BLOGTABLE: Biggest surprise halfway through 2018-19 season?
NBA.com Global on Jan 10, 2019 01:51 PM
FILE - LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 5: Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers looks on during the game against the Dallas Mavericks on April 5, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
What's the biggest surprise at the halfway point of this season?
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Steve Aschburner: If I focus on “biggest,” I’m saying how thoroughly the bottom has dropped out of the Washington Wizards’ season. Their miserable start, Dwight Howard’s reliable unavailability and other hiccups, trading Kelly Oubre Jr., now John Wall’s surgery… yikes, what a mess, and a vast departure from what I thought would be a solid middle-seed season. If I focus on “surprise,” which suggests something more positive than negative, I’ve got to admit I didn’t see the Clippers playing at their current level. They’ve sewn together a laudable quilt of scorers, facilitators, defenders, role players and leaders. They hit their 3-pointers at a good rate and tend to the arc at the other end, while taking care of business at the foul line. OK, so the Clippers are only five victories from sub-.500 but for the moment, they’re looking down at three or four teams most folks figured they’d be chasing.
Tas Melas: From a team perspective, the Sacramento Kings are at a level of, dare I say, respect? The Kings needed a couple young players to make a significant jump in order to be good and De’Aaron Fox has become an elite NBA player in only Year Two. That’s where it all starts. Additionally, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Willie Cauley-Stein have also gotten better and they’ve all been aided by the pace at which coach Dave Joerger has decided to play. And they averted a ‘front-office-is-trying-to-manage-the-roster’ crisis in November. The Kings did that! Pretty unbelievable.
Shaun Powell: Have to say the Celtics sitting in fifth place at the break. Sure, they're only a handful of games out of first and all they need is a Houston Rockets-like streak to stake claim for first place. But with Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving back healthy and another season of experience for Jayson Tatum, the Celtics were built for a strong start. They may eventually wind up winning 50-plus games anyway and travel deep in the postseason ... but with all due respect, they're right now looking up at the Indiana Pacers in the East standings?
John Schuhmann: There are the usual suspects -- Denver, Indiana, Sacramento and the Clippers -- on the team level. But I keep looking at the leaders in 3-point percentage and seeing a couple of names that shouldn't be there. Through Tuesday, Derrick Rose (46 percent) and T.J. Warren (44 percent) rank fourth and 12th in the league in 3-point percentage, respectively. The league is taking a greater percentage of its shots from 3-point range for the eighth straight season and a lot of guys are attempting more threes than they ever have. But accuracy is another thing. Rose had shot 30 percent from 3-point range prior to this season and was 20-for-90 (22 percent) in 89 games over the last two years. Warren, meanwhile, was Mr. 2-pointer. Last season, he took only eight percent of his shots, the league's fifth lowest rate among non-bigs with at least 500 field goal attempts, from 3-point range. That number is 30 percent this season and Warren has almost doubled the percentage of his threes that have gone through the net. Rudy Gay (41 percent) was once the president of the "How is he among the leaders in 3-point percentage" club, ranking second in the league for a while, and would still be in the top 25 if he had enough attempts to qualify.
Sekou Smith: Brooklyn and Sacramento are authoring seasons that could very well land both franchises in the playoffs, which would no doubt count as big surprises. But it's the LA Clippers who have been the biggest surprise to me at the halfway point. When a team sheds the likes of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan (not to mention quality supporting players like J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and others) over the course of a season and a half, a full-blown rebuild is usually a given. That the Clippers not only resisted that proposed reality is admirable in itself. The fact that coach Doc Rivers has guided his team to the top four of the Western Conference standings is nothing short of amazing. Kudos to all involved in L.A. for sticking to their own plan and obliterating the expectations. And this is setting up a huge free-agent summer for both tenants of Staples Center.