Every year at this point of the NBA season, the league has eight-to-10 teams that have underachieved greatly — someway, somehow. The reasons for such mediocrity range from injuries, bad trades, lack of chemistry, and so on and so on. But no matter the reason, some teams just don’t play up to expectations.
With the league in the midst of a lull between now and the All-Star break, I have made it my duty to select the most disappointing teams of this season. (Note: This list is in no specific order, as the teams are listed alphabetically; records are through Jan. 1).
• Houston Rockets (10-18): The Rockets have been plagued by the injury bug since training camp, when they discovered that last year’s starting point guard, Bob Sura, would be out indefinitely following knee surgery. Since then, trainer Keith Jones has been the team’s MVP, handling a plethora of ailments that has haunted the Rockets’ performance.
Newcomer Rafer Alston missed 19 games with a stress fracture in his right leg. Sixth man Derek Anderson, the team’s third-leading scorer, has missed eight games with a thigh bruise. Tracy McGrady has missed eight games because of reoccurring back spasms. Yao Ming has missed six games, and is expected to miss at least six more weeks, due to a toenail injury.
In other words, the Rockets have had to rely upon the likes of Ryan Bowen, Lonny Baxter, Moochie Norris, and Stephen Graham — none of whom are likely to be found on fantasy basketball rosters. However, Houston’s struggles go beyond the inactive list. The Rockets are last in the league in points per game, last in field goal percentage, and third-to-last in assists. Even with a healthy crew, coach Jeff Van Gundy clearly needs to spice up the offense, by instilling something more than the standard pick-and-roll and misdirection sets.
• New Jersey Nets (17-12): Yes, the Nets are currently riding an eight-game winning streak — but let’s face it, they’re really not any better than last season. They signed Marc Jackson, Jeff McInnis, and Scott Padgett in the off-season, hoping to bolster a bench that was …. well, non-existent.
But things have not turned out the way general manager Rod Thorn envisioned. Jackson (5.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg) is averaging only 13 minutes per game and has missed six games, many of which are due to “DNP-CD” (Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision). McInnis (5.9 ppg, 2.0 apg) is averaging 19 minutes, but has not proved to be a reliable backup for Jason Kidd. Both Jackson and McInnis are said to be on the trading block and may not hold long-term futures as Nets.
Mostly, New Jersey still does not have a consistent go-to threat in the low post who can get easy baskets. The Nets will likely make the playoffs but will not contend any stronger than they did last year, meaning all those off-season additions were for naught.
• New York Knicks (7-21): Now, no one had great hopes for the Knicks this season, but did anyone really expect them to be tied with Atlanta as the worst team in the league? With solid contributors in Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry, along with three rookies who have proven to have bright futures, the Knicks were projected to be finish somewhere near 10th in the East — possibly even contending for one of the final playoff spots.
Instead they’re worse than they were last season, the problem being that the Knicks still cannot guard anyone. Even with noted defensive genius Larry Brown being brought in as coach, the Knicks surrender 98 points per game, and allow opponents to shoot 46 percent from the floor. Throw in the fact they are in the bottom 10 in points scored (94), and it’s easy to see why the Knicks haven’t not been able to develop any consistency or a solid rotation.
Brown has a team of offensive-minded and defensive-minded players, but none who hold both traits. It’s not a positive sign when your rookies are the lone highlights.
• Sacramento Kings (12-17): Supposedly, the Kings had one of the finest off-seasons of anyone, bringing in smooth forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim, versatile guard Bonzi Wells, and underrated backup Jason Hart. They also had a stellar draft, choosing Francisco Garcia out of Louisville. What has it all amounted to? How about last place in the Pacific Division — and a lot of disappointment for a franchise that used to be in the upper-echelon of the NBA.
Sacramento still has one of the league’s poorest defensive units, allowing teams to shoot 47 percent from the floor. Aside from Mike Bibby, the Kings have no one who is willing to take the big shot in close games, and have received an overall lackadaisical effort from their bench. Their offense is still potent, and capable of erupting in a matter of seconds, but that hardly matters when you can’t defend or rebound (opponents average 41 boards to the Kings’ 38).
With other teams such as Phoenix, the Lakers, the Clippers, and Minnesota all having improved significantly on defense, the Kings are now nothing more than a mediocre ball club with a lame duck coach waiting to see whether the contract extension he dreams of comes his way.
• Washington Wizards (12-16): It’s hard to say the Wizards are much of a disappointment, considering we pretty much knew this was gonna happen. They are the Seattle Sonics of the Eastern Conference, having had one glorious season a year ago before dropping back to reality and having their flaws exposed.
The reason I have chosen the Wizards as one of my five most disappointing teams is because they are so effective offensively — or at least, they were. I expected them to be competing for home-court advantage in the playoffs. But teams have figured out that if you stop Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, you’ll have no problem defeating the Wiz.
After all, they don’t stop anybody (allowing 101 points per game), and aside from Jamison and Arenas, only Caron Butler averages double-figures scoring. Also, their other big off-season acquisition, Antonio Daniels, has been disappointing in his own right. After a nice season in Seattle, where he averaged 11.2 points and 4.1 assists, Daniels is compiling 4.9 and 2.1, respectively, while shooting an abysmal 34 percent from the floor. Thought to have been the third guard who can take most of the ballhandling duties away from Arenas, Daniels has proven to be nothing of the sort. And the Wizards are suffering because of it.