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NBA’s Most Surprising and Disappointing Aspects of this Season

This NBA regular season is coming to an end in less than a month and it’s time to look at what we have seen so far. Many things that could have been predicted have happened. The Rockets and Warriors battle for the top spot in the west, James Harden MVP favorite, OKC struggling to start the season but would get better throughout, LeBron James would still be LeBron James. But, let’s not talk about all the right predictions people could have made but instead the things that many people didn’t see coming. The first half of the article will explain the surprising parts of the NBA that have happened thus far, and the second half will talk about the disappointing aspects of the NBA season.

The Surprising

Celtics Stay Competitive Despite Losing Gordon Hayward

Just about everyone saw the injury to Gordon Hayward, and it felt like as soon as he went down with his gruesome injury, so did the Celtics. Gordon Hayward was most likely going to be the key offensive weapon for the Celtics even with Kyrie in the backcourt. His injury immediately was determined to be season-ending and the predictions for the Boston Celtics weren’t good. They lost that night to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then dropped their home opener the next night to the Milwaukee Bucks. Things weren’t looking good for the previous number one seed in the east.

However, the Celtics still had a superstar and some quality young pieces surrounding him along with one of the best coaches in the NBA in Brad Stevens. Even with all of this, the Celtics seemed to be a bottom tier playoff team. Then the miraculous happened, the Boston Celtics went on to win 16 straight following the loss to the Bucks. The streak put them in first place in the east by a wide margin. The defense that the Boston Celtics bring is fast, mistake-free, and consistent. Even when their offense is struggling, the defense can usually keep them in the game. Just look at the Celtics game against the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier in the week. The Celtics had struggled all first half to put the ball through the hoop but at the half, they were only down three. As we all know, the Celtics would make an outstanding comeback in the last minute of the game to win. Not only were they without Gordon Hayward, but they were also missing Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown.

This Celtics team is filled with quality players and has continuously come back from large deficits against great teams all season. The Celtics have given each of the top teams in the West and East lots of trouble at home and on the road. The season is long though and the Celtics weren’t quite able to keep up with their 16-game win streak. They have been passed up by the Toronto Raptors and currently trail them by 4.5 games. The Celtics look like a lock for the two seed and may have to go through both the Cavaliers and Raptors to make the Finals. They’ve got a long road ahead of them, but we’ve seen them do some great things so far.

The Surprising

Clippers and Blake Griffin Split

Right before the All-Star break, the players from the Los Angeles Clippers that seemed most likely to be traded were DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams. The Clippers franchise and star Blake Griffin was thought by many people to be almost untouchable. Los Angeles had just given Blake Griffin a contract of 5-years, $173 million. They also put on a show for him when he met with them to discuss the contract in the summer. Putting his jersey in the rafters and creating a bizarre t-shirt that compared Blake Griffin as a pioneer next to MLK, JFK, Einstein, Obama, and others. They let him know that the long-term goal of this team involved him until the end of his career.

Out of nowhere, the Clippers decided they would send Blake Griffin along with Willie Reed, Brice Johnson, and a second-round draft pick to the Detroit Pistons for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, and a first and second-round draft pick. This was easily the most shocking trade of the season as nobody knew that the Clippers were listening to offers for Griffin. Both teams are currently out of the playoffs but are in the hunt, most likely for the bottom seed. However, the Pistons seem to be a team on the rise while the Clippers could be looking at some down years ahead. Especially if DeAndre Jordan would leave in free agency.

The Surprising

Pacers and Victor Oladipo

During the wild NBA summer of 2017, the Indiana Pacers traded their best player, Paul George, to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Not only did it seem like the Pacers lost this trade due to the star power of Paul George compared to an underwhelming Oladipo and young Sabonis. The Pacers also lost the deal on the money side.The Pacers were paying George $19.5 million this year, but now they are paying Oladipo and Sabonis a total of $23.5 million.

The Pacers seemed to be a team that would definitely be looking at a rebuild for the next few seasons. Oladipo had other plans. The new star is averaging career highs in almost every major statistical category this season. He is currently averaging 23.3ppg, 5.2rbg, 4.2apg, 2.3spg, and 0.8bpg. All while shooting 47% from the field, 52% from 2, 36.6% from 3, and 80.3% from the line. Victor Oladipo, in my opinion, is the best candidate for the Most Improved Player award at the end of the season and many others would agree.

