Is it Cold in Here? Worst Starts to the NBA Season

A couple weeks into 2021 and the NBA season is going strong. Kind of. Besides the rampant COVID-19 cases that are postponing games (unless you’re the Philadelphia 76ers). Still though, in some good news we have a couple guys that are starting off extremely hot in 2021. Lesser known guys like Christian Wood and Julius Randle have been on all-star trajectories, and high profile guys like Nikola Jokic and C.J. McCollum have upped their game to the next level. This article isn’t about them though. This article is about the opposite. These are the guys that have started ice cold, and how concerned you should be as a fan. 

 

Kelly Oubre Jr. 

Depending on how you look at it, this could be bad or good timing. Oubre just had one of his best games in a Golden State Warriors shirt, scoring 17 points on fairly efficient shooting. He went 3/7 from deep, which is a major improvement. Oubre’s total lack of 3-point shooting has really been his downfall this season. Cold doesn’t even begin to describe it. Not counting his latest game, he’s been a depressing 14% from range.

The worst part of that pathetic percentage is that he’s shot a LOT of threes. A redditor pointed out that the Warriors were 19th in 3-point percentage. If Oubre didn’t exist they would go all the way up to fourth. Oubre was a marquee pickup for the Warriors, a young two-way player that averaged 16.9 and 18.7 points per game in two years with Phoenix. Golden State paid a 1st and 2nd rounder for him, and he hasn’t lived up to his price so far. 

Concerned Rating: 6/10

Oubre is still a young guy, just 25 this year, and his years with the Suns weren’t fake. His 16.7 points per game over his two years prior were legit. He also can’t shoot worse than he is right now. Like it’s not really possible. He’s never been a marksman, but his career norm is over double what he’s hitting at currently. There is a lot of time and opportunity to blossom on this team lacking in scoring outside of Stephen Curry. Oubre has had a couple promising games as well. However it’s concerning how he’s started, and that he might have hit a wall in his development. His 3-point shooting may never develop into a true asset, and his free throw rate is down. If those can’t become weapons he may struggle to score consistently. 

 

Russell Westbrook

The mercurial star might be starting his descent off the cliff of good players. He’s always been a stat stuffer, and that’s continued in his first season as a Washington Wizard. He’s still averaging a triple double which has been the norm for him for five seasons. But his always inefficient scoring has taken another hit. He used to be good enough on high enough volume to still drop high 20’s a night. He’s dipped under that for the first time since he was 21.

His three point percentage has always been below average, but his ability to get to the rack and his decent two point percentage kept his scoring at an acceptable clip. He seems to have lost that so far this season and he’s been unable to supplement Bradley Beal’s scoring. His defense hasn’t been anything to write home about either. The Wizards are still the worst defensive team in the league with him. Worse, the Wizards have been better without him in a limited sample size. They are 1-7 with Westbrook and 2-2 without him. 

Concerned Rating: 8/10

If Westbrook has lost a step like it looks right now that’s a major problem. His game was so predicated on athleticism to score, and without that he’s a poor shooter that makes a lot of poor decisions. He can still rebound and pass with the best of them. But without his trademark slashing his value as a player goes down a lot. The lack of defense also isn’t helping his case. Westbrook isn’t a young guy anymore, and time is always undefeated. The decline was inevitable, and his decline was more than likely going to be fast and devastating. This may be the beginning of the end for the 32 year old.

 

J.J. Redick

Redick has always been a valuable floor spacer and three point sniper. He’s been a steady 15+ point scorer and one of the best three point shooters in the league for years. This year, outside of his first game and his latest game, he’s been ice cold from deep. He had a run of seven straight games where he made one singular field goal per game. He’s shooting a dismal .295 from three. Redick has been a pesky defender at times, but he’s never been amazing at it. His 3-point ability was his money making attribute, and without it his value is honestly near zero. His player efficiency rating (PER) is 5.7, third worst in the whole league. He’s always been a solid contributor in offensive box plus/minus (OBPM), generally in the top half. This year he is at a dismal -4.3, fifth worst. 

