This 2019-20 NBA season has been a wild one so far, full of surprise players and teams around the association. Let’s get into the top surprising players, teams and events so far in the year, plus some diamonds in the rough.
This list could be a most improved list, but I also wanted to include some that are not living up to expectations.
Devonte’ Graham – My pick so far for most improved, the second year player is putting up all-star numbers, and is one of the league leaders in three pointers made per game. He could also go in the ‘Diamonds in the Rough’ section, averaging 19 and 7.
Kendrick Nunn – One of the frontrunners for Rookie of the Year (ROTY), Nunn is one of the most inspiring stories in the NBA. He went undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft, then signed with the Golden State Warriors G-League team, and put up great stats. He was signed by the Heat this offseason, and is making the most of his chance in the NBA, being one of the better all-around players in Miami.
Davis Bertans – A player who didn’t stand out in San Antonio that much, because his skillset wasn’t right for the playstyle, is now 2nd in three pointers made per game, eighth in three point percentage, and eighth in total three pointers made. He’s averaging career numbers all around, and is a great spark plug off the bench for one of the best offensive teams in the game. He also could’ve gone in the ‘Diamonds in the Rough’ section.
Carmelo Anthony – Although he’s not going to be an all-star, and he’s not in any award races, Carmelo is definitely one of the most surprising players this year, because he wasn’t even on a team when the season started. He came in part way through November for the Portland Trail Blazers, and was in the starting lineup immediately. He was named Western Conference Player of the Month in November after averaging 18 ppg, 6 rpg and 2 apg.
Mike Conley – Conley is the only player here who is doing worse than last year, and he’s currently sidelined with a hamstring injury. His numbers are down a lot this year, averaging 7.5 points less. He has taken 4 less shots a game, since he’s on a better team, but his percentages are also down (7% decrease in field goals, the same on three pointers, and 4% less on free throws). You would expect his playmaking to go up on a better team with a better coach, but his assist number are down drastically too. The Utah Jazz organization hopes that as he gets more comfortable with the team, he will start to improve.
This list includes all teams that are underperforming or overperforming dramatically.
Oklahoma City Thunder – This is one of the most surprising teams so far this year, considering they traded their two all-stars for a million first round picks (it was seven, to be exact). They were thought to be rebuilding/tanking, since they have 15 first round draft picks in the next 7 years, and a handful of great young players who will hopefully blossom into stars. Shockingly, they are still in the playoff hunt, and currently have a record of 18-15, good for 7th in the west; not to mention the current development of their future core looks very promising.
New Orleans Pelicans – The Pelicans were supposed to be a 7 or 8 seed, and the Thunder were supposed to be terrible. Clearly, we’ve seen the opposite; but we can account that to the surprisingly long absence of Zion Williamson; who is supposed to make his NBA debut later this month. After a huge roster upheaval this offseason, including an Anthony Davis trade, they collected a huge amount of picks and young talent, and seem to be set on a rebuilding course. They are 11-23, which makes them 14th in the west and 25th in the NBA. Jrue Holiday and an emerging Brandon Ingram can only do so much, folks.
Golden State Warriors – Also a team that was supposed to be a borderline playoff team, they had a terrible start to this year. Their depth was a question over the offseason, but they would still have Steph, Draymond Green and D’Lo. As we all know, Steph broke his hand a few games into the season, Draymond has been battling minor injuries throughout the year; and of course, Klay is still out with his ACL tear from the finals. These injuries really derailed Golden State at first. Eric Paschall has been a nice surprise, as well as Alec Burks. ESPN ranked them 8th in preseason power rankings, but now they are ranked 27th. On a positive note though, a recent winning surge has given fans hope for a rejuvenation.
Philadelphia 76ers – The 76ers were ranked third in preseason by ESPN, and now have fallen all the way down to 10th. They are very inconsistent, beating the Milwaukee Bucks then losing three straight games. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons didn’t take any type of leap from last year to this year, and the 76ers are 3-6 in their last 9 games. There are rumors that they are interested in CJ McCollum, but who knows what they will be asked for.
Miami Heat – Most places have this team top three in the NBA, and while I wouldn’t put them that high, they are having an astonishing season so far. Jimmy Butler has proven to be a good veteran leader to players like Nunn, Adebayo and Herro. Duncan Robinson, an undrafted player who started at a Division III school, is having a great year and is one of the league leaders in three point percentage. Erik Spoelstra is once again in discussion for coach of the year, and hopefully they can keep it up.
Honorable mention, Atlanta Hawks – They were going to be a borderline playoff team and now are the worst in the league. But don’t despair Hawks fans! Trae Young is fourth in scoring!
This list is pretty self explanatory, and I’ll stick to the top three here.
Basically no trades – The Jordan Clarkson for Dante Exum trade was the first one in about five and a half months. Since 35% of the NBA changed teams this last offseason, most people assumed trade numbers would kick up once December 15th rolled around, but so far they have been wrong.
NBA in Mexico – Adam Silver announced that an NBA G-League team would now be based in Mexico City, Mexico when the 2019 NBA Mexico Games were played in early December. It is the third NBA-based professional team outside of the United States. The Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905 (G-League) are the others.
An underwhelming rookie class – This is largely due to Zion Williamson not playing a single regular season minute this season, but since this draft was very top heavy, it was going to be a bad one unless the top three performed well. Deandre Hunter (pick 4), Darius Garland (pick 5) and Jarrett Culver (pick 6) have also underplayed, resulting in the best rookies (by value) being the ones that went later in the draft, like Matisse Thybulle and Eric Paschall.
Diamonds in the Rough:
Some players that are doing outstanding things on bad teams, I’ll stick to three here as well.
Brandon Ingram – Ninth in the Western Conference frontcourt all-star voting, BI is averaging 25 ppg, 7 rpg and 4 apg. His three point shooting and free throw percentage is up as well, and his defense has improve once again. If he was putting up these number and not on one of the worst teams in the league, he would be in serious consideration for an all-star spot.
Trae Young– Trae is leading the eastern backcourt votes at the moment, which is surprising since his team is the worst team in the NBA. He’s scoring almost 10 more points than last year, largely in part because his shooting in all areas has drastically improved. He’s taking more shots and he’s making them. If only he hadn’t had that unfortunate prediction when playing the Miami Heat.
Karl-Anthony Towns – KAT seems like he’s got something to prove this year after being snubbed from the All-NBA teams. Unfortunately for him, the rest of the organization don’t seem to have the same drive to win. After a hot start, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 11-23, and 12th in the Western Conference. KAT is doing his part, however, and he is averaging 26.5 ppg, 11.7 rpg and 2.3 stocks per game (steals+blocks). He’s also making 3.6 threes per game, twice as much as last year.
Hopefully players like Devonte’ Graham and Trae Young can keep it up throughout the year, and Mike Conley can fix whatever is going on there. Maybe the Pelicans will be great when Zion starts playing. As long as we see some more trades and great basketball, it will be a fun (aka: successful) season in the NBA.
And on a side note, may the late, former NBA commissioner David Stern, rest in peace.
(P/C: SB Nation – https://www.hothothoops.com/2019/10/31/20942183/kendrick-nunn-miami-heat-listed-top-of-nba-rookie-ladder-tyler-herro-jimmy-butler-bam-adebayo)