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Each NBA team’s biggest surprise up to now, from Jerami Grant to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander


Greater than six weeks into the NBA season, the Phoenix Suns are leading the West, the Utah Jazz were leading the West, a Tom Thibodeau team is struggling on defense and the Timberwolves can’t rebound.

Those are only a couple of of the surprises — big and small, good and bad — as we reach the quarter mark of the season. What has been each team’s biggest head-scratcher up to now? The Athletic posed that query to the writers who know the teams best. Here’s what they said:

Atlanta Hawks

The rookie: AJ Griffin has been a pleasant find for the Hawks after going sixteenth within the 2022 NBA Draft. Atlanta has needed reliable wings to place around Trae Young, and now Dejounte Murray. Griffin looks like he may very well be that guy. He has scored in double-digits in five of his last seven games, while averaging 24.9 minutes an evening. Griffin’s shot appears to be translating from Duke; he’s hitting 38 percent of his 3s up to now. If Griffin can proceed to play well enough to interrupt the rotation and stay healthy, Atlanta must have yet one more reliable player around its dynamic duo, even when he’s a rookie. — Mike Vorkunov

Boston Celtics

A historic offense: Even without the injured Robert Williams, the Celtics currently own the most effective offensive rating in NBA history. They’ve scored five points per 100 possessions greater than the NBA’s second-best offense this season, a wider gap than the one between the second-place Suns and the Fifteenth-place Trail Blazers. After the way in which they scored following last season’s trade deadline, the Celtics were expected to have a excellent offense again. But they’ve excess of that. They’ve an unstoppable hurricane of buckets. — Jay King

The Celtics offense has nailed down a couple of principles it was constructing last season to the purpose that it’s head and shoulders above the league. Boston is emphasizing pushing in transition, even off makes, while knowing when in the sport it desires to waste clock to remove a couple of extra possessions from the opponent. Then when the ball is within the half court, they’re making decisions so quickly and consistently that they create open looks at a rate no person within the league can touch. — Jared Weiss

Brooklyn Nets

Nic Claxton: The Nets re-signed Claxton within the offseason on a two-year, $20 million deal, and up to now, he’s been healthy and consistent, averaging 12 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. He leads the NBA in field goal percentage, is top five in blocks and has shown flashes of being the decision-making big he was at Georgia. Claxton at all times had this in his game, however it was about being healthy and having the runway to accomplish that. 1 / 4 into the season, Claxton’s done just that. — Alex Schiffer

Charlotte Hornets

Dennis Smith Jr.: He hadn’t played much NBA basketball the last three seasons after a promising begin to his profession, but Smith has re-emerged with the Hornets and is averaging a decent 9.3 points to go together with a career-high 5.7 assists through 15 games (11 starts). Smith was with no team for much of the summer and got this chance because of injuries to LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, but he’s been a pleasant surprise for a team that lost 15 of its first 21 games and is once more coping with an injury to Gordon Hayward. — Joe Vardon

Chicago Bulls

Veteran free agents: Coming into the season, most would have assumed a certain level of highly impactful minutes by Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso, and more minor impact by Goran Dragić and Andre Drummond. It’s been the other. The Bulls’ two ho-hum signings have been hugely vital to fortifying the team’s bench, boosting last season’s rebounding difficulties and providing the Bulls with on-court leaders who help settle the team when things aren’t going so easily. — Darnell Mayberry

Cleveland Cavaliers

Donovan Mitchell’s seamless fit: Mitchell’s talent and character are undeniable, and it’s been on display since he stepped onto the court in a Cavaliers jersey alongside Darius Garland within the backcourt. Sometimes there may be an adjustment period when a player is traded, and trades can go quite a few alternative ways. Mitchell and Garland have created a selfless chemistry that has a dynamic flow to it where they facilitate, playmake and create for others and themselves. It’s helped lead the Cavs to 3rd within the East despite a handful of injuries. — Kelsey Russo

Dallas Mavericks

Josh Green: He plays basketball just like the Australian rules football he grew up with. His game abounds with athleticism and kineticism, however the refinement of this sport’s finer skills — shooting technique, defensive positioning — has shined in his third yr. It was unfair that he was forged with the shadow of who Dallas could’ve drafted as a substitute of him, but Green’s emerged from that this season, turning his motor of renewable energy into consistent impact nearly every minute he’s on the court. — Tim Cato

Denver Nuggets

Nikola Jokić’s (positive) step back: Don’t look now, however the Nuggets are pushing for the highest spot within the West without two-time MVP Jokić (22.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 8.9 assists per game) having to play the role of Mile High City Superman. He’s a far cry from Clark Kent, but Jokić has clearly adjusted his game to make room for Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the 2 players who must be special if the Nuggets are going to contend for a title. And here’s the ignored silver lining of this nuanced and essential development: Even with Jokić’s decrease in scoring (from 27.1 points per game last season to 22.7), he’s on pace to hit the aforementioned 22-9-8 marks which have only been achieved 13 times before in league history, in accordance with Stathead.com. — Sam Amick

