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.

Donovan Mitchell Trade: What Teams Make The Most Sense?

Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell could find himself on the trade block
Photo Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

After the Jazz traded one of their franchise players in Rudy Gobert this offseason, there’s just one star left in Utah: Donovan Mitchell. Since being selected by Utah, Mitchell has established himself as a star. Most notably with his insane playoff run during the 2020 bubble playoffs.

Mitchell has helped lead the Jazz to the NBA playoffs each year since he was drafted in 2017. Still, Mitchell and the Utah Jazz haven’t seen much playoff success. It seems a change of scenery is needed for both sides. Here are three teams that would make the most sense for a Donovan Mitchell trade.

Donovan Mitchell Trade: Potential Suitors

New York Knicks

This team makes sense, for some obvious reasons. One of those is the fact that the NBA rumor mill has been flooded with trade rumors involving the Knicks and Donovan Mitchell. After picking up Jalen Brunson in free agency, the addition of Mitchell would make a very exciting backcourt.

The only thing holding this up is the lack of assets on the Knicks side of things. The Utah Jazz got a whopping four first round picks for Rudy Gobert. It’s expected that they have similar value in mind for Mitchell. The Knicks don’t have those options, but if they can get a third team involved, then they can get something going.

Miami Heat

The Heat are a capable trade destination for one main reason; Donovan Mitchell wants to go there, as was reported by Tony Jones. Miami is always an attractive destination. It became a lot more attractive after the Heat nabbed the first seed, and were one win away from the NBA Finals last year.

Unfortunately, like the Knicks, the Heat don’t seem to have the assets Utah is likely looking for. Because of that, Miami is in a similar situation. Like the Knicks, they’d likely need to find a third team to facilitate a deal and send some assets to Utah. If they can get it done, Miami easily becomes a favorite to win the NBA Finals.

Los Angeles Lakers

No, the Lakers do not have the assets or cap to trade for Donovan Mitchell themselves. What they do have is the ability to facilitate a trade, which is exactly why they are on this list. Any trade involving Donovan Mitchell will likely be a three-team trade, given the likely massive demands from the Jazz.

That is exactly where the Lakers come in. Here, Los Angeles finds an opportunity to get rid of Russell Westbrook’s contract. The Lakers would also be able to grab some role players from the Knicks or Heat in return as well, at the very least.

The Memphis Grizzlies May be the Next Dynasty to Come Out of the West

Throughout the past decade, the Western Conference has been dominated by a handful of teams. The Warriors, Spurs, Lakers, and many other teams have come roaring out of the West in the past decade. Golden State made it again this year, but with their players beginning to age, it may be time for another shift in power. That shift in power may lead to the Memphis Grizzlies capitalizing on the opportunity to become the next dynasty out of the west.

How did the rebuild begin?

In the 2018 season, the Memphis Grizzlies finished with an abysmal 22-60 record. The lottery odds rewarded that valiant tank effort with the second overall pick. Memphis used that pick to select Ja Morant, and since that day, things have only gone uphill.

Their record immediately improved by 11 games the next year, with a final record of 33-49. In the first installment of any form of play-in tournament in the bubble, the Grizzlies were one missed game-winning shot from Caris LeVert away from making the playoffs.

They would follow that up with a 38-34 record in the 2020–21 season, which was good enough for the ninth seed. They wound up avenging their play-in woes and made it to the playoffs before bowing out in five games to the Jazz.

What Happened in 2022?

In 2022, Memphis put it all together and the team reached new heights. Ja Morant put forth an absolutely stellar season, and the Grizzlies earned the second seed in the west with a 56-26 record. Memphis beat Minnesota in a dramatic first-round series that went six games. In the second round, they lost in six games to the Warriors, who would wind up winning the conference.

Their 56-26 record this season really jumpstarted this journey for Memphis. Most talking heads projected the team to land in the middle of the conference, or in the play-in tournament. That made sense, considering the fact that Memphis was in the play-in situation the previous two seasons.

Despite some disappointment to end the playoffs, the turnaround from this Memphis team has been remarkable. After a playoff appearance in 2016, Memphis had just one bad year. Immediately after that they selected a franchise player and built their young core. In just a couple of years, they’ve become a contender under a brand-new core of players, and have put themselves in a tremendous position this off-season.

Why are the Grizzlies the Next Dynasty?

What those talking heads were wrong about was the extreme development taken by several Grizzlies this season. Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and several others made huge strides. Those strides put Memphis in an excellent position heading into this offseason.

