Every NBA team's biggest disappointment in 2018-19 season so far, from Jimmy Butler drama to Rockets' Melo experiment
We're two months into the season, and every team has something they'd like to improve -- some more than others
In the NBA realm, Christmas is a good benchmark for when things start to get serious. Trade talks intensify as the deadline nears, while teams start to get a good sense of what they truly are after two months of play. There are pleasant surprises, in most cases, but there are also serious disappointments.
Every franchise enters the season with the highest of hopes -- no matter how unrealistic, the goal to win a championship is still alive and well. But then the games are played, things shake out, and you start to see what is and isn't working.
That's what we'll be looking at here, as each team has something or someone that hasn't quite lived up to expectations so far. Keep in mind that it's a long season and things can always improve, but at the 30-game mark or so, here is every NBA team's biggest disappointment.
Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young's shooting
The Hawks took a gamble on draft night by trading the rights to Luka Doncic to the Mavericks for the rights to Trae Young and a 2019 first-rounder -- the logic being that if Young and Doncic were close to equal, the extra draft pick would make the deal worth it. So far Doncic has been much better than Young, but that's expected given Doncic's professional experience. What wasn't expected, however, is that Young would struggle as mightily as he has from the 3-point line. He's shot 24 percent from deep, dead-last among players with at least 100 attempts.
Young has showcased brilliant playmaking and passing ability, even on a team without much scoring help around him, but the shooting has to be a concern 30 games into his career. Making the pill even more difficult to swallow is the fact that Doncic, whose 30 percent 3-point shooting in Europe raised red flags among some front offices, is hitting at a 36 percent clip since coming stateside. Not to mention that Doncic is helping the Mavs win, which could significantly devalue that 2019 first-rounder headed to Atlanta.
Boston Celtics: Jaylen Brown
The Celtics entered the season with a healthy roster full of talented players, and most assumed at least one of them would suffer as a result. So far, that player has been Brown. After a breakout 2017-18 campaign in which he became one of team's primary postseason scorers out of necessity, Brown's numbers have fallen off a cliff. It's not just the scoring -- which logically would drop given the return of Gordon Hayward -- Brown's efficiency has been horrible. His field goal shooting has dropped from 46.5 percent last season to 40.9 percent this season, and his 3-point shooting has gone from nearly 40 percent last year to 28 percent this year.
It's still early, so this could all be a moot point come playoff time, but so far Brown has definitely been the Celtics' biggest disappointment.
Brooklyn Nets: Caris LeVert's injury
The Nets have managed to put together a solid roster despite a well-documented lack of draft picks over the past few seasons, and LeVert looked like a potential franchise cornerstone to start the season, averaging 18.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 48 percent field goal shooting. Unfortunately, LeVert suffered a horrific ankle injury against the Timberwolves in the team's 14th game, and while the diagnosis isn't as bad as most feared after seeing the play, he's still expected to miss most of the regular season. The Nets lost nine of their next 11 games after the injury, and their already-slim chances at an Eastern Conference playoff spot probably disappeared when LeVert went down.
Charlotte Hornets: Nicolas Batum
Optimists hoped that Batum would emerge as a true second option in what could be Kemba Walker's final season in Charlotte, but so far he's continued to underwhelm. Batum's 3-point shooting has improved, but his 38 percent on 3.5 attempts per game is hardly enough to move the needle. He's averaging 9.1 points per game, which would be the lowest since his rookie season, and his assists have dropped from 5.5 last season to 3.5 this year. The expectations weren't set too high for Batum, but he's still managed to disappoint, making the $76.7 million he's owed from now until the end of the 2020-21 season even uglier.
