Which NBA Superstar Has the Worst Supporting Cast?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2021

Which NBA Superstar Has the Worst Supporting Cast?

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Superteams have been ubiquitous throughout the NBA's history.

    Bill Russell's Boston Celtics featured multiple Hall of Famers. Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain teamed up in the 1970s. Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics were loaded. Michael Jordan won his six titles with Scottie Pippen. More recently, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant dominated the early 2000s, while LeBron James' Miami Heat and Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors took over the next decade. The San Antonio Spurs were a constant presence for almost 20 years with their multiple Hall of Famers.

    To win a title, you almost always have to have multiple stars. And this season, some of the game's brightest are likely (and in some cases, definitely) out of the championship conversation due to a lack of help from the rest of the roster.

    Among 2020-21's best players, here are those with the most challenged supporting casts.

    But first, a word on how that was determined.


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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    There are any number of ways to try to determine which stars have the worst supporting casts, none of which would be foolproof. A strictly subjective look at rosters around the league is probably too flimsy, though. So we'll employ box plus/minus (BPM) and wins over replacement player for some statistical backing.

    According to Basketball Reference, BPM "...is a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court." The cumulative version of that is wins over replacement player (think points rather than points per game).

    With that in mind, the methodology for this exercise went like this:

    • Take the top 30 in the league in 2020-21 wins over replacement player;
    • Find the combined wins over replacement for the top-30 player's teammates; and
    • Sort the top 30 by fewest wins over replacement player from teammates.

    Again, this isn't a perfect exercise. Plenty could get to the same or different results with much different paths. But the presence of the following five teams is likely in line with plenty of fans' hallowed eye tests.

5th-Worst Supporting Cast: Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    This may be perceived as a slight to Kristaps Porzingis, whose basic numbers are worth mentioning. With 20.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, he offers plenty of help to Luka Doncic when he's available. It's just that he often isn't available.

    Over the course of his career, Porzingis has appeared in just 61.0 percent of his teams' games. This season, he's missed 20 of 59 contests. And part of being in a supporting cast is being able to provide that support.

    Even with all the missed time, Porzingis is head and shoulders above the rest of the roster for second place in wins over replacement player. Jalen Brunson is the only other player that metric pegs as above-average this season.

    This doesn't necessarily mean the Dallas Mavericks are in dire need of another star to play with Luka Doncic, although that probably wouldn't hurt. It's more about slight regression from some key role players.

    Dwight Powell (who returned from a ruptured Achilles this season), Maxi Kleber and Tim Hardaway Jr. all have lower BPMs than they did last season. And the Seth Curry-for-Josh Richardson swap that made sense in real time hasn't paid the anticipated dividends on defense. Dallas is significantly worse on both ends of the floor when Richardson plays.

    Development for Brunson and better luck with health for Porzingis could alleviate some of the pressure Doncic is currently under, but the Mavericks' veteran cast may be in for a shakeup.

4th-Worst Supporting Cast: Butler and Adebayo's Miami Heat

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Yes, this one is a bit of a surprise.

    Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are both All-Star level players. They're seventh and 14th, respectively, in wins over replacement player. And when both are on the floor, the Miami Heat are comfortably outscoring their opponents.

    But Miami's production and efficiency fall off a cliff after that.

    The two stars have combined for 17.8 wins over replacement player (value over replacement player times 2.7). The rest of the roster combines for minus-1.4.

    A lot of that can be chalked up to negative value provided by young or inexperienced players like Precious Achiuwa, Gabe Vincent and KZ Okpala, but the veterans aren't pulling their weight as admirably as they did last season.

    Much of Duncan Robinson's value is tied to three-point shooting, and a five-plus-percentage-point drop in effective field-goal percentage has stifled his contributions. Goran Dragic, Trevor Ariza and Andre Iguodala are showing signs of age. And Tyler Herro appears to be in a sophomore slump, with lower marks in true shooting percentage and BPM than he had as a rookie.

    Meanwhile, Kelly Olynyk has averaged 17.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.9 threes with a 40.2 three-point percentage since Miami sent him to the Houston Rockets.

    The Heat were plus-10.1 points per 100 possessions (94th percentile) when Butler, Adebayo and Olynyk were on the floor. Victor Oladipo, whom Miami acquired in the trade, managed 111 minutes before leaving the rotation with a knee injury.

