Author: Uri Uziel
As the NBA seems determined to head to Orlando Disney World Resort and finish the NBA season, several teams are already looking at next season as their chance to turn their luck around. The non-playoff teams of the NBA are, as per usual, a hodgepodge of disappointment, hilarity, and understanding. From the perpetual amateur hour in Cleveland to the rarely disappointing Spurs, each team has a unique and infuriating set of circumstance preventing them from reaching the postseason. This series of articles will focus on each of those teams, one category at a time.
1. The fourteen teams will be split into three categories: The Disappointments, They Obviously Suck, and I Get It and I Like What I’m Seeing.
2. Record doesn’t always indicate position within the NBA hierarchy, so the categories will be based almost entirely on my level of anger at the team’s lack of success. Example: both the wizards and the blazers are their conference’s respective nine-seeds, but this season is infinitely more disappointing for a blazers team whose core reached the conference finals last season.
3. Warriors are automatically excluded. There are no guarantees, but it’d be near impossible to imagine the Dubs not being in the playoff picture had Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson been healthy.
4. No limit to the amount of teams in a category, but each conference needs to have at least one team.
The First Category: The Disappointments
The Chicago Bulls
Expected Win/Loss: 26-39
Vegas Over/Under Win Totals: 33.5
Head Coach: Jim Boylen
The rebuild continues for a Chicago Bulls team haunted by a slew of disappointing seasons. Going into this year, hope ran high for a Bulls team that felt their combination of young talent would develop into a threatening unit in the Eastern Conference. But the theoretical starting five has played in nine total games together with injuries to Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. being a constant and painful reality for the youngest team in the league. Visible friction between star guard Zach LaVine and Head Coach Jim Boylen being so public demonstrates just one of the broken relationships that new Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas and General Manager Marc Eversley are working to fix.
Over the past two seasons, Boylen sports a .317 winning percentage, good for second worst in Bulls history. At the crown of Boylen’s failures is the regression of forward Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen, the gem of the Bull’s three consecutive 7th overall picks, took a massive step back from his breakout sophomore season. Among second-year players, Markkanen ranked third in points, second in three pointers made, second in rebounds, and fifth in field goals made. Under Boylen’s tutelage, his per game averages have dropped to eighth in points, fifth in three pointers made, eighth in rebounds, and eighth in field goals made among the 2017 draft class.
With Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf handing over all basketball decisions to his son, Michael, the franchise seems to be heading in a different direction. The Bulls have taken the mid season suspension from play as a chance to overhaul the front office for the first time in 22 years. The rebuild that began when Michael Jordan hit the game winning jumper in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals still persists, but Bulls fan can be cautiously hopeful for the future. Thank
The Atlanta Hawks
Expected Win/Loss: 18-49
Vegas Over/Under Win Totals: 33.5
Coach: Lloyd Pierce
Superstars: Trae Young
All-Stars: Trae Young
The Hawks have three rookies, three sophomores, and six players with less than six years of experience in the Association. Developing a young nucleus takes time, but going from a .354 winning percentage in 2019 to .299 in 2020 looks bad, especially considering guard Trae Young’s explosion in year two. Even in the 36 games that 20 ppg scorers Young and forward John Collins played together, the birds boast a 13-23 record. Applying that to the 63 games this season comes to a record of 22-41. The average record for teams with at least two players averaging at least 20 points per game comes out to 38-25 and the Hawks overall record ranks second to last with the same filters. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves have a worse record, and they’ve had 24 different players wear uniforms this year!
Finding reasons for the Hawks disappointing season takes little more than a few clicks on basketball reference. John Collin’s suspension, Kevin Huerter’s injury, and Head Coach Lloyd Pierce’s lackluster development of rookies De’andre Hunter and Cam Reddish obviously hindered the team’s potential to make any kind of competitive push for the playoffs. But the question that will make or break the next decade of Hawks basketball is whether or not Trae Young’s numbers will translate to winning basketball. The first time all-star ranks fourth in points per game and second in assists, but comes in at 27th in win shares, first in turnovers per game, and 191st in defensive box plus minus out of 193 eligible players. The highlights make you yell into the infinite void of YouTube questioning as to how could the Hawks even be so bad, but he
doesn’t actively do the things that consistently win basketball games. I have no doubt that as Young and this core develops, the fundamentals will improve, and as the de facto leader of this team, changing his habits will have an immediate effect on the culture and future of the organization.
The Portland Trailblazers
Expected Win/Loss: 30-36
Vegas Over/Under Win Totals: 46.5
Coach: Terry Stotts
Superstars: Damian Lillard
All-Stars: Damian Lillard
Everyday I wake up and curse the basketball gods for taking the best point guard in the NBA shoving 21 single digit losses down his throat. It’s torture. We as the basketball-watching public have a right to at least one first round dagger from Damian Lillard every year for the remainder of his contract. This is the man’s point total between January 17th and February 21st: 34, 34, 61, 47, 50, 36, 48, 51. But the Blazers record in those eight games? A mediocre 5-3. There’s no way that the injuries to big men Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic (who average a combined 17-12-3) can have this detrimental effect to a team playing in the Western Conference finals a little more than a year ago. At least with the Bulls and Hawks there are clear and solvable issues that with proper management can be smoothed out over time, the Trail Blazers are just outright losing games and could be headed toward an ugly rebuild if they don’t become as competitive as the LA juggernauts with Lillard and his running mate CJ McCollum under contract.
At first glance, the Blazer have what appears to be an obvious playoff contender. An electric Batman-Robin combination, a big man averaging 16-14 in Hassan Whiteside, a good balance of rookies and veterans, and a Carmelo Anthony that has looked quite lively in his 50 games with the team. But what hurts the Blazers is what they lost in the 2019 offseason. Seth Curry is having a career year in Dallas, Enes Canter and Meyers Leonard provided much need frontline depth, and Mo Harkless is the classic three-and-D that every team seems to be looking for. Replacing these pieces with Whiteside, Melo, Rodney Hood and a series of rookies clearly didn’t do the tricks that GM and VP of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey had in mind. The longer you look at the roster, the uglier it gets. The cap situation they took by guaranteeing both Lillard and McCollum’s contracts (worth a combined $414 million) and the lack of high-end draft picks put Portland in the dangerous fork in the road between title contention and perennial mediocrity.