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5 NBA players who are off to the worst start of their careers

We’re approaching the Christmas Day slate of the NBA schedule, which always generates tons of interest among the basketball community. But before we get there, we thought we’d highlight a few NBA players who are hoping for a miracle to turn their seasons around.

We know about some of the players who are off to their best starts yet, both in the backcourt and the frontcourt, but what about those who are off to the worst starts of their careers?

It’s not a fun topic, but these five NBA players need to start playing better before their playing time starts to dwindle.

Devonte’ Graham struggling in reserve role

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at Chicago Bulls
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

After his breakout sophomore season, it appeared Devonte’ Graham was on his way to becoming a future 20-points-per-game scorer. By increasing his scoring average from 4.7 PPG as a rookie to 18.2 per game in his second season, Graham was viewed as a core piece of the Charlotte Hornets’ rebuild.

Well, a season later, he was dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans, where the scoring guard started 63-of-76 games he played. While we did see Graham’s scoring drop down to 11.9 PPG, he also shot the best free throw percentage of his career, showing Graham was still improving.

Now, still just 27 years old, he appears to be in the midst of the worst start of his NBA career through 24 games of action.

A career 35.8% shooter from distance, Graham’s three-point percentage has improved to 37.9% this season, but he’s coming up much shorter in nearly all other categories. While he’s never been known to be a distributor, Graham’s averaging the lowest assist rate of his career (17.1%).

Recently we’ve seen Jose ‘Grand Theft’ Alvarado steal Graham’s playing time, and unless the latter improves his play, we may be looking at some of his final games in a Pelicans uniform.

Related: NBA Power Rankings: All 30 teams and NBA stats leaders

John Collins is one of many NBA players in need of a change of scenery

NBA: Miami Heat at Atlanta Hawks
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Not all that different from the first player on this list, John Collins was a player who appeared on track to be a future NBA All-Star thanks to so much early success with the Atlanta Hawks. The power forward is still just 25 years old, but his career is trending in the wrong direction.

  • John Collins stats in 2022: 12.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 48.4% FG, 21.9 3PT%, 1.4 BPG

Once a player who averaged a double-double at the age of 22, when Collins posted 21.6 PPG plus 10.1 RPG in 2019, we’ve seen his scoring decrease each season since. Yet, it’s not like anyone can say they are blindsided by such a development. We’ve heard for years that Collins is unhappy with his role in the offense, and his numbers this season may be the latest evidence of his internal frustrations.

Whatever the reason for his struggles, Collins is still a fascinating talent with the ability to shoot from distance and rebound at a high rate, all while being an explosive athlete who plays above the rim.

Teams surely have an interest in adding the 6-foot-9 forward, but the Hawks are all-in after acquiring Dejounte Murray, meaning if Collins is hoping for a change of scenery any time soon, he may want to start playing better basketball once he returns from his ankle injury.

Related: Brooklyn Nets engaged in trade talks with Atlanta Hawks over big man John Collins

Chris Paul’s age may be catching up to him (finally)

NBA: Boston Celtics at Phoenix Suns
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Many didn’t think it was possible for the 12-time All-Star, but we’ve seen Chris Paul’s play drastically drop off over the past few seasons. While the 37-year-old Point God should be cut some slack for having missed 14 games due to injury, what he’s put on the floor in a small sample size of 11 games provides cause for concern.

  • Chris Paul stats in 2022: 9.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 8.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, 36.6% FG, 25.7% 3PT

Paul has never finished a season averaging less than double-digit scoring figures as he’s doing now. Yet, a lot of these issues can be attributed to him having the lowest field goal percentage and three-point accuracy of his 18-year NBA career.

He’s also near career lows in assist rate, at 37.3% which is still high, but not for the 11-time member of the All-NBA team, who has a career rate of 45.2%. Still, as mentioned, it’s early. Perhaps we’ll see Paul return to his elite form as he gets his legs underneath him later on in the year.

Related: NBA MVP race 2022-23

Deandre Ayton’s nowhere close to reaching his No. 1 pick potential

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Phoenix Suns
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If CP3 escapes some heat for being one of the oldest players in basketball, at 37, then what’s Deandre Ayton’s excuse? Still just 24 and only five years removed from being the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, Ayton’s career should be rounding into peak form at this point.

Instead, after signing a four-year, $132.9 million contract this past offseason, we’re seeing Ayton revert back to his rookie-year production.

Generally when defensive-first players such as Ayton continue to develop their game, we see their offensive skillset grow as they gain experience, leading to a higher scoring output. But not Ayton. While it’s true he’s still an extremely efficient scorer, Ayton’s averaging new career lows in rebounding.

This is in addition to his aforementioned dip in scoring, which again, CP3’s scoring numbers are also down, and the Suns have battled several injuries. It really doesn’t make sense for Ayton to not still be a focal point within the offense. Perhaps internal issues with Monty Williams are still causing problems.

Whatever it is, the Suns may want to figure it out quickly because Ayton won’t come close to living up to his contract at this rate.

Related: 2023 NBA mock draft: Projections with college basketball season fully underway

Ben Simmons trending up, but still misses the mark

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Indiana Pacers
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

We’re not faulting Ben Simmons for being injured again, and he had been playing much better prior to getting hurt, but come on, this is far from the All-NBA versions we saw in Philadelphia. Simmons is scoring at roughly half the rate he used to, and his peripheral numbers are also down, with the point forward also averaging new career lows in assists and rebounds.

Yet, let’s not rush into saying Simmons can never recapture his peak form. We also can’t entirely discount the player’s current production. As is, Simmons still offers a keen sense of defensive awareness, getting into passing lanes and altering shots.

He also displays great vision on the go in fastbreak situations. Even if his scoring is far from what Brooklyn would want, he is at least averaging the best effective field goal percentage of his career, and the rebounds, assists, plus blocks and steals are enough to keep giving the 26-year-old All-Star as many minutes as he can handle once he returns from injury.

Related: NBA playoff predictions: Bracket picks & 2023 Finals champion