Most Disappointing and Surprising Teams This NBA Season

Published April 6, 2022

Most Disappointing and Surprising Teams this NBA Season

Disappointing: Los ANgeles Lakers

Last Season: 7th Seed, 42-30; First Round Exit
This Season: 11th Seed, 31-48; Missed Postseason

About half a year ago, there were clear favorites from the media in both conferences. Despite Phoenix just coming off a finals appearance and Denver paying the reigning MVP, there was only one team everybody talked about; the Los Angeles Lakers.

Just last night, they were eliminated from playoff contention.

Los Angeles has been both the most confusing and entertaining story of the season. On paper, it looked unstoppable; two of the west’s best players, a former MVP, and four former All-Stars. So what went wrong?

It was multiple things. Anthony Davis couldn’t stay healthy, Russell Westbrook was a bad fit, and there was no valuable depth on the team. Many older All-Stars failed to resemble even a shell of their former selves, either lacking production or being dropped from the team entirely. The young talent couldn’t even quite get a chance to develop, because everything was constructed with a “win now” mindset.

With a lackluster seed for drafting and no great assets, who knows what they’ll do to force change this off-season. I only know one thing; something has to be done, or we’ll be seeing a drought from this team for quite some time.

Surprising: Memphis Grizzlies

Last Season: 8th Seed, 38-34; First Round Exit
This Season: 2nd Seed, 55-24; Clinched Playoffs

At this point, there’s no denying it; this is the greatest Grizzlies team in franchise history.

Going in, I absolutely did not expect them to be this great. A play-in level seed was expected at most, but they completely shocked the league. Their start wasn’t the best, only going 11-10 by the end of November; fast forward two months, and they stood at 35-18.

The key to Memphis being so successful lies in their chemistry and versatility. Ja Morant has had a couple stretches of being injured this year, and yet they still consistently win without him. The ability to dominate even the best of contenders without your star is valuable, and that doesn’t even consider the numbers. Not only do they rank top two in points per game, but they also lead the league in rebounding, steals AND blocks; that’s unbelievable.

It’s why they’re capable of dominating the playoffs with or without experience.

Disappointing: New York Knicks

Last Season: 4th Seed, 41-31; First Round Exit
This Season: 12th Seed, 35-44; Missed Postseason

New York Knicks fans have probably had enough. Right after their only winning season of the past nine years, things were looking up for the first time since the Carmelo era. They had what seemed to be a good off-season, with the roster seemingly improving.

Ironically enough, roster construction was the biggest roadblock to New York’s success.

After acquiring former Celtics guards Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, their backcourt seemed to be strengthened. This meant that the developing RJ Barrett could play his traditional forward position and Derrick Rose would have less weight on his shoulders off the bench. Instead, Walker had the worst season of his career and Fournier reeked of inconsistency, which didn’t mesh well with the already inefficient Julius Randle.

It hit a point where the bench sported better net ratings than the starting lineup, but when Derrick Rose got injured it fell apart. They struggled to stay within play-in reach, and Thibodeau remained stubborn with exercising new lineups.

New York has to make an effort to develop young talent moving forward, as it’s not quite clear who they should lean on at this point.

Surprising: Minnesota Timberwolves

Last Season: 13th Seed, 23-49; Missed Postseason
This Season: 7th Seed, 45-35; Guaranteed Play-in, Potentially Playoffs

The Timberwolves actually seeing some success is refreshing. Since Kevin Garnett’s MVP season, they’ve only made the playoffs once. Now, barring any significant upsets, they’re bringing postseason basketball to their fans again.

The continued growth of All-Star Karl Anthony-Towns and sophomore Anthony Edwards has been a large factor, as well as Patrick Beverley’s influence on the team’s energy. They may not top the defensive rankings overall, but are very pesky against opponents with their prolific steal and block numbers.

What really helps them is the scoring, though. Averaging a whopping 115.8 points per game, Minnesota’s offense is difficult to contain and that leads to some dominant wins on a regular basis. Considering how young this team is, it’s not farfetched to say this is the start to something promising long-term.

Disappointing: Portland Trail Blazers

Last Season: 6th Seed, 42-30; First Round Exit
This Season: 13th Seed, 27-52; Missed Postseason

This wasn’t quite as shockingly bad as the Lakers’ downfall or as surprising as New York’s, but Portland definitely wasn’t expected to go into tank mode. Ultimately, it was a necessary decision though.

Damian Lillard’s injury had him putting up strangely low career numbers, and his eventual sidelining for the rest of the season left the Blazers’ front office with some tough decisions to make. Ultimately, they chose to blow it up, ending a streak of eight consecutive playoff berths.

Fans of the team were largely divisive when reacting to large changes – such as the trading of the long-tenured CJ McCollum – but the commitment to a rebuild is clearly present now. The only hope is that this is a quick and successful attempt, and not leading to a sustained drought that reeks of the post-Jail Blazers era so many years ago.

Surprising: Cleveland Cavaliers

Last Season: 13th Seed, 22-50; Missed Postseason
This Season: 7th Seed, 43-37 Clinched Play-in

The Cavaliers have had the most impressive culture revival of the past year, and I respect them endlessly for it.

A jump to this kind of success was completely unprecedented, but the growth of Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen as well as the amazing play of Rookie of the Year favorite Evan Mobley definitely has something to do with it.

The stigma that Cleveland couldn’t win without LeBron James has been shut down, as the franchise has guaranteed its first winning season without him since 1998. With the trajectory they’re headed in, they’ll find themselves in the playoffs too. This is what their fans needed; some pride and satisfaction with the young talent on the squad, bidding farewell to a brutal three-year stretch of mediocrity.

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