Atlanta Hawks Soaring: The NBA’s Top Five Early Surprise Teams
Yes, it is still early in the season, but not too early to start tracking some of the feel-good, surprise stories in the league. While it is true that all of these teams could easily be broken, also-ran castoffs by this time next week, they have each fared either better than expected, or just better than usual, thus far this season.
While watching the NBA’s refs make inexplicable call after inexplicable call over the last few decades has made it pretty hard for the NBA to surprise me, I am pretty surprised to see these five teams where they are in the standings almost a quarter of the way into the season.
5. Atlanta Hawks (12 -5)
It’s hard to consider the Hawks a surprise team because they have been nurturing a load of young talent over the last few years. Still, it’s kind of surprising to see them at 12-7 anyway you slice it. They have dropped three out of their last four, but that is not surprising. You expect a young team to have growing pains. The Hawks have won in Boston, blown out Denver and beaten Portland twice. This team has proven that they can beat any given team on any given night. Hawks’ fans haven’t felt that way since John Koncak and company spent their careers making sure ‘Nique never made it to the top.
4. Houston Rockets (9 -8)
Again, it’s hard to call this team a surprise. When you roll with Luis Scola, Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes, you know you are getting a gritty team. PG Aaron Brooks has been inconsistent since scoring 33 in the Rockets’ 101-91 upset of the Lakers. He might just be too small and one dimensional to depend on day in and day out to carry the scoring load. The Rockets are just plain old talent deficient. But they do play for four quarters, which is something most teams stopped doing in about 1992. In the NBA today, that could be enough to finagle an eighth seed come playoff time. If they continue to own Oklahoma City, they have a very good chance. It would say a lot about the Rockets’ organization if they sneaked into the playoffs with this lot of lovable, but limited, winners.
3. Oklahoma City (9 -8)
To be fair, I am still a bit surprised that I am living in a world without the Seattle SuperSonics, so in that sense, I am surprised every time I see this team. Gary Payton, Sean Kemp and Sam Perkins tortured me throughout my teenage years. In the 90′s, the Sonics seemed like a force of nature. Now they are just named after one while playing in the armpit of America. Kevin Durant going flat-out bananas isn’t surprising anyone. But the Thunder recording wins over the first place Suns and Magic, not to mention a win over the perennially powerful Spurs, is a bit of a kick in the nuts. It seems quite possible that while the entire world is waiting to see where LeBron ends up next season, the real future of the NBA is a Longhorn living deep in the heart of Oklahoma. If Oklahoma does indeed have a heart. Mixing Oklahoma with the Sonics is to me as a sports fan what mixing the USSR with Al Qaeda would be to a Teabagger.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (9 -8)
Brandon Jennings was a popular whipping boy last year. He blazed a trail by refusing to be a farcical college student and played overseas while waiting to reach the NBA’s mandatory age minimum. The teenager was a punch line to many due to his repeated PR gaffes his proclamation that he is better than Ricky Rubio, recipient of more international ejaculate than any player on the draft board last year. Well guess what? He is better than Ricky Rubio. Jennings not only became the youngest player to ever go for 50 when he pounded Golden State for 55 on November 14, but he also has the Bucks in the thick of the playoff race almost one quarter of the way through the season. This guy has the chance to be the first mega-star to play for the Bucks since Lew Alcindor. Ray Allen and Michael Redd are nice, but neither one is transcendental on their own. The fact that only 17 games into Jenning’s career, it appears that he might be one of those special, top tier talents is mind blowing. Although he did tell us so.
1. Phoenix Suns (13 – 3)
It is not so much surprising that the Suns are 14-3 given their soft schedule to open the season. What is surprising is that the Lakers are in second place in the Pacific Division. The fact is, the Suns have wracked up a lot of wins against weaker competition, and they have not fared very well against the tougher teams in the Western Conference. But I don’t care what anybody says, it is shocking to see anybody ahead of the Lakers in the Pacific Division at this point in the season. Yes, the Suns are only half a game ahead of them. But this is the Laker team that is supposed to challenge the Bulls’s 72 win mark. I know Kobe has been hurting. I know the Lakers are still probably acclimating to Ron Artest parading around the team’s facilities in nothing but his undies. I realize that all of this should change as soon as the Suns hit a rough patch and the Lakers just don’t. But I really expected the Lakers to rule the division from wire to wire. Phoenix is showing that they still matter. Or at least they seem to for now. I certainly never thought I would see the Lakers in anything less than first place this season.
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