There have been a few surprises early in this NBA season. Here are nine:
Giannis is this good without a jumper
It’s not one of the biggest surprises that Giannis is averaging 35 points, 10.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.4 steals over his first five games. Everyone knew Giannis was good and still had room to get better. What is one of the bigger surprises is that his improvement has come without an improved jump shot. I for one thought that Giannis’s growth would be minimal until he could consistently hit from outside. Yet, he is taking just 18 percent of his shots outside of 16 feet and making only 27 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line and just 33 percent from three. He’s this good and he still has a lot of room to grow. That is scary for the rest of the league.
The Rockets are this good without Chris Paul
The Rockets traded nearly its entire bench to get Chris Paul. Paul has played in just one game and the Rockets are still 4-1. Eric Gordon and James Harden are averaging 24.6 and 26.4 points per game respectively and Clint Capella looks like he could be a perfect big man in the Rockets system. Capella is averaging 15.4 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks on 73.9 percent shooting from the field. Not only are the Rockets winning without Paul, they are also winning despite shooting just 28 percent from three point range, which is sure to go up as the season goes on. They have shot 30.8 and 34.7 percent from deep the last two seasons.
Kyrie Irving has shot so poorly
Kyrie wanted out of Cleveland so he could show the world just how great he was. Well, life as first fiddle may not be as fun as Kyrie envisioned. He is just 28th in the league in scoring at 20.8 points per game and is doing it while shooting a a career-worst 41.1 percent. He is going against defenses that are game-planning to stop him and it shows. While losing Gordon Hayward didn’t help, he may also be learning that having the greatest player of this generation next to him, sure made the game easier for him. As the Celtics go-to player, can Kyrie be the player he hoped he would be?
The Orlando Magic and Aaron Gordon
The Magic may be the biggest surprise team of the young season. Not many experts predicted that the Magic would have one of the top offenses in the league. And while it is early, the Magic are third in Offensive Rating and leading the league in three-point shooting at 45.5 percent. Obviously that pace is not sustainable, but to see Aaron Gordon, with new shooting mechanics and making six of his first seven three point attempts this season after never shooting better than 29.6 percent from deep is encouraging. After scoring a career-high 41 points to go with 14 rebounds in the Magic’s win over the Nets, Gordon is looking like an early Most Improved Player contender.
The Cavs and Warriors mediocre starts
I guess this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Dominant teams often get bored with the regular season. These two teams are everyone favorites to return to the Finals for the fourth straight year to battle for the title. The Warriors came out and lost two of its first three to Houston and Memphis and almost dropping a third game to the Wizards before an 18-point comeback saved them from dropping to 3-3. The Warriors didn’t lose its third game last season until December first. The Cavs have also struggled to start the season. A narrow victory over the Celtics on opening night even though the Celtics played all but five minutes without Gordon Hayward, wasn’t the best start for the Cavs. They dropped games to non-playoff teams in the Magic and the Nets (who were playing without their best player) and are now on their fourth different starting line-up. Wade looks old and Rose and Wade don’t look like they fit together. Can the Warriors and Cavs focus enough in the regular season to put them into position to return to the Finals? Time will tell.
The Memphis Grizzlies
I was one who expected the Grizzlies to take a step backwards this season. Losing Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, two of its cornerstones for the last decade, seemed like it would set them back. Instead the Grizzlies have gotten off to a great start including wins over the Warriors and Rockets. The Grizz are leading the league in free throw attempts while holding opponents to a league-low 40 percent from the floor. If the Grizzlies can continue this pace and make the Playoffs which team in the West will find itself on the outside looking in?
I know it’s only four games, but Dwight Howard might actually be a perfect fit in Charlotte. He is averaging 13.3 points on 61.8 percent shooting, while pulling down 17.8 rebounds per game and blocking 2.3 shots per game. If the Hornets can get the Dwight of old to play like this for an entire season, the Hornets will make some noise in the East Playoffs. They take care of the ball, defend the three, and don’t give opponents easy points at the free throw line.
The Thunder Big Three
One of the bigger surprises here is Russell Westbrook deferring in crunch time. I figured that if he was deferring it would be to Paul George. Instead, it is Carmelo getting shots in the clutch. Westbrook is averaging the fewest shots of the three with just 16.3, almost a full six shots fewer than last year. Also, Melo and George are providing little more than scoring. Westbrook is averaging more rebounds than Melo and George combined and triple their combined assists. George has started off slow. He is shooting 38.6 percent from the floor and a paltry 30.3 percent from three. Can Melo continue playing 35 minutes per game for the entire season? Will Westbrook continue to defer?
This draft class is proving to be one of the better classes in some time. Simmons, Ball, Tatum, Fox, Markkenan, Kuzma, Smith Jr., Collins, Jackson, and Mitchell have all shown flashes of promise. Lots of rookies have been pleasant surprises and playing meaningful minutes. Simmons has been particularly impressive and is averaging 16.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. He registered a triple-double in just his fourth professional game, faster than Lebron, Magic, Bird, Jordan, Kidd, or any other rookie in the last 50 years. Ball has held his own against some top guards despite being targeted because of his lunatic father. Tatum is making the most of his opportunity to start averaging 14.2 points on solid shooting percentages to go with 6.6 rebounds. Fox’s speed and athletic ability is reminding people of John Wall and Russell Westbrook. This class is loaded.