Chicago Bulls: Jabari Parker
Clearly the Bulls saw something in Parker, whom they signed to a two-year, $40 million contract before the season (Chicago wisely gave itself a team option for the second year), but he's already fallen out of the rotation and is on the trading block just 29 games into the season. He's been unable to break the mold of a borderline selfish offensive player who has no interest in defense, and that didn't sit well in the new, hard-line Jim Boylen regime. It was a gamble for the Bulls to sign Parker, but sometimes you just have to know when to fold 'em.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love's injury
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert reportedly believed that his team had a chance to make the playoffs in a post-LeBron world, but that journey was stopped dead in its tracks before it could even roll out of the station. Love, who was expected to lead the James-less Cleveland offense in a throwback to his glory days with the Minnesota Timberwolves, suffered a left foot injury which has kept him out of all but the first four games of the season. Without Love the Cavs have been awful, firing Tyronn Lue, trading Kyle Korver and George Hill and banishing J.R. Smith. This likely isn't what Gilbert envisioned when Cleveland signed Love to a four-year, $120 million extension this offseason.
Dallas Mavericks: Being in the Western Conference
The Mavericks organization has significant off-court issues that are much more important than anything basketball-related, but we'll stick to on-court disappointments for this one. That being said, there's really not much to complain about from an overachieving Dallas squad with a rookie who looks like he could be a future MVP in Luka Doncic. Their young players have progressed and their veterans have found their roles. The only thing they can really be disappointed in so far is the fact that they might not make the playoffs due to a stacked Western Conference. Out East they'd likely be a lock, but despite a strong start they still find themselves outside the West playoff standings.
Denver Nuggets: The mile-high injury bug
Denver was expected to improve this season, but not many had them atop the Western Conference 30 games into the season. Amazingly, the Nuggets have managed to do this without their full complement of players. Will Barton has only played two games, Isaiah Thomas hasn't played at all, and both Gary Harris and Paul Millsap are going to miss significant time. The Nuggets have persevered despite all that, thanks to the brilliance of Nikola Jokic, the coaching of Mike Malone and the emergence of young players like Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley. Still, it's going to be hard for them to continue to stay atop the West without a healthy roster.
Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson
After a hot start, the Pistons have come back down to earth a bit, and it looks like they'll be fighting for a playoff spot for the rest of the season. Blake Griffin has put up MVP-type numbers in a (knock on wood) healthy season so far and Andre Drummond is his normal, dominant inside presence, but the team has to be disappointed in Jackson's play. If Jackson could emerge as a third star, or even something close to it, the Pistons could be interesting. Instead Jackson's field goal percentage has dropped to under 40 percent as he continues to fail to live up to the five-year, $80 million contract he signed a few years ago. Defensively, the Pistons have been much worse with Jackson on the court (117.8 defensive rating, compared to 103.7), which has hurt the team under new coach Dwane Casey so far this season.
Golden State Warriors: The Durant-Draymond blow-up
The Warriors came into the season as overwhelming favorites to three-peat and win their fourth NBA title in five years, with the traditional thinking being: The only way the Warriors will lose is if they beat themselves. Well, fast forward to Nov. 12, when Green decided not to pass Durant the ball on the final possession of regulation, and all hell broke loose for the champs. Green reportedly brought up Durant's free agency. Durant was clearly hurt and offended. Green was suspended. Steve Kerr said the team was exhausted spiritually. Now, no matter how well the Warriors play for the rest of the season, the incident and how it will affect Durant's impending decision to stay or go will hang over their heads all the way through the Finals ... assuming they can once again make it that far.
Houston Rockets: The Carmelo experiment
You can't blame the entirety of Houston's disappointing start on Carmelo Anthony, but it certainly didn't help matters. Some thought that joining his buddy Chris Paul in Houston would unlock the mythical "Olympic Melo" that OKC failed to get last season, but it was clear after just a few games that Anthony just couldn't thrive in the Rockets' system. He shot a paltry 33 percent from the 3-point line and was targeted relentlessly on defense for 10 games before Houston threw up the white flag and announced it was parting ways with the 10-time All-Star. He's still on the roster, so maybe LeBron will get desperate enough to bring him to L.A. that he forces the Lakers into trading a modest asset for him. Otherwise the experiment will go down as a total failure.