Concerned Rating 3/10

It’s hard to believe Redick’s shooting ability has suddenly fallen off this badly. He’s down nearly 16% from 3-point range from last year, 12% from his career average. There’s just no way he’s completely come apart from range so suddenly.  He’s still had some decent games (well two to be exact) and while his role has scaled back that’s most likely because his game has hit a slump. Redick is older and on the downside of his career, but this sharp of a decline doesn’t usually happen to his type of player. A bounce back is coming for Redick. It can’t come soon enough for the New Orleans Pelicans, who desperately need this spacing to make it out of a brutal Western Conference. 

 

Buddy Hield

For another sharpshooter that’s in a slump, we have Sacramento’s own Buddy Hield. The Kings started out alright, better than expected even. Besides a clutch game winner in the first game of the season, Hield hasn’t really been a part of that. De’Aaron Fox has been his usual solid self, Harrison Barnes has been a pleasant surprise and rookie Tyrese Haliburton has been a revelation. Hield on the other hand is scoring around five points less and he’s doing it much less efficiently than normal.

Like Redick he’s been one of the league’s best shooters for years, but his percentages have taken a dip. He’s gone from near the top to league average from three. For a guy who’s only marketable skill set is scoring, it’s not enough. His overall field goal percentage of 36.2% is bottom three in the league for qualifying members. He’s also near the bottom of the league in defensive box plus/minus and defensive rating. If Hield isn’t hitting shots, he’s not doing much else. 

Concerned Rating: 6/10

Hield was old for a rookie, but he isn’t that old either. It’s too soon for a decline like this. His shooting, especially his 3-point shooting is way too far below his career average to stay where it’s at. He did just have a good game a few days ago, going 6/11 from deep. Where the concern comes in is that he is what he is. He’s already 28, and he hasn’t changed his game much at all. He’s a good shooter, a minus defender and doesn’t make plays for others. There’s just not a ton of growth on Hield’s part. Hield’s slump could also be explained by the fact that he has been fairly public about wanting out of Sacramento. A new team with a new attitude might have him playing up to his usual abilities. 

 

Norman Powell

It’s been cold for all of Toronto to start the year. The Toronto Raptors played above the sum of their parts last season, which is generally their style. They might not have the biggest names, but they get great contributions out of a lot of players and good coaching. However this season that style might finally be at the end of it’s rope. Perhaps they are all just slumping at the same time. Last year’s breakout star in Pascal Siakam is turning his game around after an atrocious start to the year, and Chris Boucher might be making good on his potential. 

However another player that they expected to get a lot out of but haven’t so far is Norman Powell. He was a role player for years to start his career, but last year finally blossomed into a proper sixth man. He scored 16 points per game on very efficient splits. This year has been much worse. Unlike the two guys discussed above, his 3-point shooting has actually been fine. It’s everything else that has fallen off massively. He’s currently shooting a very ugly 37% from the field, mostly because he’s somehow forgotten how to make layups. He’s shooting just 38% on what is supposed to be the most efficient shot in basketball besides the dunk. His atrocious mid range game is also not helping. He’s somehow even colder from there, shooting just 2/17. 

Concerned Rating: 5/10

Powell will no doubt improve his shooting. That low of a percentage on layups for a whole season isn’t really something that happens very often. But can Powell be the guy the Raptors thought he would be? Or was 2020 just a fluke? Right now we only have one season out of five that shows Powell as a capable high volume scorer. Then again, the whole Raptors team is in a rut right now, when they figure it perhaps Powell rounds back into form. Still, Powell has a lot to prove if he doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder

 

(Dis)Honorable Mentions

Ricky Rubio has had a few seasons in a row as a capable floor general, but is struggling to find a role on the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s playing the lowest minutes of his career.

Derrick Rose may finally be done. He had an incredible career revival in his thirties as one of the best sixth men in the league. This year he’s struggled immensely. Although the Detroit Pistons in general have as well, Rose is not a spring chicken anymore. The end may be nigh for Rose. 

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