and think: Really, New Orleans Pelicans, this is the best you can do?
Viewed in its entirety, there's plenty to dislike.
The wing rotation is abysmal and has been that way for years. Other than Davis, there isn't anyone with positive marks in offensive and defensive box plus/minus. There are two quantity-plus-quality shooters in the rotation: E'Twaun Moore and Darius Miller, both of whom have defensive limitations. Jrue Holiday (19.0) and Elfrid Payton (14.3) are the only perimeter players with a PER north of 12; the league average is 15.
Depth is another issue, and it shows every time the Brow tries taking a breather. The Pelicans outscore opponents by 5.2 points per 100 possessions with Davis but get outscored by 4.6 points per 100 trips when he sits.
That said, at least Davis has reliable running mates at the top. Holiday is a former All-Star who still probably belongs in the "most underrated" discussion. Nikola Mirotic is an ignitable three-point bomber who might be the biggest help to Davis when he's hitting. Offseason investments in Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton both look like smart buys.
When health isn't an issue—it almost always has been—there are some very encouraging signs. While the sample size is minuscule (166 total minutes), the five-man lineups with Davis, Holiday, Payton, Moore and either Randle or Mirotic both boast net ratings of plus-27.7 or better.
Even then, though, the cast looks short on shooting, potentially problematic on defense and bereft of bench options. New Orleans' top five keeps Davis' supporting cast from ranking any worse, but the rest of the roster demands this group gets on the list.
4. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers' momentum is gone, as is the prized piece of the entire 2018 NBA offseason.
Since the Purple and Gold lost LeBron James to a groin strain during their Christmas Day win over the Golden State Warriors, they've looked pretty close to last season's LeBron-less version, which dropped 47 games.
The key players in the club's non-LeBron core are up-and-comers with more potential than production. With the best days for Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart ahead of them, their present duties include either being the primary support pieces to James or the central figures without him.
As the team's 5-7 swing without James has shown, they hardly look ready for the limelight.
"There's one undeniable way in which the Lakers are eerily identical to those recent Cavs teams: They stink without James," ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin wrote.
While there had been prior warning signs (like the team's minus-1.8 net rating without James), this midseason swoon is the most worrisome. It'd be one thing if the youngsters were struggling to hang with basketball's best. It's quite another when clubs like the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers are snapping losing streaks of eight-plus games against them.
But two things keep the supporting cast outside of our bottom three. Because so many of their key pieces are young, they should continue improving over the course of this campaign. Then, there's the LeBron effect to consider. While he can't be considered part of his own supporting cast, his proven ability to elevate players around him only increases this group's room to grow.
3. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
The same questions seem to surface year after year: What's wrong with the Washington Wizards, and are they actually better without John Wall? The answer to the second is complicated, but the first might be simple—Bradley Beal needs more help.
The seventh-year guard continues forcing his way up the NBA ladder. Perhaps pegged as a three-and-D supplier earlier in his career, he's now thriving as a featured scorer and something between a primary and secondary playmaker. He's a hair from averaging 25 points, five assists and five rebounds; hit those marks, and he'd join a five-player group of MVP candidates and Blake Griffin.
"Brad has really developed into an unbelievable basketball player on both ends," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.
Problem is the rest of Washington's roster is a mess.
Wall wasn't himself when he was playing, and he's been shelved since December by season-ending heel surgery. Dwight Howard has played nine games in three months and isn't close to returning from spinal surgery. Markieff Morris will lose at least a month to neck stiffness. The top healthy scorers are limited swingmen Otto Porter Jr., Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green.
The financial books look even bleaker. Ian Mahinmi is making more than $15 million both this season and next. Porter will collect $53.2 million over the same stretch. Wall's supermax begins in 2019-20, meaning an often injured, potentially declining player will start costing north of $38 million every year.
Since Beal is by far the club's best trade chip, it's unlikely the NBA's exchange season will yield the necessary relief. The 25-year-old might be better off getting moved out of the District and into a situation where sufficient support is provided.
2. Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
It's interesting to put Blake Griffin at No. 2, when Andre Drummond is one of the better sidekicks on the list. But the Twin Towers model is tough to manage in the modern game, and it's powerless in trying to mask the Detroit Pistons' perimeter deficiencies.
Other than three-and-D specialist Reggie Bullock, it's hard to say how many of these players would be in a contender's rotation.
Reggie Jackson's burst is gone and looks like it's never coming back. Ish Smith is a relentless defender, but he's a non-shooter and unremarkable playmaker. Stanley Johnson looks like he'll make it four straight seasons without a 40-plus field-goal percentage. Luke Kennard is an adequate spacer, but there's little else to his game. Glenn Robinson III doesn't take many threes, and Langston Galloway doesn't make many.
Griffin, a five-time All-Star, is playing some of the best basketball of his career. Tasked as the team's top scorer, primary playmaker and second-best glass-cleaner, he's one of only three players averaging at least 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists—a distinction shared with Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James.
And yet, Detroit still finds itself outside the playoff picture in a LeBron-less East.
"Blake has done everything...but he can't do anymore than what he is doing for us," Pistons coach Dwane Casey said.
With major question marks revolving around the point guard spot and the reserve unit, Detroit is deserving of Griffin getting the No. 2 spot. But Drummond's presence makes his frontcourt mate a distant second behind our solo star at the top.
1. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
Kemba Walker is the Charlotte Hornets. He's the franchise's career leader in a number of categories—including threes, free throws and points—its only All-Star since 2010 and maybe the only good thing going in Buzz City.
It shouldn't have to be this way. Walker's team-friendly salary is among the best non-rookie deals in basketball. He's making $12 million this season; that's the sixth-highest rate just on this team. But despite having such a great bargain, Charlotte has splurged in all the wrong places: five years, $120 million for Nicolas Batum; four years, $52 million for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist; four years, $56 million for Cody Zeller.
There are five non-Kemba eight-figure salaries on the payroll. The only one belonging to a double-digit scorer is the $14 million for Marvin Williams, who's fourth on the team with an even 10 points per night. Jeremy Lamb, a lottery-disappointment-turned-adequate-role player, is the second scorer. Malik Monk, a supposed shooter with a career 37.5/33.8/89.0 slash line, is No. 3.
"[Walker] needs more help, and it's been that way for seven years," Scott Fowler wrote for the Charlotte Observer. "In terms of surrounding talent, the Hornets have failed Kemba, over and over."
Those failures may prove costly this summer, when Walker becomes one of the most coveted players in unrestricted free agency. While he has said he'd like to stay and Charlotte has made it clear it'd be glad to keep him, this roster mismanagement and egregious lack of support are the reasons his future isn't guaranteed with the franchise.
There are no All-Star sidekicks or even prospects with that kind of potential. The offense lives and dies with Walker, and the defense is nothing special. It makes this whole relationship look one-sided, with Walker giving the Hornets everything and them failing to deliver anything of substance.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.