The NBA is a star-driven league where the players on winning teams get the most nationally televised games, most promotions, and usually the biggest salaries. The 2015-2016 regular season felt like the season of winning. Largely highlighted by the record breaking Golden State Warriors who went 73-9 during the regular season, but they weren’t the only team dominating their conferences. Between the top two teams in each conference (Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors) they posted a remarkable combined record of 253-75. With teams dominating and winning at such a frequent rate, there are bound to be teams that took a large amount of losses during the NBA season. And since there can only be so many players on those top teams, there happens to be a lot of star NBA talent playing on some of those losing teams.
The national media loves superstars on great teams, hence why you can’t watch an episode of Sports Center without seeing a feature on Lebron James or Stephen Curry, but what about the guys in Minnesota or Utah who are highly productive on a nightly basis and still fail to get their fair share of the limelight.
I agree that the overall judgement on an NBA player should be if they are a winner or not, but hopefully we can all agree that there are players in the NBA who are good enough to be considered a winner and unfortunately just don’t have the teammates around them to do so. Because of this, I created a list to highlight these players and hopefully bring them some justice and recognition for their stardom on their less than ideal teams.
Here are the Top 15 NBA Stars Stuck on a Bad Team.
15. Karl-Anthony Towns
The 6’11 rookie from Kentucky did not disappoint Minnesota basketball fans during his first season as he collected the NBA Rookie of the Year award by averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks. Averaging those numbers would be less impressive if Towns was on a team filled with no name players, but Towns just so happens to be on the same team as the guy who received the NBA Rookie of the Year award the year prior (Andrew Wiggins). The problem with the Timberwolves isn’t that they are untalented; the problem is that they are still very young and haven’t yet figured out how to win. Hopefully the newly named president of basketball operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau can get the young talent of the Wolves to play together similar to how he did in Chicago a few seasons ago. There is no reason for a team to have as much talent as Towns and Wiggins do to finish a regular season with a 29-53 record.
14. Marc Gasol
It was hard watching Gasol have to miss so many games for the Memphis Grizzlies this season. Before Gasol’s right foot injury that caused him to miss the last 20+ games of the season, he was averaging 16.6 points and 7 rebounds a game. Not bad for someone who was clearly dealing with some discomfort. Gasol’s talent is often overlooked due to his lack of flashy plays, and the fact that he plays next to another pretty talented big man named Zach Randolph every night. Gasol is 31 years old and is surely hoping to contend for a championship at least once before he retires. Luckily for the Grizzlies, Gasol has a few more years left on the contract he signed in 2015 for 5yrs/$110 million, but the Grizzlies organization will need to find a way to surround their star big man with more talent if they hope to ever make it back to the top of the Western Conference.
13. Eric Bledsoe
It’s easy to overlook or even forget about Eric Bledsoe being a star in the NBA, but any Phoenix Suns fan can assure you that Bledsoe is a legit player. He only was able to play 31 games this season due to a knee injury that required surgery, but during those 31 games, he managed 20.4 points, 6.1 assists, and 4 rebounds. Not bad for the guy who fans often call “the mini Lebron.”
The Suns’ roster for the most part looked like a team of random players thrown together, but if Bledsoe can get healthy and can find a way to play well together with young Suns’ guard Devin Booker, they might be able to get out of the bottom of the Western Conference sooner than later.
12. Nikola Vucevic
With all of the talk about some of the young dominant centers in the NBA, names like Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, and Demarcus Cousins are thrown around quite often, but rarely does the name Nikola Vucevic get mentioned. At only 25 years old, Vucevic is a top 5 center in the Eastern Conference. During the 2015-2016 season, he averaged 18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. The Orlando Magic finished 35-47 this season, but the franchise does have some nice pieces to work with moving forward. Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon and company are all young and athletic players who surround the Magic’s big man nicely. Next season the Magic will be led by former Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, who is sure to bring a defensive minded effort and a history of winning to this franchise.
11. Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Greek Freak is a frequent guest on Sports Center’s top 10 plays segment, but rarely are the Milwaukee Bucks talked about when mentioning teams worth watching in the NBA. Antekounmpo’s skillsets are still being refined, however his raw potential is undeniable. Standing 6’11 and with enough ball handling skills to bring the ball up the court for the Bucks, he creates a matchup nightmare, especially in the open court. The 21-year-old forward has not yet proven the ability to shoot the basketball from distance, and he has been known to be somewhat of a hot head, but when your team is losing to the tune of 33 wins and 49 losses, who can blame him?
The Bucks have some good young pieces, but it became apparent last season that the Bucks have too many talented players all playing the same position. Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Kris Middleton all play the same forward position. It remains to be seen how the Bucks will build their roster moving forward, but Antetokounmpo is sure to be in the center of it.
10. Julius Randle
Looking past the Kobe Bryant farewell tour and the Lakers’ terrible 15-65 record, the Lakers’ brightest spot this year was the play of Julius Randle. This season Randle was a guaranteed double-double machine. Averaging 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds on a completely guard driven team that was being subjected to 10-12 ill advised Kobe shots a night is pretty impressive. With Bryant gone, the Lakers should consider running more offensive sets through Randle next season. At this stage in his career he is very similar to Memphis’ Zach Randolph in the fact that he is a strong lefty. However, he is quicker than Randolph and his spin move in the paint is devastating. If Randle can develop a mid-range jump shot and learn to play well with young Lakers’ guard D’angelo Russell as well as with the Lakers #2 draft pick in this year’s NBA Draft (which is sure to be Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons) the Lakers’ rebuild might not take as long as originally expected.
9. Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins was the NBA’s rookie of the year two seasons ago and his new teammate Karl Anthony Towns won the same award this season, so needless to say, the Timberwolves are in great shape moving forward. Combine a team of young talent and match them with a proven winning NBA coach in Tom Thibodeau and the Wolves appear to have a great recipe for success.
Wiggins and the Wolves didn’t get much national coverage this season, and with a 29-53 record, they probably didn’t deserve it. Maybe not next year, but going forward the Wolves have a chance to be a serious force in the West, especially with Wiggins leading the charge.
Wiggins’s 2015 Stats: 20.7 points, 2 assist, and 3.6 rebounds per game.
8. Gordon Hayward
The Utah Jazz are definitely an up and coming team with a lot of young talent. Rudy Golbert is a monster, Rodney Hood flew under the radar and had a phenomenal rookie year, and of course Gordon Hayward is around to do his thing. The Jazz just missed this year’s playoffs and finished with the 9th seed in the West with a 40-42 record, but the rest of the West should be well aware that the Jazz mean business.
In regards to Hayward, he quietly has become one of the better two way guard/forwards in the NBA. This season he averaged 19.7 points, 3.7 assists, and 5 rebounds a game. At only 26 years old, he will be around for quite some time to bring his storied franchise back to life.
7. Jimmy Butler
The Chicago Bulls had some untimely minor injuries to Derrick Rose, Nikola Mirotic, and even Jimmy Butler, but the major loss this season for the Bulls was the loss of Joakim Noah due to a right shoulder injury that required surgery. Noah brought the Bulls leadership and passion, two things they had been sorely missing without him.
Jimmy Butler has proven himself to be a real NBA star. He is great on defense and is a consistent 20 point scorer. However his leadership style has come into question over the last two seasons. Butting heads with Rose for the top position in Chicago has not boded well for the Bulls organization. The team will need to secure some young talent in the draft as well as a proven veteran in free agency if they hope to be competitive next season.
Butler averaged 20.9 points, 4.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game this season.
6. Brook Lopez
Remember when the Brooklyn Nets looked like such a promising franchise that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett left the Boston Celtics to chase a NBA championship with Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, and Deron Williams? That seems like a long time ago now. This season the Nets looked like a team of misfits all centered around one abnormally large mid-range shooting center. The Nets’ awful record of 21-61 was the third worst record in the NBA and it became apparent that the they had no desire to accumulate too many wins as they began to sit Lopez at the end of the season. His team may suck, but Lopez is a true NBA star center. At 7’0″ he has never been a great rebounder, only averaging 7.8 per game, but he makes up for it with his points (20.6) and blocks (1.7) every night. The Nets seem to be going nowhere fast, and if they don’t wise up they could eventually lose their biggest and best asset.
