15 Biggest Surprises of the Early NBA Season
15 Biggest Surprises of the Early NBA Season
One of the great gifts the NBA gives every year is the promise of a new season. So many fan bases find themselves licking their wounds come spring time, but spring is eternal in the NBA every fall (if that makes sense). Every November is an opportunity to overact to a hot start, or freak out about a bad one.
I like seeing the young teams and player step up early. There are so many “buzz phrases” with young players and rookies like “they need to get their feet wet” -- I say just run them out there and see what they've got. Often times, guys like Michael Carter-Williams show that when you expect much out of a player, they give you a lot in return.
It certainly will be fascinating to see which of these 15 surprises can last for the majority of the season. I expect some of these to be legitimate options for the remainder of the season, while others should return to the norm by midseason.
Before we get into the list, I want to present some of the names I wanted to include but are more “honorable mentions.” Brad Beal, Evan Fournier, the Oklahoma City Thunder's rotation and the Los Angeles Clippers' defense were all contenders for the most surprising storylines of the early season. Ultimately, I think Beal and Fournier are just slow starts, and I expected OKC’s rotation and LAC’s defense to struggle, so I chose to leave them off the list.
15. New MVPs
Anthony Davis, Kevin Love and Paul George have exploded on to the National MVP scene. Obviously it’s LeBron James’ to lose and Kevin Durant will have something to say about it before the season is done as well, but these three have made giant leaps towards being part of the elite.
14. The Washington Wizards are really bad
I was fairly high on the Washington Wizards coming into this season, but they have looked like absolute garbage and I’m not convinced it’s a mirage. The defensive difference between Marcin Gortat and Emeka Okafor is glaring and has left a massive hole that the Wizards might struggle to replace all season.
13. Kevin Garnett's decline
I guess age catches up to everyone at some point. With KG, it appears that he has hit the wall of all walls. Can he recover from this? I have always been a big KG supporter, but when you only can shoot 33 percent from the field, it might be time to hang it up.
12. Dallas Mavericks' Rotation
When you have a guy like Dirk Nowitzki, you can almost just put a ragtag team of productive vets around him and it will lead to victories. Well, that’s exactly what Dallas did. Their combination of NBA castoffs (Monta Ellis), supposedly washed-up former stars (Vince Carter) and sleeper draft picks (Jae Crowder and Shane Larkin) have made the Mavericks a dangerous team in the West. The Mavericks go nearly 10 deep in +.100/WS48 players and that, plus an excellent start by Dirk, has helped them get to a 7-4 record.
11. Ricky Rubio's 3-Point Shooting
Rubio is shooting 39 percent from three on 1.7 shots per game. While that’s not a huge sample size, it’s also not small enough where you can just write it off as nothing. The three ball will be a big factor in determining how good Rubio can actually become in his career.
10. Memphis Grizzlies' unwatchable offense
They rank 22nd in points per game, 28th in pace of play and 16th in offensive efficiency. I knew they wouldn't be great, but they are downright awful. Their wings are absolutely killing them. Mike Miller and Tayshaun Prince are getting the bulk of the wing minutes for the Grizzlies and at best, they are both a shell of the players they used to be. Unfortunately for the Grizz, Zach Randolph is having a very concerning slow start, which also isn’t helping their offense.
9. Andrea Bargnani is not a disaster ... yet
Bargs is actually an okay fit on the Knicks offensively. He helps spread the floor for Smith and Melo, and he has been pushed to be a little better on the boards than he normally is. He is producing enough where I can safely say he’s not the main problem in New York ... which I wasn’t expecting.
8. Bucks' complete lack of competence
The Bucks nearly have an entire roster of unproductive players, with only John Henson recording more than .100 WS/48. I expected them to be bad, but this is a different level of bad. Help, Giannas Antetokounmpo -- you’re their only hope.
7. Isaiah Thomas is the Truth
I’m not completely surprised by this, but it sure has been nice to seem Thomas starting to get a little respect. He has gotten a significant increase in usage from last year's 23 percent to now 28 percent, and it has only lead to greater results. A nearly 60 percent TS% is impressive for anyone, let alone someone who is shorter than I am.
6. Portland Trailblazers
8-2, really? I don’t actually know what is more shocking, the Blazers' hot start or Wes Matthew's absurd career year. He currently holds a .210 WS/48 with a 68 ERG%. I can’t imagine that is sustainable and also don’t believe the Blazers' pace is sustainable, but they haven’t even gotten anything from their first-round pick yet.
5. How many bad teams there actually are
As of right now, there are only 13 teams with records better than .500. In fact, if the playoffs started today, 5-6 Charlotte, 4-6 Detroit and 4-6 Orlando would all make the playoffs. I know this is the year where everyone tanks to get one of the future studs that are coming out in the 2014 NBA Draft, but even then, I wasn’t expecting how bad most of the league would be.
4. Deron Williams Might Be Done
Deron Williams might be done as an NBA basketball player, folks. He’s quit taking the ball to the hoop, and his free throws have been cut by nearly two-thirds from 5.5 two years ago to 2.1 FTA so far this season. Once a guard loses his ability to get to the rim, it is often a telltale sign that his skills are diminishing. If Williams is done, the Nets might be in serious trouble
3. Larry Sanders
I knew he was a limited offensive player, but Sanders literally has a 25 percent true shooting percentage to start the season. He is still blocking everything, but he has been so bad offensively that it’s arguably not worth it for the defensive upside right now. He currently holds an offensive efficiency rating of 58 -- unplayable is the word that comes to mind. Injuries have also been part of the issue, and I fully expect him to turn it around. However, it is absolutely shocking how terrible he has been.
2. The Phoenix Suns
I can’t really explain how the Suns are 5-4 at this point in the season. I have zero faith in most of the talent on this roster, but somehow they get it done. They are getting epic performances from Eric Bledsoe (which is not too surprising) and Markief Morris (which is very surprising), and that is anchoring their team. That’s not all, however -- they continue to get competent performances from the majority of their roster and have been impressive as a whole unit.
I suppose it is possible that new head coach Jeff Hornacek is a "basketball whisperer", so there is always that.
1. Michael Carter-Williams
Has there ever been a call for a re-draft so quickly as this year with MCW? Even though his effectiveness is starting to taper off already, he has shown through eight games that he absolutely belongs in the NBA. He is a playmaker who will be a nightmare defensively (2.6 steals per game) and should be a treat to watch over the course of his career.