We made the cut for dissapoinments
Not all of the surprises in the 2013-14 season's first two weeks have been positive. Today, let's complement Monday's list of surprises with the most disappointing performances thus far.
The East's top tier
The West was expected to have the upper hand in the interconference battle -- and so far it has won 63.3 percent of all East-West matchups (19-11) -- but more because of its depth and the lottery-bound teams at the bottom of the East standings than superiority at the top. Instead, despite the Indiana Pacers' undefeated start, the best of the West have been far better than their East counterparts. In terms of point differential adjusted for schedule, the West has five of the top six teams in the league, seven of the top nine and 10 of the top 14.
Aside from the Pacers, the other four teams picked atop the East have all struggled early on, going a combined 12-14. The Miami Heat's inconsistent effort and the Chicago Bulls' difficulty incorporating a rusty Derrick Rose will likely resolve themselves, but the poor starts by the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks (both 2-4) are more troubling. The Nets have been outscored by 2.8 points per game. After Sunday's blowout at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks' minus-4.8 differential ranks 24th in the league -- far worse than even SCHOENE's dire 37-45 projection. Suddenly, the Atlantic Division -- currently led by Boston and Philadelphia, both 4-4 -- looks wide open.
There have been plenty of culprits for Brooklyn's disappointment so far, but none more worrisome than Garnett's play. At age 37, Garnett no longer looks like the valuable-but-limited player he was last season, let alone the superstar he was in his prime.
This season, Garnett has looked every bit the 37-year-old that he is.
So far, Garnett has rated 0.4 wins worse than replacement level. He's making just a third of his 2-point attempts, having taken two-thirds of them outside the painted area. Garnett simply isn't capable of creating easy scores inside at this point.
More troubling is Garnett's apparent defensive decline. As recently as last year, he rated as one of the league's most important defenders in terms of net plus-minus. But this season's Nets, as Zach Lowe noted yesterday, have allowed 11.0 more points per 100 possessions with KG on the floor -- a discrepancy that can't be blamed on rotations. Garnett remains elite on the glass but isn't moving quickly enough to be in the right place at the right time on D.
After calling Irving the league's most overrated player a few weeks ago, I run the danger of appearing to pick on him. However, Irving belongs on this list for an entirely different reason -- he hasn't yet provided the elite offense that makes him so promising despite his defensive shortcomings.
Irving's true shooting percentage has slipped from .553 to .457 because of declines across the board. He's not shooting as well from 3-point range after making better than 39 percent of his attempts the past two seasons, is getting to the free throw line less often and has struggled to finish inside. Irving's in-between game has been particularly absent. After making 38.9 percent of shots in the paint but away from the rim last season, per NBA.com/Stats, Irving has gone 5 of 27 (18.5 percent) so far this year. His shooting is sure to rebound, and a Cavaliers team that currently ranks 29th in offensive rating badly needs that to happen.
Los Angeles Clippers' defense
Several contenders have struggled with defense early, none more so than the Clippers, who rank 29th in points allowed per 100 possessions. While the Clippers slipped down the stretch and in the playoffs, they were ninth in the league in defense a year ago. They haven't been this bad defensively since posting the NBA's worst defensive rating in 1999-2000, when, suffice it to say, expectations weren't this high in Clipperland. The Clippers, who led the league in forcing turnovers a year ago, are 20th so far this season and miss Eric Bledsoe's pressure defense. The idea that L.A. would sacrifice some steals for sounder rotations has yet to materialize, as opponents have made more shots in the restricted area (156) against the Clippers than any team in the NBA.
Since the Clippers have been as advertised offensively, ranking second in points scored per 100 possessions, there's a real chance they could join the 1978-79 Houston Rockets and 1981-82 Denver Nuggets as teams that combined the NBA's best offense with its worst defense. As of now, the Clippers' offense (8.9 percent better than league average) is 14.2 percent better than their defense (5.3 percent worse than league average), larger than any imbalance in NBA history. The Heat (13.9 percent better on offense), though, also have been more imbalanced than the previous record holder, the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks (13.8 percent).
Here's the good news: New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams hasn't had to worry about finding enough playing time for Evans as a sixth man. That's because Evans, who got a four-year, $44-million deal from the Pelicans last summer, hasn't been worth keeping on the floor at all.
Evans has contributed little to the Pelicans, and his role is murky.
Evans is making just 33.9 percent of his 2-point attempts and had gotten to the free throw line a paltry eight times in 157 minutes -- barely a third of last season's rate -- before taking seven in Tuesday's lopsided loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Worse yet, Evans has had a tough time coexisting with point guard Jrue Holiday when they've been on the floor together, which has reduced Evans to a spot-up shooter averaging just 9.9 points per 36 minutes. It's tough to see how Evans fits in New Orleans, especially with Eric Gordon healthy and productive thus far.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have managed to start the season 5-3 with a robust plus-6.0 point differential despite -- not because of -- their bench. Collectively, Minnesota's reserves have been a full win below replacement level, worst of any team in the NBA. When the Timberwolves have had at least three bench players on the floor, the team has been outscored by 21.4 points per 48 minutes. And head coach Rick Adelman knows it; Minnesota's starting five has played more minutes together than any other lineup.
Help is on the way -- eventually -- when injured wing Chase Budinger returns to provide more perimeter shooting. And center Ronny Turiaf will upgrade the interior defense when his fractured elbow heals. But the Timberwolves have to get better production from slumping J.J. Barea, Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams to keep up their promising start.
Granted, expectations weren't high for the likes of Richard Jefferson, John Lucas III and Jamaal Tinsley, but they've been unable to meet them. As Per Diem colleague Tom Haberstroh noted on Twitter, as of Tuesday, all three players were at the very bottom of the NBA leaderboard in estimated wins added, the win-based version of PER. WARP is slightly kinder, though not by much: They've combined for minus-1.1 WARP, undermining the decent play of the Jazz's young core.
Utah waived Tinsley on Tuesday and might replace him with Diante Garrett, according to Marc Stein. Still, things won't really get better until the Jazz get healthy. The return of rookie Trey Burke will ultimately push Lucas to a more appropriate reserve role, and Brandon Rush and Marvin Williams should eat into Jefferson's 25 minutes per game once they're back at full strength.