With opening week being under 50 days away now, it makes all the sense to look at past opening weeks. Opening night and the days that follow are one of the more anticipating times of the year because every team starts without a loss. Eventually, time will tell what happens. Many NBA greats have stepped on the floor for the first time with hopes of embarking on a great career. However, some of these greats had horrible starts in their career. Here are three current and retired NBA greats that had a rough start to their career.
NBA Greats that had Horrible Debuts
Kyrie Irving was set to commence his NBA dream back in 2011. After being the #1 pick, there were a lot of expectations made towards him. Many draft experts felt like Derrick Williams would have been a better option for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite this, Cleveland went with the polished point guard from Duke. This was only the second season since Cleveland lost LeBron James, and there was a low chance they’d even come near the playoffs. On December 26th, 2011, after the NBA lockout, Kyrie Irving played his first game against the Toronto Raptors. After missing his first three shots, Irving made a layup in the 2nd quarter to earn his first career field goal. He ended the game with only 6 points in an 8 point loss and shot 2-12 from the field including 1-5 from outside the arc.
Many were quick to jump under the bus saying that Irving should have stayed another season at Duke. This conclusion was made on the basis of him only playing 11 games there. Ramon Sessions, another guard on the Cavaliers, outscored Kyrie by 12 points! Jose Calderon, of the Raptors, also completely outplayed Irving on both ends. Irving is a good example of why one bad game can’t define a player. Kyrie went on to make several all-star teams and even won a championship. He will likely go down as one of the greatest point guards ever.
Leonard was in the same draft class as Irving back in 2011. Indiana took him just outside the lottery. With their logjam of wings, they sent him to San Antonio for a quality point guard in George Hill. Kawhi Leonard wasn’t seen as the best prospect in that class, which meant the expectation was clearly lower. However, he was quickly made a rotational player for a contending San Antonio Spurs team. The Spurs were just the #1 seed in the Western Conference, however, had a putrid playoff series losing in the 1st round. With the team poised to make a comeback, they made an interesting move to acquire Leonard.
The Spurs played their first game of the season in 2011 against the Memphis Grizzlies at home. This game was a revenge game for the Spurs as the Grizzlies defeated them in the playoffs the season prior. The Spurs would wound up winning by a solid amount earning them their first win of the year. However, this win overshadowed the horrible debut game for Leonard. Leonard entered the game only 5 minutes in, and ended up playing 13 minutes. Despite the trust, the Spurs gave him by inserting him into the rotation that early, Leonard did not have a great game. He scored 6 points and shot 2/9 from the field including 1/5 from 3. Here is another great example of why a bad game can’t shape a player’s future as Leonard is a superstar.
Although Pete Maravich had a short prime, he may go down as one of the more influential players of his era. He was clearly ahead of his time and was a very crafty player. What many don’t know about him was his horrible few games coming into the league. Atlanta drafted Maravich 3rd overall in 1970, just ahead of Dave Cowens, a former MVP. His first game came against the Milwaukee Bucks who had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in only his 2nd season. The Bucks would later go on to win 66 games and win the championship in a comfortable fashion in this season. The Hawks lost by 9 at home in this game. Walt Bellamy and Lou Hudson showed up for Atlanta, however, a rookie Pete Maravich only scored 7 points on 3/13 shooting.
A disappointing showing from Maravich followed up with a 3/12 shooting the night a couple of days later against the San Francisco Warriors. This would wound up being a rookie slump as Maravich would go on to average 23 points and 4 assists as a rookie. He would end his career as a 5x all-star and a Hall of Famer playing with the Hawks, Jazz, and Celtics.
Main Image: Embed from Getty Images