One of the great virtues of the NBA’s annual All-Star break is that it allows NBA pundits, fans and players alike to step back, take a deep breath and properly assess the first two thirds of the season.
While All-Star weekend itself tends to be about celebrating the best of basketball, part of the fun of this interruption in normal programming can also be to take a look at the opposite end of the spectrum. More specifically, we’re interested in the teams and players which haven’t quite lived up to expectations after three months of basketball.
By now each franchise in the league has now played more than 50 games in 2019-20, which is more than enough of a sample size for us to make some pretty definitive conclusions about certain players who aren’t performing to the levels that they – or their respective teams – would like.
Without further ado, and in no particular order here are five NBA players who desperately need to improve their performance in the post-All-Star period.
Mike Conley – Utah Jazz
13.5 PTS 3.2 TRB 4.2 AST
While there’s still plenty of time for it to turn around, we think it’s fair to say the Conley experiment in Utah hasn’t exactly worked out how either party would have liked.
It’s never exactly a good sign when a team looks better without the guy they’re paying $32 million per year to be there, which is exactly what happened in Salt Lake City throughout December and January when Conley missed 19 games due to a hamstring injury. In his stead, the Jazz went 15-4 and skyrocketed up the Western Conference rankings after starting the season in less-than impressive fashion.
The blame for that poor start certainly can’t be put solely on Conley’s shoulders, but it is significant that a guy that averaged 21.1 points (a career-high), 3.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists last season has slumped in all three categories. Even more concerning is the fact that the 32-year-old point guard is shooting just 36% from three and 39% from the floor.
The eye-test, though, is where Jazz fans are most worried. The addition of Conley from Memphis in the offseason was meant to tip Utah over the edge in to legitimate championship contention. Instead – so far this season at least – they’ve been a noticeably worse team with him on the floor.
Statistics – like the fact that in the stretch Conley missed the Jazz went from one of the worst defending teams in the league to the best according to net rating – are one thing, but it’s arguably more important that a guy like Joe Ingles can look so lost when lined up next to Conley and like a potential All-Star without him.
Conley has averaged 20 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 50% from three in his four games before the All-Star break, so all hope is not lost.
Victor Oladipo – Indiana Pacers
11.0 PTS 2.0 TRB 2.0 AST
Big things were expected out of the Pacers after Oladipo’s return from a freak quadricep injury.
Instead, he’s putting up career-low numbers across the board and Indiana have won just two of eight games in that span.
Now, there’s no doubt whatsoever that some leeway is owed to Oladipo, largely because his injury was as freakish as they come. However, the Pacers built themselves in to a shock Eastern Conference contender in his absence and it’s been striking how discombobulated they’ve been since he’s come back in to the lineup.
The main concern has been Oladipo’s shooting, with the former All-Star going at just 32.9% from the floor and 24.1% from three – numbers symptomatic of a guy struggling to get his legs back beneath him. The Pacers currently sit 32-23 – sixth in the East. Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis have been spectacular, but it’s Oladipo this team needs fit and firing if they’re to make a playoff run.
Al Horford – Philadelphia 76ers
12.0 PTS 6.7 TRB 3.9 AST
Eyebrows were raised across the league when the 76ers signed Horford to a four-year, $97 million deal in free agency last summer.
After the 33-year-old centre was benched last week in favour of Furkan Korkmaz, those doubts look entirely justified. The last time Horford averaged less than 12.9 points per game the year was 2009, his 6.7 rebounds are an equal career-low, he’s shooting just 33% from three and stats when he’s lined up next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are mind-bogglingly-bad. We’re talking sub-100 points per 100 possessions on offense.
The decision by coach Brett Brown to bench Horford was arguably long overdue, and it paid off immediately with a big win over the fancied Clippers.
This is not the two-way monster the Sixers thought they were getting when they lured him away from the Celtics. Horford’s inability to space the floor with reliable three-point shooting has been a glaring deficiency in the Philadelphia offense, and at the moment there’s simply no doubt that either Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle or Glenn Robinson III are the better options as the final starter.
Do any of those three sound like they’re starting-calibre players on a championship team? No. The Sixers desperately need a lift from Horford, otherwise they’re destined for another year in basketball purgatory.
Eric Gordon – Houston Rockets
15.3 PTS 2.0 TRB 1.5 AST
Even the best shooters go through form slumps, but this particular stretch of horrific shooting from Gordon is now officially concern for the Rockets.
The 31-year-old sharpshooter signed a four-year, $75.6 million deal in September of last year, and so far has failed spectacularly to live up to any part of it. While his points, rebounds and assists this season look relatively similar to past production, the mark of 33% shooting from three on nearly nine shots per game is… not good. It’s easily Gordon’s worst shooting record since 2012-13, and for context he’s been around the 36% mark for much of the last six years.
Perhaps most illustrative of how pronounced this slump has become is that Gordon’s current true shooting percentage – 51.7% – is comfortably the worst of his career; not a good sign for a guy whose game is built around the long ball.
Again, though, there are excuses. Gordon was sidelined for a significant amount of time with a right knee injury early in the season and has shown signs of life since returning; the most obvious being a 50-point explosion against the Jazz in Utah in a game both James Harden and Russell Westbrook did not play.
The way the Rockets are built – essentially in the image of James Harden – they desperately need guys on the floor who can hit open threes, particularly those from the corner. At the moment Gordon is shooting just 24% from the corner. That can’t continue, otherwise this Houston team is in trouble.
Marvin Bagley III
14.2 PTS 7.5 TRB 0.8 AST
This was meant to be the year that Bagley – and the Kings took the leap in to NBA stardom, instead they’ve stagnated on both fronts.
The worry when the Kings drafted Bagley with the second overall pick in the 2018 draft was that he would forever be in the shadow of two players picked after him; Luka Doncic and Trae Young. Granted, we’ve only seen one and a half seasons of evidence, but that is now looking like a legitimate concern which might plague Bagley’s career.
Bagley is as talented as they come. He’s a sweet-shooting, quick-moving big-man with all the physical tools, but the fact that he’s only played 75 career games due to repetitive injuries, and that even when he’s on the floor he can look completely lost, should now be starting to give Sacramento some pause for thought.
The usual excuses apply. Bagley has only played 13 games this season due to first picking up a broken right thumb in the Kings’ season opener, and then picking up a niggling left-foot sprain in late December.
According to the Kings, their sophomore center will be re-evaluated after the All-Star break, but several sources have claimed there’s a chance he could miss the remainder of the season. That would be an unmitigated disaster for a team that thought they had playoff aspirations, and instead sit 13th in the West with a 21-33 record.
Bagley needs to find a way to get on the floor and help his team, it’s as simple as that.
Written and produced by SportsTips.com
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