Today, with the ubiquity of social media, with professional athletics more lucrative than ever, professional athletes face a daunting amount of pressure year in and year out. The pressure to succeed, that is, comes from all angles and a variety of sources. Bottom line: fans and the media expect professional athletes to deliver—or else. What might that “or else” be? Professional athletes who have underwhelmed know too well the ignominy of failure and the attendant obloquy. The amazing thing about today’s athletes, however, is that they handle this growing pressure commendably and with more poise than armchair jocks ever could.
For whatever reason, the NBA is a league where players face a great deal of pressure. Perhaps it is because of the relatively small size of rosters compared to other professional sports, and the ability for star players to influence games more than players in other sports? In any case, every game in the NBA, especially for the league’s “superstars,” is a pressure-packed affair. For example, every shot Lebron James takes seems to incite fans’ and analysts’ favorable or unfavorable comparisons to Michael Jordan. How does he manage not to fold? He deserves more appreciation than he gets for being seemingly impervious to all the hate and admiration that surrounds his every move. Likewise, NBA players of all shapes and sizes seem uniquely invulnerable to all the pressure that is foisted upon them by sundry sources.
But sometimes even NBA players disappoint, whether due to poor play, injuries, coaching or roster changes, something else that is undisclosed to the public, or a confluence of these factors. Disappointing play can often reverse public opinion of a player, and the same holds true for surprisingly good play. Indeed, the vicissitudes of a given player’s career tend to mirror the fluctuations in public opinion. Sporting fans are nothing if not fickle.
This list thus looks at the ten most disappointing players this past NBA season. As this introduction has intimated, disappointing play is not simply quantifiable by statistics; rather, it has a lot to do with fans’ and the media’s initial expectations, which can be unreachable in certain cases. The following ten players disappointed this season for one reason or another, but had they been different players—for instance, not high draft picks—the expectations would have been lower and thus they wouldn’t have disappointed as much. Let us know what you think.
10. Tyreke Evans — New Orleans Pelicans
Consider these two players’ seasons: Player A averaged 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, 5.3 rebounds on 45.8% shooting and made $3.6 million; Player B averaged 14.5 points, 5.0 assists, 4.7 rebounds on 43.6% shooting and made $10.3 million. Who is Player A and who is Player B? Player A is Tyreke Evans in his rookie season, and Player B is Tyreke Evans this past season with the New Orleans Pelicans. It should be noted that Evans played primarily 6th man for the Pelicans this past season, so his minutes per game were ten minutes less than his rookie campaign. However, for a player who came sprinting out of the gate, it is disconcerting for fans to see the downward trend that Evans’ career has been on since that stellar rookie year. This past season he was paid a staggering amount of money, and he didn’t have the year that many expected. In fact, when compared to the numbers of Isaiah Thomas, the newest point guard on Evans’ old team, Evans’ stats look even more disappointing, as Thomas averaged roughly 20 points per game this past season.
9. Dwyane Wade — Miami Heat
As mentioned before, expectations are much higher for certain players. Dwyane Wade, whom many consider to be one of the finest shooting guards to ever play the game of basketball, is one of those players who will never elude high expectations. Though he only played in 54 games this season—a bad sign for his future in the league—he still put up incredible numbers: 19.0 points, 4.7 assists, and 4.5 rebounds on 54.5% shooting. Shooting over 54% from the field is quite impressive for a shooting guard. So why, then, is he on this list? His implosion in the playoffs. Dwyane Wade looked anemic in the NBA Finals this postseason, and in the other series he oscillated between good and bad play. His play was so uncharacteristically bad that analysts compared Lebron James’ Heat of 2014 to his old Cavaliers teams, which were panned for being so weak aside from King James. Wade, though, still has a good deal of prestige capital, so a good start next season will erase all doubt.
8. Anthony Bennett — Cleveland Cavaliers
It goes without saying that Anthony Bennett should not have been the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. On the night of the Draft, analysts were somewhat shocked by the Cavaliers’ pick, but given the lack of depth in that Draft it wasn’t considered an utterly abysmal pick. For Bennett, unfortunately, being the first pick comes with a great deal of pressure and high expectations, which he was incapable of satisfying this past season. Bennett averaged 4.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.9 turnovers, and shot 35.6% from the floor. To be fair, the Cavs tried to turn him into a small forward, a position he did not play in college, but those numbers suggest ineptitude rather than discomfort. He is still young and has only one way to go from here, so perhaps he will erase this disappointing season in the future.
