Before the 2013-14 NBA season tipped off, Ball So Hard endeavoured to put an end to the debate of who reigns supreme in the league by bringing you the Ball So Hard 50. As the halfway mark of the NBA season approaches, it is time to reflect on the season that has been so far and reassess our rankings. Who has exceeded expectations? Who has fallen short? Find out below.
Before we get into the updated top 50, it is important to look at the players who have fallen short of expectations. These players can be categorized into two groups: the injured and the underperformers.
These players fall out of the top 50 due to no fault of their own. Nobody likes to see players get injured, but it is an ever-present issue in professional sports. The following players have dropped out of the rankings due to injuries that have either put an end to their season, or prevented it from beginning.
It took Derrick Rose 526 days to return to the basketball court after injuring his ACL during the 2011-12 playoffs. However, only 10 games into his return for the Bulls, Rose tore the meniscus in his right knee and was once again ruled out for the season.
The loss of Rose is one of the saddest stories in the league this season and was felt around the association. The Bulls entered the season with championship aspirations, but after losing Rose they have since traded Luol Deng and are mulling over the possibility of amnestying Carlos Boozer – a move that would all but confirm a rebuilding plan centred around next season’s highly anticipated draft class.
An Achilles injury during the closing stages of last season robbed Kobe Bryant of playoff basketball and postponed the beginning of his 18th season. Although he did return to action in true Bryant style – well ahead of schedule – only six games into his return, a left tibial plateau fracture put the Black Mamba out of action for another six weeks.
Kobe is now 35 years old, and coming back from two major surgeries in less than a year. While it is unreasonable to think that such a great competitor wont return to action this season, it is hard to see him returning as a top-10 player in the league.
Russell Westbrook surprised the NBA community when he returned to the court after missing only two games – he was projected to miss four to six weeks of the season.
However, he is yet another victim of a reoccurring injury. 25 games into his return, Westbrook was again sidelined due to complications with his knee, and again booked in for surgery – his third operation on the same knee in less than eight months. The Oklahoma City Thunder have Westbrook listed as out indefinitely.
While Deron Williams has not been kept off the court due to a major injury, the slip in his production on the court can largely be blamed on his ongoing struggles with ankle injuries.
This season, Williams is averaging career lows in points, and is producing the lowest amount of assists since his rookie season, all in the second lowest minutes per game since his rookie year.
Ankle injuries have been an issue for Williams throughout his career, and he has only played 82 regular season games once. The Nets have finally been forced to give Williams some time to recuperate, and if Williams can return healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him climb the rankings again.
The Boston Celtics have been without Rajon Rondo all season as he focuses on rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee.
Rondo is aiming to return to the court before the All-Star game on February 16th.
When healthy, Rondo is an All-Star calibre player, and with the Celtics desperate for some star power on the court, Rondo could begin to produce career numbers.
Another victim of a knee injury, Gasol has been kept off the court since spraining his MCL on November 22nd. And although the injury did not require surgery, there is currently no timetable for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year’s return to action.
Lopez fracture his foot in mid-December – the same foot which he had surgically repaired in 2011 – and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
Hoford was forced under the knife after completely tearing a right pectoral muscle in a late-December game. The injury will keep him out of action for the remainder of the season.
Chandler has only managed 13 games this season after breaking his left fibula on November 5th, and struggling with illness upon his return. The Knicks are in desperate need of a defensive presence around the rim – and every other area of the court really – and while he may not return to Defensive Player of the Year form, expect Chandler to be productive once healthy.
In all honesty, Holiday should consider himself lucky to not be included in “the underperformers” category of fallen stars. His production this season has been inconsistent at best and he was going to be stripped of his top-50 honours regardless. However, he sneaks into injured status after suffering a stress fracture in his right tibia early in the New Year. He is out indefinitely.
Jefferson was forced to miss games at the beginning of the season due to a recurring ankle sprain issue and struggled to return to form once he returned. He has begun to rediscover his double-double abilities and could find himself ascending the ranks soon, but for now, his injury struggles have stunted his production enough to knock him out of the rankings.
This group of players entered the season with lofty expectations, but have simply failed to live up to expectations. Some are the result of selfish play, while others are the victims of poor team circumstance. Regardless, their early season performances have not warranted their predicted top-50 status.
Monroe is not having a bad season by any measures. The former Georgetown Hoya is putting up 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds at 50.6% shooting for the Detroit Pistons this season.
