The first week of the 2015-2016 NBA season hasn’t treated some of the league’s brightest stars quite so well. In particular, four of the NBA’s premier scorers and top all-around players have sputtered with inconsistent performances: Kobe Bryant, Paul George, Derrick Rose and James Harden.
Three of them (Bryant, George, and Rose) either missed all or a huge chunk of last year with debilitating injuries, but expectations were still high based off their previous success and All-Star status. Harden, who inked a $200 million endorsement deal with apparel titan Adidas over the summer, was coming off the best season of his career and figured to contend for the league MVP award for the second straight season.
And for their respective teams, the lack of production especially hurts in the standings. With Rose’s 3-1 Bulls being the exception, Bryant’s Lakers, George’s Pacers, and Harden’s Rockets have combined for 1-9 records through their first three or four games this season.
Since all teams have played less than 10 percent of the regular season schedule, it’s far too early to be alarmed, and for all of them the problems can be remedied over the next month.
So let’s take a look at why these superstars have failed to bolt out of the gate, and how and when they should break out of their early funks.
Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
After missing 47 games last season with a shoulder injury, Bryant started the new season healthy and with 24 points and two steals on opening night against Minnesota. The Lakers would lose by one point, and Bryant didn’t take the last-second shot that could have handed L.A. the win.
The 37-year-old has since shot 7-for-27 from the field for 28 points and he’s committed four turnovers between the last two games.
However, Bryant's sure to turn around the early woes and keeping firing up 19.6 shots per game to snap the shooting funk. Furthermore, Bryant does have a new supporting cast that’s starting to mesh, and the better youngsters like Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle play the more defenses will have to scale back coverage of Bryant.
Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls
Yet another knee surgery derailed Rose’s comeback last season, and a broken orbital bone suffered in the preseason figured to do the same this year. The injury forced the 27-year-old to wear a protective mask during games so as to prevent further damage, and Rose hasn’t quite adjusted to the new prop. He netted 18 and 15 points in the first two games of the season, mostly from attacking the basket, but Rose hasn’t been as aggressive towards the hole and has taken only two free throws in the last two Bulls games.
Rose has struggled with his outside shot, knocking down only 35.2 percent of his attempts, and he’s yet to sink a three after five tries. But even better than Bryant, Rose has an experienced and battled tested batch of teammates who’ve weathered his struggles, with Jimmy Butler continuing his stellar play from last season and forward Nikola Mirotic building on his work in the second half of last season.
It’s possible Rose finds his stride over the next five games, a stretch that includes two matchups with Charlotte, and one apiece with Minnesota and Philadelphia, young squads with guards that Rose can exploit for easier buckets.
Paul George, SF, Indiana Pacers
George by far faced the steepest uphill battle to return this year after suffering a horrific broken left leg last summer, and sitting out all of last season. He looked sharp and bouncy in the preseason, and is averaging 17 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, but his 3.3 turnovers and 34.9 percentage from the field leave much to be desired.
Losing George caused Indiana to tumble down the Eastern Conference and miss the postseason last year, and their success is once again tied to whether or not he can regain his form before the injury. The Pacers have yet to win a game this year, and that could continue against 3-0 upstart Detroit on Tuesday night, followed by visits from Boston and Miami, and then a trip to Cleveland.
Look for George to struggle against some of the more elite teams for most of the first half of the season, but afterwards he should start to see better progress in the final games of the season.
James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
Harden’s the one player who may have already worked out the early kinks. He lit up his old Oklahoma City teammates for 37 points on 12-for-26 shooting on Monday night for Houston’s first win of the new season, and shot better than 28 percent from the field for the first time.
His season averages thus far (22.8 ppg, 6.5 rbg, 5.5 apg, 1.5 spg) show Harden can not only fill up the stat sheet, but also find ways to effect a game other than scoring. But he also went back to the formula that garnered MVP votes last year, ceaseless attacks on the rim. Harden fired off a mere 17 free throws in the first two games of the season, but has 25 attempts in the last two.
Harden’s sure to string together some excellent scoring performances shortly, which will put to bed any talk of an early slump, and it’s important to note Houston might be going through an adjustment period with new point guard Ty Lawson.