7. Kobe Bryant — Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant’s place in the pantheon of basketball greats is secure, and his career has been exceptional. He is also a unique player in this era in that he has effaced his media-produced image of villainy and become a sort of god-like figure in the game. But he is only on this list because of how disappointing his extremely short season was. Before his return this past season, many were prognosticating as to how he would play, but no one expected him to go down with another injury so quickly. Without him, the Los Angeles Lakers were a sinking ship. Lakers fans are among the most passionate in the NBA, so Kobe’s injury really hurt and definitely disappointed. The fact that the Lakers threw an enormous amount of money at Kobe midway through the season has also left fans apprehensive of the future. Hopefully things will shake out well in Tinseltown this offseason.
6. Roy Hibbert — Indiana Pacers
Although he managed to make it to the All Star Game this past season, Roy Hibberts’ numbers were, disappointingly, down. He averaged 10.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game on 43.9% shooting, a percentage that is pretty woeful considering Hibbert’s position and size. Nevertheless, the Indiana Pacers were a good team in the regular season, but their success meant that they would be appraised based on playoff performance. In the playoffs, Hibbert played shockingly bad for stretches of games and went several games without scoring a single point! In an era where back-to-the-basket big men like Hibbert are quickly fading, he is refreshing to see. If he continues his disappointing play, however, he will soon become a distant memory.
5. Kevin Garnett — Brooklyn Nets
Like Kobe Bryant and the rest of the NBA’s old guard, Kevin Garnett has little left to prove. He has an MVP Award, a championship, and a bunch of All-NBA honors on his resume. However, the mammoth drop off in his production this past year was disappointing to say the least. He averaged 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game on 44.1% shooting, which has brought his career shooting average down below 50%. No one expected Garnett to play that bad, as he averaged 14.8 points per game for the Boston Celtics in 2012-2013. It could be time for Garnett to hang up the sneakers for good.
4. Derrick Rose — Chicago Bulls
Like Kobe, an injury is the reason why Derrick Rose is on this list. After missing the entire 2012-2013 season due to an injury, he only played in 10 games this past season before another injury sidelined him. Many fans and analysts continue to hold fast to their opinions that, when healthy, Derrick Rose is the best point guard in the league—even better than Chris Paul. Thus, expectations will always be high for D-Rose. Hopefully he will be able to stay healthy next season and meet expectations. Otherwise, Derrick Rose might join the dubious list of great players whose careers were cut short by injury.
3. O.J. Mayo — Milwaukee Bucks
Before entering college, many thought O.J. Mayo was better than Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon, the two other studs from his class. Before entering the NBA, there were still some who though Mayo was better than the other two. Since entering the league, however, O.J. Mayo has been on a downward slope to obscurity. This past season, Mayo’s first with the Milwaukee Bucks, he averaged 11.7 points and 2.2 assists on 40.7% shooting. His terrible efficiency was not the biggest reason why the Bucks were so anemic, but as the team’s highest-paid player—he made $8 million last season—more was expected from the former USC Trojan.
2. Raymond Felton — New York Knicks
Before his 2013-2014 campaign, Raymond Felton looked to be on the rise. The Knicks had had a good season the year before, and Felton had played a big part in that success. Unfortunately, Felton had a largely disappointing campaign in 2013-2014. He averaged 9.7 points per game and shot under 40% from the floor, both of which were down from his averages the year before. Uncertainty characterizes the Knicks right now, but hopefully Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson can help Felton turn things around.
1. Andrew Bynum — Indiana Pacers
No one disappoints quite as well as Andrew Bynum does; he seems to have a flair for it. Since winning two championships with the Lakers and attracting a great deal of praise in the process, Bynum has categorically stunk up the joint. This past season, Bynum played in 24 games with the Cavaliers before they shipped him and his bad attitude away. He was also paid over $12 million, which isn’t the amount teams typically pay players who show Bynum’s level of heart and effort.