Victor Oladipo is not only shining in Indiana but so is his team. The Pacers are currently sitting at the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. They are a half-game behind Philadelphia and a half-game ahead of Washington. Indiana at the moment has two fewer wins and one more loss than OKC does despite losing their best player for some young pieces. After the trade, no one thought that Indiana had won the trade even if Paul George was going leave the Thunder after this season. The way things are looking right now, they just might have won the trade after all.

The Surprising

Jazz and Future Superstar Donovan Mitchell

Gordon Hayward leaves, Rudy Gobert is hurt most of the season, you don’t have a great draft position at 24. The Jazz made a move and traded up to the 13th pick to draft Donovan Mitchell from Louisville. At 6-3” 210lbs Donovan Mitchell looked like a good kid and a good basketball player. Some mock drafts had him going top 10 but there was a lot of talent and a couple picks I bet some teams would take back.

For the Jazz, you are looking at a team that just lost its star player and would most likely now miss the playoffs. Donovan Mitchell saw an opportunity in Utah. This team was now on Rudy Gobert’s shoulders but with nagging injuries, this team was in need of a star. That star was Mitchell and to everyone’s surprise, the kid has blown out the competition. He will most likely finish 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting, behind Ben Simmons, but he sure has made it a conversation. Mitchell has basically brought this team back from the dead and now are an 8th in the West with a 1.5 game lead over Denver. He averages 20ppg, 3.7rpg, and 3.6apg. What he also brings is energy, effort, athleticism, and clutch play. The Jazz hit a home run with this pick and he has launched them into the playoffs and relevancy.

The Surprising

Toronto Raptors Revitalized

Although the Raptors just lost to the Cavaliers on Wednesday it was still an impressive performance despite blowing a 15-point lead. A few years back when the Raptors and Cavs met in the Eastern Conference Finals, Toronto would get blown out when on the road in Cleveland. Wednesday night, Toronto showed that they are a better version of the Raptors from that season. They are much more efficient on offense and defense than years past. Running a new style of offense that moves the ball more frequently rather than isolation plays through DeMar DeRozan. This team is also much deeper having played multiple players off the bench who scored double digits on Wednesday.

If there was a team in the East to upset the Cavaliers in the playoffs I would pick Toronto. They have shown more skill offensively than the Celtics and have been more consist. The Celtics may be the comeback kids this season but come playoff time I wouldn’t expect any comebacks against LeBron James. I’m picking the team that can stay in the game all the way through and that would be the Raptors. Dwane Casey is my favorite to win Head Coach of the Year because of his team’s performance this season. Being a one seed when you were thought as nothing more than a 3 and maybe 4 depending on the Wizards to start the season. They have shown growth and maturity this season and that is why they have control of the one seed right now. They may not be Cleveland’s kryptonite in the postseason, but they may not be far off from it.

The Disappointing

San Antonio Spurs’ Missing Spark

The Spurs were giving the Golden State Warriors the only real competition in the Western Conference Playoffs last year in Game 1. But as we all know as soon as Kawhi Leonard got hurt in that series it was over. The Spurs had a quality lead over of the Warriors but without their best player they fell short and got swept. This season was looking like a three-way race between the Rockets, Warriors, and Spurs. Then Kawhi Leonard got hurt with his quad injury and although it seemed like he wouldn’t miss much time, things turned for the worst. Kawhi has only played in 9 games this season. Rumors have come out that he would play last week but didn’t. Then it sounded like it would be this week but still no appearance. Manu Ginobili recently told reports that he doesn’t expect a return from Kawhi this year at all.

Despite Kawhi Leonard being down this season, the Spurs had actually held their own for some time. They were third in the West for a majority of the season but much closer to the 4th seed than the 2nd. Since the All-Star break it has been a slight downhill for them and now they are to the point where they might miss the playoffs if they play poorly and Denver plays great. They are 3 games ahead of the ninth spot with only ten games left. Even when the Spurs make the playoffs I’m not sure if they will go anywhere, which is disheartening because they could have given us all quite a show against the Rockets or Warriors. The Spurs have been on a winning streak of late and still have a chance to grab the 4th spot in the West. I expect them to be in the lower tier of the conference playoffs though. Missing their spark in Kawhi Leonard may not have affected them a lot in the regular season but come playoffs, this team will need its leader.

