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With the trade NBA deadline over and All-Star Weekend fast approaching, we can catch our collective breath and review what happened.
We normally examine players and the impact they have as individuals. We’ll save that for another day. Instead, let’s take a look at the teams that have surpassed expectations and those who have underachieved:
The most surprising team so far is the Memphis Grizzlies. If the season ended today, they would be in the playoffs as the eight seed. Nobody and I mean nobody, even die hard fans, could have seen this coming.
They are led by rookie phenom Ja Morant,who has been better than advertised (17.4 points, 7 assists, 50% FG, 39% 3pt FG, 78% FT) and second year player Jaren Jackson Jr. (17.6 points, 40% 3pt FG). They have gotten big contributions from Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and Jonas Valanciunas. The Grizzlies have been a fun team to watch. We’ll see if they can keep this pace up.
The Grizzlies success stems from a high scoring offense powered by a terrific transition game. They also take the best shot available, giving up good shots for better ones resulting in a top five field goal percentage.
Memphis makes you pay for fouling them, being a very good free throw shooting team. They keep defenses scrambling by sharing the ball exceptionally well, leading the league in assists. If that wasn’t enough, they are making it hard for opponents by forcing tough shots.
Honorable mention surprise team has been the Indiana Pacers. They currently sit in the fifth spot in the playoff picture. Adding Malcolm Brogdon in the offseason has paid off (17 points, 4.6 assists, 7.3 assists, 90% FT). He has been a stabilizing force on both ends of the floor.
Domantas Sabonis has had a breakout season (18.3 points, 12.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 54% FG), showing a myriad of skills and Myles Turner (11.9 points, 6 rebounds) anchors the middle. What the Pacers are doing wouldn’t be a big deal but consider they are doing this without their best player in Victor Oladipo, who is recovering from an injury and will be back soon.
The main reason for the Pacers overachievement is their defense. They make it tough on opponents to score, playing great team defense and protecting the rim with shot blockers. They don’t give up easy baskets and defend well in transition.
Indiana is a sneaky offensive team. You wouldn’t consider them athletic but they take really good shots, share the ball and make their three point shots. They also make a high percentage of free throws which extends leads and can halt opponents’ runs.
The most disappointing team so far is the Sacramento Kings. After being in playoff contention all last season before running out of gas and finishing ninth, it was natural to think they could make a serious run at a playoff spot this year.
The core of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III would be a year wiser, stronger and have better chemistry. That hasn’t happened and they haven’t gotten much support from their teammates. With young talent comes inconsistency. Unfortunately, the results have been disastrous.
The Kings are struggling on defense because they don’t seem to be on the same page. The lack of rotation or help defense is the evidence. They are near the bottom of the league in scoring defense and opponent field goal percentage. Not a good combination for success.
Sacramento also struggles scoring the ball because of poor shot selection and too much isolation. They don’t rebound well which is shocking being that they miss a lot of shots. There are leaks everywhere and not enough plugs.
Honorable mention most disappointing team is the Philadelphia 76ers. They currently are sixth in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. They have too much talent to be in this predicament.
It’s hard to imagine with Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid and Al Horford on this roster but the results are not there. To say they are underachieving is putting it mildly. They were picked with the Milwaukee Bucks as favorites to get to the conference finals. Doesn’t seem likely with them going in the opposite direction.
There are some shocking reasons that sum up their underachieving start. It starts with them struggling to score. It’s an enigma because they have scorers a-plenty but the lack of shooters is suffocating them.
No floor spacing has a negative impact on players who need space to work. Poor free throw shooting has led to too many close game losses. The worst number is their road record, which is an ugly 9-19. You cannot be considered a serious contender if you can’t win on the road.