Four Most Surprising Teams in the NBA So Far

At the time of this writing, we are nearly one-fourth of the way into the NBA season. The first month has brought us many twists and turns, and we’ve seen several surprises. With unexpected teams exceeding expectations, and vice versa, here are the four most surprising NBA teams so far.

Four Most Surprising NBA Teams

Guard Malik Beasley of the Utah Jazz, one of the most surprising teams in the NBA this season
Photo Credit: Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune

#1) Utah Jazz

Without a doubt, the most surprising team this NBA season has to be the Utah Jazz. After trading away two franchise players in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, they currently have a higher winning percentage than the teams that landed those players.

Lauri Markkanen is finally realizing his star potential in Utah, while Jordan Clarkson has helped carry the offensive load as well. Sexton, Olynyk and Conley all have played well as role players. This Jazz team looks cohesive, but we’ll have to wait and see if they can hold this form.

#2) Portland Trail Blazers

Portland is another team from the Western Conference that has far exceeded expectations. Portland currently sits atop the Western Conference with a 10-4 record.

The Blazers currently have a three-headed monster on offense. Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simmons, and Jeremi Grant all currently average about 20 points per game. Portland looks very good, and this is the first time in a while Lillard has had some real help on offense.

#3) Brooklyn Nets

Now for a team who has been surprising in the other direction so far this NBA season. Brooklyn ended last season on a bad note. They fell apart in the first round, getting swept by Boston. That was followed by a whirlwind of rumors and trade requests throughout the offseason, but Brooklyn managed to keep the core together. So far, the results from that decision are far from encouraging.

One bright spot is some surprisingly impressive play from Yuta Watanabe. Yuta had a rough rookie season, to say the least. This year though, he’s made some tremendous improvements. Yuta currently leads the NBA in three-point percentage, at the time of this writing. Aside from him, and the normally impressive performances from Kevin Durant, there hasn’t been much to be excited about in Brooklyn.

#4 Sacramento Kings

Don’t look now, but the Sacramento Kings currently own the fifth best record in the Western conference, at 9-6. The Kings have seen serious, All-Star caliber play from their point guard De’Aaron Fox. Domantis Sabonis has been very impressive this year, as well.

It’s far too early to get too excited about this team, as we haven’t made it a quarter into the season yet. However, the Kings have won nine of their past 11, and it feels like the tide is finally beginning to turn in Sacramento, as they have been one of the most surprising teams in the early portion of the NBA season.

Is Russell Westbrook Off The Bench The Solution?

Following Wednesday night’s thrilling performance against Western Conference rivals the New Orleans Pelicans, the purple and gold won their second straight game. It appears that bringing former MVP Russell Westbrook off the bench as a 6th man is the solution to the team’s success.

While it’s still too early in the season to tell, as of right now it seems to finally work… it just took a matter of a few games to get the ball rolling.

Editor’s note: The Lakers have dropped two games in a row since this article was written

Russell Westbrook has been showing out lately off the bench

Despite his early season struggles, such as a 0-6 three-point shooting performance against the Los Angeles Clippers. This all changed during their game against the Denver Nuggets, where he fully embraced his role, flirting with a triple-double with 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. These heroics contributed to the team’s first victory.

Not to be outdone in their second victory, he continued to play the role of second unit leader, finishing with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists. It’s clear that when he’s laser-focused on this role, it has a positive impact on the game.

Now he gets to lead a unit that includes young talent such as Austin Reeves and fan favorite Matt Ryan.

Russ for 6th Man of The Year?

While it is never too early to begin a campaign for an award, why not advocate for Westbrook to win the 6th Man of The Year Award? If he continues to play at this level, he should earn his share of votes.

He could be joining an illustrious group of players who have won both MVP and Sixth Man of the Year awards, including James Harden and Bill Walton. Darvin Ham is one person who has already started the conversation. And once you have the belief of your coach, the sky is the limit for you.

Don’t be surprised if he keeps doing this. If you see him adding more trophies to his collection, you know the hype train is on. Cast your votes now.

Pre-Season NBA Power Rankings

Both Detroit and Orland come in towards the bottom of the newest NBA power rankings
Photo courtesy of Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA Today Sports

The NBA season is right around the corner, and with that, expectations for all teams are pouring in. In this series, we’ll examine each team in the league, and formulate the complete pre-season NBA power rankings. Here are teams 30-21.

