The first few weeks of the 2017-18 NBA season have been filled with surprises, from the Eastern Conference powerhouse Cleveland Cavaliers struggling, to the Orlando Magic looking like an early-season contender. The DC Sports staff debates what it thinks is the biggest NBA surprise so far in this week’s edition of the Roundtable.
The biggest surprise through the first few weeks has to be the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, we knew that they would not be as dominant as they were last year for at least first few months, due to the injury to Isaiah Thomas, but to be struggling this badly is shocking. At this point in the season they are 3-4 and in 10th place in the East. To make matters worse, they are on a three-game skid, losing to the Nets, Pelicans and Knicks. Any team with LeBron James should not lose to the Nets and the Knicks in the same week. The game against the Nets was at least close, but they lost to the Knicks by 19 points. Things will for sure improve once Thomas comes back, but until then they need to find a way to turn things around. After all, if they want to compete with the Warriors, the whole team will need to play better. No matter how good LeBron is, he cannot carry them in the finals, that was proven last year. As for this year, something is up, and they need to figure it out, fast.
I believe the biggest surprise thus far in the NBA is the Detroit Pistons being off to a pretty decent start. They were the number one seed with a 5-2 record before their loss to the Lakers last night, but they were able to beat the Warriors, Clippers and Timberwolves which are three powerhouse teams in the stacked Western Conference. Although this is the NBA and a team can beat any team on any given night, the Pistons weren’t looking too great coming into the season. After finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference last year, they lost one their best players in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and didn’t make many offseason moves besides getting Avery Bradley from the Boston Celtics. Reggie Jackson struggled mightily last season coming back from his knee injury and Andre Drummond wasn’t producing on the offensive end. Tobias Harris also was inconsistent. They were having trouble putting points up on the board. This year is a whole different story. They put up 122 points on the Timberwolves and 115 on the Warriors. Harris has been playing terrifically leading the team with 20 points per game, and Jackson is playing much more efficient basketball. Bradley has also contributed both on the offensive and defensive end thus far.
The success of the Orlando Magic has been the biggest surprise of this very young NBA season. In an offseason that saw several stars move across the league, the Magic was rather quiet. They drafted a solid rotation player in Jonathan Isaac and signed Jonathan Simmons, who surprised many with his play down the stretch last season for the Spurs. For a team projected to finish at the bottom of an already weak Eastern Conference, they entered Wednesday night tied for first place holding a record of 5-2. The development of their young talent has been incredible over the first handful of games. Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier have led the team in victories against Cleveland and San Antonio. Although it is extremely early in the season, Coach Frank Vogel has the potential to lead Orlando into the playoffs even if they fall off their incredible pace. With the East being weaker than the West, don’t be surprised to see this team potentially make some noise come mid-April.
As a diehard Knicks fan, I came into this season expecting three things: sadness, disappointment and improvement from our young stud Porzingod. Less than three weeks in, I’m happy, hopeful and beyond surprised at the development of Porzingis from promising second-year player to full-fledged franchise talent. New York’s star has been electric, raining threes from the half-court logo, hitting fadeaways that would make Dirk shed a tear and swatting away opponents’ shots with limbs he borrowed from a car dealership’s wacky inflatable arm waving tube man. He’s averaging the third-most points per game in the league at 29.3, an 11-point jump from last season, and has carried the Knicks to a 3-3 record. This puts them half a game ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the reigning eastern conference champions and a team the Knicks just beat for the first time since Oct. 30, 2014. The Knicks are respectable, fun and I’ve finally found love in a 7’3 Latvian unicorn.
The biggest surprise through the first two weeks of the NBA season to me has been the Golden State Warriors rather average start. The ‘Dubs’ currently sit at 5-3, with their three losses coming against the Rockets, Grizzlies and Pistons; all solid teams with winning records. The Warriors also needed a furious fourth quarter rally to beat the Wizards at home to avoid dropping to .500. Golden State has had one of the toughest schedules of any team at this point in the season, but they were still certainly favored to win every game they have played so far. After all, they are the defending champions with four All-star players (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and two MVP candidates (Curry and Durant). Last year, the dubs finished 67-15 and had already won 16 games by the time they were handed their third loss. Granted, it is still very early in the season but if the Warriors are to remain the NBA’s true superteam, they will have to turn things around.
The Memphis Grizzlies have shocked the league with their electric start. They currently sit atop the Western Conference at 5-2 with surprising wins over the Warriors and the Rockets (twice). Along with the usual great team defense they play every year, Memphis’ success is largely due to the stellar all-around play of veteran center Marc Gasol. The former DPOY is averaging 20.1 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game (all career highs). He also had 34 points and 14 rebounds in the win over the defending champs. Gasol’s defense has always been his greatest strength, but recently it’s been his three-point shot that has really opened things up for him. He is currently shooting a respectable 36.4% on 4.7 attempts per game. It’s entirely possible if the Spanish big man can keep playing both ways at this level, then the Grizzlies could be a contender in the west.
Call me crazy, but my surprise team of the year so far is the Brooklyn Nets. Do they have the best record in the league? Absolutely not. However, they are still doing much better than initially projected given their horrific lineup and depth. They are currently sitting at 3-5 which may not look like much, but there are some really positive things to take from this shaky start to the year. D’Angelo Russell is already looking like a serious contender for Most Improved Player. With averages of 21.7 points, 5 assists, 4.1 rebounds and almost two threes a game, he appears to be much improved from his last season with the packed Lakers’ frontcourt. What can already be seen with the addition of Russell is the offensive fire power the nets have so far this season, averaging the third most points per game at 114. Opposite of that, and the reason for most of their losses to this point has been their defense, allowing 119 points per game, good for worst in the league. If the Nets can find their identity on the defensive end, there could easily be some more surprising victories headed their way in what could be a very unexpected season for this low aspiring Nets team.