Contenders at the bottom, lottery teams in the playoffs, here are the five most surprising teams in the NBA this season. Whether overachieving or underachieving, these NBA squads are currently sitting in a position that people would not have expected at the start of the year.
5. Indiana Pacers
After their seven game Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat last year, it was evident that the Pacers would be a team to be reckoned with in the future. However, it was not expected for them to be this good. The Pacers came out of the gates firing as they jumped out to a 9-0 record to start the season. Paul George has continued to develop into one of the best players in the NBA, while Roy Hibbert has maintained his role as a seven-foot menace in the post.
The Pacers are currently on pace to do something that not many people would have foreseen in the off-season and that is take the number one seed in the East. The Pacers are currently the only team in the East with 50 wins and sit 3.5 games ahead of the second place Miami Heat. While the Pacers may win the regular season battle against the Heat, all that truly matters to either team is the NBA playoffs.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
While rookie of the year Damian Lillard had an extremely impressive season last year for the Trail Blazers, the team itself struggled as they lost their final 13 games and missed the playoffs with a 33-49 record. This season has been an entirely different story. Second year head coach Terry Stotts seems to have inspired his team, as Portland has been playing at a different level from last season.
Both Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge were selected to the All-Star game this season and they have led the Blazers to a record of 43-24. While the Blazers play has dipped recently, losing 6 of their last 10, they still sit in fifth place in the highly competitive Western Conference and look poised to make a run in the playoffs this year.
3. Toronto Raptors
It has been the Toronto Raptors who have taken advantage of the pitifully weak Eastern Conference this year, as they have climbed to third in the East with a record of 37-28. Since trading Rudy Gay in early December, the Raptors have looked like a completely different team than in recent years. They have been moving the ball well and Head Coach Dwane Casey has instilled a defense first mindset throughout the entire team.
Kyle Lowry has taken on the role as vocal leader of the club and DeMar DeRozan has continued to improve and was the first Raptor to be selected to the All-Star Game since Chris Bosh in 2010. The Raptors look to be well on their way to making the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 NBA season.
2. Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns were projected to win in between 15-20 games and be in the hunt for this year’s lottery draft pick. Well, those projections may have been slightly off, as the Suns currently host a record of 38-29 and are only 1.5 games back of the final playoff spot in the West. Goran Dragic has been huge for the Suns this year as he moved into a top 20 scorer in the league, averaging 20.4 points per game.
If the Suns played in the Eastern Conference, they would be fighting for the third or fourth seed in the playoffs. Seven of the eight current playoff teams in the West have 40 wins or higher. In the Eastern Conference, only Indiana and Miami have over 40. While there have been five or more teams with surprising seasons this year, perhaps the most surprising thing in the NBA has been the disparity between the East and West.
1. New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony has had another impressive season with the Knicks, but the team as a whole, not so much. The Knicks were coming off a season which saw them achieve a record of 54-28 and reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-00 season. This season the Knicks have struggled mightily.
The 27-40 Knicks are currently four games back of the Atlanta Hawks for the final playoff position. With the recent signing of Phil Jackson as head of basketball operations for the Knicks, the teams future has to look brighter than it did a few weeks ago. After all in this year’s Eastern Conference, there is still a chance that they make the playoffs.
Honorable mentions go to the Brooklyn Nets, who were preseason championship contenders. The Nets have been playing better of late and are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference and continuing to climb. Also, the San Antonio Spurs, who despite a devastating loss in the finals last year, have put together the best record in the NBA, and still nobody is talking about them.
By the end of the regular season there may very well be five new surprise teams that take the NBA by storm, but for now these are the teams that have either been disappointments, or exceeded their fans expectations.
Commentary By Eric Kummel