We’re now two weeks into the 2016-17 NBA regular season, and while that’s still not a large sample size, it is enough of one to begin to see who needs to start being concerned about the state of their season.
For some teams, like the winless Philadelphia 76ers or the Brooklyn Nets, it doesn’t matter much that the season has gotten off to an inauspicious start. They didn’t enter the year with much in the way of expectations, and a slow beginning isn’t going to impact their long-term outlook.
For others, it’s time to start sounding the alarm bells. A season can be derailed by a slow start, piling pressure onto a team and leading to further issues moving forward. So here’s a list of the five teams that should start panicking through two weeks of the NBA season, in order from having some concerns to a five-alarm fire.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (1-4)
The hiring of Tom Thibodeau was supposed to lead to a revolution in Minneapolis, where the Timberwolves were set to take a leap forward with their young core of talent. Some people speculated that Minnesota was going to win 50 games this season.
So far, things haven’t gone quite according to script. After being terrible in close games last season, the Wolves have already lost three games by a combined 10 points, blowing multiple big leads, and now Ricky Rubio is out indefinitely with a sprained elbow.
Still, it’s hard to get too concerned about this team. For starters, they have a less than daunting upcoming schedule, including winnable games against the Nets, Sixers, Lakers, Magic and Grizzlies. Second, this team is undoubtedly going to get better as the season goes along and Thibodeau gets more time to work with the young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Plus, Rubio’s injury will give rookie Kris Dunn extended playing time.
4. Dallas Mavericks (1-5)
Every year, the Mavericks have been expected to remain competitive solely because of the combination of Dirk Nowitzki and Coach Rick Carlisle. Could this be the year that finally ends?
It might be. Dallas looks old, with Nowitzki struggling with Achilles’ tendon soreness and and Deron Williams once again dealing with nagging muscle injuries. Harrison Barnes has been surprisingly good — averaging 20.8 points per game, including a career-high 34 in Dallas’s first win Sunday against Milwaukee — but there hasn’t been much else to be excited about.
This team would be higher up the list if Dallas had bigger expectations this season. But everyone already was waiting for the other shoe to drop with this franchise: It just might have finally happened this time.
3. New York Knicks (2-4)
If the Knicks were going to defy the expectations and make a playoff push this season, it was going to be because their main free agent acquisitions, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, helped prop up a top-heavy roster by reverting back to the all-star forms from earlier in their careers.
Instead, the Knicks enter Tuesday as the NBA’s worst defensive team, a situation the organization responded to by putting assistant coach Kurt Rambis in charge of the defense moving forward.
Here’s how Carmelo Anthony responded to that news to reporters at Tuesday’s practice: “Whether we’re comfortable with it or not, it is what it is so we have to buy into it.”
Meanwhile, team President Phil Jackson is, according to an ESPN report, upset Coach Jeff Hornacek isn’t using the triangle offense regularly enough so far this season.
Look, Hornacek is a good coach, but this is a nearly impossible situation for him to be in. Not only is he dealing with an aging, top-heavy roster, but he must also navigate the byzantine politics inside Madison Square Garden. This situation has the potential to get ugly in a hurry.
After an eventful offseason in Washington, which included the hiring of Scott Brooks as the team’s head coach and the signing of several players to add to the team’s depth, this was supposed to be the start of a new and hopeful chapter in Wizards basketball.
Instead, it’s been a continuation of the misery the team went through last season. Through six games, the Wizards have been outscored by a staggering 8.4 points per 100 possessions — worse than all but the Magic and Sixers. Trey Burke, who was brought in to be John Wall’s backup, has been a complete disaster, with the Wizards getting outscored by a staggering 46 points in his 69 minutes so far this season.
In other words, this could get a lot worse before it starts to get better.
1. New Orleans Pelicans (0-7)
Not much needs to be said here. New Orleans is now off to an extended winless streak for a second straight season, as the injury woes that have befallen the franchise from the moment Alvin Gentry arrived as head coach in the spring of 2015 have continued unabated.
New Orleans keeps hanging around in games, thanks to the singular talent of Anthony Davis, but it already seems like a foregone conclusion that New Orleans doesn’t have a chance of making the playoffs despite having one of the 10 best players in the NBA on its roster. This is why there are already rumblings circulating that Gentry’s head will be on the chopping block if the Pelicans can’t get a win soon.
Removing Gentry won’t solve the problems here, which run far deeper than lineup choices. Unfortunately for Davis, though, it’s hard to see any way of solving some of them — let alone all of them — anytime soon, which is why two weeks into this NBA season it already looks hopeless in the Big Easy.