NBA: Biggest surprises of the 2019-20 season
It’s been over a month since the NBA suspended the 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the league office is still investigating on how it can resume the season at some point this year.
With the NBA on hiatus, it’s probably a good time to reflect on the 2019-20 season so far. The penciled-in contenders have so far lived up to their expectations, with the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, and the Los Angeles Clippers all atop the league standings. However, there are teams and players which have come out of left field and have been a revelation this season.
Russell Westbrook’s 2020
When the Houston Rockets traded for Russell Westbrook in the off-season, many instantly questioned his fit alongside his buddy James Harden. Those naysayers had a ton of ammo to throw at the Rockets for the trade, with Westbrook struggling mightily to start the season.
However, as the calendar flipped to 2020, so did the former league MVP’s play. From January up until the league’s abrupt suspension, Westbrook turned it up and notched averages of 31.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 6.8 assists. Through that 23 game sample, he also shot an extremely efficient 52.7 percent from the field, easily the best stretch of his career. Westbrook changed his game and became the best version of himself by living exclusively in the paint, while taking significantly less three-pointers.
A lot of people thought they’ve seen the peak of Russell Westbrook, especially after his rough start with the Rockets. However, the enigmatic guard found a way to reinvent himself and is playing arguably the best basketball of his career.
Miami Heat as Dark Horse Contenders
Jimmy Butler’s addition to the Miami Heat looked like a seamless fit. Miami certainly saw him as the perfect player to banner the Heat culture.
Sure, many expected Miami to become a playoff team. However, nobody really thought they would be a dark horse contender for this year’s NBA championship. Currently with the fourth best record in the East, the Heat have exceeded expectations and are playing great basketball.
The emergence of Bam Adebayo as an All-Star along with promising prospect Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson have been some of the pleasant surprises for Miami. Heat president Pat Riley sensed that Miami had a slight window to make some noise in the playoffs. With that, they acquired three-time NBA champion Andre Iguodala along with veterans Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to boost their roster for the postseason.
Luka’s Rise to Superstardom
Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic showed he was as good as advertised when he turned in one of the best rookie campaigns in NBA history last year. This season, many expected the reigning Rookie of the Year to take a jump. However, nobody saw Doncic’s meteoric rise to superstardom coming by as soon as his sophomore campaign.
Spectacular, amazing, sensational. magnificent — these are just some of the superlatives used to describe Doncic’s 2019-20 season. The 21-year old phenom has carried Dallas to a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference. Doncic is putting on a show on a nightly basis with his step-back threes, sneaky finishes around the basket, and nifty passes to his open teammates.
This season, the Slovenian Sensation is averaging a near triple-double of 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 8.7 assists, while shooting 46.1 percent from the field. With those numbers, it’s hard to believe that Doncic is just 21 years old. And that’s the scary part for the rest of the league. He’s only going to get better.
Defending Champs Not Going Away
When Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard bolted Canada and went home to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers, many instantly crossed out the Toronto Raptors from the short-list of contenders for the NBA championship. So far this season, not only have the defending NBA champions managed to stay afloat, they are still one of the elite teams with the second best record in the Eastern Conference.
What makes Toronto’s 2019-20 campaign more impressive is that they have done this with nearly every key player — from Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam — spending time on the sidelines at some points this season. Players such as Chris Boucher and Terence Davis have stepped up in their absences and are making the most of their opportunities.
Toronto has banked on its top-notch defense while playing offense that is heavily reliant on ball movement. Led by Siakam’s emergence as an All-Star, along with their championship veteran core of Lowry, Gasol, Ibaka, and VanVleet, it will tough to count out the defending champs.
The Future is Now in Memphis
The Memphis Grizzlies secured their franchise point guard by selecting Ja Morant with the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. They viewed him as a vital piece alongside 2018 4th overall pick Jaren Jackson Jr. The future certainly looked bright in Memphis.
Nobody expected, however, that the future would unfold by as soon as the 2019-20 season. After starting the season 6-16, Memphis went on an 18-8 stretch and have since stayed as the 8th seed in the loaded Western Conference. Some teams such as the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Sacramento Kings are threatening to pry the final spot of the playoffs away from Memphis. But so far, however, Morant, Jackson Jr., and the young Grizzlies are holding on tightly.
Morant has been a revelation for the Grizzlies and will likely nab the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year plum.
I Thought the Thunder were Rebuilding?
When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook this past summer, many expected them to head towards the lottery and start their rebuild. A few number of analysts predicted they may become a sneaky playoff team. However, nobody in their right mind would have thought they would be in the mix for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
That’s right, despite all the low expectations, Oklahoma City currently holds the 5th best record in the West, just a game behind the no. 4 Utah Jazz. Led by All-Star point guard Chris Paul and rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder have defied expectations and are in right in the thick of things in the West.
While many attribute OKC’s success to CP3’s resurgence and SGA’s emergence, they also have a steady group of veterans in Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, and Dennis Schroder playing excellent basketball for them.