Rather, he falls out of the top 50 purely because the expected improvements in his production have been stunted by the arrival of Josh Smith and the emergence of Andre Drummond in the Pistons’ frontcourt.
The Pistons have been struggling this season, and Monroe could find himself expendable as Detroit make a push towards the playoffs. The man they call “Moose” is still only 23 years old and has plenty of potential. On another team, with more room to operate and a greater role, Monroe could find his way back to the top 50.
Last season, the Indiana Pacers officially made the jump from “Championship hopefuls” to “Championship contenders.
The biggest difference between the two being; how those teams view the regular season. A championship hopeful grinds through the regular season trying to earn the highest seed possible. Meanwhile, a championship contender cruises through the season knowing that no matter what happens, they will be their come the pointy end of the season.
While the Pacers are ironically on pace to be the top seeded team in the East, the play of David West is a great example of how they have not needed to bring their A-game every night.
West is averaging the fourth fewest minutes per game of his career, and his stats are down across the board.
The improvement in Roy Hibbert’s game has allowed the Pacers’ to ease West through the season, and keep him fresh for the playoffs – much like the Spurs and their big three.
Although he is still an integral part to Indiana’s plan to spoil Miami’s threepeat aspirations, he is not a top 50 guy any more.
Paul Pierce & Kevin Garnett
Since Garnett joined the Celtics in 2008, the careers of The Big Ticket and The Truth have been so intertwined, it seems only right that Pierce and Garnett be grouped together here.
Both joined Brooklyn with the hopes of chasing a second championship, but so far things have not gone exactly to plan. The Nets are struggling, and so are the two former Celtics.
Their numbers are down across the board, points production, rebounds, shooting percentages, you name it and they aren’t producing it like they used to.
Even Garnett’s hallowed defence has dropped off since making the move to BK.
It is always hard to accept when a superstar reaches the point where they cant produce like they did in their prime. But that doesn’t mean that Pierce and Garnett cant be valuable contributors for the Nets. Any form of Nets’ revival will hinge on how the two elder statesmen can perform, just don’t expect them to play at an All-Star level from here on out.
Jennings is another Piston who is not having a bad season – 16.6 points, 8.5 assists and 1.5 steals per – but who is being negatively effected by the Pistons’ struggles to gel as a team.
During his time with Milwaukee, Jennings was always a scorer first and a distributor second. And while his assist numbers have improved since joining Detroit – up from his 5.7 average during his time with the Bucks – his shooting has been streaky at best as he struggles to find his way in a unfamiliar role.
The adjustment from an isolation-heavy offence to a pick and roll focused one has been an unusual adjustment for Jennings.
Andrew Bogut was the only big man of note during Jennings spell with the Bucks, now he has the task of feeding the three-headed monster that is Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond.
Don’t look too heavily into Jennings struggles so far. He has undeniable All-Star potential, and if Detroit can finally get it together – whether that be over time or through exploring the trade market – expect Jennings to be one of the biggest benefactors.
Frankly, Andrew Bynum should consider himself lucky to even have NBA teams contemplating signing him for the rest of the season after selling out the only team that would take a chance on him during the offseason.
The Bynum experiment in Cleveland – much like the Bynum experience in Philadelphia – can be considered nothing but a complete failure. After entering the season with hopes of seeing a revitalised and motivated Bynum, the Cavs soon discovered the true scope of Bynum’s disinterest in professional basketball. The former Laker and technical one-time 76er struggled through 24 games – averaging 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game – and brought his fair share of off-court drama to the franchise before he was traded to Chicago and immediately waived.
Don’t expect to see Bynum on another top-50 NBA list that isn’t ranking the laziest, self-centred or wasted careers.
Once upon a time, Eric Gordon was one of the best off guards in the NBA. He was a scoring machine with a penchant for fourth quarter heroics.
However, injuries have taken their tole, and Gordon is no longer the lead man many thought he could develop into.
The Pelicans’ cluttered backcourt has made adjusting to their new roster difficult for everyone involved.
This season, Gordon has managed to stay injury free for the most part, and he is averaging a respectable 16.1 points and 3.1 assists per game. However, these numbers are almost mirror images of his rookie production and are not up to the standard you’d expect from a top 50 player.
New Orleans is unquestionably Anthony Davis’ team now, and Gordon’s days as a leading man are all but over.