10 Biggest Surprises of the NBA Season

Nikhil BaradwajSenior Analyst IDecember 31, 2011

10 Biggest Surprises of the NBA Season

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    With the season so young, all NBA fans are rejoicing. 

    The first few games for each team have been quite exciting and are hopefully a precursor for the rest of the season.

    After the first week, there have already been some major surprises, some of which none of us even imagined would happen.

    Here are the 10 biggest surprises of this season so far.

The Warriors Are Actually Playing Defense

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    The Golden State Warriors have looked impressive in their first three games, going 2-1 in their first homestand.

    In the process, they have beaten the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, both of whom have been projected to be in the top four in the Eastern Conference.

    The reason for the Warriors' success is defense.

    When Mark Jackson came to Golden State, nobody believed that he could truly improve a culture, which has been marred by awful defending and high-volume scoring.

    However, he has remained undeterred, and the Warriors held the Knicks to only 78 points and the Bulls to only 91. Andris Biedrins has been a dominant defender in the post and has set the tone for the Warriors on that end of the floor.

    Their defensive performance is a major improvement from last year, and if they continue this effort, the Warriors could find themselves in the playoffs.

Norris Cole Could Be Rookie of the Year

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    Why do the rich have to get richer?

    When the Miami Heat drafted Norris Cole, I could smell trouble for the rest of the league. This guy was dynamite in college and has the skills to be a starting point guard in this league.

    Who would have thought that he would be so good, so soon?

    Even before guiding the Heat past the Boston Celtics with a couple of clutch jumpers late in the fourth, Cole showed how fearless he is as a scorer in the opener against Dallas.

    He really is what the Heat need: a viable scorer off the bench who can complement the "Big Three." Cole is averaging 11.0 points a game in under 25 minutes of work, but he needs to become more efficient in terms of the shots he takes.

    If he keeps up this play, Cole could be the surprise winner of the Rookie of the Year award, after one of the weakest drafts in recent memory.

Rajon Rondo Can Score at Will When He Needs to

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    Don't get me wrong: Rajon Rondo is a superb passer and possibly the best facilitator in the league. He is a pure point guard.

    However, he is not able to score when he needs to and is nowhere near being a secondary scorer.

    Man, was I wrong about that.

    Rondo actually flourished when Paul Pierce was out of the lineup, averaging 22.0 points and 10.3 assists as the focal point of the C's offense.

    The problem was that they went 0-3, further proving the sentiment that it is hard to be successful as a team when your point guard is your leading scorer.

    After Pierce returned, Rondo returned to his normal pace, scoring only nine points. However, his play has been a positive for the Celtics and might entice free agents to come to Boston.

The Dallas Mavericks Are 1-3

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    When you looked at Dallas' early-season schedule, it was conceivable that the Mavericks would go 1-3, considering that they played the two best teams in the league in the Thunder and Heat.

    However, Dallas just looked plain bad in its first two games of the season.

    The score against the Heat does not tell the full story, as the Mavericks were outplayed thoroughly by a quicker and more athletic Miami team.

    In their next contest, they fell to Denver by 22 points at home and played old and sluggish.

    They did show a glimmer of hope against Oklahoma City, where their first victory of the season was thwarted by a Kevin Durant buzzer-beater.

    Dallas got its first victory of the season last night, but the team just hasn't looked like a champion at all this year. It looks like the Mavs will be faced with an early exit in the playoffs.

Derrick Rose Is Pretty Good Behind the Arc

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    Derrick Rose just finds a way to get better each year. Remember when he first burst into the league and had an inconsistent jump shot?

    That time is no more, as Rose has improved his shooting abilities drastically over the past few years. Rose is shooting 40 percent from behind the arc this year, a huge improvement from his rookie season's mediocre 26.7 percent.

    In addition, his free-throw percentage has also improved almost 15 percent from his rookie season to a ridiculous 90.5 percent from the stripe.

    Rose has hit many clutch threes over the past four games, including ones against the Lakers and Clippers. When Blake Griffin was carrying the Clippers last night, Rose would silence the crowd and stop the run with several huge threes late.

