10 Biggest Early Surprises of the 2011-12 NBA Season
Thanks to a condensed season, the stage has been set for the NBA to shock us all in ways that we cannot imagine.
Thus far, there have been numerous teams, players and overall story lines that have left us with lukewarm impressions; yet, there have been just as many pleasant surprises that continue to leave us in a state of awe.
While we like to believe that we have a general grasp of what to expect from the Association and its players, this season, more so than others due to its abbreviated nature, we are learning how incredibly unpredictable the NBA is.
The Indiana Pacers
When the Indiana Pacers began to assemble a legitimate supporting cast around star Danny Granger, expectations rose—yet few could have predicted the flair this team has shown thus far.
Indiana's new acquisitions have done wonders for the team, as David West and Paul George have transitioned into the Pacers system almost seamlessly. Roy Hibbert and Granger also continue to impress.
The most surprising aspect of Indiana's improved play this season is its defense. The Pacers are forcing teams to take perimeter shots and, as a result, aren't letting up many points.
Despite coming off a loss to the Miami Heat Wednesday night, this squad has remained consistent and proven that it can keep pace with the league's elite, a notion that is not to be discounted.
At the beginning of the season, a playoff appearance is what was expected of this group, but given what Indiana has shown so far this season, their fans may now be angling for an actual playoff run.
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The New York Knicks seem to have landed themselves another second-round gem in Josh Harrellson.
Harrellson has become a New York fan favorite in his limited action, thanks to his range and displays of pure energy. In Amar'e Stoudemire's brief absence, Harrellson filled in admirably, specifically against the Sacramento Kings, posting 14 points, 12 rebounds and one steal in that start.
While the power forward has a long way to go, his ability to rebound and score from anywhere on the court will prove to be a serious asset for the Knicks moving forward. He has a David Lee-type build to him but a Carmelo Anthony-like range, and that makes for a dangerous combination..
We have not yet seen the best from the 22-year-old Harrellson; there is more to come.
DeMarcus Cousins' appearance in the trade rumor-mill may not necessarily be classified as a pleasant surprise, but it is shocking nonetheless.
While the Sacramento Kings continue to insist that the power forward is not available, the New Jersey Nets have shown an interest in acquiring his services.
Cousins has shown a knack for immersing himself in controversy over his short tenure in the league, but his name was never expected to appear on the chopping block. The Kings believe that their young core has a wealth of potential, and Cousins is supposed to be the anchor and future All-Star of that core.
Whether or not Cousins demanded a trade is almost irrelevant at this point. His name is out there and now that outside organizations know there is trouble in paradise, the calls will fail to cease.
Controversy always seems to flock in Cousins' direction one way or another, but drama of this caliber was completely unexpected.
The Denver Nuggets surprised a lot of people when they clinched the fifth-seed in the Western Conference last season after the Carmelo Anthony trade, but they have caught even more people off guard this season, courtesy of their hot start.
After their victory over the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night, the Nuggets moved to 5-2 and are keeping pace in the newly stacked Northwest division.
Denver is a team without a heralded superstar, a fact that George Karl and company have come to embrace. The Nuggets are spreading the ball extremely well and have exhibited a level of depth that will allow them to remain competitive even in Nene's absence.
Denver boasts perhaps the most balanced offensive attack in the league, as they have six different players averaging double-figure point totals on the season. The versatility this team has shown on that end of the ball has them putting up just over 102 points per game for the season, good enough for third best in the league.
Defense remains a concern for the Nuggets, as their rebounding and shot-blocking have failed to draw much praise, but it is their struggles on that side of the ball that makes their overall performance thus far such an impressive surprise.
The Nuggets are finding ways to win right now, and they don't appear ready to stop anytime soon.
All eyes—or as many eyes as the Minnesota Timberwolves could draw—were on Ricky Rubio heading into this season.
When it became clear that Rubio would finally join the Timberwolves, the point guard generated instant hype. That hype came with mountains of critics, though, as most believe that Rubio had not shown enough in Spain that would allow him to transition successfully into the NBA.
While the season is still young, Rubio has turned some heads in Minnesota. The 21-year-old is averaging 8.8 points, 6.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game thus far. He has demonstrated an ability to handle the floor general duties, and is especially adept at grabbing long rebounds that carom off the back rim.
Rubio has not put up big numbers on a nightly basis, but he did dish out 12 assists just before the new year in a game against the Miami Heat. The Timberwolves lost that game, but they kept it close, and Rubio's ability to break down a lock-down defense like Miami's cannot be ignored.
The young point guard is still a work in progress, yet he is already rendering his critics—and even some f his biggest advocates—speechless.
It may still be early on, but Rubio is rapidly proving that he was worth the wait for the Timberwolves.
Many had high hopes for the Houston Rockets' Kyle Lowry this season, but no one could have predicted that he would begin the season on such a tear.
