Bottom of the Valley
USA Today Sports
Each night brings new NBA scores scrolling across our tickers, individual grains of sand that, so many months later, make a vast beach of an NBA season. But if a given week brings in a few dozen final scores, it also means that hundreds of Game Scores, tracking individual and not team performance, have been calculated and compiled on Basketball-Reference. Their definition of the Game Score stat:
Game Score; the formula is PTS + 0.4 * FG - 0.7 * FGA - 0.4*(FTA - FT) + 0.7 * ORB + 0.3 * DRB + STL + 0.7 *AST + 0.7 * BLK - 0.4 * PF - TOV. Game Score was created by John Hollinger to give a rough measure of a player’s productivity for a single game. The scale is similar to that of points scored, (40 is an outstanding performance, 10 is an average performance, etc.).
The very best game scores of the 2013-14 season are all performances that we vividly remember, revere, and tremble at. In the top 10 we have Terrence Ross‘ 51-point explosion; two near-40/20′s and one triple-double from Kevin Love; a triple-double and the career-high 54-point game from Kevin Durant; and two mind-bogglingly efficient games from Chris Paul (38 points on 14 shots, 42 points on 20 shots).
And at the very top of the pile, some distance from second place, we have Carmelo Anthony‘s seminal 62-point game, compiled in only 35 shots and supplemented with a serious 13 rebounds (and no assists–but can ya blame him?). It’s a transcendent performance that in fact ranks tenth since 1985-86, only slightly behind absolute peak performances from the game’s bronzed legends.
That’s nice and all, but you already saw these outlier performances all over SportsCenter that night. I’m more intrigued by the outliers in the other direction, performances so desolate that the Game Score had to be measured in negative numbers. Here’s a peak at what have been, so far, the five worst single-game performances of the season, ranked from least-worst to worst-worst:
5. John Lucas III, November 13 v. New Orleans: 15 minutes, 0-6 3P, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 1 foul, 1 point
Watching Lucas’ personal season-worst, it becomes clear that negative Game Scores aren’t so much a measure of futility–disjointed turnovers, flailing fouls, clangers off the side of the backboard–as they are a sign of invisibility. It wouldn’t have been obvious to any of the Utahans in attendance at this game that they were witnessing a league-wide bottom-five performance on the hardwood in front of them. For the briefest of moments, Lucas is actually the game’s leading scorer, sinking a free throw in the opening minute thanks to a Pelicans’ three-second defense technical. What the scorekeeper marked down as a bricked lay-up actually looked like a nifty, backboard-utilizing pass to Marvin Williams to finish off an inventive fast break.
Lucas’ six missed threes were hardly irresponsible or rash either, coming wide open and in the flow of the offense. He was hardly far off from being 6-for-6, only collective inches away from a blistering hot streak. But alas, here Lucas is, on this list.
With Lucas riding pine for the entire second half, Utah would actually go on to win the game, their first victory of the season after eight defeats. It’s the only bottom-five performance that ended in victory for the perpetrating player.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, January 10 v. Chicago: 12 minutes, 0-5 FG, 0 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 3 fouls
This is a bottom-five performance that yields the least derision out of all; just like everything else young Giannis has done, it’s practically adorable, one of those “lumps” that rookies so young will inevitably have to “take.” This night the Bulls defense clamped down on the entire Milwaukee team like a baby crocodile on Johnny Knoxville’s nipple, limiting the Bucks to 72 points in 48 full regulation minutes. Welcome, rook.
2 (tie). Harrison Barnes, January 17 v. Oklahoma City: 19 minutes, 0-4 FG, 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 turnovers, 5 fouls
This game from the increasingly quixotic Barnes came in a prime-time, nationally televised match-up, the league’s second-worst performance occurring in the exact same location of the space-time continuum as Durant’s aforementioned 54-pointer, the second-best performance of 2013-14. It’s hard to focus on much else when Durant does that and Stephen Curry is compiling 37 points of his own, but a look at Barnes’ play shows that it was just a few awkward bounces of the ball that earned him a spot on this list–a teammate gets credit for a rebound that Barnes charitably tipped to him, at least three of his five fouls were harmless taps of the wrist. Unlike Lucas and Antetokounmpo before him, Mark Jackson evidently didn’t notice the desolate statistical display that Barnes was mired in, and the wingman got high-leverage fourth-quarter minutes in a close, marquee game.
