The 2020 season is anything but normal. Through the ups and downs, commissioner Adam Silver was still able to navigate the hurdles, resume the NBA season, and finish the postseason games.
Amidst the season, huge expectations were placed on great players. Championship hopes were bestowed upon the special ones. However, certain players hit way below the mark and disappointed the coaches, fanbase as well as themselves.
Let us discuss ten such players who had the most disappointing season in 2020.
10. Al Horford
The former five-time All-Star, who was last selected two seasons ago into the All-Defensive team, was brought in by the Philadelphia 76ers to help provide defensive mentorship to Joel Embiid and some locker room leadership. Despite that, the Sixers did not make much progress from last season and team chemistry periodically came in between performance and egos.
Al's numbers have been on the decline over recent years, with season per-game numbers of 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds, which are both down from his career averages of 13.9 points and 8.3 rebounds.
With the absence of Ben Simmons due to injuries, Al Horford did not step up to fill the void. In fact, during the short four-game first-round sweep by the Boston Celtics, Al posted negative plus / minus for every Playoff game. He was particularly helpless in the scoring department, where he scored merely 6, 4, 6, and 12 points for his games respectively. This is a poor outcome considering that Al played an average of more than 31 minutes per Playoffs game this season, with multiple touches and opportunities to playmaker.
Al was also inconsistent and unproductive on the defensive end, bagging just one steal and five blocks throughout the entire four-game series. This is way lower than the standards we were accustomed to seeing from the former All-Defensive team Al Horford.
9. Lauri Markkanen
When Lauri got drafted, he was touted to be a potential star for the Chicago Bulls. The seven-footer weighs 240 lb and has the makings of versatile power forward. When his per-game averages rose from 15.2 to 18.7 points, 7.5 to 9 rebounds, and 29.7 to 32.3 minutes of usage, Chicago fans had a slight glimmer of hope.
After his initial improvement from his rookie year to his sophomore year, the 'Finnisher' looks poised to finally find his foothold in this league as a rising star. But in his term season, his scoring plummeted to below his rookie statistics, scoring only 14.7 points per game. His rebounds per game also took a hit as he pulled a record low of 6.3 rebounds per game.
With only Zach LaVine as the only other co-star, Lauri Markkanen has a ton of touches and great minutes for the offense and defense to run through him. He is in a position complementary to the shooting guard, Zach LaVine, so Lauri has more than enough chances to prove his worth as a star. Despite all these opportunities and development that the Chicago Bulls afforded Lauri, he failed to deliver a good season.
8. Aaron Gordon
When you think of Aaron Gordon, you think of the Slam Dunk competition. After missing out on the trophy during his 2016 duel with Zach LaVine, Aaron looked like the top contestant of the field in the 2020 season. With all expectations for him to finally clinch a Slam Dunk title, he lost it yet again, this time in a multi-time tie-breaker to Derrick Jones Jr. This is a huge disappointment and Aaron Gordon will forever be remembered as a runner-up in Slam Dunk contests.
On the professional front, this is his sixth year in the league. In his first four seasons, Aaron Gordon managed to improve his scoring every season from 5.2 to 9.2 to 12.7 to 17.6 points per game. However, for his fifth and sixth season, his scoring numbers declined to 16 points and 14.4 points per game respectively. Historically a weak free throw shooter, Aaron is shooting a worse percentage of 67.4% in 2020 compared to even his rookie low percentage of 72.1%.
His lackluster performance continued into the NBA bubble seeding games when he was not able to turn up the notch to lead the team. Instead, teammate Nikola Vucevic stepped up to lead the team into the Playoffs. Aaron Gordon even had to exit the bubble before the Playoffs began due to a strained left hamstring, leaving his team short-handed and at a disadvantage at the mismatched plays.
7. Victor Oladipo
The Indiana Pacers' star was sidelined last season by injuries. Before that downtime, Victor Oladipo impressed fans with his progress as he moved from the Orlando Magic to the Oklahoma City Thunder and finally to the Indiana Pacers, clocking improvement in statistics across the board, specifically per game averages from 13.8 to 23.1 points, 4.1 to 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 to 2.4 steals, and 45.8% to 53.7% effective field goal percentage. Everyone was expecting the return of Victor to save the Pacers' season.
