As the NBA season reaches the mid-way point, fans of the great game find themselves evaluating more then ever. Who’s playing at an All-Star level, who’s been a disappointment. Which teams are contenders and who looks set to tank, so many different angles to focus on. Every season there are teams and players who surprise us. Whether it be a playoff team below .500 or a player carrying or being carried by a team. In part one we will be looking at the teams that have surprised us the most.
Entering the 2016-17 season, Houston was judged to be a team in transition. Led by All-Star James Harden, the Rockets looked unbalanced and set to struggle. This wouldn’t be the case, as Harden and friends have been the league’s overachievers so far. One of Houston’s more impressive achievements this season, has been there ability to keep up with Southwest Division powerhouse San Antonio Spurs. Mike D’Antoni’s team stands just 1.5 games back of the division leaders. Now let’s focus on some of the Rockets more impressive players so far this season.
This season has seen Harden explode offensively, at least more than the norm. Averaging 28.9 points, 11.6 assists and 8.3 rebounds per game. Harden is averaging a near triple-double this season. Having tallied 13 triple-doubles already, this should’t change any time soon. The Rockets have also been able to rely on potential Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon. After an injury filled five year spell in New Orleans, Gordon looks revitalized this season. Averaging 17.8 points off the bench, should lead to Gordon fighting Lou Williams for Sixth Man of the Year award come seasons end.
One of the NBA’s biggest surprises has been the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have been a let down, it’s that simple. Expected to challenge for a top-4 seed, Indiana stood at 9-10 at the end of November. Nate McMillan’s team have made a recovery, with the team now second in the Central Division. However the Pacers still remain eight games back of division leaders Cleveland Cavaliers. It would appear the division has already been decided, before the All-Star break. If the Pacers aren’t careful, their second place position could be taken by the emerging Milwaukee Bucks.
Indiana has a talented roster. Including All-Star forward Paul George, former All-Star point guard Jeff Teague and rising star Myles Turner. General manager Kevin Pritchard and team President Larry Bird made a ton of changes in the off-season. However it appears as if the team made too many roster moves, with the Pacers struggling to produce early this season. The Pacers still look set to fight for a playoff seed, but with the team just two wins above .500, a trade may be necessary to change this teams fortunes.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been the associations see-saw team so far this season. Luke Walton’s team started the season strong, standing at 10-10 at the end of November. Lakers fans began to talk about playoff basketball. Then December arrived and that playoff talk soon turned to tanking talk. The Lakers would win just two of 18 games in December. The Lakers fall from grace has been harder than any other team this season. One month changed everything. Just like that, the Lakers would have to re-evaluate their entire season.
The playoffs are still a possibility for the Lakers. However with the team failing to play consistent basketball, Walton has a real challenge on his hands. Play from Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell have been a positive for Lakers fans. Both young Lakers continue to put up good numbers from game to game. The most surprising factor with this Lakers team has been their ability to surprise NBA fans in two different ways. Going from a team that was winning more than expected, to the team that simply can’t find a way to win. In just one single month.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were one of the most hyped teams in the off-season. Expectations were sky high, with the team led by Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. A new head coach and a new direction. Tom Thibodeau was supposed to deliver playoff basketball to Minnesota, but so far fans have been left underwhelmed. Currently fifth in their division, the Timberwolves sit behind the lackluster Trail Blazers and the no defense allowed Nuggets. The season has been truly disappointing, especially after such lofty expectations.
Last seasons Rookie of the Year Towns continues to perform at a high level, alongside Wiggins in a talented Timberwolves line-up. It’s difficult to determine what has gone wrong in Minnesota. Whether it be the player-coach mix that doesn’t work. Or perhaps the Timberwolves are just too young to contend on a consistent basis. The Timberwolves will work things out eventually. But similar to the Lakers situation, fans in Minnesota wonder if their team is a trade away from playoff contention.
The once irrelevant Sixers appear rejuvenated. With the help of goofy center Joel Embiid, the Sixers finally look like an NBA team again. Embiid is averaging 19.9 points whilst playing only 25.4 minutes on average. Head coach Brett Brown has the Sixers in a solid position and with No.1 overall pick Ben Simmons on the way back, Sixers fans can’t be blamed for their excitement. Last season saw the Sixers win a woeful 10 games. So far this season the Sixers have 13 wins, surpassing last season’s total by mid-January.
Mocked, ridiculed for draft tactics and even ignored by some. Now the Sixers are entertaining, interesting and just 7.5 games back of the eight seed. You may think that’s a big gap, but after the last few years in Philly, these fans deserve to dream. Personally I’d love to see this team make the playoffs. With the likes of Simmons, Embiid and Dario Saric, the future in Philadelphia is very bright.
James Harden Houston Rockets (Photo by Mark Downey Lucid Images/Corbis via Getty Images)