Over the next four days, I’ll be writing on what I call my Expectation Series — a four-part set of rankings for the following: most disappointing teams, most surprising teams, most disappointing players, and most surprising players.
So far I’ve reviewed the bests and the worsts of the alarming teams from this season. But it’s important, too, that I take a look at the individual productions that have crippled team’s performances. While these teams have had marginal success despite unsatisfactory efforts by key players, their underperformance may play an appreciable role come playoff time. With that, here’s my top-five disappointing players.
No. 5 — Ron Artest
Ron Artest has experienced a significant reduction in his offensive output. In fact, he has lost six points off his per-game scoring average. That said, he’s also taking six fewer shots a game. And, to be honest, it’s reasonable. Going from the second offensive option in Houston behind Yao Ming (excluding Tracy McGrady, who missed most of the season with injuries) to the fourth (or fifth, if you prioritize Lamar Odom off the bench) option on a stacked Lakers team is a legitimate justification for putting up fewer shots. However, his offense isn’t the problem.
Artest has long been known as one of the premiere perimeter defenders in entire league. Unfortunately, his effort on that end of the ball has not been there as much this season, and he’s starting to lose his reputation. Opposing small forwards are no longer wetting their pants in anticipation of being matched up with Ron Artest. Chalk it up to his age or just his unwillingness to play as hard as part of a much more talented roster than he’s ever seen, but he’s not doing what Mitch Kupchak brought him in to do. Perhaps keeping Trevor Ariza would have been the better play for L.A. At least they haven’t had to deal with any of his attitudinal issues, though.
No. 4 — Richard Jefferson
When I wrote about the Spurs a few days ago, I mentioned that the acquisition of Jefferson hadn’t really panned out for the team as they expected. He has lost over seven points a game compared to last year in Milwaukee. While he, too, experienced a downgrade in offensive priority, his case is more troubling than Artest’s. He isn’t known as a defensive standout, so it is his responsibility to get on the scoreboard to help his team win. With the various injuries San Antonio has had, it is imperative that RJ increase his offensive output for the playoffs to keep them alive.
No. 3 — Josh Howard
What an awful year for a player that was well above average in the league. Howard is scoring nearly six fewer points a game this season, and he is shooting only 40 percent from the field and a staggeringly low 27 percent from long range; this inability to score has led to nearly a five-point drop in PER from last year. His failure to contribute on the hard wood coupled with his off-the-court issues and attitude problems led to his midseason ouster from Dallas to the Wizards in exchange for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. Now he is stuck on the Wizards, and they’re going nowhere fast. He has a potential out with an $11.8 million team option for 2010-2011, and I have to assume Washington will not exercise it given his horrid play this season. Let’s hope he can reestablish his name somewhere else next season for a lower sum of money he actually deserves.
No. 2 — Rasheed Wallace
If you want to talk about a bad influence, look no further. Well, actually, you should look further. Go read Bill Simmons’s column on the infectious Wallace and how badly he has hindered the Celtics this season. The big man who was supposed to be the boost to get the Celtics one more ring in the Big Three era has utterly failed to do so. Sheed is scoring only nine points a game on 40 percent shooting and ghastly 28 percent from three-point territory. The one bright spot? Coach Doc Rivers has realized he should only play the guy about 20 minutes a game to avoid total annihilation. But Sheed’s parasitic effect goes beyond his horrible shot selection and lack of scoring. He’s completely unathletic at this point, limiting his once stellar defense. He’s incredibly insubordinate. He can’t control his temper, which may cost the Celtics valuable points off leads from technical free throws in the playoffs. Rasheed Wallace has done exactly the opposite of what the team brought him in to do. And to think: I wanted Doc to start him over Kendrick Perkins at center before the season started.
No. 1 — Hedo Turkoglu
Hedo Turkoglu trumps the rest because of the way he will siphon the Raptors’ money for the next four (maybe five) seasons undeservedly so. He is guaranteed $41 million over the next four years, and he as a $12 million player option for a fifth year in Toronto. Quite frankly, that money would be better spent researching ways to bring Wilt Chamberlain back from the dead and forcing him to play for the team. It’s evident Hedo turned on his game in his final years in Orlando to net a good contract, and now that he is financially secure, he doesn’t give a damn anymore. He has lost five points off his per-game scoring rate from an also-subpar 2009-2010 season, and he no longer hits big shots at the end of games — his trademark quality in the playoffs in Orlando, where they had no other big-shot guy. It goes to show how a a tapped crop of free agents like the one prior to this season can really screw teams over when they have to overpay players like Turkoglu to hope to be competitive.
Look back tomorrow for the five most positive individual surprises of the season.