The Disappointing

Cavaliers Post Celtics Trade

The experiment that went all wrong. Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland and out of the shadow of LeBron James as well. Trading him to Boston was the best offer left available after Paul George had been traded and talks with the Suns for Eric Bledsoe had been stalled. Even talks with the Knicks to try and get Carmelo Anthony had come to an end. The Cavs’ only option left was the Boston Celtics, the team that they had just beaten in the Eastern Conference Finals. They were able to get an All-Star (who was injured), some young talent, and the Nets’ first-round pick. The trade seemed to work out in both parties’ favor. Cleveland got younger and got a great draft pick. They also got a deeper bench with more role players who would put up quality numbers. For the Celtics, they got a superstar in Kyrie Irving. One who wasn’t as helpless as Isaiah Thomas on defense.

The Celtics immediately took off with Kyrie running the point despite the Gordon Hayward injury. The Cavaliers, however, did not. They were learning how to play without their star point guard and still had to wait for Isaiah Thomas to come back from his hip injury. The defense was laughable, and Jae Crowder was not the same player he was in Boston. Even when Isaiah Thomas came back he was rusty and obviously was not helping the defense.

Then the worst happened, it was said that Isaiah Thomas was singling out Kevin Love in a “players only” meeting for quitting on the team during a game. For LeBron and company, that was not going to fly. You could see that the team was falling apart right in front of our eyes. Isaiah Thomas wouldn’t be with the team during player announcements but instead standoff across the court by himself. Kevin Love grew sick of players calling him out. He would over exaggerate handing the ball off to Isaiah Thomas before running down the court. He also threw a towel on Jeff Green’s head, but I’m not exactly sure if that was for the same reasons.

Cleveland then blew it all up at the trade deadline. Everyone’s expectations for this team after the trade with Boston were very high. Their continuous struggle made them hard to watch and now has left them fighting for the 3rd seed. Even if you hate the Cavaliers it would have been extremely exciting to see their Boston players go against the Celtics in the playoffs. Kyrie versus Isaiah in swapped uniforms would have been quite a sight.

The Disappointing

Milwaukee Bucks Underachieving

Coming into the season the Bucks were looking like one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. They managed to keep all of their pieces and early on had traded for Eric Bledsoe. They would have a healthy Khris Middleton this year and Jabari Parker would come back in February. But none of that matters if they don’t have their future MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis was coming off a great season with career highs in every statistical category, and let’s not forget, he was the winner of the Most Improved Player award by a large margin. He beat out Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic for the prestigious award.

The first month of the season Giannis Antetokounmpo was looking like a potential MVP candidate and may have even been the favorite to win the award to start the season. However, every MVP has been on a successful team that wins at least 50 games in a season. Except if you average a triple-double and your name is Russel Westbrook. He started the season as the league’s leading scorer but has since dropped to 3rd. What this young Buck brings to the table is nothing short of shocking. He plays defense against every position and finds himself more often than not being the best rim protector on the team by a wide margin. Giannis can pick and choose what he wants offensively in the paint. The ease he has at getting to the basket and scoring is 2nd to none. Is jump shot is a work in progress but he is making slow a slow development. He is a quality rebounder averaging over ten a game and is arguably the best passer on the team as well. Giannis is one of the best Swiss Army knives in the NBA.

No matter what he brings to the table, his team is slightly above average. Jason Kidd had implemented a system that was no good and it eventually got him fired. An offense that only runs isolation plays through Giannis and struggles without him on the court. Also, a defense that blitzes at every player with the ball and creates wide open looks from three or the rim. The Bucks’ defense was one of the best in creating turnovers but their ability to play with great quality was slim to none. Despite all their length, the Bucks’ scheme was and still is why they struggle on defense. Even with the coaching change, it is very much still Jason Kidd’s scheme. A team won’t usually change scheme in the middle of the season. So, what the Bucks have done is instead create a less blitzing defense that still can’t protect the rim and lets players shoot lights out against them from deep. It’s basically the same defense just not on steroids.

