The NBA season is well and truly underway. In what promised to be the most openly contested season for close to a decade, we've seen teams take their expected places towards the top of the standings.
The Bucks, Rockets and Nuggets have maintained their status quo. We've seen the Lakers and Jazz make good on their expected ascendancies, not forgetting about the Clippers, who've held ground whilst they get their full roster together. We've also had a couple of teams expected to fall away in the Raptors and Celtics manage to stay in contention.
All in all, it's tight at the top of the NBA world right now.
That being said, it's not all sunshine and lollipops for some NBA franchises. Today, we're going to have a look at some of the teams that haven't lived up to expectation, or have managed to find a way to dig through rock bottom.
New Orleans Pelicans
When superstar Anthony Davis essentially quit on the team at last seasons trade deadline it looked like New Orleans was in for a long, painful rebuild. Years of 'win now' moves left the team bereft of assets and eventually cost longtime GM Dell Demps his job.
Sometimes, luck smiles upon you – the NBA Draft Lottery smiled upon the Pelicans.
In moving up to the #1 slot – and the rights to heralded rookie Zion Williamson - the Pels got a massive break, but the Lakers moving up to the #4 pick also gave LA the extra asset needed to swing the Davis deal. New Orleans was suddenly rebuilding with Zion, fellow 1st rounders Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, most of the young ex-Lakers core, and two-way star Jrue Holiday. Throw in veteran additions in Derrick Favors and JJ Redick, and the young but deep Pelicans were an outside chance of sneaking into the loaded Western Conference playoff picture.
So far, that hasn't really played out. Sitting at 3-9, the Pelicans are one of the worst teams in the NBA. Defensively they're getting steamrolled, giving up a league worst 121.7 points per game.
Of course, missing the gravity defying Williamson hurts. He tore up the NBA pre-season, before tearing up his meniscus the day before the season proper got underway.
The veterans haven't performed, either. Holiday is shooting under 40% from the floor for his 17 points per night and has clearly struggled with the responsibility of being the #1 option on offence. Favors has rebounded well, but is averaging only 9.1 points and half a block per contest. He's struggling with injury himself and it shows in his lack of lift. The veteran Redick is still an assassin from behind the arc, but is averaging his lowest totals since his Orlando days almost a decade ago. At age 35, he's clearly a rotation player at best.
Brandon Ingram has flourished, however. The former Great White Hope of the Lakers wilted in LeBron James' spotlight, but has stepped up to the tune of 25.9 points and 7.3 boards on career best percentages in the Big Easy.
But Despite Ingram's hot start, the team just isn't getting it done.
Adjustments at the defensive end and a belated Zion debut might steady the ship. It can't come soon enough.
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Many – this writer included – thought the Magic were good for an mid-seed Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The season has started poorly, though. Back-to-back wins against the Sixers and Spurs have the team sitting 5-7, tied with Brooklyn for the last playoff spot.
The reason for the tepid early season form is pretty clear: the Magic can't score. Currently, Orlando score 100.3 points per game, one tenth of a point ahead of the moribund Knicks (more on them later). That's actually a steep improvement on where there were even a week ago, averaging a tick over 93 ppg.
Practically all of their main contributors have dropped away on both scoring averages and efficiency. Nik Vucevic's stretch game, a revelation in recent seasons, has abandoned him. DJ Augustin is shooting 25% from deep, falling off a cliff from last years 41% mark. Markelle Fultz, his replacement in the starting five, isn't exactly a sniper from deep. It's a similar story for Terrence Ross (down 13%) and Aaron Gordon (down 6%). Evan Fournier continues to be his steady self, but too many of Orlando's players appear to have set high water marks in 2018/19 and can't match, let alone exceed those standards this season.
The defense, led by Jonathon Isaac, is league leading. Without some major improvements at the other end of the floor, that won't matter. Is there a trade coming from Orlando?