NBA Power Rankings: #30-21

#30 Houston Rockets

The Rockets are in the middle of a rebuild, and it shows on their roster. They’ve got some impressive young players in Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr., but aside from them the talent on the roster is lacking. In a few years, Houston will be much higher.

#29 Oklahoma City Thunder

Like Houston, Oklahoma City finds themselves in the middle of a rebuild as well. The Thunder have a lot of young players, and nearly half the draft picks remaining in the next decade, so their future is bright. At this time, the Thunder don’t pose much of a threat.

#28 San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio was once perennially near the top of the list, but now they find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum. San Antonio, like most teams in this position is in the middle of the rebuild. They obtained some draft picks for Dejounte Murray, and have three rookies at the age of 19, so their future should be bright.

#27 Utah Jazz

Utah is just beginning their retool, after trading away franchise players in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Utah got a load of picks for them, so if they draft correctly, they’ll be further up this list in no time.

#26 Orlando Magic

Orlando should be exiting their rebuild soon. They’ve got a ton of young players, with the likes of Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, and Cole Anthony. If Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac can start to figure things out, this team can start to make some noise soon.

#25 Indiana Pacers

Indiana is also just beginning their rebuild period, but they’ve got a bit longer to go than some other teams on this list. They swung a trade for Tyrese Haliburton, who has the potential to become a real star in this league. If they can make their draft picks worth it in the future, they have a bright outlook ahead of them.

#24 Detroit Pistons

Detroit, on the other hand, should be contending soon. The Pistons have a good foundation with Saddiq Bey, Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, and Jalen Duren. Detroit’s young corps is almost complete, and in the next couple of years they should start to compete.

#23 Washington Wizards

The Wizards are probably the worst team on this list who isn’t necessarily in the rebuilding phase. They were able to keep Bradley Beal, signing him to a long-term extension this year. Johnny Davis will be solid as their first round pick, but aside from a couple bright spots, their roster is bare of talent.

#22 Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte will keep essentially the same roster this year, minus Miles Bridges — for obvious reasons. The Hornets have flamed out in the play-in tournament in back-to-back years, and without any big moves this off-season, it’s hard to be encouraged about this roster.

#21 Portland Trail Blazers

Portland is another team who failed to make any big improvements after a mediocre season. Portland still keeps Dame Lillard around, and they have some solid players around him with Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons. Still, they haven’t proven enough to warrant being higher on these NBA power rankings.

Western Conference Championship Contenders

Earlier this week here at ATB Network, we previewed and ranked the championship contenders in the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference, on the other hand, looks stacked with contenders as we head into the 2023 season. Let’s take a look.

The Denver Nuggets are one of the front-runner Western Conference Championship Contenders
Photo Credit- Bart Young, Getty Images

Tier 1: True Western Conference Championship Contenders

Warriors, Nuggets, Suns

The defending champions being on this tier is no surprise. At this point, the Warriors have justified their ranking on this list for many years. The Nuggets, however, are trying to finally take the next step.

Denver has their MVP in Nikola Jokic, and they have plenty of talent surrounding him. Denver has been a contender for a couple years now, but have yet to cement themselves as a true championship threat. They made it to the conference finals during the COVID bubble, but haven’t showed the same success since. With a healthy roster this year, though, the Nuggets find themselves with no better opportunity.

The Suns have had a rough offseason both on and off the court. As Phoenix attempts to hold their core group together amidst front office issues, they still have a real shot at the championship. They made the finals just two years ago, and still possess the same core group. It may be now or never for the Suns.

Tier 2: Fringe Western Conference Championship Contenders

Grizzlies, Mavericks, Timberwolves, Clippers

This list is still filled with a ton of talent. Memphis put up a decent fight against the would-be champions last year, and if Ja Morant can stay healthy, they should be a scary team to meet in April. So will the Mavericks, who made it all the way to the conference finals last season after throttling the Suns in a do-or-die game seven. They’ll keep the same squad around this year.

The Timberwolves made the playoffs last year, and really should have won their first round series against Memphis. Minnesota went ahead and added one of the best defensive players in the game in Rudy Gobert this summer as well. Their four-headed monster should bode well next season.