However, the truth cannot be any further for his return. Victor repeatedly delayed his return to the court despite public reports that the medical staff has cleared him for competitive basketball. After much anticipation and wait, Victor finally joined the team towards the end of their season and in the NBA bubble Playoffs, only to disappoint everyone with his marked drop in production. He only posted per-game averages of 14.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 steals, and an effective field goal percentage of 46.1% during his minimal 19 games played. This is a great disappointment to fans and does not sit well with the management, who signed him to a maximum contract just seasons ago.
6. Pascal Siakam
The Most Improved Player from the 2019 / 2020 season has been making progress every year he plays in the NBA. His yearly improvement in scoring from 4.2 to 7.3 to 16.9 to 22.9 is a feat that only a rare group can achieve throughout their first four seasons.
As the defending champion and a solid second option last season behind Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam was widely expected by Toronto Raptors fans and staff alike to leap to seize this season to be the team's top player. He contributed quality minutes during the regular season. During this Playoffs, however, Pascal underwhelmed the expectations.
Pascal clocked negative plus/minus for five out of 11 Playoffs games. This means that he could not dominate or influence the winning of the team when it matters the most. Particularly, Pascal Siakam merely managed to hit his regular-season scoring volume for two out of 11 Playoffs games, 26 points in game three versus the Brooklyn Nets, and 23 points in game four versus the Boston Celtics. That does not speak well for Pascal's performance in the biggest moments.
5. Paul George
Touted as the second superstar that helped lured Kawhi to Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George played like a lost man in these Playoffs. The coveted 'Playoff P' moniker did not help Paul regain any footing in the NBA bubble.
Paul George delivered per Playoffs game averages of 20.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, which were lower than his ability could do. He publicly admitted that dealing with anxiety and depression of living inside the NBA bubble took a toll on his mind.
Paul George even landed on the wrong side of history for being the first player, since Bob Cousy in 1960, to shoot below 25% in 3 straight Playoffs games with a minimum of 10 field-goal attempts each game. The scary thing is, ever since Paul demanded to leave Indiana Pacers, he has only managed to scrape out one Playoff series win since 2017. Talk about underperforming consistently!
4. Russell Westbrook
The 'Brodie' is a formidable individual player. As a point guard, he made history by averaging a triple-double for multiple seasons. He was a scoring champion and a former Most Valuable Player for both the regular season and the All-Star game.
Setting aside the individual accolades, Russell Westbrook has yet to make it to the Western Conference Finals ever since the Durant-Harden-Westbrook alliance was dismantled in Oklahoma City Thunder. The monkey on his back has always been the ability to bring a Playoffs team back to the Finals with his own experience to lead a team. This season was no different. He could not deliver even with an additional Most Valuable Player on the team with him.
Taking a closer look at this season, Russell Westbrook showed a significant dip in performance at the biggest stage. Russell's per-game statistics generally reflect his poorer performance in the Playoffs. For instance, his per-game numbers indicate a fall from the regular season to postseason in these aspects: free throw percentage drop from 76.3% to 53.1%, three-point percentage drop from 25.8% to 24.2%, field goal percentage drop from 47.2% to 42.1%, blocks per game from 0.4 to 0.3, steals per game from 1.6 to 1.5, assists from 7 to 4.6, rebounds from 7.9 to 7, points from 27.2 to 17.9. Overall, Russell has continued to disappoint his fans when it comes to competing against the best.
3. James Harden
When you talk about the best offensive player, you have to talk about James Harden. When you talk about historical top scorers, you have to talk about James Harden. When you talk about the most unguardable point guard, you have to talk about James Harden. When you talk about the best to draw fouls, you have to talk about James Harden. The standards are so high for the 'Beard' in so many areas.
However, when it comes to the Playoffs, James Harden disappears from the buzz. The only time James Harden led a meaningful deep run in the Playoffs was when he played with Chris Paul against the Golden State Warriors back in 2018. Some may even argue that was mainly kudos to Chris Paul's smart playmaking and scoring.
James Harden has not proven himself in the postseason in a way that a Most Valuable Player should and he has had a long career of not doing so. This season, the Houston Rockets paired him with another dynamic guard, Russell Westbrook, with great hopes of the two former Most Valuable Players bringing the Rockets to the Promised Land. Unfortunately, the outcome is equally lackluster and disappointing.