One is tempted to chalk up Barnes’ foray into invisibility to the combination of seeing an ice-veined Kevin Durant in the opposing huddle and seeing brand-new teammate Jordan Crawford in his own. But, so sorry Bay Area faithful, Barnes has made even more contributions to the worst-100 games list, helpless and lost (and earning even more playing time than in this game) against Denver and Minnesota.
2 (tie). Kyle Singler, January 22 v. Milwaukee: 19 minutes, 0-7 FG, 0 points, 1 rebound, 0 assists, 1 turnover, 3 fouls
With the Bucks riding a nine-game losing streak (not their longest of the season, if you can believe it), it would take a special set of circumstances for them to win again. That circumstance was Caron Butler Bobblehead Night, no doubt a supremely motivating factor as Butler hung 30 on the board. Singler’s own non-contributions were surely like a free oxygen tank that Milwaukee summit the mountain. Poo-poo one-game samples of +/- all you want: Singler was -20 for this game while four of the Pistons’ five starters ended up in the positives.
In fairness, Singler did a number of the small, winning things that don’t end up on the stat sheet. Almost immediately after Singler checked in, his hard foul on Ekpe Udoh prevented a sure slam dunk; another foul on Brandon Knight a few possessions later wisely broke up an incisive fast break. At one point in this game Singler drew a charge on our main man Miroslav Raduljica, a fate that no one would wish upon their worst enemies.
Singler also got juked by Butler a few times, and that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet either.
1. Randy Foye, December 21 v. Los Angeles Clippers: 16 minutes, 0-7 FG, 0-5 3P, 0 points, 1 rebound, 3 turnovers, 2 fouls
Incredibly, this was the one NBA game that I’ve attended in person this year. I saw it. Saw it with my own eyes. The very worst single-game performance out of the thousands of single-game performances. And, well, shoot: I didn’t even notice.
For one thing I was very, very busy watching every move that James Goldstein made, a source of fascination that carried me through warm-ups, halftime, and the eventual listless blowout that transpired on the court below. (Nate Robinson stopped in the middle of warming up, walked over to James’ seat, they chatted for a while, and then James took a picture of his female companion and Nate standing on the court. The picture has, tragically, as far as I can tell, not made its way onto the Internet.) For another I was convinced throughout the first half that Wilson Chandler was primed to singlehandedly propel the Nuggets to victory; but I see now that he scored 19 points, not exactly the dominating tally I sensed him attaining.
Looking back at the tape, Foye conceded two three-point plays to Jamal Crawford within the first minute–a deep ball and then an and-one. Perhaps coupled with the anxiety of facing his former employers–more than happy to let Foye slip into free agency just when the contending got good–the game was already over for Foye, missing two three-pointers of his own almost immediately. Foye’s impact, or lack thereof, had virtually no impact on the game’s end result, a true contender demolishing a franchise angled downhill towards the lottery. Nonetheless, Game Score abhors his game, granting him a score of -8.4 that well outdistances the Barnes/Singler tally of -6.8. Mercifully for Foye, his night only ranks 29th-worst in the Game Score era (since 1985-86), some distance beyond the -11.7 abomination unleashed in 2001 by David Wesley.
There are plenty of head-scratching laughers along the list of this season’s worst Game Scores. But, unlike Game Score’s ability to identify the Association’s best single-game performances, the ones listed here, though woeful, are far from the true, hide-the-kids, NSFW bottom of the barrel. The truly debilitating performances are probably those that soak up valuable possessions with an arsenal of bricks: the list of high-attempt, low-bucket games feels truly apocalyptic. Gerald Green goes 2-for-16 in 42 minutes. Dion Waiters is granted 39 minutes off the bench to go 3-for-15 with 5 turnovers.
Just this week Timofey Mozgov, incredibly, went 3-for-15 in a game where he only played 19 total minutes. Devise a metric that can handle that.