Detroit Pistons

Killian Hayes’ shooting: The 2020 No. 7 pick spent his first two years within the NBA as one among the least efficient jump-shooting guards within the league. Over the previous few weeks, Hayes has found a trusty weapon together with his midrange jumper and has been one among the Pistons’ best catch-and-shoot guys. Hayes’ overall shooting numbers aren’t where they must be due to a slow start, however it definitely seems like he’s turned a corner. — James L. Edwards III


Don’t write off Pistons’ Killian Hayes just yet: ‘He’s our greatest playmaker’

Golden State Warriors

Defensive rating: The Warriors finished last regular season at 106.6, second stingiest within the league. That held up within the playoff gauntlet. It has fallen apart the primary couple months of this regular season. To shut November, they sat twenty second overall with a 113.3 rating. What are the explanations? More youth within the rotation. Less urgency from the veterans. The lack of Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. The departure of Mike Brown, their coordinator. Maybe even the temporarily diminished leadership voice of Draymond Green, meaning less accountability. However it’s stabilized currently. Of their last 12 games, the Warriors have a 110.5 rating, ninth best, after excising James Wiseman and Moses Moody from the rotation and amping up their overall effort. They’ll must be even higher to repeat as champs, however it is trending in the right direction. — Anthony Slater

Houston Rockets

K.J. Martin-Tari Eason duo: Let’s zoom out a bit: Per Cleansing the Glass, the Rockets are twenty seventh in offensive efficiency (109.4 points per 100 possessions) and twenty eighth in defensive efficiency (116.7 points allowed per 100 possessions). There aren’t a ton of lineups Houston throws out on a nightly basis that generate any type of positive impact — aside from those that feature each Martin and Eason. Of the groups which have played at the least half-hour together, the Rockets by some means have three combos (out of a possible seven) with positive net rankings, all featuring each players. Their combination of energy, athleticism and aggression on each ends of the ground is clearly contagious. Why don’t they play more often? — Kelly Iko

Rookie Tari Eason has been one among the few brilliant spots for Houston this season. (Troy Taormina / USA Today)

Indiana Pacers

Andrew Nembhard: Seeing as how the Pacers are one among the largest surprise teams within the league, it stands to reason that their roster is dotted with one massive surprise performer after one other. Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Bennedict Mathurin, Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith, Jalen Smith. For me, though, the largest surprise is rookie second-rounder Nembhard, who’s got an old-guy game and veteran moxie, averaging seven points per game in 21 minutes and starting seven of 16 games. He’s a chameleon, his game fitting in beautifully with whatever players Rick Carlisle puts on the ground. Didn’t see that one coming. — Bob Kravitz

LA Clippers

Offensive struggles: That is an comprehensible surprise to some extent, given the personnel issues. Kawhi Leonard playing only five games significantly lowers the ceiling of what the Clippers are expected to do offensively, and now Paul George and Luke Kennard are of their second week of injury absence too. The Clippers were a bottom-10 offense last season while coping with myriad absences. However it remains to be jarring to see the Clippers in the underside five of offensive efficiency this season, and that’s with relatively improved play of late. — Law Murray

Los Angeles Lakers

The event of Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV: The Lakers needed a few of their younger role players to make a leap this season, and Reaves and Walker are playing at career-best levels, particularly as scorers. The ceiling for each players is higher than previously anticipated. Walker has assumed a Malik Monk-esque role as an athletic finisher and lethal midrange threat. Reaves is a dynamic ballhandler and playmaker who gets to the free-throw line a ton and is posting a near 50/40/90 season. If the Lakers are capable of creep into the Play-In mix, it’ll partly be because each young guards have made a jump. — Jovan Buha



State of the Lakers after 20 games: Davis’ re-emergence, LeBron’s role, trade talk

Memphis Grizzlies

Extra help: The contributions of John Konchar and Santi Aldama up to now with Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. missing significant time have been a surprise. Konchar did a few of this last season, but he has so much more minutes and an expanded role now. Aldama, now in his second season, is already a man they need minutes for. The Grizzlies are the most effective at plugging in the following man up. — Zach Harper

Miami Heat

Kyle Lowry’s health: At age 36 and coming off a rough 2021-22 campaign through which he missed 19 games throughout the regular season for a pair reasons, after which an enormous swath of the playoffs with a hamstring injury, Lowry has played in every game for the Heat. He’s averaging 14.6 points, up from a yr ago, but a part of that’s because of Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo missing some, most or the entire season up to now. At his age and coming off the season he suffered a yr ago, Lowry coming through the primary quarter of this season healthy and robust is somewhat of a stunner. — Vardon

