Now that the second half of the 2021-22 season is in full swing, there are several teams that find themselves in dire situations with playoff races heating up. While injuries and health and safety protocols are convenient excuses, virtually every team has had to deal with the same circumstances.
The next big date circled on the calendar is February 10, which is the trade deadline as teams try to solidify their rosters before the 3 PM buzzer goes off. There aren’t expected to be as many sellers this season, but a flurry of activity is still to be expected as front offices jockey for last-minute deals. Eight days later is the All-Star break in Cleveland.
Roster moves are one way to steer the ship in the right direction but that can also happen with improved play on the court. There has been a large volume of players that have underperformed this season. No matter the expectations or contract status, players have the ability to adjust and get better. By doing just that, these players can help turn the tide for their team’s disappointing season.
Julius Randle, Knicks
This list begins with Randle, who has significantly regressed from his All-NBA campaign last season. After setting career-high benchmarks and leading New York back to relevancy, the veteran forward has failed to perform at anywhere near the same level this year. The Knicks have been dreadful as they sit 10th in the East, but the reasoning for that was thought to be in large part due to their lackluster defense.
Randle has seen his scoring drop by a whopping five points per game this season, and his assists are down as well. New York doesn’t appear to be running their offense through him the same way they did a year ago, but even with the opportunities he has, the Kentucky product has failed to deliver more often than not.
In terms of percentages, Randle is shooting just 41 percent from the floor, 31 percent from three, and 75 percent from the free-throw line. Those are all drastic dips from a year ago. The Knicks have gotten better play from RJ Barrett lately, and if they can get the same thing from Randle down the stretch, they could squeak their way back into the postseason.
Russell Westbrook, Lakers
As much grief as Randle has gotten from the home crowd in New York, no one has received the wrath that Westbrook has this season in Los Angeles. The jokes with this roster began even before the season tipped off, with so many veterans and players well past their prime. Some of them, like Carmelo Anthony and Avery Bradley, have worked out fairly well. Clearly, the addition of Westbrook has not.
Anthony Davis has been out for more than two months and the team is still waiting on Kendrick Nunn but even with their “big three” intact, the Lakers have not been able to find their rhythm. The two key focal points with Westbrook have been his turnovers and shot selection. The turnovers have improved over the last week or two but the glaring shooting issues remain. The former MVP is averaging 18 points per game, his lowest total since the 2009-10 season, his second year in the league.
how is Russell Westbrook THIS bad? 😭😭 pic.twitter.com/WDbRnPb1Rb
— LakeShowYo (@LakeShowYo) January 13, 2022
Westbrook is shooting 29 percent from three-point range and just 66 percent from the free-throw line. Those numbers will have to improve if the Lakers want to have any success in the postseason. The Lakers have been utilizing LeBron James at center but it might be worth putting the ball back in his hands, and running on-ball actions with Westbrook as the roller. Westbrook seems hell-bent on the idea of changing his game but that is what it will take for Los Angeles to improve.
Duncan Robinson, Heat
Miami is the one exception in this list, as they are the only team that has not really suffered in terms of their overall record. Robinson’s struggles shooting the ball this season have been masked very well by the outstanding play of Tyler Herro and role players like Max Strus and Gabe Vincent. The Heat tends to find guys that no one has heard of and turn them into solid rotation players. Now if they could just figure out how to get their sniper back.
After shooting 45 percent from deep two seasons ago, Robinson dipped to 41 percent last year. The 27-year old is hitting just 34 percent of his attempts this season and free-throw shooting has slumped off as well. He has been lethal from outside, which has opened things up for this team on the interior. If Robinson is not knocking down shots, he doesn’t offer much else on the floor for this group.
Miami has been without their best players Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler for much of the season, and they have still managed to stay near the top of the loaded Eastern Conference. Credit to Erik Spoelstra and his staff for being able to win games despite all of the absences. If Robinson can return to form, it will make Miami legitimate title contenders.
De’Aaron Fox, Kings
Nothing ever seems to go right for Sacramento, but it appeared early on that they had something special brewing in the backcourt. With Davion Mitchell joining Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Fox, the Kings finally looked to have a solid young core to build around. That lasted for 17 games when the team fired then-head coach Luke Walton.
There are conflicting reports about Fox’s availability as the trade deadline nears. With the West so wide open this year, it was an opportunity for Sacramento to pounce. As the story goes, the Kings were unable to take advantage, and once again find themselves at the bottom of the conference standings. There are certainly some changes on the way, and no one on this roster is untouchable. In terms of getting the best return, Fox provides the most value, despite his struggles this season.
Kings PG De’Aaron Fox on his name attached to trade rumors, how he deals with it, & if he controlled his future, what he’d like to happen.
“I want to win; I want to be part of a winning team. We’re continuing to build & work towards that.”
FULL VIDEO: https://t.co/oe9VAo9WJT pic.twitter.com/62yqldpBr3
— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) January 18, 2022
Fox is scoring 20.9 points per game this season, down from 25.2 a year ago. His assist numbers have dropped from 7.2 to 5.1 and his shooting percentages from the floor are at the lowest they have been since his rookie season. The former Kentucky point guard is shooting just 25 percent from deep and will need to improve that no matter what team he is playing for in the second half of the season.
Bogdan Bogdanović, Hawks
To say that Atlanta has been a disappointing team this season would be a massive understatement. After coming up two games short of reaching the NBA Finals last season, the Hawks have been atrocious on the court this year. There isn’t a glaring reason for their demise but they have absolutely regressed on the defensive end. They are giving up 112 points to their opponent this season, which ranks 25th in the league. Last year they ranked 12th in that category.
The blame can be equally shared among everyone on the roster, including Trae Young. If there was one player that needs to elevate his game though, it would be Bogdanović. The Serbian shooting guard was outstanding last season, averaging 16.4 points per game while shooting 91 percent from the free-throw line. Those numbers have dropped to 12.0 and just 77 percent this year. His three-point shooting has also gone from 44 to 35 percent.
With Cam Reddish now in New York, the Hawks desperately need Bogdanović to find his groove. His perimeter defense will also be needed as the Hawks really struggle in that area with Young on the floor. Atlanta is currently out of the playoff picture and has a losing record at home. If they want to have any glimmer of hope to reach the postseason, they will need Bogdanović to improve.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics
There has been a lot of noise about the pairing of Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown. They have very similar playing styles and tend to be isolation heavy but whether or not these two can co-exist on the same team is a separate issue. Tatum has not been playing up to standards this season, and Boston has suffered in large part due to his poor play. His scoring is only slightly down but his efficiency has fallen off the side of a cliff.
Tatum leads the league in shot attempts (career-high) but is shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor (career-low). His 31.7 percent shooting from deep is also a career-low for the star forward. His assists are down from last year and his shooting woes have made it extremely difficult for Boston to win games. It has taken Ime Udoka some time to get a handle on this team but he just might have things going in the right direction.
Both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown said that Ime Udoka using them more in two-man actions to force mismatches is something they like.
Tatum: “It makes it easier for us to both be involved.”
Brown: “It feels great. Both of us get engaged that way.”
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) January 13, 2022
While Tatum has always been willing to take difficult shots, it is hurting the Celtics, especially late in games. Boston is 3-6 in games decided by one possession and is currently 11th in the East. To be fair, the team needs more contributions from Josh Richardson, Al Horford, and Grant Williams but at the root of their problems is Tatum’s inconsistent play.