The Grizzlies currently have the 24th-highest salary cap in the NBA, at just $97 million. For reference, the three teams that finished below them (Warriors, Mavericks, Jazz) had the second, sixth and tenth highest team salaries in the league.

Ja Morant is eligible for an extension heading into this offseason. It’s almost certain that he’ll be earning a huge contract in the near future. Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, and several others are going to be due for new contracts in the next year or two. Memphis will have to pay to keep its core together, but they may still end up with more money than they know what to do with.

Because the Grizzlies’ young core is much more homegrown than their counterparts, they still own all of their draft picks. In the upcoming 2022 draft, they’ll pick 22nd, 29th, and 47th.

The leap the Grizzlies took this past season was nothing short of remarkable. Memphis seemed to have already expedited their rebuild, but their success in 2021 blew the lid off of anybody’s expectations for them. With all of their draft picks and more cap space than they could ask for, the Grizzlies appear to be the next dynasty to come out of the West.

The Utah Jazz Must Trade Their Stars

jazz trade stars
Credit: Getty Images

The Utah Jazz might be in something even worse than basketball hell. They find themselves stuck in basketball purgatory. After yet another playoff disappointment, there’s only one thing they should do this summer. The Utah Jazz must trade their stars.

For the past six years, the Utah Jazz have been a perennial playoff contender, and one of the more underrated teams in the Western Conference as a whole. Their run began in the 2016 season, with a team led by their then-franchise player, Gordan Heyward, alongside Rudy Gobert and “Iso” Joe Johnson. This unit surprisingly took the series from the fourth-seed Clippers in seven games.

Then, they lost to the Warriors in the second-round. After that, Gordon Hayward bailed for Boston, seeking a championship in a bigger market. Like most smaller-market teams, the loss of that star player seemed devastating. Many thought the Jazz wouldn’t be able to return to that stage.

Those people were wrong, and after trading for Donovan Mitchell in the 2017 draft they’ve rattled off five straight playoff appearances, against expectations. With that said, the duo of Mitchell and Gobert has never made it to the conference finals. This season might have been the most disappointing of them all, with the team losing seven of their final 11 games before bowing out in the first round.

The Cap Situation

In total, the Jazz have the sixth highest payroll in the NBA, over $155 million. A large chunk of that number is owed to Rudy Gobert, who will make $169 million over the next four years, until he’s a free agent in 2026. The final year of his contract is brutal for Utah, at a fully-guaranteed $46.6 million.

Donovan Mitchell will also be a free agent in 2026. He’s guaranteed less than Gobert, but the $134 million left on his contract isn’t exactly appealing for Utah. Mike Conley has two years left on his contract, and he’ll make $22 million next year.

The 2022 Luxury Tax Threshold is $149 million. Currently, the contracts on the Jazz Roster add up to $155 million. This price is far too high for a core that has never seriously contended for a championship, and it just wouldn’t make sense to run it back with the same group after their sixth consecutive playoff failure.

What Options Does Utah Have?

Fortunately for the Jazz, they won’t be losing any key players to free agency this summer. Gobert, Mitchell, Conley, Bogdanovich, Clarkson and O’Neale will all be returning next season, so the future of the team rests in the hands of the front office.

Bojan Bogdanovic will be the first player to have his contract expire, as he’ll be a free agent after the 2022 season. Would it make sense to trade him this offseason? Bojan will make $19 million this year. In 2021, he averaged 18.1 points per game. He shot well, hitting at 45% from the field, and 38% from three. Those are some good numbers as a secondary option. If a team trades for him they shouldn’t be worried about his contract given his production.

The Jazz have other trade options in Clarkson and Conley, but the return on a trade for either of these players won’t be high enough to improve the team as much as they need to. Utah doesn’t own a 2022 draft pick, which further hurts this situation. That draft pick could offer as a trade chip to help these negotiations.

Why Must the Jazz Trade Their Stars?

The worst place to be in the NBA is the middle of the pack. Utah finished fifth in the west last year, but their current roster has proved incapable of making a serious playoff run. The best thing the Jazz can do now is shake the roster up. That can only truly be done by trading one of their star players.

Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell both have a ton of trade value, and there’s little doubt that Utah can get a significant return for either player. This is the only route the Jazz can take if they want to make a significant change.

When Hayward left in 2017, nobody thought Utah would be able to rebound like they did. They’ve proven themselves more than capable of forming a competitive team in a small market, and they shouldn’t be counted out by any means.

Still, the only way Utah can escape basketball purgatory is to trade either Mitchell, Gobert or both. Whether they choose to contend or rebuild, the only way to break up this monotony is for the Jazz to trade their stars.