Biggest Surprises of the 2012-13 NBA Season

Bryant Knox@@BryantKnoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2012

Biggest Surprises of the 2012-13 NBA Season

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    The NBA has proven throughout the years that it is a league full of surprises, and the 2012-13 season has shown that it is no exception.

    The Miami Heat have lost to the Washington Wizards, the 2012 draft class has been surprisingly mediocre and the Los Angeles Clippers have established themselves as the clear-cut most dominant team to call Staples Center home.

    These are just a few of the things grabbing headlines at this point in the year, as there’s plenty more where that came from when it comes to happenings around the NBA.

    No fan wants to see the same storylines year after year, and no fan wants things to play out exactly as they should on paper. Not all surprises are good for those involved, but the unexpected is what keeps us as fans coming back for more.

    *All statistics and standings are accurate as of Dec. 21, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. ET.

David Lee and the Golden State Warriors

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    If you predicted that the Golden State Warriors were going to be a playoff team in the 2012-13 season, you were one of the optimistic analysts who saw potential in a young roster.

    However, this team has begun the season in surprising fashion, as they find themselves occupying the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference.

    David Lee has been the leader of the Warriors, and he’s having one of the best seasons of his eight-year career. He’s posting 19.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and he’s shooting 53.5 percent from the field.

    In his past 10 contests he’s boosted his points-per-game average to 24.2 and increased his field-goal percentage to 60.6 percent.

    This team has the potential to shake up the Western Conference, and its growth is going to be fun to watch as the youngsters on the roster continue to mature as the season progresses.

Anderson Varejao’s Dominance

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    Anderson Varejao has always been known as a scrappy workhorse, so it wasn’t too surprising when he finally managed to average a double-double throughout the 2011-12 season.

    This time around, though, he has taken his game to another level, and he is leading the entire NBA in rebounding.

    At 30 years old, the longtime Cleveland Cavalier is having his best season to date. He is posting 14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds and he is taking a career-high 11.6 shots per contest.

    He even had an eight-game stretch between Nov. 21 and Dec. 3 where he averaged a remarkable 18 rebounds per game.

    The Cavaliers have been awful thus far, as they’ve only managed a 5-23 record, but Varejao has been a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season.

Andrew Bynum Hasn’t Played a Game

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    Andrew Bynum has had an injury-plagued career, so it shouldn’t be a shocker that he’s hurt. But coming off his first truly dominant, healthy season, nobody could have expected that he’d still be on the sidelines at this point in the year.

    With the campaign Bynum put together in 2012, he officially entered himself into the conversation of best center in the league—although the lead still belonged to Dwight Howard in the eyes of most. This season, though, he’s yet to prove that he can continue to trend the right direction.

    When the Philadelphia 76ers traded for the big man, it looked like a no-brainer. They brought in one of the league’s best post players, they shipped out someone who had been on the trading block for years and they continued building toward the future under one of the brightest coaches in the league, Doug Collins.

    This team was supposed to challenge out East, but a knee injury—apparently made worse in a bowling incident (according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst)—has kept Philadelphia from reaching its full potential.

Tim Duncan and the Fountain of Youth

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    Tim Duncan is the kind of player who is going to retire a legend whenever he decides to call it quits, but according to his play this season, we’re still a few years away from seeing the big man wander off into the distance.

    Over the past two seasons, Duncan has averaged 14.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. These are decent numbers for a player who requires rest at the end of long road trips, right?

    Well, the big man has jumped his averages back up to 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, and he’s still getting it done defensively with 2.6 blocks.

    He’s even been seen finishing above the rim, which is something of a "take that" to any fan who has ever called The Big Fundamental boring.

    The question of how long Duncan can play at such a high level has yet to be answered, but his showing in the 2012-13 season has been fun to watch for anyone who looks at him as one of the greatest of all time.

OKC Thunder and James Harden Both Find Success

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    We all knew that James Harden was worthy of a starting spot in the NBA before he was traded to the Houston Rockets. We also knew that the Oklahoma City Thunder would play well without him.

    But did anybody truly realize that both would go on to find such success at such an early point in the season?

    The 2012-13 campaign began with James Harden dropping 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds and four steals against the Detroit Pistons. How did he follow it up? He had a 45-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks, and he’s become one of the top scorers in the entire NBA.

    The Thunder also got off to a hot start—despite losing two of their first three games—as they have led the Western Conference nearly the entire year. They're currently 21-5, and they have the best winning percentage of any team in the league.

    These two were a great match for each other while it lasted, but they’ve gone their separate ways, and they’ve proven that they don’t need each other at this point in the season.

Western Conference Standings

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    The top of the Western Conference should look familiar to most fans around the NBA. The teams currently in the top four were all top-five finishers in 2012, and they’re the ones most people expect to be competing deep into the playoffs come 2013.

    However, once you get past the top five, it’s a whole new ballgame.

    The Golden State Warriors, who haven’t made the postseason since 2007, are currently the fifth-place team out West. The Minnesota Timberwolves, who have been absent since 2004, are right behind them in the No. 6 spot.

    Even the Houston Rockets, who have one of the most drastically different rosters in the NBA, are currently in the playoff picture.

    But with these teams in, that means that the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks—all playoff teams from 2012—are on the outside looking in until they can turn things around.

New York Knicks' Hot Start

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    The New York Knicks have been a team surrounded by scrutiny, but there’s no denying that they’ve been one of the best teams in the NBA throughout the 2012-13 season.

    Madison Square Garden has been their sanctuary, as they’re boasting an 11-2 record at home. An 8-5 record on the road isn’t bad, either, and they’re showing that they deserve the praise that is coming their way.

    New York is in a battle with the Miami Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but that spot has belonged to them for a good part of the year. They’ve played extremely well with Carmelo Anthony leading the way, and a roster minus Amar’e Stoudemire has been downright impressive.

    Even Raymond Felton, who is coming off arguably the worst campaign of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers, has played well in Mike Woodson’s system.

    This team is still old; there’s no denying that. But with a 19-7 record, they’re buffering themselves nicely if their age begins to show at any point throughout the year.

Los Angeles Lakers’ Troubles

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    The biggest surprise of the 2012-13 NBA season has to be the way the Los Angeles Lakers are playing through 26 games.

    Most reasonable fans expected that there would be growing pains for such a new-look roster. The Miami Heat ran into problems early in the 2010-11 campaign, and this Los Angeles squad needed time to jell.

    The problem is that we’re nearly one-third of the way through the season, and the Lakers are still a hot topic for all the wrong reasons.

    There’s no denying that health has been a concern up to this point. Steve Nash only played in one whole game before losing time to injury, Pau Gasol missed eight games with tendinitis in both knees and even Dwight Howard has moments where he looks as if his back is less than 100 percent.

    You have to believe a team with such a talented starting lineup will put it together soon, but as they sit in 11th place in the Western Conference, they have to be considered the biggest disappointment of the 2012-13 season.