Milwaukee Bucks

Jevon Carter, the menace: While Jevon Carter played well for the Bucks last season after joining them off waivers in February, even essentially the most optimistic of fans couldn’t have expected him to be quite this good in his second season in Milwaukee. Carter has began all 20 games this season, doubling the variety of starts he received in his first 4 NBA seasons combined. He’s currently putting up profession highs in minutes (27.5), points (9.1), rebounds (2.8), assists (3.5) and steals (1.4) per game, while shooting 42.3 percent from deep. And he has done all of those things offensively, while still being a menace defensively alongside Jrue Holiday. — Eric Nehm 

Minnesota Timberwolves

Glass half empty?: The Timberwolves acquired the most effective rebounder in all the NBA after they traded for Rudy Gobert this summer, and yet there was no discernible difference of their performance on the glass. Last yr, the Wolves were twenty eighth in defensive rebound percentage at 70.6. This yr, they’re ranked twenty fourth within the category, but their percentage is definitely worse at 70.2. Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns simply haven’t dominated the inside to the degree that they should to make this experiment value it. Gobert has admitted to being a “step slow” on some nights, and he looks it on the market. It’s a significant concern after the Wolves paid such a steep price to get him. — Jon Krawczynski

Recent Orleans Pelicans

Responding to vary: The Pelicans have been coping with a ton of injuries and ailments to their core players, which will be the least surprising thing about this season considering the franchise’s recent history. However the shocking part about this season is how the team has responded to the constant changes within the lineup. They haven’t missed a beat. Recent Orleans is 13-8 after 21 games despite Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and Zion Williamson missing a combined 15 games. The Pels have only put their projected starting lineup (Williamson, Ingram McCollum, Herb Jones and Jonas Valančiūnas) on the court 10 times this season. They’ve still managed to piece together the NBA’s sixth-best offense and fourth-best defense. The depth on this roster could be very real, and it’s beyond anything we’ve seen before in Recent Orleans. And it’ll only recuperate once everyone (finally) gets healthy. — Will Guillory



Zion Williamson is playing like a superhero again, which makes the Pelicans even scarier

Recent York Knicks

Un-Thibodeau-like defense: I do know the Knicks aren’t loaded with defensive personnel. I do know the group’s defensive anchor, Mitchell Robinson, missed a while with a knee injury, and its top perimeter stopper, Quentin Grimes, was out with a foot ailment. Yet, I can’t unsee the defensive issues. The Knicks, a team that Tom Thibodeau of all people runs, are twenty sixth in points allowed per possession 22 games into the season. That form of stuff just doesn’t occur. They pieced together a roster of brawn, not finesse, yet have floated across the NBA’s bottom five in defensive rebounding all season. Opposing wings and guards fly in from the perimeter to secure misses and pull back out for one more 14 seconds on a regular basis. Their pick-and-roll communication is all types of off. Sometimes, it’s difficult to decipher exactly what coverages they’re purported to be running. The Knicks weren’t overflowing with defensive talent last season either but still found a strategy to climb to eleventh in points allowed per possession. Chances are high, there may be some positive progression coming. But twenty sixth? That is recent. — Fred Katz

Oklahoma City Thunder

SGA’s leap: Through 20 games, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 31.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. That’s up from last season’s 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks. That may be a pretty massive leap. The one other players in NBA history who’ve averaged at the least 30-5-6 with a steal and a block per game is Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Gilgeous-Alexander also leads the league in total clutch points, is fourth in points within the paint and fifth in free-throw attempts (shooting 92 percent). He also leads the league in drives by a mile. The Thunder have found their first foundational star of the post Russell Westbrook era. — Andrew Schlecht

OKC may need found its foundational piece in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. (Alonzo Adams / USA Today)

Orlando Magic

Bol Bol. Bol Bol. Bol Bol: I’m going to say it 3 times simply to let it sink in. He’s been a little bit of revelation this season in Orlando. Revealing in how a 7-foot-2 wonder might be so expert but additionally still revealing what he might be within the NBA. Orlando is the primary team to offer him legit NBA minutes, and Bol is a low-key Most Improved Player candidate. The Magic can use him of their big skill-ball lineups, and he’s shown aptitude shooting from the perimeter and in ballhandling. Not a foul return from a player who had just 328 NBA minutes over his first three seasons. — Vorkunov

Philadelphia 76ers

Resiliency in Philly: Twenty games into the season, the Sixers have received nine games played from James Harden, 12 from Joel Embiid and 15 from Tyrese Maxey. And yet they were over .500 on the quarter pole because of the role players (specifically Shake Milton, who out of the rotation at the start of the yr) stepping up. The Sixers began the season quite poorly, but they’ve showcased their depth over recent weeks. — Wealthy Hofmann

