Bill Parcells once said, “you are what your record says you are.” Potential is one thing, but ultimately you’re judged off of your performance on the court — and a handful of NBA teams have failed to live up to expectations in the first half of the 2022-23 season. Here are the league’s most disappointing teams so far.
I had the Wolves penciled in as a 50-win team and contender for a top-four seed, but what does it matter what I think? The Wolves themselves clearly believed they were in line to compete for a conference title in the wide-open West, or else they never would’ve given up so much for a 30-year-old Rudy Gobert.
This wasn’t a long-term plan. This was a team looking to build on almost winning a playoff series last season, and now it’s going to be tough to even crack the postseason. Minnesota, at 23-24, is tied in the loss column with the No. 11 Blazers. The defense, which was supposed to take the big leap, is worse than it was last season by over two points per 100 possessions, and the offense — get this — is over 12 points worse per 100 when Gobert is on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass.
The only way Gobert’s offensive challenges are palatable is if he’s leading an elite defense, and even then it’s a problem. This is a mess. The Wolves, by far, have been the biggest disappointment in the league thus far.
Atlanta might be turning a corner with five straight wins, but all told this season has not come close to living up to the expectations that came with the Dejounte Murray trade. The defense has improved, but the offense is nearing a bottom-10 rating as the most individually dependent system in the league.
There is zero movement, ball or player. It’s just a my-turn/your-turn dance between Trae Young and Murray, and only a recent hot streak has lifted Young’s 3-point percentage north of 35. That isn’t going to cut it for a team already wanting shooting after the trade of Kevin Huerter. Only the Nuggets and Bulls take fewer 3s than Atlanta and only the Lakers make fewer.
They have crept above .500 with this recent surge, and again, things could be on the upswing. Murray and Young have both shot great from deep since the turn of the calendar. But for now, to be just two losses clear of the East’s last play-in spot nearing the trade deadline is not what anyone had in mind.
Everyone can understand a defending champion with an aging core taking it a little easy in the regular season, but a 6-18 road record with the 17th-ranked offense and a negative point differential? Yeah, Curry just missed an 11-game stretch and Andrew Wiggins missed over a month, but the Warriors weren’t playing any better before those absences.
There’s optimism in a few performances against the Celtics, one a home win for the Warriors and one a tight loss in Boston, that show this team can still play right with a top-shelf contender, and Golden State’s starting lineup has been dominant all season. It remains to be seen if the bench can pull even minimal weight, and the defense is no longer a unit that can bail out mistakes. The margin for error has all but disappeared for the Warriors, but they’re still making errors.
They still foul like crazy (they give up the most free throws and take the fewest). They still turn it over like crazy (29th in turnover percentage). These are not margins the Warriors can make up for in the big picture, and it’s why they’re merely a .500 team. We continue to give this team the benefit of the doubt, and we should. It’s been earned. Stephen Curry remains at the height of his powers. But there’s plenty to be concerned about.
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This is an absolutely average team. Not good. Not bad. Certainly not what they hoped they would become when they finally shook up their roster. I still want to believe that Gary Payton II is a major difference-maker and that Portland will take off at some point, but I can’t convince myself anymore.
Everyone hammered Neil Olshey for his reluctance, or flat-out unwillingness, to break up the Lillard-McCollum duo and/or make strong roster moves during his tenure, but this is the other side of that. It’s not easy to improve on what Portland was under Olshey and Terry Stotts, particularly with a roster full of players that are/were worth more on the court than they are on the market (McCollum, Nurkic, Norman Powell, etc.).
Still, Portland fans just wanted to see some kind of front office action. So when Joe Cronin started shipping out pieces right and left and brought in Josh Hart and Jerami Grant and Payton and appeared to be building a more defensively equipped team, everyone got excited for a minute.
But now the dust has settled, and what are the Blazers? Still a bad defensive team covering for a vulnerable backcourt. Still, a team trying to win in the tightest of margins, a team that has to rely on Damian Lillard (or someone else) playing the hero in clutch time, only that isn’t happening as it did a few years ago (negative clutch differential), and suddenly this team isn’t making up for 43 minutes of mediocrity with five minutes of greatness.
Bottom line: The Blazers are desperate to put a contender together in support of Lillard, and at present, they have one fewer loss than the Lakers and are firmly stuck in the lottery.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
Speaking of the Lakers, nobody thought this was going to be a contender. But with LeBron James still playing at this level and even Russell Westbrook looking palatable off the bench (although he’s actually been less efficient than last year), and with Anthony Davis playing like an MVP candidate when he was actually on the floor, it’s still hard to not get caught up in the marquee hype of the purple and gold and it’s still wildly disappointing to look up at see a subpar team swimming upstream pretty much every night.
The Lakers cannot shoot. Davis cannot stay healthy. They’re a borderline inept defense without Davis and a run-of-the-mill offense with a bottom-10 point differential. Everyone is screaming for a trade, but it looks unlikely that Rob Pelinka will do anything significant. Even when Davis returns, how long will he stay on the court this time? Let’s just get used to the idea of the Lakers being just capable enough to constantly disappoint.