From the shocking emergence of the Lakers to the Warriors' historic start
Fact: We are 20 percent through the 2016-17 NBA season.
With the first month or so already in the books, we're taking a look at the biggest surprise for every team so far this year. From the emergence of the Lakers to the ridiculous offense in Golden State, here's what you might have missed — or refused to believe actually happened.
Atlanta Hawks: How little they've missed Al Horford
For the past half-decade, Horford was the Hawks. His strengths were their strengths, his weaknesses their weaknesses. Then Dwight Howard came in and replaced Horford like he'd never even played in Atlanta. The Hawks are one of the NBA's best defenses, and they're a solid rebounding team for the first time in years. Moving on was the best thing for all parties.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY SportsBrett Davis
Boston Celtics: Isaiah Thomas has been even better
The Celtics had an uneven start to 2016-17, but you can't blame IT4 for that. The Boston point guard has scored four more points per game this year than his All-Star campaign last season without a marked increase in playing time — and without forcing shots, as he's shooting better than last season, too.
Most surprisingly, Thomas is taking nearly three more free throw attempts per game this season as he continues to get better and better at forcing contact on his way to the rim.
Brooklyn Nets: Brook Lopez, 3-point sniper
You know the NBA's madly in love with the 3-ball when someone like Lopez is firing away. The Brooklyn big man has 23 made triples this year on 66 attempts; he was 3-for-31 from behind the arc prior to this season. When you have nothing to lose, why not experiment a little bit?
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Charlotte Hornets: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's regression
MKG was a different player last year with a fixed shooting stroke and a knack for getting the ball to the right player at the right time. This year, the Hornets are even better as a squad, yet Kidd-Gilchrist is suffering the effects of his most recent shoulder injury. All the work on his jumpshot went out the window after he got hurt, and he's spiraled since then as his confidence has dried up.
Chicago Bulls: Their ability to make this all work
On paper, the combination of Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade seems like a disaster waiting to happen. No one among that group is supposed to be able to shoot from the outside.
In reality, Wade and Butler are having career years from the 3-point line, and the vets are using their combined basketball knowledge to make the most of all the little spaces an opposing defense surrenders. There's more than one way to win a basketball game, as the Bulls are showing this season.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love's 34-point quarter
There's not much in Cleveland to surprise you on a systemic level this season; the Cavs are just cruising until the playoffs. That outburst from Love was incredible, though.
Getty ImagesMike Lawrie
Dallas Mavericks: That we're surprised Dirk is breaking down
Father Time stays undefeated in the NBA. Dirk's not completely done yet, but watching him struggle to stay on the court this season has been extraordinarily depressing. The worst part is that after a strong year from the Big German in 2015-16, we didn't see it coming.
Denver Nuggets: The big man logjam became a big problem
Denver tried playing Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic together. That didn't work. Then the Nuggets tried bringing Jokic off the bench. That went slightly better, but the Denver bigs still aren't playing like the world-destroying monsters they can be.
The Nuggets have too much talent not to have a clear vision of the way forward. For now, though, Denver is struggling through muddied waters.
Detroit Pistons: Stan Van Gundy's growing frustration
When you take on the responsibilities of head coach and general manager, you're clearly responsible when things don't go your way. Van Gundy has benched Andre Drummond for a lack of effort, questioned his players' dedication to rebounding, and even second-guessed himself as a coach. The Pistons are spinning their tires, and Van Gundy knows it.
Golden State Warriors: How quickly the offense reached "God mode"
We knew the Warriors would be lights-out on offense, but Golden State is on track to be the greatest scoring machine in the past 30 years after just one month together.
No, really. Basketball-Reference has a nifty stat called adjusted offensive rating, which takes into account league-wide scoring trends. Basically, if the rules make it tough to score, like in the 90s, that's factored in. If teams shoot a ton of 3s, that's part of the equation, too. We have this data going back to the 1984-85 season, and the Warriors are currently the best offense in that time.
They're better than Steve Nash's best teams. They're better than Michael Jordan's Bulls in their heyday. And they're better than the Showtime Lakers and the Celtics of the 80s.
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
Houston Rockets: James Harden's emergence as the point god
Speaking of Nash, what a revelation Harden has been under coach Mike D'Antoni. He went from being one of the game's best scorers to one of its best point guards simply by emphasizing that is in fact his position and letting him steer the team accordingly. Funny how the little things can matter sometimes.
Indiana Pacers: How little the Pacers matter at this point
I get that Indiana is in the midst of a rebuild of sorts and that young teams rarely move the needle. Yet the Pacers have Paul George, a true superstar who should shine at least a little light on his team. Instead, I'm guessing most NBA fans forget Indiana exists this season.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Los Angeles Clippers: That this was the year everything finally clicked
Not much has changed in Los Angeles this season, yet the Clippers are playing the best basketball of the Chris Paul era. Their success is a testament to the importance of chemistry, familiarity and internal growth, particularly from Blake Griffin, who continues to add new wrinkles to his game.
Sergio EstradaSergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Lakers: Nick Young, actual NBA player
I mean ... what? How? WHY?!
