The NBA can point to plenty of positive surprises to start the NBA season — the Dallas Mavericks are 5-1 with Luka Doncic playing like an MVP, while the Orlando Magic are 4-2 and are racking up some quality wins. Two teams with potential living up to it early on. There are players making a leap this season as well, such as Tyrese Maxey in Philadelphia averaging 26.2 points per game.
Then there are the teams and players that have disappointed to start the season, the ones that have us concerned about their future. Here are my three biggest disappointments to start the season.
Everyone knew there would be struggles to start the season with Ja Morant serving a 25-game suspension, but an 0-6 start to the season — with losses to beatable teams such as Washington, Utah, and Portland — raises red flags.
Memphis picked up its first win on Sunday — taking the second game of a two-game set against the struggling Trail Blazers — which improved them to 1-6 on the season, and some of the things that went right in that win help explain why this team has dug itself a hole to open the season.
First, Bismack Biyombo started at center Sunday. Memphis just signed the journeyman big man who was not on an NBA roster to start the season, but for the Grizzlies he's an upgrade at the five with Steven Adams out for the season following knee surgery and Brandon Clarke still recovering from a torn Achilles. Xavier Tillman just could not fill the role the Grizzlies needed. Having a solid center allows Jaren Jackson Jr. to return to the four, where he thrives as a roamer defensively (it's how he won Defensive Player of the Year). Also, Santi Aldama returned from injury and came off the bench, adding more front line depth.
Depth has been the primary issue for the Grizzlies to start the season. For the first six games, the trio of Marcus Smart, Desmond Bane and Jackson were the only three people on the roster who looked like solid NBA rotation players. Players the Grizzlies drafted, developed and expected to step up — Ziaire Williams, David Roddy, Tillman — did not handle the added responsibility well. Meanwhile, Luke Kennard has been injured, missed three games, and just found his groove on Sunday. Derrick Rose has looked like the guy who couldn't stay in Tom Thibodeau's rotation last season in New York and is now dealing with swelling in his knee.
Morant doesn't return until the second half of December and if Memphis can't right the ship in the coming weeks their season may be lost before he steps on the court.
2) Julius Randle
An All-NBA player last season, Randle is off to a historically bad shooting start this season for New York.
Julius Randle this season:
On 27/23/62% shooting splits. https://t.co/w9hKHmZBmG
— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 4, 2023
You read that right: 27.1% shooting overall, 22.5% from 3, and a 37 True Shooting percentage. Right now the Knicks are winning games in spite of Randle.
"I'm just not in rhythm," Randle said, via Fred Katz of The Athletic. "Not in rhythm, everything just seems a little bit off, you just start pressing a little bit, but like I said, I've just gotta stay with it. Keep working.”
call this a shooting slump to start the season, but Randle has disappointed on both ends of the court.
— BrickMuse (@BrickMuse) November 4, 2023
It's early, but if Randle doesn't turn things around New York will struggle to live up to last season's standards (and it gets harder to put Randle in a trade for a superstar if/when one becomes available).
3) Miami Heat
There were a few teams that could have gone in this third slot. The Milwaukee Bucks may be 3-2 but have a negative net rating (-4.4), have looked clunky on offense and their defense just found itself in their last game. Cleveland at 3-4 is a disappointment so far to those of us high on them before the season, but with Darius Garland back they looked more like what was expected on Sunday. The Lakers are 3-3 and all that depth is not showing out around LeBron James, which is a let down.
However, the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat get the nod.
The Heat are off to a 2-4 start, which is concerning, although maybe not as concerning as their Heat Culture court.
The lane of the Heat’s new culture court. pic.twitter.com/qVrG5PAqPV
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) November 5, 2023
It's easy to shrug off Miami's slow start because it always begins the season slowly and finishes it strong — the Heat started last season 2-5, were the seventh seed, and trailed with three minutes to go to the Bulls in the final play-in game before their run to the Finals kicked into gear. Bet against Miami at your own risk.
That said, something about this season feels different.
This year's Heat are struggling on offense — again, just like last season — despite the Tyler Herro revenge tour. He averaged 25.8 points a night and is shooting 45.1% on 8.5 3-pointers a game. Gone are Max Strus — who is lighting it up in Cleveland — and Gabe Vincent, two players the Heat leaned on in the playoffs. Caleb Martin has played just one game due to injury. While Duncan Robinson is back, this is not a deep Heat team.
Nobody sane is writing off Miami this early in the season, but in an East where Boston looks dominant early and Milwaukee is starting to figure out how to make the Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard pairing work, the Heat's climb to the top looks far more daunting than it did a season ago.