By: Brian Helsel
The NBA season is back, and it has brought many surprises. Several teams have been disappointing so far, as the goals that were set during the off season have not yet been reached, while many other teams are exceeding their expectations and winning a lot more than they were projected to.
After a disappointing season last year, the Lakers completely retooled their roster, trading for Superstar point guard Russell Westbrook. NBA fans were split if they believed this trade would work for the Lakers, as some thought the firepower of Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook would be too much for teams to handle while others questioned the fit between the stars and Westbrook’s winning mentality. The latter group has been proven right so far. The Lakers are playing around .500, which is not ideal for a team with their eyes on the championship. There is still a lot of time for this star studded team to figure things out, but their start to the season certainly has not been ideal.
Another team in the Western Conference off to a bad start is the Portland Trail Blazers. Many thought this off season would finally be the year face of the franchise point guard Damian Lillard requests a trade in hopes of playing for a true contender, but Lillard has stayed loyal to the team that drafted him. After firing their coach, Terry Stotts, who many believed to be the reason for the team’s underachieving seasons in the past, the Blazers looked to be a dark horse team once again. But thanks to injuries and another season of being a poor defensive team, the Blazers are 11-15 to start the season off and would miss the play-in tournament if the season ended today.
After being the surprise team of last season, the New York Knicks have struggled to build off their 41-31 record from last year, starting the season 12-13 and currently being out of the play-in tournament as well. The Knicks have lost their defense-first identity from last year, ranking 26th in defensive rating thus far. Former All-Star point guard Kemba Walker has been removed from the rotation after his poor start to the season. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have both seen their shooting and scoring numbers decrease after career years last season. The Knicks definitely have the coaching and player personnel to turn things around, but they do not look like the same team from last season.
There have also been a lot of surprisingly good teams so far. The Cleveland Cavaliers are one of them. The Cavs have not made the playoffs since LeBron James left for L.A. in 2018, but they have finally rebounded from the loss of their best player in franchise history, having one of the best young cores in the league. Point guard Darius Garland is in the Most Improved Player conversation, and center Jarrett Allen has been playing like an All Star. Not to mention, 2nd overall pick Evan Mobley has been electric as a rookie, displaying defensive abilities young players rarely have, and showcasing a versatile offensive arsenal that can make him the best big in the NBA down the road.
Another pleasant surprise has been the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls had a very eventful off season, signing former 2nd overall pick Lonzo Ball, All-Star small forward Demar DeRozan, and fan favorite Alex Caruso. These moves added to the already stout combination of center Nikola Vucevic with All Star shooting guard Zach Lavine, quickly giving the Bulls a competitive team. Many believed they would be fighting for the lower seeded playoffs spots, but so far Chicago has been one of the best teams in the East, sitting at 17-10. The Bulls have been one of the most fun teams to watch, especially because of the duo of Lavine and DeRozan, that can do it all offensively, from hitting big shots to electrifying fast break dunks. It will be very interesting to see how far this team can go come playoff time.
Everyone knew the Golden State Warriors were going to be hungry for revenge after missing the playoffs in back to back seasons, but nobody expected them to start off at a 21-5 clip. Many criticized Golden State for not making a move for a star player, but finding high level role players such as Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton Jr. has silenced those critics. The Warriors have gotten this far without Klay Thompson, who is supposed to return from an achilles injury in less than a month. The Warriors are once again at top of the West.
Although the season still has ways to go, there have been many surprise teams that are making for a very interesting start to the 2021-22 season. It will be fun to see if these teams can rebound or improve off their starts.