For the most part, it’s easy to tell who the NBA’s contenders and bottom-feeders are before the season. Similarly, fans can usually predict what a large part of a team’s given rotation is going to look like. But every year, there are several instances of unexpected players and teams breaking out or disappointing.
This season is no different and, through the first portion of the season, there are already some surprising trends and storylines.
In my view, the most disappointing start to the season for any team has to be the Grizzlies. Teams like the Pistons, Wizards, Spurs and Trail Blazers were expected to trend toward the bottom of the standings with young cores and growing pains. But the Grizzlies were the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last year and acquired former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. Of course, Memphis has been dealt an incredibly difficult hand with the 25-game suspension of Ja Morant and injuries to Brandon Clarke, Steven Adams and Smart, along with many more, and any team would be hard-pressed to overcome that.
Seasons are all about hot and cold streaks, and both the Clippers and Warriors are going through slumps after respective strong starts to the year. The Clippers began the year 3-1 and have gone 1-6 since acquiring James Harden, including losing six straight. The Warriors began the year 6-2 but have now also lost six in a row. I didn’t anticipate there to be as many growing pains with the Clippers and Harden from the jump, but I still expect they’ll get into form.
Not all surprises are bad though, and there have been plenty of pleasant ones to begin this year. The Timberwolves share the top spot in the west with the defending-champion Nuggets, which is eye-popping at first until you consider their elite defensive play and Anthony Edwards‘ unsurprising breakout.
The Rockets and Thunder look well ahead of the development curve, and hold two of the top six spots in the west. Chet Holmgren immediately looks like a star in his first NBA season for Oklahoma City while the Rockets have been aided by the additions of their veteran players and coach Ime Udoka.
For my money, the most surprising early season development is Dereck Lively II‘s immediate importance to the 9-4 Mavericks. In his one season at Duke, Lively averaged just 20.6 minutes per game, though his role grew exponentially as the year went on. Still, when Dallas drafted him, I expected the franchise to bring him along slowly and allow him to get adjusted to the NBA.
Instead, Lively surged to the top of the depth chart, taking a choke-hold on the starting center position at just 19 years old. He’s averaging 8.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.7 stocks (steals plus blocks) in his first 12 games. His rise to the top has opened up so many things for the Mavs’ offense and Lively is a huge part of what looks like a top dog in the conference.
That brings us to our topic of the day: What early season trends have most surprised you the most? Do you agree with any of our choices? What players and teams have most exceeded or fallen short of expectations?
Take to the comments to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to reading your input.