Believe it or not, we've reached the quarter pole of the shortened 2020-21 NBA season, and in that time a number of surprising storylines have taken shape. Most are of the happy-surprise variety, like how hard LeBron James is playing when we all figured he would approach his 18th regular season on autopilot, or the borderline superstar ascension of Jaylen Brown, or the ridiculed 2020 rookie class almost immediately acquitting itself of the low-ceiling label.
But today, our glass is half empty as we take a look at the most disappointing developments to start this strange season. For the record, I'm leaving out the constant COVID-19 interruptions, as this was expected, though perhaps not to the degree we were seeing games postponed and players entering the protocol through an early stretch that had a lot of people wondering why the NBA wasn't hitting pause on the season.
So let's get it going. Here are five of the NBA's biggest 2020-21 bummers.
Lonzo Ball's regression
The Pelicans opted not to extend Lonzo Ball's rookie contract this past offseason for a pretty simple reason: They don't know if they want to be in the Ball business long term. They need more time to evaluate, and this season is that time with Ball set to hit restricted free agency this summer.
It's not going well so far.
Entering play on Monday, Ball is shooting 38 percent from the field, and just 29 percent from 3 on over seven attempts per game. You hate to boil Ball's game down to just shooting, but in the context of his place going forward on the Pelicans, it's the difference between him being a useful role player and a drag on the potential of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram as a star duo in need of proper spacing.
Ball improved as a 3-point shooter through the first three seasons of his career, going from 30 percent to 33 percent to a 38 percent boom last season, per Cleaning the Glass. The improvement looked real. Ball overhauled his cockeyed mechanics and shot with confidence, even aggression. He couldn't hit anything in the bubble, but the hope was that would prove to be a blip on the radar and he would return to form this season. It's still early, but the returns on that hope have been disappointing.
Warriors' starting-lineup woes
When Klay Thompson went down with a season-ending Achilles tear just as training camp was about to open, the Warriors decided to use their $17.2 million trade exception to acquire Kelly Oubre Jr. from the Thunder. Including luxury-tax penalties, the Warriors are paying north of $80 million for Oubre this season, an while nobody expected him to replace Thompson, the notion that he would get off to literally the worst shooting start in NBA history wasn't exactly a consideration.
Add in the rookie mistakes, and limitations, of James Wiseman, and the Warriors' starting lineup has been a disaster so far. How bad are we talking? Entering Monday, the Stephen Curry-Oubre-Andrew Wiggins-Draymond Green-Wiseman unit had been outscored by 73 points in 161 minutes. That is by far the worst point differential for any five-man unit in the league that has played even a modicum of minutes together.