NBA: A Look At The 5 Biggest Surprises So Far In 2016-17
It is often easy to predict which NBA teams will do well in any given year for a number of reasons. However, here is a look at few teams that have exceeded expectations in the early stages of the 2016-17 season.
Prior to the start of the season, several media outlets offered predictions on which NBA teams would do well and more than likely make it to the postseason.
Being that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the new-look Golden State Warriors have battled it out in the NBA Finals in each of the last two seasons, it was not much of a surprise that these two heavyweights were at the top of those lists.
On the flip side of the equation, every so often, there are some instances in which teams rise to the occasion despite the fact that they don’t look all that appealing on paper.
That being said, are the lower-tiered teams capable of making some noise and disrupt the standings a bit?
Maybe. Maybe not.
However, there are some teams that have done surprisingly well in the early weeks of the 2016-17 season and today we will take a look at them.
5. Chicago Bulls
On the heels of a season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years, the Bulls front office decided that a change was needed. They traded Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks in return for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon, who was later sent to the Lakers.
And for all the talk about the lack of shooting in the starting lineup, along with questions about whether or not three ball-dominant players could effectively co-exist on the court, the Bulls are off to a good start.
Following a three-game losing streak that put them back at the .500 mark, the Bulls have won five of their last six outings, pushing their record to 8-4, placing them a half game ahead of the Toronto Raptors for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Yes, it still early. But if this group continues to play for each other and buy into the system that Fred Hoiberg is trying to implement, the playoffs are definitely in the cards for this team.
4. Charlotte Hornets
A year ago, the Hornets finished with a 48-34 mark, putting them at the No. 6 spot in the conference. Even more importantly, they were within one win of knocking off Wade and the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
The early results are in and the Hornets are doing just fine. Despite the fact they dropped a pair of games against the Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the Hornets have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference at 7-3.
Kemba Walker is off to a great start, averaging 25.8 points, 5.5 assists 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals per contest on 49 percent shooting from the floor and a very efficient 48 percent from three-point range.
Additionally, Frank Kaminsky, who is averaging 11 points per outing, has increased his points-per-game average from his rookie campaign by nearly 50 percent, and he has been playing somewhat better from a defensive standpoint.
The key for this team going forward is balance. And as long as Walker isn’t forced to totally shoulder the scoring load as the season progresses, the Hornets definitely have an outside shot at securing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
3. Atlanta Hawks
The past two postseasons have not been kind to the Atlanta Hawks. In 2014-15, they finished with the best record in the conference, but were swept by LeBron James and Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Last season, the Hawks finished with the fourth-best record in the East. After knocking off the Boston Celtics in six games in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks once again fell to the Cavaliers in four games.
In light of those shortcomings, the Hawks decided to go in a different direction during the offseason. They parted ways with Jeff Teague and gave the lead-guard duties to Dennis Schroder. Along with that they brought in Dwight Howard to replace Al Horford, who signed with the Celtics.
After losing one of their best players in Horford, it would have been reasonable to presume that the Hawks would regress somewhat.
Surprisingly, though, that has not been the case thus far.
From a defensive standpoint, the Hawks boast the NBA’s second-best defense (as they were a year ago), allowing 98.2 points per 100 possessions and their 99.2 points allowed per outing is actually one point less than what they gave up last season.
Additionally, the Hawks are averaging five more points per game than they did in 2015-16; they are playing at a faster pace and their offensive efficiency has improved from 22nd last season to 12th this season.
As if those improvements don’t stand on their own merit, the Hawks are also tied with the Cavaliers for the best record in the conference at 9-2. Prior to the start of the season, the Cavaliers and Raptors were penciled in as the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
But early on, the Hawks are showing they may have something to say about that when it’s all said and done.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Despite being labeled as the group that hasn’t been able to get over the hump the past few seasons, the Clippers have coming racing out of the gate in 2016-17.
They currently own the best record in the league at 10-2. They are the fifth-highest scoring team in the Association at 108.7 points per contest and they are ranked fourth in offense, averaging 112.1 points per 100 possessions.
Those numbers should come as no surprise as the Clippers have several players who can put the ball in the basket. What is a surprise, though, is how well they are playing from a defensive standpoint.
They are tied for first (with the Miami Heat) in opponent field-goal percentage, giving up a meager 41.5 percent. Their 93.8 points allowed per contest is the second-best mark in the NBA.
To hammer this point home even further, it is also worth mentioning that the Clippers are ranked first in defensive efficiency, allowing just 96.7 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference.com.
While it may too early in the season to label this group as a conference powerhouse, they are certainly a team that no one should be overlooking right now.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant ended his 20th and final NBA season with a memorable 60-point performance on 22-for-50 shooting from the field. But while Kobe concluded his career with an exclamation point, this moment proved to be one of the few bright spots for the once proud franchise.
The Lakers finished the 2015-16 campaign with a record of 17-65, which represented their worst win-loss total in franchise history. Along with that, they were the worst defensive team in the league, giving up 111.6 points per 100 possessions.
On the heels of a very disappointing season, the front office opted to hire Luke Walton to help usher in a new era of Lakers basketball.
This was a smart move being that Walton was an assistant coach with the two-time conference champion Warriors and guided them to a 39-4 start a year ago.
While the Lakers have a bunch of young, talented players in D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, there were not expected to move up in the standings all that much due to the talent level of the other teams in the Western Conference.
However, in spite of the fact they came into the season without a lot of fanfare, this baby Lakers squad is right in the thick of the playoff hunt.
They currently hold the fifth spot with a 7-5 record — an accomplishment in itself considering they didn’t win their seventh game until January last season.
With upcoming games against the likes of the San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, the Warriors (twice) and the Atlanta Hawks, we will have a better feel as to what this team is really made of.
For the time being, though, the players believe they are a playoff team. And if they can find a way to build on their surprising start, that sentiment just may come to fruition.