Indiana Pacers: Tyreke Evans
The Pacers are in the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams, so not much has gone poorly so far. Victor Oladipo is playing at the All-Star level we got used to seeing last season, Myles Turner has improved on both ends of the floor and Domantas Sabonis has emerged as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. The biggest disappointment, however, has been Tyreke Evans, whom the Pacers signed to a one-year, $12.4 million contract this offseason to bolster their bench. Evans averaged 19.4 points last season with the Grizzlies, the most since his rookie year, and shot a career-high 40 percent on 3-pointers. This season he's been borderline bad, averaging 10.4 points on 36 percent field goals, including 34 percent 3s. His playmaking has also suffered, as he's nearly averaging as many turnovers (2.0) as assists (2.4). The Pacers can get by during the regular season because of their depth, but they signed Evans to be a guy who could go get them baskets, and so far he hasn't been able to do that efficiently.
Los Angeles Clippers: Lou Williams' injury
The Clippers got off to a red-hot start and appeared to have mastered the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" ethos to perfection. But just as the team began to struggle for the first time this season, they were dealt a huge blow when reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams went down with a hamstring injury. They've lost all four games without their go-to clutch scorer, and seven of their last nine. Sweet Lou is expected to be back around Christmas, but the Clippers, back in action Thursday night (10:30 p.m. ET -- watch on fuboTV with the NBA League Pass extension), have dropped some valuable games without him as they attempt to stay in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram
Ingram lost four games to suspension and the Lakers' last seven to an ankle injury, but he has failed to emerge as the elusive second option to LeBron James in Los Angeles. Most felt Ingram would take a step forward this season under James' tutelage, but the 21-year-old's scoring has dropped, while his 3-point percentage has fallen from 39 percent last season to 32 percent this year. We all know it takes a while to get used to playing with LeBron, particularly for young players, but Ingram has thus far failed to live up to expectations. There's a chance he'll improve, but will LeBron and the Lakers front office be patient enough to wait and see?
Memphis Grizzlies: Chandler Parsons (again)
The gritty group of overachievers from Memphis has impressed so far, but they've done it without any significant on-court contributions from Parsons, who has only played three games this season due to knee and back injuries. Parsons hasn't been able to stay remotely healthy after signing a four-year, $94.4 million contract with the Grizzlies before the 2016-17 season, but there was at least some hope that he'd be able to offer a modicum of help this year. That hasn't been the case, however, which is really a shame, because Memphis could definitely use the 3-point shooting and playmaking abilities he displayed before his career was derailed by injuries.
Miami Heat: Offense
This is a pretty general complaint, but Miami has just had serious trouble putting the ball in the basket so far this season, and it's likely going to get worse with Goran Dragic undergoing knee surgery. Miami is 25th in the NBA in offensive efficiency (105.6) and dead-last in field goal percentage (43.2). They've been riddled with injuries, but overall the roster just lacks the offensive pop necessary to compete in the modern NBA. That being said, Erik Spoelstra is such a good coach that they might just make the playoffs anyway.
Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis' 3-point shooting
There's not a lot to take issue with for a Milwaukee team that looks poised to compete for the No. 1 seed in the East, but if you have to nitpick, you can start with the atrocious 3-point shooting from Giannis Antetokounmpo through the first 30 games or so. He got up to 30 percent last year, and there was some hope that he would continue to improve, especially in Mike Budenholzer's confidence-inspiring, 3-point-heavy offense. Instead Giannis is shooting 12.5 percent from deep (not a typo), making just 8-of-64 attempts. Nobody has come even close to shooting under 20 percent on more than two 3-point attempts per game for a full season in the history of the NBA, and Giannis is shooting 12.5 percent on 2.4 attempts per game. He's probably the MVP front-runner despite the horrific outside shooting, so this really isn't a big deal, but imagine what he could do to the league if he somehow got that percentage up into the mid-30s?