Memphis Grizzlies: Marc Gasol's return to form
Maybe this is just me, but I was genuinely worried about how Gasol would bounce back from injuries last season. Of course, he responded by knocking down clutch threes, celebrating like Conor McGregor, and leading the Grizzlies in their march up the Western Conference standings. Just stay healthy, Marc, and this will be a great year.
Miami Heat: How much they miss Dwyane Wade
I know, I know; obvious statement is obvious.
With Wade gone, however, I honestly expected the Heat to open up the floor, freeing Goran Dragic to play at his best while Hassan Whiteside crushed opponents in the pick-and-roll. Whiteside has held up his end of the bargain; the rest of Miami's roster needs a lot of work.
The Heat were always going to struggle to replace Wade's scoring. That they've been this bad is shocking.
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY SportsNick Turchiaro
Milwaukee Bucks: The ability to weather the Khris Middleton injury
"Next man up" might as well be the motto in Milwaukee. The Bucks lost one of their most important players (albeit one who most NBA fans might not know) and kept rolling with a top-ten defense and the emegence of Jabari Parker.
Most of all, though, the Bucks can thank Giannis Antetokounmpo for saving this season. The forward/point guard/positionless marvel has continued his meteoric rise and could very well earn his first All-Star selection this season if Milwaukee fans show up to the polls.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The depths of their early-season struggles
Morons like me didn't do the Wolves any favors by projecting them as a sleeper playoff contender, but even skeptics had to think Minnesota would be better than their 4-10 record.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis' historic start
Davis did everything he could to get the Pelicans off on the right foot (talon? webbed ... thing?) this season, surpassing Michael Jordan for the hottest start to a modern NBA season. We knew he was a spectacular offensive player, but making that kind of history is a tough thing to predict.
The Brow more or less kept up that torrid pace for the first month of the season, as he trails only Russell Westbrook in points per game. And despite some early season struggles, the Pelicans are finally starting to look like a real NBA team.
New York Knicks: How quickly they regretted the Joakim Noah deal
The Knicks had to hope they'd get at least one fully healthy season out of Noah — although that was probably a foolish wish in the first place. While he can still play pick-and-roll defense with the best of them in short spurts, Noah's contract is undoubtedly the worst in the NBA.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook's complete lack of help
The Thunder were always going to miss Kevin Durant, of course, but his absence should have presented an opportunity for someone to take on a bigger role in Oklahoma City. Steven Adams is doing what he can; ultimately, though, it's Russell Westbrook vs. the world these days.
Orlando Magic: That no one has taken a step forward
With Victor Oladipo in Oklahoma City, I assumed someone would take the reins as the leader in Orlando. Instead, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and the rest of the young Magic players are still trying to find their way under a new coach. One of the NBA's longest rebuilds continues with no end in sight.
Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid living up to the hype
Sam Hinkie's on a beach somewhere, toes in the sand, drinking daiquiris and loving every minute of Embiid's emergence as the clear Rookie of the Year this season. We knew Embiid would be good if he could ever get healthy, but only the most diehard Philly fans expected this level of performance.
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Phoenix Suns: The young guys' lack of playing time
Earl Watson knows he should be coaching for the future, not the playoffs, right? Admittedly, we don't know everything that goes on during practice. Perhaps Dragan Bender & Co. aren't quite ready for double-digit minutes a game. As a Suns fan, though, I'd appreciate a little more time for the guys who will still be around in three years.
Portland Trail Blazers: Evan Turner's complete and total meltdown
Turner's contract was never going to offer much upside for Portland, but the Blazers couldn't have expected such a lack of meaningful production from the former Celtic. The only consolation is that the season is still young and Portland's offense is fairly intricate. Maybe Turner can get on track sooner than later.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY SportsRussell Isabella
Sacramento Kings: That things have stayed relatively quiet
Short of the odd DeMarcus Cousins trade rumor here or there, the Kings have been able to concentrate strictly on basketball this year, which is a welcome change from basically every other season of Cousins' career.
San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker's relative silence
Not much surprises us with the Spurs these days; you tend to know what you're getting from Gregg Popovich's crew. While we expected Parker to rest up this regular season, it's still striking how little the Spurs have relied on their ostensible starting PG. Patty Mills has picked up the slack for now, and one wonders if this is all just part of San Antonio's plan to keep Parker healthy for the postseason.
Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan's evolution into a human flamethrower
DeRozan has always managed to get buckets. Somehow, he turned his scoring proficiency up to 11 this season. He's blowing his previous career-high scoring average out of the water by more than seven points per game; more importantly, DeRozan has been more efficient while taking more shots, which is an incredibly difficult combination to pull off.
Utah Jazz: That people still don't appreciate George Hill
Jazz fans appreciate him. So do Spurs fans and Pacers fans. The rest of the country needs to wake up and realize that Hill plays some of the best point guard defense in the association while displaying exquisite decision-making. There's a reason Gregg Popovich loves Hill so much.
Washington Wizards: How poorly this team responded to a coaching change
Scott Brooks probably wasn't the answer for the Wizards, but Washington definitely needed to make a change from Randy Wittman. Then the Wizards responded by crashing and burning through the first month of the NBA season. Patience is a virtue when it comes to coaching changes, sure. How long do you wait before getting anxious, though?