5. John Wall
The Wizards were another team that was projected to do well in the watered down Eastern Conference, and with the Chicago Bulls having an awful season it seemed like this could be the year when they made a run at the Eastern Conference finals. Wall was phenomenal again this season, but he was unable to do it all by himself, and without his running mate Bradley Beal, who missed a significant amount of games with injury, the Wizards were unable to gain much positive momentum.
Rotoworld provided this quote from Beal after the season: “As far as us two together it wasn’t anything unusual. There was no beef or anything like that,” Beal said of his relationship with Wall. “We just didn’t play as well as we were supposed to. I think sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we tried to overdo it especially if one’s not playing and the other one is. There’s a lot of things that factor into it. Overall, it’s no excuse. We both should’ve had a better year than we had.”
The average season for the Wizards (41-41) was disappointing, but the Wizards are not destined to stay down. With Beal healthy next season, and if Wall continues to build on his already impressive NBA career, there is no reason that the Wizards couldn’t make a strong comeback next season.
Wall averaged 19.9 points, 10.2 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game this season.
4. James Harden
The Rockets may have made the playoffs, but any serious NBA critic could watch them play and know that they were pretenders and not contenders from day one. Looking at the Rockets’ roster on paper, the team looked ready to compete for a Western Conference championship, but the chemistry of the team never quite clicked. James Harden is a stud, and truly had a great offensive season, but despite averaging ridiculous numbers this season (29 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.1 rebounds), his defense was atrocious and he was unable to lead and motivate his supporting cast of very capable players like Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, and Josh Smith. The result: a 41-41 record and people questioning Harden as a leader.
3. Demarcus Cousins
It is somewhat of a mystery as to why the Sacramento Kings were so bad this season. Their 33-49 record was a poor reflection of the talent that was on the team’s roster. With the league’s best center and Rajon Rondo and Rudy Gay, it is hard to understand what went wrong this season. One likely explanation for the team’s sporadic play is the friction between Demarcus Cousins and the team’s front office and coaches. Hopefully newly appointed head coach David Joerger (previous head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies) will find a way to motivate his team to a more successful 2016-2017 season. It must be nice to inherit a team with a center who averaged 26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game the previous season.
2. Carmelo Anthony
It’s hard to feel bad for Anthony and his career that is filled with under performing and losing teams. Anthony has had chances to play with other superstars, but has repeatedly turned such offers down. Most recently he had the opportunity to play with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler in Chicago, but he turned that down for more money in New York. Anthony and the Knicks, however, did gain some good fortune with the drafting of Kristaps Porzingas in the 2015 draft. Porzingas looks to be a future star in the NBA, but Anthony is already 32 years old and needs to win now. He is still productive, averaging 21.8 points, 4.2 assists, and 7.7 rebounds per game this season, but the Knicks need to get him some help fast. If not, he will join the likes of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and the many others who never quite could do enough to win a ring.
1. Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis is the best power forward in the NBA. His numbers speak for themselves. 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks a game make him one of the most productive players in the NBA. Unfortunately for Davis, his team highly under performed this season compared to the New Orleans Pelican’s pre-season rankings (many experts expected the Pelicans to at least finish in the top 8 teams in the West and make the playoffs). With a 30-52 record this season, the Pelicans finished 12th in the West, which helped them land the 6th pick in the 2016 NBA draft. Davis’ 2015-2016 teammates were a bunch of guys who at one time showed promise in the NBA, but whose careers have for the most part fallen flat. Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Kendrick Perkins, and the list goes on. The Pelicans are lucky to have such a talent as Davis and they would be wise to use this summer’s free agency and draft to build a better supporting roster for him to lead.
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