Tonight is the last night of the NBA’s regular season, and what a season it was. Cleveland went through crazy drama and change, the Warriors finally had some adversity, Houston became a juggernaut, Philadelphia arrived faster than people thought, and Toronto’s bench became unstoppable. It was a season full of great storylines, but not all of them were great. Some teams underperformed this year due to injuries, inconsistency, and poor execution. Here are the three teams that underperformed the most this year.
1. Charlotte Hornets
For the second season in a row, the Hornets finished with a record of 36-46. Most experts thought the addition of Dwight Howard would make them a playoff contender like they were two years ago. Charlotte was projected for 44 wins by Kevin Pelton of ESPN RPM’s projection. Eight wins short of that is one of the most significant drop-offs of all the teams between their actual record and RPM protection. It is even more disappointing since Charlotte was once considered a playoff team. A lot of factors went into Charlotte underperforming. First, Nicholas Batum hurt his elbow in the preseason and missed the first six weeks of the season. Even when he came back, he was never the same. His passing was still great, but he lost his shot, and his defense suffered. Second, there was the injury to Cody Zeller, Charlotte’s glue guy, leaving the Hornets thin up front. MKG, Frank Kaminsky, and Treveon Graham missed some time as well.
However, it wasn’t just injuries. Charlotte underperformed on defense, which was supposed to be a strength. They finished 18th in defense and had hoped to be a top 10 defensive team. Their luck in close games continued to fail them, as the Hornets showed they could not win a close game if their life depended on it. The offense was solid but too often inconsistent. It was usually just Kemba Walker or bust. Dwight Howard was good for the Hornets, but not good enough to make up for all the other problems on the team.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies have made the playoffs for the last seven years, and even though a lot of people (including me) thought they wouldn’t make it this year, no one saw them being this bad. If the Grizzlies lose tonight at OKC, they will finish with a record of 23-59, making them one of the worst teams in the league. RPM projected the Grizzlies for 34 wins so that the Grizzlies will finish 11 wins short of their projection. Memphis started the season 7-4, with wins over the Rockets and Warriors, and appeared to be a playoff team.
Instead, Mike Conley got hurt, and their season collapsed. That’s a significant loss, but it shouldn’t have made the Grizzlies an embarrassment. Memphis also shut down Tyreke Evans, who was playing great basketball and didn’t even trade him. They started tanking by also shutting down Chandler Parsons and playing lineups that had no chance of winning. Maybe tanking was the right move for the franchise, but the Grizzlies had too many self-inflicted moves that made them unwatchable. That alone makes them one of the most disappointing teams of the season.
3. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks are similar to Grizzlies in many ways. I didn’t think they would be a playoff team, but I thought they would be respectable and a little better than people thought. They had Nerlens Noel, some good veterans in J.J Barea, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, and Harrison Barnes, plus they added a stud rookie in Dennis Smith Jr. Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the league. RPM projected the Mavericks for 34 wins, and the Mavericks would fall 10 wins short of that with a record of 24-58.
A lot happened here. The Mavericks battle every night, but they can’t close games. Carlisle also gave up on Nerlens Noel way too early, and he was a player who could have helped them win games. There were injuries to rookie Dennis Smith, and Seth Curry missed the season, but they were relatively healthy. Down the stretch, they shut down a lot of veterans, brought in G-league call-ups, and essentially tanked. Again, like Memphis, you can argue that is the right move, but they should have been better before they needed to tank. The talent was there; they just gave up on themselves too many nights.