The Biggest Disappointments of NBA's First Week

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2020

The Biggest Disappointments of NBA's First Week

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    We only have a week of NBA games to react to, but it's never too early for takes. And the 2020-21 season has already given us a handful of early disappointments.

    The obvious disclaimer here is that the following teams and players only have two or three contests under their belts. In some cases, one huge game could shift the narrative. And if an off stretch this short occurred in the middle of the season, we probably wouldn't think much of it.

    Still, there are reasons for varying levels of concern. And we have to acknowledge the disappointments at some point. Might as well be now.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

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    Mike Strobe/Associated Press

    This may be nitpicky. Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming off back-to-back seasons with unprecedented production. And for just about anyone else in league history, his marks of 25.7 points, 13.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game would be reason for praise.

    But the Milwaukee Bucks are 1-2, and Giannis' biggest (and perhaps only real) weakness has been on vivid display. He's 4-of-16 on threes and 8-of-30 on all shots from beyond five feet.

    What may be most concerning is his 58.3 free-throw percentage. If that mark holds, this would be the fourth straight season in which Antetokounmpo's percentage from the line dropped.

    And it's not just that he's missing the freebies. As pointed out by ESPN Stats & Info, those misses often come at the worst times:

    "On Wednesday, Giannis Antetokounmpo missed the game-tying free throw with 0.4 seconds left in a 122-121 loss against the Celtics.

    "Giannis has now missed 25 free throws in clutch time since the start of the 2018-19 season, the most in the NBA over that span."

    No one should expect Antetokounmpo to become Duncan Robinson. And even if he finds average efficiency as a jump shooter, opponents will always worry more about his drives and defend him accordingly. A hint of evolution would help the Bucks, though. And some consistency from the line might make defenders think twice instead of defaulting to fouls.

Chicago Bulls

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    There probably weren't many out there locking the Chicago Bulls into the playoffs before this season started, but they have an intriguing mix of talent, youth and experience.

    Zach LaVine is a bona fide No. 1 scorer. Lauri Markkanen fits the mold of a modern big who relies more on skill than athleticism. Wendell Carter Jr. has Swiss army knife potential. Coby White can get hot as a jump shooter. Otto Porter Jr. is a solid glue guy. To spare you a recitation of the entire roster, we'll just sum it up and say they should at least be competitive.

    So far, they haven't been. And their chances of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight, have dropped from 10 percent before the season to 3 percent.

    There are a handful of encouraging offensive signs from individual players (even though the team is near the bottom of the league in points per 100 possessions). On defense, they just can't stop anyone.

    On Sunday, they gave up 129 points to the Golden State Warriors, who have the worst offense in the NBA. No one looks like a great candidate to anchor a decent defense. And rookie Patrick Williams may already be their most impactful player on that end.

    In terms of talent, Porter, Carter and Williams should be able to positively affect outcomes on that end, but there's no cohesion yet.

Washington Wizards

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    Geoff Burke/Associated Press

    On paper, the Washington Wizards fit Russell Westbrook about as well as any roster has. Center Thomas Bryant's ability to hit threes allows them to play five out and keep the lane clear for Westbrook's drives. Shooting from Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and Deni Avdija also helps on that front.

    Extreme inefficiency, both as a shooter and ball-handler, from Westbrook, though, has neutralized any advantages those marksmen bring. And the Wizards are 0-3, including two losses to the Orlando Magic.

    Russ is averaging a triple-double, but he still has negative win shares. An abysmal 40.0 true shooting percentage and 5.2 turnovers per 75 possessions are the culprits for that advanced number.

    You never want Westbrook to abandon the aggressiveness that made him an MVP and future Hall of Famer, but it wouldn't hurt to rein things in a bit.

    With Beal and all those shooters around him, it's fine to defer.

    On the other end of the floor, the problems go way beyond Westbrook. Washington doesn't appear any better on defense than it was last season, when it finished dead last.

    Scheme is certainly part of the problem, but the roster may deserve more blame. No one jumps off the screen as an impact defender. And though coaches bear the responsibility of teaching team and individual defense, a little pride from the players probably wouldn't hurt.

    Westbrook, Beal and Bryant have the talent to positively affect a game on defense. They just need more focus and desire on that end.