Despite playing more minutes during the Playoffs at 37.3 minutes compared to the regular season at 36.5 minutes, James' contribution dropped across the board. His free throw percentage dropped from 86.5% to 84.5%, his three-point percentage dropped from 35.5% to 33.3%, his steals per game fell from 1.8 to 1.5, his blocks per game fell from 0.9 to 0.8, his rebounds per game dipped from 6.6 to 5.6, and his per-game scoring dipped from 34.3 to 29.6. In a year when it is championship or bust, James Harden fell short of the expectations of the Rockets fanbase.
2. Kawhi Leonard
Entering this season, the freshly crowned NBA champion and Finals Most Valuable Player is poised to continue his domination of the NBA. With hopes to be the first player to win championships and Finals Most Valuable Player awards with three different teams, Kawhi took the sports media by storm with the talk of him qualifying to be amongst the greats.
Poor team chemistry and health issues plagued the star-studded Los Angeles Clippers team. Fans never got to see a full Clippers A-team until they reached the Playoffs. Load management became a theme that characterized the Clippers.
During head-to-head battles against the Lakers, Kawhi seemed bothered by LeBron James' defense and did not fully play his own pace. The Clippers fought harder than they needed to survive the Dallas Mavericks in the first round with a 4-2 tally, with referee calls and Dallas injuries serving in the Clippers' favor. No one could foresee that the Clippers would then fall under the young, inexperienced hands of the Denver Nuggets after a tiresome seven-game series. Despite posting decent per Playoffs game averages of 28.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists, Kawhi failed to help the Clippers get dubs. Six out of thirteen times, Kawhi Leonard posted negative plus/minus statistics in Playoff games. That means that he was unable to consistently exert his impact on winning. This shows that Kawhi performed way worse in the playoffs than the regular season in 2020.
Superficially, Kawhi seemed to have posted excellent statistics. However, a closer examination of his impact on the team reveals a drop in Kawhi's ability to help his team attain wins. During the regular season, the on-court impact on the offensive rating is +12.0, the off-court impact is +0.4. During the postseason, the on-court impact on the offensive rating is a +2.3, the off-court impact is a +11.1. These figures work out to be a greater winning impact during the regular season of (on-off) values of 11.6 and a poor showing during the Playoffs of (on-off) values of -8.8. What it means is Kawhi has a much lower ability to influence, lead, or will the Clippers to win games in this Playoffs, resulting in the early exit.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
The reigning two-time Most Valuable Player of the league had all the necessary conditions right for him. A Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer, an elite team comprising of multiple All-Defensive team nominees and quality veteran shooters. The Milwaukee Bucks clinched the top seed of the NBA with a good margin.
Expectations for Giannis is sky-high, as many pundits expected to see a LeBron-Giannis or a Kawhi-Giannis clash for the trophy. Giannis needed a minimum standard of a trip to the NBA Finals to be considered as fulfilling his potential. The Greek Freak fell way short of this expectation, getting an unceremonious second round exit with a mediocre tally of 1-4 loss to an underdog Miami Heat team, comprising of mostly undrafted players or late picks. This is truly one of the greatest upsets in this Playoffs for a superstar leading the best record in the NBA to be ousted early.
Besides, Giannis' performance took a hit during the Playoffs and he was more helpless when it comes to managing different opponent schemes. During the regular season, Giannis' on-court impact on the offensive rating is a whopping +15.8, the off-court impact is a +3.0. During the postseason, the on-court impact on the offensive rating is a +2.2, the off-court impact is a -0.2. These figures work out to be a great impact during the regular season of (on-off) values of 12.8 and a much weaker showing during the Playoffs of (on-off) values of +2.4. This just goes to show how Giannis has not fully learned how to lead a team to more Playoff's success.
Rounding up all the underperformers from this season, we can tell that these ten players were the top ten disappointing players who gave fans huge hopes of a good run in the Playoffs or even championship but failed miserably. Be it effort, be it attitude, or be its mental focus, these ten players would need to put in extra work during this offseason if they wish to earn back the respect from everyone again next season.