The NBA's surprise teams and disappointing squads ... thus far

Ball Don't Lie
The NBA's surprise teams and disappointing squads ... thus far
The NBA's surprise teams and disappointing squads ... thus far

Tuesday night marked the two-week mark of the 2015-16 season. Folks, we’re a fortnight in! As such, we thought it right to take a look at who has been a devilish surprise to start the campaign, and who has let us down a bit.

THE SURPRISES

Portland Trail Blazers, 4-4

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As we mentioned, LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to just about sign off on his departure from the Trail Blazers as soon as they were eliminated in the first round by Memphis last April helped accelerate the team’s rebuilding process. No, they wouldn’t get compensation for LMA, but they could get a Noah (Vonleh) by jettisoning some vets and looking toward the kids for help. Noah hasn’t been great (26 percent from the field; it just seems beneath his skill level), but Damian Lillard has played like an MVP and C.J. McCollum has developed into a 20-point scorer. Watching Al-Farouq Aminu and all his rebounding moxie remains a lovely League Pass gem. We knew coach Terry Stotts would give us a watchable offense, but who could have predicted it would be top five just eight games in?

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Can They Keep It Up?

The schedule, if we’re honest, has been kind to the Blazers despite the team’s middling strength of schedule score. They’ve played five teams that were in the lottery and two squads that made the playoffs last year but have disappointed so far this season (more on those two later). Credit the youngsters, however, for taking care of business as they should – even if the team’s last two losses (to Detroit and Denver) felt like slip-away games that they needed to finish off.

Detroit Pistons, 5-2

The Pistons, by far, have had the toughest go of any team once you observe their schedule and the fact that they’ve had to dash to the Pacific Time Zone already. Stan Van Gundy’s creature isn’t fully formed. It’s still mostly made up of players he didn’t draft, and we’re just seven games in, but the group is ably handling things defensively while also relying on one of the stranger one-two punches we’ve seen in a while: Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. Those two don’t remind of the pick-and-pops we used to see from Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer, but thus far both players have worked at an All-Star level.

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Can They Keep It Up?

A rough 13 of this team’s first 23 games come against Western Conference teams, so if the Pistons can just make it another month with their wits about them, why not? The Chicago/Indiana/Detroit/Milwaukee scheduling morass isn’t as frightening as the one that pairs the three Texas teams with a trip to Oklahoma City, but if the Pistons can continue to take advantage of weary teams coming into Michigan after a night spent elsewhere, this can sustain somewhat. Drummond and Jackson’s almost pell-mell style seems like a rather daunting thing to scout and prepare for at this point.

Minnesota Timberwolves, 4-3

It feels odd to say now, but it was a slight surprise that 2014-15’s worst team won by a point over the Lakers in the season opener for both team. Since then the team has tossed in impressive wins over Chicago and Atlanta, along with a blowout victory in Denver, while cranking up what was also the league’s worst defense last year to eighth overall in 2015-16. Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince still start, but they both give way to rookie Nemanja Bjelica and swingmen Zach LaVine and Kevin Martin for long stretches, to great acclaim. Ricky Rubio’s all-around game is paying huge dividends, and at just 25 he’s already the sage veteran on this squad.

Can They Keep It Up?

It will be tough. Andrew Wiggins (who has been fantastic at 20 points per game) seems to have copped to the fact that he has to act more aggressively on offense, but it will be interesting to see how he reacts when the rest of the NBA realizes that the Wolves aren’t an easy out at this point. It’s tougher to anticipate how the rest of the NBA will attempt to mitigate Karl-Anthony Towns’ influence on the game at both ends. He is an astounding talent.

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS

New Orleans Pelicans, 1-6

If we can go Reverse Dad on you, we’re not disappointed in New Orleans, we’re just mad at them. Mad that the team’s significant health woes have given new coach Alvin Gentry a nearly unworkable roster – with Nate Robinson turning into Jimmer Fredette turning into Ish Smith and then probably, I dunno, Shammond Williams at some point.

Alvin Gentry attempts to circle the wagons. (Getty Images)
Alvin Gentry attempts to circle the wagons. (Getty Images)

It seems unfathomable in 2015, but the loss of Kendrick Perkins will hurt, they’re the league’s worst defensive team, and even hoped-for MVP Anthony Davis might miss a few games this week.

Will This Keep On?

The issue here is that most of these injuries are of the nagging, hard-to-get-over variety.

Davis injured his hip in his team’s lone win over the Mavericks on Tuesday and that’s the sort of bruise that can stick with you for weeks after you return to game action. Tyreke Evans’ knees may never be right, Norris Cole’s high ankle sprain might hinder him for the entire season (again, well after he's cleared to return), and who knows if Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson will return to peak form?

It’s truly frustrating, and it’s OK to be mad.

Memphis Grizzlies, 3-5

The idea that the Grizzlies somehow, for years, resisted the notion that 3-point shots count more than two is laughable, but because of varying influences, the roster that did them so well for years in the Western Conference playoffs is dragging them down in 2015-16. To characterize the Grizzlies’ start as a disappointment is a reach, as some of this has to be expected at some point. Players are going to age, and skilled playmakers (like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley) are going to lose luster when crowded.

Will This Keep On?

A sub-.500 season, even in the West, might be a little too pessimistic, but this is a roster that’s easy to guard. Memphis probably won’t finish the season ranked second-to-last in offense, a slot they’re currently occupying right now, and the team’s tough early schedule is a part of this … but blowout losses are always worrying. For the team’s point differential to rank just above the hopeless Brooklyn Nets and tanking Philadelphia 76ers, coming off the heels of a second-round appearance, is a little galling. Even after just eight games.

Chicago Bulls, 5-3

The Bulls have a winning percentage that would lead them to a 52-win record over a full season, and two of those losses have come in overtime, but the sprightly bunch of freed Bullies we expected haven’t shown up this year. Consistently, at least. The team makes endless mistakes on both sides of the ball, they began questioning their collective intensity in October, and Derrick Rose leads the NBA in shots that almost go in. This was supposed to be the honeymoon, while the Cavaliers got healthy, and yet the Bulls just seem to be content with bringing it every other night. Or every other possession.

Will This Keep On?

It’s hard to say. Coach Fred Hoiberg moved Doug McDermott (he of the 57 percent 3-point stroke) into the starting lineup and was prepared to re-insert Joakim Noah into his old and unworkable power forward slot, until the knee that has left Noah unsuited for starting minutes felled him again in opening warmups on Monday. Rose has eschewed the 3-point shot, which is a good start, but he still lopes up court too often. Hoiberg’s NBA experience was supposed to act as not only a bulwark but as a source of credibility, but he’s had to watch as the Bulls oddly go through the motions.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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