Lowry is averaging 15.3 points, 10 assists, 6.2 rebounds and two steals per game so far. He is second in the entire NBA in assists per game, is in the top three of the league in steals per game and is second in rebounds per game for all guards.
Impressed? You should be. Lowry is doing it all on both ends of the floor, and is the main attraction for a struggling Rockets team right now.
Lowry is in his sixth year, and it seems that something has just clicked this season. His shot-selection is better, his passing is more efficient and he has Chris Paul like hands on the defensive end.
If the 25-year-old Lowry keeps up this pace, there is an All-Star appearance in his immediate future.
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After shopping Josh Smith and letting Jamal Crawford walk in free-agency, the Atlanta Hawks were not supposed to make any major noise in the Eastern Conference this season. Apparently, someone forgot to tell this to the Hawks themselves.
Atlanta is simply lighting it up thus far. The Hawks are abusing teams in turmoil and already have an impressive win over the Miami Heat this month. Their most recent loss against the Chicago Bulls is disappointing, but not disconcerting, as they had plenty of opportunities to win it.
Tracy McGrady is one of six Hawks players averaging in double-figures, and is on his way to being deemed the steal of this year's free-agency pool. Atlanta picked him up for the veteran's minimum, yet he is averaging 10 points in just over 20 minutes per game.
As for the rest of the team, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Marvin Williams have been the poster-boys of consistency. Josh Smith remains strong on both ends of the floor, and Joe Johnson, while inconsistent at times, is the team's leading scorer and continues to be strong beyond the arc.
The Hawks have a 4-2 record to start the season, and are looking to continue their strong play moving forward. The Southeast division boasts the likes of the Dwight Howard led Magic and superstar latent Heat, but Atlanta is now far from an afterthought.
Could the Hawks wind up finishing atop the division? If they continue to play the way they have thus far for the rest of the season, it certainly isn't out of the question.
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The New Jersey Nets are off to a disappointing start, but rookie Marshon Brooks has been a sight for sore eyes.
Brooks is averaging 14.1 points and 3.4 rebounds through his first seven games of the season. In New Jersey's Wednesday night loss to the Boston Celtics, Brooks dropped 15 points in the first half, before going cold in the second and being forced to leave early in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.
The 22-year-old has proved to be a scoring threat from anywhere on the court, and thrived as the team's first offensive option in the first start of his career. While the Celtics locked Brooks down in the third quarter of Wednesday night's showdown, his willingness to pass the ball off to his teammates instead of forcing his own action cannot go overlooked.
With Brook Lopez sidelined, the ever-battered Deron Williams needs all the help he can get on offense. Brooks has been a surprise contributor and will be a key part of the Nets' future—whether it be as a cornerstone or trade chip—moving forward.
Remember Ryan Anderson, a throw-in from the trade that brought the Orlando Magic Vince Carter? Well, he's proving to be the most valuable acquisition made by Orlando since Dwight Howard.
The 23-year-old Anderson is off to an auspicious start this season, averaging 19.7 points to lead the Magic, along with 7.4 rebounds per game. He is shooting over 45 percent from three-point range and has emerged as one of the best stretch 4 forwards in the league.
Orlando has jumped out to a 5-2 start, and Anderson is a huge part of that, as he has helped shoulder the burden on both sides of the ball. There is a reason that Howard isn't being forced to score as much this season, and that's because the Magic finally boast a competent number two, who is rapidly becoming their first option.
Anderson has one of the quickest releases not only at his position, but in the entire league. He needs very little time and room to get a shot off and hits with Ray Allen-like accuracy from the outside this season.
The 6'10" Anderson could stand to improve on defense, but he is far from a liability. Also, let it be known that he is only in his fourth season, and the window for improvement hasn't even begun to close.
The Magic were in desperate need of some assistance heading into this season, ergo the fat contract they issued Jason Richardson. Sometimes, though, help comes from the most unexpected of players—this time in the form of Anderson.
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Andrew Bynum has only been back for three games, but he is already making his presence on the court felt much more than usual.
For his career, Bynum has averaged 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, yet in his short time back, he is putting up 22.7 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks per contest. He looks like a completely different player as he takes higher percentage shots, navigates the floor much more efficiently and remains consistent on both ends.
The 7'0" athlete has never been known to be a hard worker, but at this rate, he is poised to shed such a label. He has been aggressive in every aspect of his game, and finally looks like the dominant center that the Los Angeles Lakers thought he could be.
Each season, there have been those who held out hope that Bynum would realize, and in turn reach, his full potential. After six years though, the number of people doing so has dwindled, to the point where most have been calling for his exit, specifically to the Orlando Magic.
Currently, it looks as if season No. 7 may be a lucky one for Bynum, as he has restored hope not only in his advocates, but for fans of the Lakers organization in general.
Kobe Bryant is in need of another prolific sidekick aside from Pau Gasol, and he may have found one in this season's version of Bynum.
You can follow Dan Favale on Twitter here @Dan_Favale.