Community Shootaround: Slow Starters

Entering the 2021/22 season, the Lakers and Nets were widely viewed as the frontrunners to reach the NBA Finals. When ESPN polled 16 of its NBA experts on predictions for the coming season, 10 picked the Lakers to win the West and 10 chose the Nets to win the East.

So far though, Los Angeles and Brooklyn have been inconsistent and underwhelming, posting matching 2-3 records. The Lakers lost two home games to open the season, then blew a 26-point lead in Oklahoma City on Wednesday against the winless Thunder. The Nets, meanwhile, have lost three games by double-digits — one in Milwaukee and two at home, vs. the Hornets and Heat.

It’s far, far too early for either team to panic. LeBron James has missed two games for the Lakers and James Harden is still working his way back from a hamstring injury for the Nets. And with the exception of the Lakers’ disaster in OKC, both teams’ losses so far have come against pretty tough opponents.

Still, the early-season results can’t be written off entirely. James has been increasingly affected by injuries in recent years — if that trend continues this season, it’ll have a significant impact on a top-heavy Lakers team. The club acquired Russell Westbrook over the summer in part to have another star available when James or Anthony Davis miss time, but Westbrook has gotten off to a shaky start in L.A., averaging just 17.8 PPG (his lowest mark since 2009/10) and turning the ball over six times per game. His fit on this Lakers roster was an open question entering the season, and it doesn’t seem as if the team has fully figured it out.

As for the Nets, the impact of Kyrie Irving‘s absence shouldn’t be understated. Brooklyn is supposed to have one of the best offenses in league history, but through five games, the club’s offensive rating is an ugly 100.6 — only Detroit and New Orleans have been worse. Harden expects to be back to his old self soon, but he’s certainly not benefiting from the NBA’s reduction on foul calls when offensive players go out of their way to initiate contact.

Again, it’s too early for a sub-.500 record to be a major concern for either of these teams, whose rosters are heavy on star power and veteran experience. But the expectations in Los Angeles and Brooklyn are high. Anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be a letdown, so there’s not much room for error.

Many of the NBA’s other sub-.500 teams aren’t surprising, but the Celtics (2-3), Pacers (1-4), Suns (1-3), and Clippers (1-3) certainly would’ve hoped for better starts.

We want to know what you think. Is it still too early to draw any conclusions about any of this season’s slow starters? Or has some of what you’ve seen from the Lakers, the Nets, or other sub-.500 clubs made you skeptical of their ability to meet preseason expectations?

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