Many teams exceed expectations early in the NBA season and get off to hot starts. Then, some of these teams eventually fizzle out and return to their preseason expectations, while others remain constant threats and continue their success throughout the year. Now about a month into the NBA season, let’s analyze the most surprising teams thus far.
The 3 Most Surprising NBA Teams One Month Into the Season
Minnesota Timberwolves: 9-3, 1st in the West
Many people anticipated the Minnesota Timberwolves to make a jump this year. However, few could have predicted Minnesota would look this good. Through the first 12 games, the Timberwolves hold the best record in the West. Minnesota has beaten arguably the league’s two best teams, the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets. The two main reasons for Minnesota’s success are Anthony Edwards taking another leap and the team’s elite defense. Edwards looks like a borderline top-10 player. He made slight improvements as a scorer and creator, which he was already elite at. However, Edwards’ defensive improvements stand out, and he has become a true two-way star.
Furthermore, Edwards is surrounded by the perfect combination of role players who are high-level defenders and shooters. Similarly, Minnesota’s elite defense has been their calling card. The Timberwolves have a stellar defensive RTG of 107, good for third-best in the league. Rudy Gobert’s elite rim protection and Jaden McDaniels’ elite versatility are the main reasons for the Timberwolves’ defensive success. Edwards’ star play, along with the ideal combination of role players, makes this Minnesota team feel different than previous seasons. I’m not saying they’re NBA title contenders yet, but this is a dangerous playoff team.
Houston Rockets: 6-5 7th, in the West
Despite the Rockets’ offseason improvements, they were widely believed to remain at the bottom of the West. Similarly, after last season’s disappointments, many people soured on the team’s young core. However, the Rockets are off to a solid start, which included a six-game win streak that was recently snapped. The three elements that stand out with this team are coaching, Alperen Sengun’s breakout year, and the increased veteran presence. Starting with coaching, Ime Udoka has done an incredible job with this squad. His honesty and tough love style perfectly fit this young Houston team. He gives young players real guidance and helps them play smarter, as evidenced by improvements from Sengun and Jalen Green, along with the Rockets’ incredible defensive improvement.
The Rockets’ defense has shot up from 29th last season to fourth this year. Udoka is a defensive-minded coach, and this stat speaks volumes to his impact. Moreover, Sengun has established himself as a franchise cornerstone. He has an all-around game and is the latest elite passing big man, making him a hub for the Rockets offense. His passing, high-level rebounding, and interior scoring make him extremely impactful. Furthermore, the offseason additions of Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks have both made strong impacts. VanVleet provides the offense with a steady playmaking and shooting presence. Brooks has made a strong two-way impact, continuing his high-level defense while improving his shot selection and shooting. These improvements from Brooks are also in part due to Udoka’s coaching style. While it’s still early in the season, Houston could snag a playoff spot in the West, which would be a huge jump for this young and talented team.
Indiana Pacers: 7-5, 7th in the East
The Pacers’ hot start includes impressive wins vs the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks. They were a competitive squad last year before Tyrese Haliburton got injured, so their hot start shouldn’t be overly surprising. What is surprising is how incredible their offense has been. The Pacers lead the league with an absurd 120.7 offensive RTG. The Pacers’ elite shooting, paired with their run-and-gun style, make them one of the most entertaining watches in the league. Furthermore, Haliburton has unlocked another level, improving even more as a shooter playmaker. Haliburton currently leads the league with a ridiculous 11.6 assists per game, all while averaging just 2.3 turnovers. Halliburton’s elite combination of scoring and playmaking makes him one of the league’s brightest stars. He is the clear engine for the Pacers’ success.
The Pacers surrounding roster is filled with an ideal combination of athleticism and shooting. Myles Turner is having another high-level year, shooting nearly 40% from beyond the arc while being one of the league’s best rim protectors. Offseason acquisition Bruce Brown is also making a solid two-way impact. Brown is a high-IQ shooter and playmaker who is also capable of guarding several positions. While the Pacers have solid individual defenders, improving their 27th-ranked defense is a priority going forward. Ultimately, Haliburton’s star power, combined with intriguing pieces and great offense, makes the Pacers a sneaky team in the East.