It’s so incredibly disappointing to see a team with such a great talent, an MVP talent, and struggle every night. The more and more I watch this team the more I feel like the Bucks won’t do anything until they get a quality center and a quality coach. This team is by far one of the most depressing stories this season. Just imagine Cleveland and Milwaukee meeting in the second round, Milwaukee and Toronto again but in the second round or even Boston. However, the Bucks may still get one of the matchups in the first round, but I doubt it will be a quality matchup with how awful this team plays on defense and how they literally do not know how to play without Giannis on the court.

The Disappointing

Tom Thibodeau’s TimerBulls and Coaching Style

I know that this one may come as a bit of a surprise because the Timberwolves will make the postseason this year for the first time since the 2003-04 season. After many years of rebuilding and mediocrity, they finally will get the monkey off their back and return to the postseason. Or will they? The odds are in their favor as they are two games ahead of the Denver Nuggets at the 7th seed. The Timberwolves have an easier schedule coming up for these last few weeks of the season when compared with the Nuggets’ schedule. The Nuggets and Wolves will actually meet twice and if those wins both go to the Nuggets, things will get very interesting.

The Minnesota Timberwolves were a completely new team the second they received Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls this summer. They did lose a young talent in Zach LaVine, but he was going to be recovering from an ACL repair and he is no Jimmy Butler. What Jimmy brings to the table is leadership, offensive, and defensive talent, as well as recruiting. Butler was able to bring in Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford to Minnesota during free agency.

In my opinion, the biggest thing that is hurting the Wolves right now is Tom Thibodeau. He was brought in to help them play defense, yet they still don’t play defense very well at all. My biggest issue with Thibodeau is his lack of realization that the Wolves need to play more players and that Jimmy Butler cannot play as many minutes as he was. As we all know Jimmy Butler went down with a knee injury right after the All-Star break. Quick side note, Jimmy Butler did not play a single minute in the All-Star game probably because of how many minutes he was averaging this season under Thibodeau. We are constantly seeing stars pushed to their limit and it is costing them their seasons. Just take a look at DeMarcus Cousins or Kristaps Porzingis. Even Giannis Antetokounmpo has to sit out a game here and there due to knee soreness because of how many minutes he plays. Jimmy Butler currently sits at 2nd in the NBA in minutes per game.

Minnesota was a team a lot of people were looking forward to seeing in the postseason. Jimmy Butler has said that his goal is to be back by playoffs but if not, this will be an early exit for the Wolves. And I blame the coaching of Thibodeau that pushed Butler to the point of this injury because Thibodeau hasn’t taught his players well enough to play defense. Therefore, leaving in his best player, Jimmy Butler, for more minutes and causing his body to eventually give out. Minnesota should be grateful that the injury wasn’t worse.

The Disappointing

Denver Nuggets

Much like the Milwaukee Bucks, the Denver Nuggets were thought to be a team to make a big jump this year, especially after they managed to get Paul Millsap in free agency. Unfortunately for them, Millsap has missed the majority of this season with a wrist injury. Even with Millsap hurt, the Denver Nuggets have one of the deepest rosters in the league. They have outside shooting, rebounding, and pass the ball very well.

The biggest issue for the Nuggets is consistency. They continue to be one of the best teams at home this season but the second they leave the Mile-High City it turns into a completely different team. Denver has won just over 10 games on the road this season, most of those coming against poor competition. Their struggles with playing on the road are somewhat confusing. This team seems to be built very well and has a great talent in Nikola Jokic. The other issue I found is that their defensive rating is in the bottom five of the league. Right next to the Timberwolves and the Magic. This is a huge weakness because defense on the road is probably the biggest key to coming out of another team’s arena with a win.

With all the talent that they have, I would have thought Denver would be right in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race. Their lack of growth defensively and incapability of stringing together wins on the road are their downfall. They will need to play extremely well to end the season because they are a game and a half out of the playoffs. They only have ten games remaining in the season and six of them are on the road. Five of those road games come against teams currently in the playoffs. Also, their remaining four home games all come against current playoff teams. Denver will need their defense now more than ever. I expect them to miss the playoffs by a few games and may even finish behind the Los Angeles Clippers.

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