3rd-Worst Supporting Cast: Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    The Golden State Warriors spent much of this season toeing the line between development for the future and competing in the present.

    When you have the No. 2 pick in the draft on your roster, it's hard to tether him to the bench, but the Warriors were abysmal when James Wiseman played. Golden State was minus-12.3 with him on the floor, compared to plus-3.7 with him off.

    His minus-1.9 wins over replacement player more than erases Andrew Wiggins' 1.6 (which is the third-highest mark on the team).

    This isn't to say that Wiseman is a bust or that the Warriors never should've played him. It's just that he looks like a pick-and-roll big stuck in a system that relies heavily on off-ball movement, anticipation, cutting and spacing. Figuring all of that out without getting in the way of everyone else takes time. And there's plenty of that for the 20-year-old big.

    Beyond Wiseman, Stephen Curry's supporting cast is actually decent (though maybe not inspiring). Draymond Green doesn't really score anymore. Andrew Wiggins, though his defense looks improved, doesn't do a ton beyond score. But when those two share the floor with Golden State's MVP candidate (and Wiseman is off the floor), the team is plus-9.7 points per 100 possessions (93rd percentile).

    With Kelly Oubre Jr. seemingly finding a rhythm off the bench, Juan Toscano-Anderson playing every minute like it's his last, Damion Lee spacing the floor and Kevon Looney fundamentaling his way to comfortably positive minutes, this group might actually be better than the numbers suggest.

    Wiseman going down for the rest of the season with an injury certainly isn't what's best for him, but it has cleared some things up for the coaching staff for now.

2nd-Worst Supporting Cast: Bradley Beal's Washington Wizards

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    On paper, Bradley Beal's supporting cast makes some sense.

    He has a potentially devastating drive-and-kick backcourt partner in Russell Westbrook. Davis Bertans, Raul Neto and Garrison Mathews are providing decent shooting, which should spread defenses out. Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija are young, but they've had moments when you can see positionless versatility at the forward spots.

    It just didn't coalesce until recently.

    The Washington Wizards' recent eight-game winning streak (which was ended by the San Antonio Spurs on Monday) was their longest in 20 years, according to The Athletic's Fred Katz. And the addition of a young rim-runner to the supporting cast may have a lot to do with that. 

    In his 11 games and 203 minutes with Washington, Daniel Gafford is a plus-36. Bertans is the only Wizard with a higher raw plus-minus.

    The sample may be too small for sweeping conclusions, but when those two share the floor with Russ, Washington is dominating. And again, you can make sense of those three fitting alongside Beal.

    With Westbrook and Gafford running a pick-and-roll and Bertans flanking the action, Beal could feast on kickouts.

    To this point in the season, all of these theoretical advantages have rarely materialized. And there is plenty of time for things to go awry again. Westbrook's inefficiency as a scorer, the lack of experience for Hachimura and Avdija and a lack of ancillary contributions from Bertans could all rear their heads at the same time.

    But if Washington can capture the mojo it's developed over the last few weeks and ride it into the play-in tournament, Wizards opponents could be in trouble.

Worst Supporting Cast: KAT's Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Despite missing nearly 40 percent of the season, Karl-Anthony Towns is still in the aforementioned top 30 for wins over replacement player. At 5.9, he's tied for 28th.

    His Minnesota Timberwolves teammates have combined for minus-4.1. He's the only player in the sample whose cast comes in with a mark below zero.

    D'Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley have had their moments, but they've both missed more time than Towns. Russell is the only other player on the team with an above-average BPM.

    This may not be shocking. Minnesota is only two games ahead of the Houston Rockets in the loss column for the worst record in the league. But that doesn't change the Wolves' reality. At the moment, they look years away from seriously competing for a playoff spot, barring a leap from Anthony Edwards.

    And though this season has provided plenty for fans to worry about, such a leap isn't out of the question.

    His scoring efficiency has a ways to go, but Edwards' post-All-Star break numbers, in combination with his obvious physical gifts, are more than intriguing. 

    Over his last 25 games, Edwards is averaging 23.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.9 threes while shooting 34.8 percent from deep.


    All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise noted.