Phoenix Suns

Still contending: Let’s stack this up. Phoenix entered this season with some drama. There was the Robert Sarver mess. Jae Crowder never showed. Deandre Ayton didn’t seem completely happy. Then the season began. Cam Johnson injured a knee, limiting him to eight games through Phoenix’s first 20. Chris Paul injured a heel, limiting him to 10. And yet Phoenix still has the most effective record within the West? That’s the largest surprise. The Suns obviously had an MVP candidate in Devin Booker and talented players around him, but this seemed more like a team that will need time to search out its stride. Possibly that’s still the case. But give the Suns credit for battling through adversity. Their drive was underestimated. — Doug Haller



Devin Booker unplugged: On Suns’ offseason, MVP race he’s ‘not even in’ and more

Portland Trail Blazers

Jerami Grant’s excellence: The hope was that Grant could be an upgrade at power forward, but he has been so way more than that for the Blazers. Quite simply, Grant has been the Blazers’ MVP through the primary quarter of the season. He’s averaging 21.5 points and 4.4 rebounds, but his value goes beyond his statistics and his monster scoring games of 44, 37 and 30 points. Grant has also been the Blazers’ best and most versatile defender, often guarding the opponent’s point guard, which has helped the Blazers go from awful to respectable on defense. Along the way in which, he has hit game-winners, is shooting a sizzling 48.5 percent from 3 and has develop into an influencer within the locker room. — Jason Quick

Sacramento Kings

Rating, rating, rating: When Mike Brown was hired by the Kings in early May, his focus was squarely on the necessity for defensive improvement. Not only had the previous 16 years of playoff-less basketball made it clear the Kings’ defense needed to be fixed, but Brown got here with a defense-first repute that fit the popular bill. Yet 20 games in, it’s the offense that’s propelling these dynamic Kings to a robust start. They’re fifth within the league in offensive rating, a large step forward from the twenty fourth rating they finished with last season. And franchise centerpiece De’Aaron Fox is hardly a solo act, as everyone from Domantas Sabonis to Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk and Terence Davis is proving to be potent scoring options. The Kings are second within the league in points per game (119.9), up from sixteenth last season (110.3 under Luke Walton and Alvin Gentry). — Amick

San Antonio Spurs

Devin Vassell’s shooting: Vassell made 34 percent of his 2.4 attempted 3s per game as a rookie. Decent. That bumped to 36.1 percent on 5.4 attempts his second season. Higher accuracy on a doubled volume. Trending up. So possibly some type of a 3rd season leap should’ve been predicted. However it’s been a vault into elite territory. Vassell is taking 7.2 per game and making 42.3 percent of them. That equals 52 makes in 17 games, ranked twentieth within the NBA. This can be a huge development for one among the Spurs’ few constructing blocks. — Slater

Toronto Raptors

Possession battles: Last yr, through their excellence in creating turnovers and dominance on the offensive glass, the Raptors took 7.2 more field goals per 100 possessions than their opponents, the largest disparity within the league. There was some thought that with their strategy on film, they wouldn’t have the ability to execute the sport plan as well. Fallacious! The difference is as much as 8.9 field goals per 100 possessions, as they each take essentially the most and permit the least in the entire league. Jumping from twenty third to tenth in defensive rebounding percentage has allowed them to enhance what was already the team’s most notable strength. — Eric Koreen

Utah Jazz

The victories: To win 13 of their first 24 games against perhaps essentially the most unforgiving schedule within the league is a giant accomplishment for a team most thought could be near the underside of the league by the 25-game mark. The Jazz have played essentially the most road games within the NBA so far. They’ve played essentially the most back-to-backs. They’ve played essentially the most sets of three games in 4 nights. Most of their opponents have been playoff teams. They usually have gone six games without Mike Conley, their most significant player. It ought to be interesting to see what, if any, changes they make to the roster, particularly in the event that they keep playing well, by the trade deadline. Will they be buyers? Or sellers? — Tony Jones

Washington Wizards

Jordan Goodwin’s contributions: Players on two-way contracts rarely play essential roles for NBA teams, but Goodwin has been an exception. When Delon Wright suffered a major hamstring strain in Washington’s fourth game, the team lost its most disruptive perimeter defender and its second-string point guard. Coach Wes Unseld Jr. placed Goodwin into the rotation within the team’s tenth game, and Goodwin has been a mainstay ever since. Through Tuesday, he led the team in FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR metric at +4.3, and he has galvanized his more experienced teammates on defense together with his energy. Goodwin arguably saved the primary quarter of Washington’s season. — Josh Robbins

(Top photo of Jerami Grant: Troy Wayrynen / USA Today)

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