Toronto Raptors

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    After cruising to the best record in the Atlantic Division in 2019-20, the Toronto Raptors lost big men Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to dueling Los Angeles squads this offseason. Their absences have been felt during the team's 0-2 start.

    The Raptors are in the bottom third of the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. The same goes for their net points per 100 possessions. The stability, defense and floor spacing provided by those two vets have been sorely missed.

    In theory, All-Star Pascal Siakam should be able to replace some of that as he continues to develop. He's averaging 10.5 boards per game, but his outside shooting remains a problem. After shooting 33.0 percent from January 1 to the end of last season, he's 3-of-12 in 2020-21.

    Again, this season's numbers can look dramatically different after just one good performance, but a double-digit loss to the New Orleans Pelicans and a close loss to the San Antonio Spurs—who aren't favored to make the postseason—are not encouraging.

    A return to pre-2020 form for Siakam, and better shooting by OG Anunoby and Norman Powell, can't come soon enough.

Killian Hayes

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    It's not fair to make any snap judgments about this rookie class. So, here's emphasizing the caveat from the intro. There is loads of time for Killian Hayes to turn this around. His slow start is more worrisome than other youngsters' slow starts, though.

    LaMelo Ball is having a hard time finding the bottom of the net, but his feel and accuracy as a passer leap off the screen. James Wiseman has appeared out of sorts on defense, but he's averaging double figures in points and his jumper appears ahead of schedule. Anthony Edwards flashed his all-around game in an 18-point performance against the Utah Jazz.

    Hayes, though, has done little but struggle. He's started three games and shot 8-of-25 from the field. In his first two contests, he handed out more turnovers (six) than assists (five).

    He may catch up, but the speed of the game looks to be a problem. This may have been what the Luka Doncic skeptics expected ahead of his rookie campaign. Doncic was also questioned for a lack of explosiveness, but he had spent years in the EuroLeague honing his understanding of angles, how to attack pick-and-roll coverages and how to use his 6'7" frame to create openings.

    Hayes also has international experience in France and Germany, but his came in much more limited roles. And he's slightly smaller (6'5"). The craftiness he'll need to succeed will likely take a while to develop, and nights like Monday, when he had eight dimes, should be cherished by Detroit Pistons fans.

Boston Celtics

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The Boston Celtics probably deserve a pass. It may take some time to adjust to the loss of Gordon Hayward (though he missed 20 games last season), and Kemba Walker is out with a knee injury.

    Still, losing two of their first three, including a 28-point annihilation at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, probably isn't what the Celtics and their fans expected.

    Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been solid, though we can nitpick with them. Tatum has just four free-throw attempts, and Brown is 3-of-13 from three. Improvements in those moneyball categories will help, but the supporting cast deserves more of the blame.

    No one else is averaging double figures. Marcus Smart, Tristan Thompson, Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams are shooting worse than 50 percent from the field. If this team is going survive Walker's absence, someone is going to have to help the star wings.

Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Small sample sizes yield plenty of wild statistics, especially with advanced numbers. Even though it has only been a week, the win shares leaderboard is already revealing.

    Of the 383 players who've appeared in a game, Warriors wings Andrew Wiggins (minus-0.2) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (minus-0.5) are 382nd and 383rd, respectively.

    For the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign, there were only five players who fell below that minus-0.5 figure Oubre has reached in just three games.

    He's a staggering 7-of-40 from the field and 0-of-17 from three. No one expected him to be Klay Thompson, but that outcome may have been a bit less surprising than his current level of production.

    Wiggins hasn't been much better. He's 4-of-13 from deep and has just five assists in 93 minutes.

    The days of the pass-and-relocate offense that made the dynastic Warriors so fun seem like a dream. These wings clearly aren't adept at playing alongside Stephen Curry. They don't move the ball well. Their off-ball movement when Curry is handling isn't great. And the shooting is nightmarish.

    Things could certainly get better (they can't get much worse), but it's increasingly difficult to imagine this team competing for a playoff spot. In fact, these first few games feel eerily similar to the start of the 2019-20 campaign, which quickly transitioned to a tank job.

    That yielded James Wiseman, who looks like he has game-changing potential. Perhaps another gap year might allow the Warriors to add Cade Cunningham for one last run before Curry ages out of his prime.


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