You can have the most talented team or solid, young core in any league, but if that group can’t put the pieces together at the right time, careful roster construction and player development are meaningless. A few teams are learning that the hard way in the NBA and NHL right now as they find themselves stuck in the middle of the standings.
Welcome to the Underachievers Club.
Philadelphia 76ers Points in the Paint: 47.1 PPG
Perhaps no game better represented the frustration surrounding Philadelphia’s lackluster performance this season than their 108-94 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday.
On paper, the Sixers should be one of the best, if not the best, paint-scoring teams in the league with the likes of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Al Horford on the roster. However, the Sixers’ plan to maximize their efficiency in the post flopped massively. They currently rank 19th in the league in paint points per game, sandwiched in between the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards, according to Team Rankings.
What’s even stranger is that only 43.2 percent of their points per game come from the paint, which ranks 13th in the NBA, according to NBA Stats. On the other hand, a mere 30.8 percent of Philly’s points are scored on three-pointers. Just nine teams amass fewer total points from deep.
Both of those marks speak to how poorly constructed and executed the Sixers’ offense is. While their inefficiency at that end of the floor was excusable at the beginning of the season because their team chemistry hadn’t solidified yet, it’s too late in the season for these issues to keep popping up. The playoffs are less than two months away, and Philadelphia still ranks 18th in offensive efficiency.
The Sixers can’t be blamed for disappointing trade acquisitions Josh Richardson, Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III. Those players should have helped to stretch the floor, and it’s unfortunate that they all hit cold streaks right when they arrived in the City of Brotherly Love. But the decision to sign Horford and Tobias Harris to massive contracts was questionable at the time and looks even worse now given how they have negatively impacted the Sixers’ scoring.
There is no easy solution for Philly. Anything less than a finals appearance will likely cost head coach Brett Brown his job, and whoever next year’s coach is will still have to deal with a frontcourt-heavy roster.
Sacramento Kings: 98.94 Pace
All the way on the opposite coast, the Kings have been another big dud. Granted, the expectations for them weren’t nearly as high as the Sixers’, but Sacramento’s stagnation in the Western Conference standings has been disheartening to say the least. The Kings figured to make a push for the eighth playoff spot after finishing ninth last year and returning much of their young core.
A team with De’Aaron Fox holding the reins shouldn’t rank 24th in the league in pace, but the Kings do. Fox is a crafty speed machine. Instead of chucking dumb shots from mid-range or from three, Fox charges full-steam ahead into the paint and sees where it takes him. It’s paid off too, Fox is averaging 6.7 free throw attempts per game, which is 14th-most in the league.
Even though Fox missed a chunk of the season with an injury, the Kings have played plenty of other small and athletic guards in his place. Buddy Hield is still averaging 19.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He’s also shooting almost 40 percent from deep. Cory Joseph and Kent Bazemore have logged a decent number of minutes as well.
In spite of that, the Kings still look sloppy and lethargic at times on both ends of the court. They’re often a step or two behind on defense and they struggle to mesh on offense.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of faulting the coach every time things don’t go right for a team with potential, but head coach Luke Walton certainly deserves some blame for what’s happened in Sacramento this year. Walton struggled to make the most out of what he had and to develop his young core players with the Los Angeles Lakers and is still struggling to do the same with the Kings.
Nashville Predators: 72 Points
Considering that the Predators won the Central Division the last two years and started the season with a well-rounded group of skaters, their current fourth-place rank and point total aren’t much to be impressed with. Nashville has scored only 72 points over its first 64 games, making it unlikely that they’ll hit the 100-point mark again. They may even fail to reach 94 points, which they have not done since 2014.
Ryan Johansen is one of the few Nashville players to play in every game thus far this season, but he hasn’t produced anywhere near as much this season as he did last season. Johansen has 34 points through 64 games. For comparison, he ended the 2019 regular season with 64 points in 80 games.
It doesn’t help that Viktor Arvidsson and Colton Sissons have each played in only 52 games either, as neither one has been as much of a factor this year when compared to last season.
Goalies Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne have both taken steps back in the cage. Saros is allowing 2.89 goals per game, compared to 2.42 last season, while Rinne is allowing 3.00 goals per game, compared to 2.62 last season.
Roman Josi and Nick Bonino have made big strides this year, but it might be for naught if the rest of their team doesn’t step up with them.