Who would have thought in the beginning of the season that the Portland Trail Blazers would have a better record than the Miami Heat? The Blazers’ chemistry has been heating up their defense, their ball movement, and their shooting. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are playing better than Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
But the Trail Blazers are not the biggest surprise this year. The team that has been the biggest shock, going worst to first, is the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors have unexpected stars like Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, and their best player, DeMar DeRozan. At the beginning of the season, no one would have said the Raptors would be 8-2 within their division and in front of teams such as the Nets, Knicks, and Bulls in the Eastern Conference.
Other surprises are the Wizards and Bobcats. At the beginning of the season, if I had said those teams would have a playoff spot in mid-season, you would have called me crazy. The Wizards have beaten some tough teams in the past five games, including the Thunder, Suns and Warriors. Washington have a .500 record for the first time since Halloween 2009, and they have not been in the playoffs since 2008. Their starting five is building up to its potential with their leader, John Wall, young shooting star Bradley Beal, veteran small forward Trevor Ariza, and big men Nene and Marcin Gortat. All of their starting five are averaging more than 12 points per game and all are averaging over four rebounds.
Then there are the Bobcats. Their defense is tremendous, allowing only 97.4 points per game. That is sixth-best in the entire NBA. Al Jefferson has been dominant, averaging 20 points with 10 boards. Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker are having their best seasons, averaging more than 15 points per game each. If the season ended today they would have the eighth seed, not the best, but they would still beat out teams like the Knicks, Celtics and Pistons.
Many shocks and surprises have happened with players as well. You might say Kevin Durant, hands-down, is the MVP. But in my opinion, Kevin Love is putting up a good fight for the title. Love can shoot threes, jumpers, and layups. He can penetrate, post up, and pass the rock to his teammates. He averages 26 points per game with 13 rebounds and 5 assists. He is what every coach would want in a player. He has brought the Timberwolves to a .500 mark and even a playoff spot. Everyone thought Love would be great this year, but no one thought he could put up such great numbers.
A few years ago in Portland, the Blazers thought Brandon Roy was going to be their star and the face of the franchise. But after injuries ended his career, the team has suffered. Now, they have a new star in Lillard. He has been stellar with his shooting and passing ability, and he is clutch in the fourth quarter. He is the team leader and puts on a show every game. Out of college, people saw his raw talent. But because he went to a lesser-known college, Weber State, he did not get drafted in the first five picks. He won Rookie of the Year last year and everyone this year knew he would be a stud. But no one would have thought he would lead the Blazers to one of the best records in the NBA.
And, you can't forget the biggest shocker of them all: Lance Stephenson. He did a wonderful job filling in for the injured Danny Granger, averaging 14 points, five assists and eight rebounds per game. His defense is shutdown and he can guard anyone in the league. He did so well this year that he bumped Granger, a former All-Star, for a spot in the rotation. I think he is the most improved player in the NBA. No one expected him to put up those rare numbers.
I have been surprised with the talents that have come out of teams and players at this halfway point of the season, but I think there are still plenty more shocks and surprises to come.