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Jimmy Butler situation
The Wolves have played some decent basketball this season -- now imagine if they didn't start the year getting 36 minutes per game from a player who didn't want to be on the team. The front office, led by head coach Tom Thibodeau, let an explosive situation reach near-catastrophe by failing to trade Butler before the season began. As a result, both Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins got off to shaky starts before the team finally pulled the trigger and brought in Robert Covington and Dario Saric. The Wolves have moved on from Butler, but it would have been nice to have had a fresh start to begin the season.
New Orleans Pelicans: Elfrid Payton's injuries
The biggest disappointment for Pelicans fans before the season was Anthony Davis signing with Klutch Sports -- the same agency that reps LeBron James -- but on the court, Payton's injury problems have been rough. He's only played six games this season due to an ankle injury and, most recently, a broken finger, but he averaged 9.7 points, 5.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds in those games, while shooting 43 percent on 3-pointers. The Pelicans desperately need someone to fill in the role that Rajon Rondo played so well last season, and Payton could at least be serviceable. Instead the Pelicans are left with Jrue Holiday as the only impact ball-handler (no offense, Tim Frazier), and Davis is forced to shoulder an unfathomable load on both ends of the court.
New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina
It's hard to disappoint when expectations are as low as they are in New York. The biggest disappointment would be if they were winning, causing them to potentially miss out on the Zion Williamson sweepstakes. Fortunately for Knicks fans, the team is awful, and the only thing you can really point to as a disappointment is the lack of development of Ntilikina so far. The 20-year-old had a chance to take control of the offense early in the season, but his poor play caused head coach David Fizdale to cut his minutes practically in half. The rangy combo guard is seen as a potential supporting piece for Kristaps Porzingis down the road, but he hasn't done much so far this season to cement himself into the Knicks' future.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Andre Roberson's injury setbacks
OKC has dominated defensively, with the best rating in the NBA (101.7), so it's hard to imagine how good they would be on that side of the ball with perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Andre Roberson healthy. The 27-year-old wing suffered a brutal, season-ending injury in January, and has since had two separate setbacks that have delayed his return. With the Thunder sitting toward the top of the Western Conference standings, they'll be patient and hope Roberson is fully healthy for the playoff run, but it would have been amazing to see that defense at work from the start of the season.
Orlando Magic: Evan Fournier's shooting
It's probably a good sign for the Magic that the biggest disappointment 30 games into the season involves Fournier, and not, say, Aaron Gordon or Jonathan Isaac. Fournier, whose main purpose on the court is to stretch the defense with his shooting, has struggled so far this season, making just 31 percent of his 3-pointers after coming in as a 37 percent career shooter from distance. He's actually ninth on the team in percentage, just behind Wesley Iwundu and just ahead of Isaac and Jonathon Simmons -- not where you want your sharpshooter to be. This likely just means Fournier is due for a hot streak, but he's been the biggest disappointment so far on an Orlando team that currently finds itself in playoff position.
Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz
No surprise here, as whatever optimism about Fultz fixing his shooting problems over the offseason went out the window almost immediately. He double-pumped a free throw, tried out a peculiar pitter-patter approach from the line, then went to get his shoulder evaluated just after falling out of the rotation following the Butler trade. It now appears that the 2017 No. 1 overall pick may have played his last game in Philadelphia, despite Brett Brown's attempt to instill confidence in the young man by inserting him into the starting lineup to begin the season. It really is a sad situation, and you can only hope that Fultz gets back on his feet after rehabbing from his diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome. It just may not be with the Sixers.
Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson
Despite some optimism that the Suns would make a noticeable improvement this season, they're awful once again -- which is fine as long as the young players continue to develop. Devin Booker has been great and No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton has shown promise, but the Suns have to be disappointed in Josh Jackson, the No. 4 overall pick in 2017. Jackson didn't have a good rookie year, but talks of a revamped jumper and more veteran influences (Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza) suggested he might take a step forward. So far, it's been a step backward. Jackson is shooting 39 percent from the field and 30 percent from the 3-point line, while averaging more turnovers (2.4) than assists (2.3). After seeing his minutes reduced early into the season by new coach Igor Kokoskov, Jackson has gotten more action recently due to injuries, which has led to some horrible shooting games (5-for-21, 5-for-18, 2-for-10). Jackson is full of energy, but so far he hasn't been able to channel that into the productive wing player the Suns hoped they had drafted. The good news is, he's only 21.
