Top 5 Surprises of the NBA Season (So Far)
A quarter of the way through the season, we’re officially able to distinguish which early surprises are actually turning into something real and which were just flashes in the pan. Some teams looked bad in the first few weeks, but have since turned it around. Others got off to great starts, but have since come crashing back down to earth.
But then there are teams and players that have been either shockingly good or shockingly bad (or shockingly injured) for sustained periods of time. From those stories, we have assembled the top surprises and disappointment from the first 22 games or so of the year:
The Dismal Washington Wizards – Had John Wall and Nene started the year healthy, this may have been a very different season for Washington. The additions of Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal were supposed to put the Wizards back in playoff contention, but Wall’s injury has been even more devastating than expected and the Wizards have been really, really bad. The Charlotte Bobcats, for example, have over twice as many wins as Washington a quarter of the way through the season. Anybody who says they expected that, even without Wall, is probably lying.
The Golden State Warriors’ Turnaround – After starting the season with a pedestrian 8-6 record, the Warriors have surged to 16-8 despite losing Andrew Bogut to injury for what should amount to a huge chunk of time. Stephen Curry has been healthy, Harrison Barnes has been one of the few rookies in this class to make an immediate impact and Mark Jackson has put together a climate that his young core has really bought into. These guys are much, much better than anyone thought they would be.
#5 – Andrew Bynum’s Knee – Remember how excited we all were to see Bynum make his Philadelphia debut? Then remember when he went bowling and hurt himself all over again? That’s the kind of plot twist nobody could’ve expected, but the fall-out has been Bynum rocking street clothes and sadly newsworthy hair all season long. Bynum was supposed to take Philly to the next level this year, but so far he hasn’t even suited up for them and may never. Bynum has always been injury-prone, so we knew something like this could happen, but nobody expected it to happen at a bowling alley.
#4 – The Atlanta Hawks’ Success By Committee – The frontcourt in Atlanta is the same one that helped turned Atlanta into a perennial playoff team, but Joe Johnson also had a big role in that. With him gone, traded for a bunch of nuts and bolts, the Hawks were supposed to take a step backwards this year. Instead, they have looked just as good as in years past. Jeff Teague has continued to bloom, and a committee of swingmen that includes Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and DeShawn Stevenson have found a way to make up for the points vacated by Johnson. They’re 14-7, which is the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Yes, you just read that correctly.
#3 – The New York Knicks’ Dominance – It was surprising enough that the Knicks were the last undefeated team left standing this season, but it’s been even more shocking to see them lead the Eastern Conference with an 18-5 record. Even more unpredictable is that New York is getting it done without Amar’e Stoudemire, technically the team’s second-best player. Carmelo Anthony is thriving playing at the four, and a combination of Mike Woodson’s defensive coaching philosophy and some new defense-oriented personnel has made this an exponentially more well-rounded team. We all keep waiting for them to stop winning games, but they refuse. The really frightening question is, what happens when Stoudemire gets back?
#2 – The L.A. Lakers’ Mediocrity – Pairing Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol up with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash was supposed to border on unfair, but the Lakers have looked painfully vulnerable so far. They’re on their third head coach of the season and have lost 14 games already compared to only 10 wins. Bryant has been prolific individually, but injuries to Gasol and Nash, as well as a slow adjustment to Mike D’Antoni’s system have left the Lakers as one of the league’s biggest disappointments this year. There’s still time to right the ship, but the slow start has taken a lot of people off guard. Things could get even more shocking if they keep up this mediocrity for the rest of the season. If regular season play ended today, L.A. wouldn’t even make the playoffs. One of the best on-paper teams in the history of the league wouldn’t make the postseason. Who would’ve ever predicted that?
#1 – James Harden’s Success and the Success of His Former Employer – Harden gets the top nod here for a couple of reasons. First of all, his 82 points over the course of his first two games in Houston was more than a little bit of a shock to the NBA community at large. We all knew he could score, but we had no idea he was going to score like that. In the weeks since, Harden has remained one of the league’s top scorers and has really emerged into a serious star since leaving Oklahoma City. Were he still there, Harden would be serving as third fiddle, but instead he’s become the league’s newest breakout star. But that’s only part of his topping this list of biggest surprises, because many of us suspected that Harden would at least approach All-Star numbers once the trade to Houston went down.
The other aspect worth noting is just how dominant the Thunder have been without last season’s Sixth Man of the Year. The Thunder are a league-best 19-4 and are currently enjoying a 10-game winning streak, with Kevin Martin (the main salary piece in the Harden trade) and his 46.8 percent shooting from three-point territory playing a major factor in that. Considering the fact that the Thunder also got blue-chipper Jeremy Lamb and a couple of first-round picks in the deal, that particular trade has looked excellent for the Thunder. OKC is on pace to win more games than in any other season in franchise history (including the Seattle years), and they’re doing it without a player that was supposed to give them the better chance to win. That is the very definition of surprising, is it not?
Of course, only seven weeks into the season we’ve still got plenty of time for more surprises to pop up, and we’ll also probably see some of the stories listed above fizzle out. Either way, these are this year’s biggest surprises so far.