Finally, the Clippers. It’s been a long time since the Clippers had both of their stars healthy, but they’ll finally be back this year. Los Angeles also added John Wall, who should pair very well with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The Clips are a team to watch out for this season.

Tier 3: Playoff Contenders

Lakers, Pelicans, Kings

Finally, rounding out this list we’ve got these three squads. The Lakers won the championship in 2020, but since then they’ve shown little success. Los Angeles’ trio of Lebron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook hasn’t panned out like they thought it would. At the moment, the Lakers don’t show a threat as a true championship contender.

Rounding out this group, we have the Pelicans and Kings. New Orleans found a way into the playoffs last year thanks to some stellar play from CJ McCollum. He’ll remain in NOLA for the next two years, and there’s no reason the Pelicans shouldn’t find themselves in a good position next year.

Finally, Sacramento. Ranking the Kings as a playoff contender is always a hot take, but with their roster it might not be a long-shot this time around. De’Aaron Fox and Domanas Sabonis worked well together last season, and they’ll be adding Keegan Murray and Kevin Heurter to the fray this season. Sacramento has a decent chance at ending their long playoff drought in 2022.

Championship Contenders: Eastern Conference

2023 Eastern Conference Championship Contenders
Photo Credit: Halftime Productions

As we slowly creep closer and closer to the 2022-23 NBA season, excitement is beginning to build around the league. The new year brings new hope and possibility for franchises all around the league, especially for these Eastern Conference championship contenders

For some teams, the new year presents another chance at chasing the illustrious goal of an NBA title. For others, it involves hope as their franchises hope to finally turn the corner. In this article, we will take a look at the Eastern Conference, and take a look at which teams have the best chance to be contenders for an NBA Championship.

Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Tier 1: True Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Celtics, Bucks, Heat

These three teams all have the best chance to come out of the Eastern Conference, and it’s far enough to clearly separate them from the rest of the conference.

First, we have the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are clearly capable of being in this category, with them being the team to come out of the Eastern Conference last year. They didn’t lose any major pieces, and were even able to add Malcolm Brogdon to the fold this offseason. They should enter as the favorites to come out of this conference.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat should be considered the same. Neither team lost a key player, and both have been actively looking to add talent this offseason, albeit unsuccessfully — for now.

The Bucks nearly knocked the Celtics off last year without Khris Middleton. The Heat, on the other hand, were a missed-three-pointer from Jimmy Butler away from making the Finals last year. Both teams should be considered favorites.

Tier 2: Fringe Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Nets, Cavaliers, 76ers

These three shouldn’t be considered favorites, but they all do still pose a real threat to make it out of this conference. The Brooklyn Nets have been surrounded by drama all off-season, but as of now it looks like they’ll be able to hold onto Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Those two alone pose a threat, and with the right squad around them they can certainly make some noise.

The Cleveland Cavaliers just made a splash move, trading for Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell, a proven star who has performed very well in the playoffs throughout his career, will join a very talented young corps. There isn’t enough star talent on the roster yet for them to be in tier one, but this team is extremely talented.

As for the Philadelphia 76ers, the perennial playoff disappointing team will have another crack at it this year. This time, James Harden and Joel Embiid will likely get to play a full season together. If Philadelphia can put it all together in the playoffs this time around, they’ll be a real problem.

Tier 3: Playoff Contenders

Bulls, Hawks, Raptors, Knicks, Hornets

These five teams should still be around come April, but they don’t have everything it takes to truly be championship contenders in the Eastern Conference — yet.

The Chicago Bulls started 2021 strong, but faded as the year went on, and haven’t made any major upgrades this summer. The Atlanta Hawks added Dejounte Murray, and they’re the only team in this tier that has a legitimate argument to be in Tier 2. Unfortunately, the team around Murray and Trae Young isn’t quite good enough yet.

The Toronto Raptors grabbed a playoff spot last season, but were quickly bounced by the Sixers. This unit has a ton of young talent, and they could be a true contender very soon. The New York Knicks added Jalen Brunson, but their inability to add any other star power leaves them down in this tier.

As for the Charlotte Hornets, well they seem to be the same team from last year. With the Bridges issues, and their silence on the market this offseason, they’ve shown no signs of improvement.