Portland Trail Blazers: Defense
The Blazers earned a surprising No. 3 seed in the Western Conference last season, partly due to a sixth-ranked defense, but that has taken a major slip this year. While their offense is clicking behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, scoring 111.3 points per 100 possessions, the defense is 18th in the NBA with a 109.8 rating. The team replaced minutes from capable bench defenders Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton and Shabazz Napier with not-so-capable defenders like Nik Stauskas, Seth Curry and Jake Layman, so that could help explain the defensive drop-off. The Blazers remain in the hunt for a top playoff seed, though, and if they get their defense back on track they'll be dangerous once again.
Sacramento Kings: Dave Joerger and front-office drama
The Kings are already well on their way to smashing the preseason Vegas over-under total of 26 wins, but since this is Sacramento, there have to be some strings attached. Those strings come in the form of a reported feud between head coach Dave Joerger and the front office, specifically assistant general manager Brandon Williams. Joerger was reportedly on the hot seat despite the team's excellent start because of the way he was doling out minutes to rookie Marvin Bagley III and other young players on the team. Things only got worse last week, when Joerger heaped praise upon Luka Doncic, whom the front office passed on to take Bagley. Overall this has been about as good of a season as the Kings could ask for on the court, so it's disappointing that there has to be some drama to sully a great NBA story.
San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray's injury
Before a recent stretch of five straight games holding opponents under 100 points, the Spurs had the 29th-ranked defense in the NBA. Let that sink in for a second -- a Gregg Popovich-led Spurs team was almost last in the league in defense. A big reason for that is the absence of Murray, an All-NBA defender who was lost for the season when he tore his ACL during a preseason game. San Antonio replaced two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and the always-stout Danny Green with DeMar DeRozan, not exactly a defensive stalwart, so Murray was expected to pick up the slack. Without him the Spurs have struggled defensively, but at least that now appears to be trending in the right direction.
Toronto Raptors: The playoffs don't start until April
Kawhi Leonard is an MVP candidate. Kyle Lowry is toward the top of the league in assists. The Raptors have the best record in the NBA. What is there to be disappointed about? There's always a fear in any professional sports league about peaking too early, but that rings especially true for the Raptors, who have put together five straight impressive regular seasons, only to end in heartbreak and devastation in the playoffs. So for Toronto fans, the calendar can't move quickly enough. They need everyone to stay healthy and productive as they try to exorcise the postseason demons that haunt the city. With how well this team has started the season, the only disappointing thing is that they can't enter the playoffs tomorrow.
Utah Jazz: Offense
During last season's monster run after the return of Rudy Gobert to the lineup in January, the Jazz had a near top-10 offense to pair with their suffocating defense. This year the defense has slipped a bit, but they've taken a plunge on offense to 24th in the NBA. So far Donovan Mitchell hasn't made the leap that most expected, while Ricky Rubio's 3-point shooting has come back down below his career average of 32 percent after he shot 35 percent last season, and the offense has suffered as a result. Utah finds itself below .500 and outside the playoffs after being expected to challenge for a top-three seed, so they'll need another impressive turnaround if they want to make that happen.
Washington Wizards: John Wall's contract
The Wizards are a complete mess, sitting well outside the playoff picture even in a weak Eastern Conference, and things are only exacerbated when you look at the four-year, $170 million extension that Wall signed in 2017 that doesn't even kick in until next season. Wall is putting up decent numbers, but his 3-point shooting ha been awful at 31 percent and the team is clearly lost right now. You'd have to think that trading Wall is on the table, but it's probably going to be hard to find a team willing to pay him $46.8 million in the 2022-23 season. Yikes.
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