A little more than halfway through the year and we, the NBA fanbase, have been subject to a few surprises and disappointments we surely didn’t see leading into the 2013-14 season. As far as how the season has gone thus far, a majority of it has been expected. The teams we expected to be at the top of the East are there, and the same goes for most of the West, with the exception of Portland, stunning opponents with some incredible shooting.
Surprises also include those who have made improbable returns and teams that decided to avoid tanking and just make a playoff run, instead.
It seems there have been more disappointments than anything, mainly overzealous expectations. It happens all the time, especially for teams in desperation mode hoping to make a savior out of what turns out to be a role player and not much else.
Players are not exempt of disappointing, either. Whether they fail to meet up to their contract, fail to live up to preseason expectations or can’t make the jump from their rookie to sophomore year, any player can fall into this category if they’re not focused enough on improving.
We take a look at those players and teams who have disappointed, as well as those who have given us needed surprises over the arduous early portion of the season.
(statistics updated as of Friday)
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1. Greg Oden is still playing
Greg Oden is nearing the point where it will become expected of him to perform and contribute on a consistent basis. We didn’t imagine these developments would be taking place in February. In fact, there was some doubt it would ever come to that point in Oden’s NBA career. Yet here he is in Miami, owning his role, with the Heat salivating at the opportunity to offer more minutes to a strong defensive presence they have never had before.
In seven games with the Heat this year, Oden’s averages are modest, but heartwarming. He’s putting up 3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per contest, which is 3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game more than what he averaged over the previous three seasons, where he dealt with a slew of surgeries and setbacks concerning his knee.
The numbers aren’t what matter at this point. What the Heat are asking for from Oden is to simply be a defensive presence, as well as grab some rebounds on the offensive end and be ready to catch-and-finish when LeBron finds you.
We’ve already had a few instances of Oden flourishing on offense with LeBron serving as facilitator:
It’s on defense, however, where the Heat expects Oden to flourish and turn potential opponent points into fast break opportunities for Miami. Take these two incredible alley-oops the Heat had against the Pistons:
Notice how both fast breaks were initiated? The first came off Oden deflecting an interior pass, while the second was caused by Oden’s presence leading to a turnover that may not have occurred had a less intimidating defender been in Greg’s position.
It’s becoming comical to watch as hopeful guards immediately turn back to the perimeter once they run into the titan of a 7-footer waiting for them. Having Oden on the floor completely changes the gameplan of both the Heat and their opponent, as Greg forces guards into the long jump shots that Miami craves in order to initiate the fast breaks they use to demoralize their opponents.
2. The Phoenix Suns do not want to be an NBA stepping stone
While teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks have embraced the tank, the Phoenix Suns, believed to be a preseason favorite for the No. 1 pick, have gone in a completely different direction.
The Suns are looking to make some waves not in the lottery this summer, but in the postseason. At 29-20, the Suns are three-and-a-half games out of first place in the Pacific Division and third place in the Western Conference playoff race. In a heated West, the Suns have managed a seventh seed, and seem poised to make it to the playoffs with a comfortable margin between them and the ninth seed.
Rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek has not allowed them to take the year off. Instead, he’s converted guys like Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee, cast-offs of Indiana in the deal that sent Luis Scola to the Pacers, into consistent, stable role players, while also turning Goran Dragic into a bonafide All-Star.
Dragic, owner of 20.1 points and six assist per game averages, is also shooting a career-high 51 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc. He’s one of only two guards in the NBA to be shooting above 50 percent, with the other being Dwyane Wade, who is aided by being in the league’s top offense.
His PER of 22.1 has him ranked 15th in the league, ahead of the likes of Dwight Howard, Wade and Paul George. His facilitation has the Suns currently ranked eighth in offensive efficiency.
Dragic is obtaining these averages on a team consisting of role players and not much else, especially with Eric Bledsoe having only played 24 games this season and their first-round draft pick of 2013 Alex Len playing in only 20.
Goran and Hornacek have brought out the best in everyone, resulting in an extremely balanced effort. Six players are averaging at least ten points per game, while eight are averaging at least nine. There are also four rotation players shooting at least 37 percent from beyond the arc, led by Channing Frye–returning from missing the entire 2012-13 season–and his 40 percent.
The work of Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee cannot go unnoticed. Green played 60 games with the Pacers last year and averaged only seven points on 37 percent shooting, while Plumlee was a rookie who could barely sniff playing time, playing in only 14 games and making a total of five shots all year.
This year, however, has been a completely different story. Plumlee has started all 49 games with the Suns and it’s resulting in the former Duke star averaging 9.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Green, meanwhile, is averaging a career-high 13.7 points and shooting 38 percent from three on over six attempts per.
The Suns are a dangerous team. They have many weapons, nearly all of whom can shoot the ball well from deep, are confident, and contain that dangerous mindset of having so much to gain, but nothing to lose. If higher seeds like Oklahoma City, Portland or the L.A. Clippers aren’t careful, the Suns could put a first-round scare into them.