It was only one month ago on December 22nd that the season tipped off. Since then, we’ve seen a lot of surprises in the NBA. And honestly, no team has given us more surprises than the Brooklyn Nets. It started on opening night we saw a 26-point blowout of the Golden State Warriors courtesy of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Then, Irving missed eight games for unknown personal reasons. And on January 13th, we saw the Nets make a blockbuster trade to acquire superstar James Harden.
It’s only been one month, so there are plenty more surprises to come. But these are the top five surprises in the NBA after the first month of the season.
Top Five Surprises In The NBA After One Month
The First Place Philadelphia 76ers
When Doc Rivers joined the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason, it was a culture-shifting hire. But the bigger issue at hand was the lack of spacing around Joel Embiid that caused the offense to regress in 2019. In 2019, they were 20th in points per game, but this year they’ve climbed back up to eighth.
An influx of talent on the wing has given Embiid more room in the post to operate than ever. His points and scoring efficiency across the board are career highs. Because of this, they sit in first place in the East.
The Sixers are benefiting from Seth Curry shooting a jaw-dropping 56 percent from three. The quartet of Curry, Danny Green, Shake Milton, and Tobias Harris force defenders to think twice about double-teaming Embiid in the post with their shooting. Harris specifically has benefited from his reunion with Rivers. He’s improved his three-point shooting percentage from 36.7 percent a year ago to 45.5 thus far.
Alongside Embiid’s ascent into the MVP conversation, his improving relationship with Ben Simmons is another bright spot for the team. Out of the top five surprises in the NBA, the Sixers being ahead of Milwaukee and Brooklyn after a month is the biggest one.
How Easy The Los Angeles Lakers Make It Look
The Los Angeles Lakers retooled their roster this offseason, and they appear ready to win back to back rings. What’s most impressive about their first place start is the league’s best duo, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, are each only playing 32.4 minutes a game. That’s the lowest minutes played in a season in James’s career and second-lowest of Davis’s. But because of the team around them, they can afford to rest longer.
The offseason acquisition of Dennis Schroder provided significant relief for James and Davis. Schroder has locked up the point guard position for years to come and is trusted at the end of games. He gives 13.8 points a game and is a scorer who can create for himself. But returnees from last season’s team have also stepped up to relieve James and Davis.
Alex Caruso is shooting 56.7 percent from three, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a 55.6 clip from three. Other new rotation players like Talen Horton-Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, and Wesley Matthews adapted to their roles seamlessly too. The Lakers are a legit team that’s even deeper than the team that won the Finals last year. And so far, they’ve made this season look easy.
The All-NBA Returns Of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry
Last I checked, you’re not supposed to become a better player after an Achilles injury. After all, they’re the worst injury an NBA player can suffer. Yet somehow Durant is shooting 53.8 percent from the floor, 47.5 from downtown, and is putting up the second-highest scoring average of his career with 31.2 points. Durant makes everything look so easy you never would’ve known he missed the last year and a half of action.
After trading for Harden, anything other than an NBA championship will be seen as a disappointment for Brooklyn. But Durant coming back at this level is one of the top five surprises in the NBA through the first month, and that’s a huge victory in itself for the Nets and their future.
Another former MVP Stephen Curry has also played like his old self again. Curry averages 27.9 points a game which is the fourth highest in the league. He’s also dishing out six assists each game, Admittedly, his 37.9 shooting percentage from three is a bit shy of Curry standards.
Due to playing without Klay Thompson, Curry’s having to put up at least 11 attempts per game. He’s also getting more defenders on him without Thompson to draw attention. But Curry brings an element of pop and flash that’s exciting to watch. It’s nice seeing him return to his 2018 and prior self.
The Miami Heat’s Poor Start
The Miami Heat haven’t been the same team that made the NBA Finals in the bubble yet. But a large part of it can be chalked up to time missed due to COVID protocols and injury. In fact, Precious Achiuwa and Duncan Robinson are the only two players on the team who haven’t missed a game. Sophomores Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn have missed five, while superstar Jimmy Butler has missed nine. All this time missed shows on the court as well as the stats.
Ask any coach, games missed aren’t an excuse for on-court issues. Turnovers have been the biggest killer so far. For that matter, they own the highest turnover percentage rate in the NBA. The other issues the Heat need to resolve are their 24th rated defense and rebounding. Along with having the highest turnover percentage, the Heat are last in offensive and total rebounds.
Bam Adebayo is doing everything he can to keep the Heat afloat until the cavalry arrives. He’s taken another leap in his game into all-NBA caliber. When everyone does get healthy and rejoins the team, the real Heat will show up. But through the first month, the Heat being 13th in the East is one of the top five surprises in the NBA.
Jaylen Brown Taking Another Leap
It may come as a surprise to hear this, but Jayson Tatum isn’t the leading scorer on the Boston Celtics. Through 15 games, Jaylen Brown is averaging 27.3 points compared to Tatum’s 26.9. Tatum missed the last five games due to COVID protocols and Kemba Walker has yet to return from injury, so Brown was given the reigns. He excelled against the 76ers putting up 42 points and scored 33 in a historic 19 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers!
Brown’s yearly growth has been fun to watch. He’s improved his clip from three-point territory to a career-high 43 percent on a career-high 6.2 attempts. His two-point efficiency is also at a career-high 53.2 percent through 15 games.
Night in and night out, Brown is consistent, but what’s scary is how he can erupt for big scoring games. He’s already scored 30 or more five times and has gone for 40 twice. Whether these numbers are sustainable or not in the long run will need to be seen. When Walker returns, the Celtics could be dangerous if Brown keeps this level of aggressiveness.
There Are Many More Surprises To Come
The surprises in the NBA are just getting started. Although there have been many already, the season is a long one at 72 games. The COVID protocols have contributed to a lot of these surprises and have caused teams to lack the chemistry they normally have by this point in the season. As time goes on and teams become more complete, healthy, and united, shifts across the league are bound to occur.