Is It Time to Panic? NBA Teams Not Meeting Expectations in 2017-18
All championship odds for these teams come via TopBet and are accurate as of Thursday, Dec. 21. To suss out the NBA’s most noticeably disappointing squads, we’ll weigh expected win-losses against every team’s current pace.
You won’t want to completely write off all these outfits as genuine threats in the futures department, but you definitely want to be on high alert moving forward. And in that name of that planning, we’re ranking these squads and presenting them in order of increasing urgency. In other words: How worried should we be that they won’t come out of their current malaise?
By the way: Be sure to check out our biggest surprises of this season.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (+3300)
Expected Win-Loss: 52-30
Current Pace: 42-40
The Oklahoma City Thunder are maddening.
On the one hand, they’ve struggled for nearly half the season to reach and remain above .500, and their offense continues to labor through extremely sloppy, inefficient stretches—doubly so when entering crunch time.
On the other hand, they have tied the Boston Celtics for the league lead in points allowed per 100 possessions and head into Christmas within three games of the Western Conference’s fourth-best record. They also outscore opponents by seven points per 100 possessions when playing at home—one of the seven best friendly-territory point differentials.
At the risk of oversimplifying things, don’t be too worried about the Thunder. That we’re sitting here, towards the end of December, talking about how a team with Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook must be most concerned about its offense is actually encouraging. That aspect of the game should eventually come to them. All three of Oklahoma City’s stars won’t languish around career-worst shooting marks forever.
By now, you might be thinking about grabbing a flyer on the Thunder’s +3300 odds. And, well, that’s not entirely bonkers. But keep in mind this team could look to blow things up at the trade deadline by dealing Paul George, who is slated for free agency at season’s end. They have time to get things together, but they also didn’t play a game of chicken with the luxury tax to barely hover above .500.
And for that risk alone, they remain a major disappointment until proven otherwise.
4. Miami Heat
Expected Win-Loss: 44-38
Current Pace: 42-40
Playing two wins below their expected pace doesn’t seem like cause for the Miami Heat to lose their marbles. But we have to dig deeper.
The Heat reinvested in last year’s core because of an absurd 30-11 stretch to finish the season. Though they only ended up at 41-41 overall, thanks to an 11-30 start, team president Pat Riley believed his squad was much better than the final win-loss tally showed. And so, he bet big on them—not “Hey, let’s win, like, 40 to 43 games big,” but “Here we come 50 victories!” big.
Looking at the advanced analytics only makes things worse. The Heat may be on track for 42 victories, but their catch-all metrics say they’re playing like a 35-win squad, according to Cleaning The Glass.
That doesn’t bode well for their second-half performance. They’re dealing with serious injuries to Hassan Whiteside and Rodney McGruder, while even Goran Dragic, James Johnson and Justise Winslow have labored through their own problems.
Armed with very few proven shooters and an underachieving Dion Waiters, the Heat won’t just be lucky to make the East’s final playoff bracket. They’ll be lucky to sniff 40 wins.
3. Memphis Grizzlies (+3300)
Expected Win-Loss: 38-44
Current Pace: 24-58
It turns out a team forecasted to win 38 games can, in fact, be wildly disappointing.
Pundits have been writing off the Memphis Grizzlies for years. Each time, though, they came barreling back with a playoff-worthy rebuke. It looked like they were up to their old tricks at the start of this season. They were rattling off victories, touted one of the NBA’s best shot profiles and unlocked hidden depth from afterthought contributors such as Chandler Parsons, Tyreke Evans, Dillon Brooks, Jarell Martin and James Ennis.
But that honeymoon phase is over and done. The Grizzlies fired head coach David Fizdale when he couldn’t make nice with aging superstar Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley has been on the shelf for more than a month dealing with Achilles issues.
Instead of dreaming about the postseason, the Grizzlies are now left to decide whether to blow up the roster—a monstrous disappointment for a team that was convincing people to view them as a dark-horse contender less than eight weeks ago.
2. Charlotte Hornets (+30000)
Expected Win-Loss: 43-39
Current Pace: 29-53
Most penciled the Charlotte Hornets in for a return to the playoffs this season. And while their candidacy would have always been complicated by surprise efforts from the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks, they’re exploring unforeseen levels of hopelessness.
Injuries haven’t helped. Cody Zeller is sidelined indefinitely with a torn meniscus, and he’s long been their secret win-loss weapon. Nicolas Batum missed the first part of the year with an elbow injury and hasn’t looked or felt right since returning. Even franchise lifeline Kemba Walker hasn’t played the same since missing two makes with a shoulder injury. It makes you wonder whether he returned to soon.
Charlotte’s biggest problem, though, is its complete and total inability to survive without its point guard.
In the 1,014 minutes Walker has played this season, the Hornets are outscoring opponents by 5.3 points per 100 possessions, a net rating better than that of the borderline-juggernaut Boston Celtics. In the 484 minutes they’ve logged without him, however, they’re being pummeled by 15.3 points per 100 possessions—a differential that would by far and away rank as the NBA’s absolute worst.
Barren of trade assets, with very little healthy upside available to them in-house, the Hornets are a potential seller to watch at the trade deadline—not the bona fide playoff team or long-shot contender they were supposed to be.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (+40000)
Expected Win-Loss: 44-38
Current Pace: 33-49
More than a few people viewed the Los Angeles Clippers as an under-the-radar spoiler this season. Those same believers considered Blake Griffin an underrated MVP candidate.
So much for that.
Griffin is on the sidelines dealing with yet another injury. Danilo Gallinari has joined him. Milos Teodosic only recently returned from a foot injury, and Patrick Beverley is expected to be done for the season following microfracture surgery.
All of which has left the Clippers as thin as ever, with very little chance of making the playoffs. Those around the league are more wrapped up in when—not if, but when—they’ll trade free-agent-to-be DeAndre Jordan, which all but kills any hope of an improbable late-season turnaround.
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