With the 2016-’17 NBA season in full swing, its time to take a look at some of this years earliest surprises. Here we go.
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks made some relatively questionable moves this offseason, namely signing Dwight Howard after losing Al Horford to the Celtics in fee agency. I was one of many who believed this to be a questionable move, as I personally think Dwight Howards best years are behind him, well it is safe to say that as of now, I am eating my words. The Hawks are 7-2 and sitting at the two spot in the Eastern Conference, and Howard is having a bounce back year, averaging a nice 15 points on 63 % from the field, two blocks, and collecting 12.4 rebounds per game, his best rebounding total since his lone season in LA. The Denis Schroder experiment has been successful as he is having his best season in scoring at 16 a game, assists with six each night, while remaining efficient on offense (45 % from the field and 39 % from three). Paul Millsap has been solid and it seems that Kyle Korver is returning to his sharp-shooting self. If the Hawks continue to be excellent defensively, 95.8 defensive rating, and some key guys like Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr. continue to show up in big games, I think this team will remain a positive surprise throughout the season.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: If you were to tell me that DeMar DeRozan would be leading the League in scoring through the first few weeks of the 2016-’17 season, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Its time to believe. DeRozan is averaging 34 points, five rebounds, four assists, a steal, and shooting a stellar 52 % from the field. The 27 year old Raptor is making his 139 million dollar deal look well worth it as he has helped lead Toronto to a 7-2 start, transforming the team into a legitimate threat to make it out of the East. While I do think DeRozan’s stats will slip as the season goes on, if the California native can keep this play up while helping the Raptors win, there is no reason DeMar can’t collect a few MVP votes come springtime.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets have the weakest roster in the NBA and many believed this would be the reason they would be one of the worst teams in the league this year. Well were about two weeks into the season and Brooklyn is sitting on a 4-5 record and quite frankly, playing some very solid basketball. While this record is not excellent, it should be noted that it is a better standing than some notable teams in the East, *cough Knicks, Pacers, Wizards *cough. Who deserves the credit for this better-than-expected start for the Nets, maybe Brook Lopez or Jeremy Lin? Not quite. New head coach Kenny Atkinson should be taking credit for this start, as he has consistently found ways to motivate a weak team to go out each night and play hard on both sides of the court, a fact displayed in their top 15 defensive rating of 102.3 as well as their 9.2 steals per game rating. It also helps to see young guys like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson playing good basketball as well. Will the Nets see Postseason basketball, no, but will they be a much more competitive team than everyone expected in 2016-’17, I believe so. On a side note, I think it would benefit the Nets to play their young hometown point guard Isaiah Whitehead a bit more too.
James Harden leading NBA in Assists: After being snubbed for any of the All-NBA teams this past year, James Harden has returned in 2016-’17 with a vengeance. Harden is having the best year of his career under new offensive-minded head coach Mike D’Antoni, as the Beard is averaging a filthy 30 points per game, eight boards, shooting 48% percent from the field, and leading the NBA in assists at 13 per game. The Rockets are 5-4, a mediocre record but still good enough for the eight seed in the West as of now, but if Harden continues his excellent play, Eric Gordon remains a good scoring threat, Capela continues to catch those lobs from Harden, and Ryan Anderson keeps shooting 43% from downtown, I think Houston will be a Playoff team. On a side note, Harden does need to cut down on his turnovers, as he is averaging about six a game right now, but the Rockets have been much better than expected defensively.