    If he can shoot the ball this well all season, look out for the Bulls. As his confidence builds, so does the confidence of his team.

Rick Adelman Has the Timberwolves Playing Their Best Basketball

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    Rick Adelman is one of the most underrated coaches ever, even though he has never won an NBA title while on the bench.

    Even though the Timberwolves are 0-3, they have played hard and have been in all three games. What makes this feat more impressive is the fact that they gave the Thunder and Heat all kinds of trouble.

    Kevin Love has been a beast as usual in the paint, averaging 26.0 points and 14.7 rebounds while anchoring the offense.

    J.J. Barea and Ricky Rubio are managing the offense very well, and neither turns the ball over very much in tight situations.

    If Minnesota can start to finish some of these games and put the pieces together, it might only be one year away from the playoffs.

    Adelman deserves a lot of credit for the job he has done in a shortened offseason.

The Portland Trailblazers Could Win the Western Conference

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    When the Portland Trailblazers lost Brandon Roy to retirement and Greg Oden to injury, I thought that this team would fall from the No. 6 seed to the No. 7 or No. 8 seed because of the emergence of the Grizzlies and Clippers.

    I was completely wrong on that one.

    The Blazers play balanced basketball and have six players averaging double-digit totals in points. They are probably the deepest team in the league.

    With that being said, I think the Blazers might actually be the co-favorites with the Thunder to come out of the Western Conference.

    A shorter and more arduous season is better for deep teams like the Blazers, and if they can pick up more depth at the center position at the trade deadline, they could become a serious title contender.

    For all of this to happen, Gerald Wallace needs to continue to keep up his 19.7 points per game, and they need to continue playing strong on the glass.

The New York Knicks Are Not Elite

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    After the Knicks picked up Tyson Chandler in the offseason, it was believed that they got their defensive presence down low and that New York would have a better team defense.

    While Chandler has stepped up, the rest of the team has not, going 1-2 to open the season.

    While the Knicks did beat the Celtics in the opener, they gave up 104 points to a Boston team that was without their best scorer in Paul Pierce.

    New York followed this performance up with two horrific games on the West Coast, getting blown out by the Warriors and Lakers by 14 and 17 points respectively.

    If the Knicks want to contend in the Eastern Conference, they are going to need to improve their defense, as teams like Miami, Boston and Chicago continue to impress.

    To be fair, a better point guard would not hurt either, as they wait for Baron Davis to heal.

Chris Paul Does Not Look as Good as Advertised

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    This surprise is a little unfair considering we are only three games into the season and the fact that Chris Paul has played so few games with this group.

    However, the Clippers are not playing good basketball early on. Their offense consists of three-pointers and lobs, which is not a formula for a contending team in the league.

    In the end, the onus for this falls on CP3, who has not managed the offense to the best of his abilities. In addition, I think Paul should take over more games in the fourth quarter.

    Just last night, the Clippers were coming back against the Bulls but could not do two things: stop Derrick Rose and put together solid offensive sequences.

    While they stayed in the game mostly due to Blake Griffin, the Clippers often would either chuck up a three-pointer late in the shot clock or rely on Griffin to create. They need Chris Paul to do more than throw alley-oops to DeAndre Jordan and Griffin.

    It is very early in the season, and they can certainly improve their team offense and defense, but if they don't, the Clippers could find themselves with the No. 7 or No. 8 seed.

Lamar Odom Looks Awful

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    When the Lakers traded Lamar Odom for a trade exception, many pundits and fans, myself included, thought that this move was blasphemous. What makes it even more questionable is the fact that they sent him to the reigning champion Dallas Mavericks.

    However, Odom has been awful in Big D and just does not seem to fit into the Mavericks' plans. 

    He is shooting a putrid 13.3 percent from the field, while also averaging only 4.2 points per game in limited time. 

    If the Dallas Mavericks want to contend for a title, they need Odom to be a viable big man off the bench, likely looking for 8-13 every night.

    With the loss of Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks just do not look like the champions of last year, lacking size and a versatile player who can spread the floor.

    While Odom can't be the defensive presence that Chandler is, he needs to at least score like he did in Los Angeles. If not, Dallas might make a first-round exit in the playoffs.