The 2019-20 NBA season is now 13 games old or so and we have a pretty good idea of who’s legit and who’s not. But did we expect the Lakers to be this good this early? Did anyone think Golden State would be last, while the Suns are in the playoff picture? Or for undrafted Kendrick Nunn to lead the Rookie of the Year discussion in a draft class headlined by Zion Williamson? The NBA has given us a fair share of surprises in the young season, and the DC Sports Staff is here to break them down.
Story Salit – Campus Correspondent
The Phoenix Suns have dropped three of their last four, but their 7-6 start remains one of the biggest surprises of the NBA season so far. Phoenix has been my favorite team since the days of Steve Nash winning back to back MVPs, and I have actually felt excited about this team for the first time in nearly 10 years. Over the past few seasons, the Suns have relied heavily on the scoring and playmaking abilities of budding superstar Devin Booker (and Kelly Oubre last season), but Booker has not had much help, and the team never stood much chance of making a playoff push. That has changed this season. Booker has maintained his level, but now has a much stronger supporting cast in the form of uber-efficient veteran point guard Ricky Rubio, versatile Aron Baynes, and the revitalized Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric. Young role players like Mikal Bridges, Jevon Carter, Cam Johsnon and Oubre all have made improvements this season. Under new coach Monty Williams, the Suns are playing much tougher defense and are playing a fast-paced, share-the-ball style on offense that almost reminds me of the Suns D’Antoni days. Let’s not forget that the Suns have had one of the toughest schedules of any team to start the season (having played the Celtics, Lakers, Heat, Sixers, Nuggets and Blazers) and have done so without suspended center Deandre Ayton.
Sean Janos – Staff Writer
Biggest surprise? That’s got to be how awful the Trail Blazers have been. From second-best in the west last season to second-worst today, Portland seems to have regressed mightily. I mean, how desperate do you have to be to sign Carmelo? Though they haven’t had the easiest schedule, they have losses to the likes of the Pelicans, Kings and depleted Warriors. Let’s make one thing clear though, this is not Damian Lillard’s fault. He’s posting career highs in points, assists and field goal percentage. C.J. McCollum’s shooting percentages are down all across the board, though his raw stats are consistent with recent seasons. Departures of strong wing defenders Al Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless, as well as the Jusuf Nurkic injury, have completely tanked the defense. That’s what makes you desperate enough to sign Carmelo.
Conner Gilson – Staff Writer
The biggest surprise thus far for me has been the outstanding performance of the Miami Heat. This team sits at No. 3 in the East with a roster that, aside from Jimmy Butler, is led by Bam Adebayo and surprise ROTY candidate Kendrick Nunn. The Heat are playing a gritty, out-toughing-the-opponents style this season, wearing down the opposition with stifling defense before breaking out on the other end. The team’s only losses have come against a red-hot Timberwolves team early in the season, the Lakers and the Nuggets, while they have racked up impressive wins in a close matchup with the Bucks before blowing the Rockets out of the water in a 29-point win. Adebayo is putting up career numbers across the board, the combination of rookies Nunn and Tyler Herro have formed a dangerous one-two punch on the offensive end and with Jimmy Buckets at the helm, this team could pull off a few upsets come playoff time in what is a pretty wide open Eastern Conference.
Jorge Eckardt – Staff Writer
Honestly, the thing I’m most shocked about is how the Charlotte Hornets aren’t one of the worst or flat out the absolute worst team in the NBA as many expected. In approximately two minutes of research, I found that Bleacher Report picked them to be No. 13 in the East, ESPN picked them to finish No. 14 in the East and Sports Illustrated thought they were going to be the worst team in the entire league. But alas, they’re not! In fact, as of right now, they’re actually technically in a playoff position at No. 8 in the East! So are they good? Absolutely not. They’re still 6-8, but there are plenty of teams worse than them at this very moment. That includes the 27-year-old man who doesn’t play well with others and his fellow Brooklyn Nets, the Chicago Bulls and the power forward brigade that calls Madison Square Garden home. To be fair, everyone knew the last two were going to be bad, but the Hornets were supposed to be just as bad if not worse. And they’re not. Scary Terry is solid, Devonte’ Graham is an MIP candidate and some of the supporting pieces are kind of good sometimes (that’s the best way I could think to describe it, because again, they’re not a good team). They could very well drop off in the last 68 games of the season, but losing our lord and savior Kemba Walker didn’t absolutely sink them like everyone thought it would. And speaking of Kemba, let me pass you off to Mr. Barletta.
Danny Barletta – Staff Writer
If you read my column this week, you know my biggest surprise has been the incredible start for the Boston Celtics. I did think that replacing Kyrie Irving with Kemba Walker was an awesome move, but if anybody told me that the Celtics would be 11-2 through 13 games with the best record in the East, I would have flat out called them a liar. There’s no way anybody saw them being this good so far. Even with Gordon Hayward’s injury, this team is finding ways to win. It seems like everyone out there is providing a spark, whether it’s Walker or Jaylen Brown or Marcus Smart. I still don’t think they’re the best team in the East. That title still belongs to the Bucks or 76ers until proven otherwise. But this Celtics team is really fun and has shown that they are for real this season.
Tamir March – Campus Correspondent
The rebirth of former stars has been the biggest surprise for me so far. There are countless across the NBA, so I know I’m going to miss some, but Gordan Hayward, Dwight Howard and Isaiah Thomas have proven they can still play very close to the level they were once at. Less so Dwight and Isaiah, but before he broke his hand Hayward was arguably playing better than he ever did with Utah. Compared to his lone All-Star season with the Jazz, Hayward has shot better from two and beyond the arc this year by a considerable margin. His assist and rebound numbers are also higher than that last Jazz season, in which he was also third team all NBA. Isaiah and Dwight aren’t exceeding the play that once had both of them in MVP contention earlier in their careers. That being said they have both shown they can still produce quality minutes in this league, when many people thought their careers were over. Dwight is making the most of his bench role with the Lakers, shooting 75% from the field, while giving everything the Lakers need on the defensive end. Similarly, Isaiah Thomas is shooting 3-pointers close to the best he ever has and truly earning a starting spot in the NBA, after everybody thought he wouldn’t be able to return from hip surgery. It’s refreshing, yet surprising to see these former All-Stars returning to form, and I only see them getting better from here.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of (AP Photo/Matt York)