Submitted by Jim Feist on Tuesday, December 13, 2016 at 12:00 AM
By Jim Feist
Preseason prognosticators and handicapping analysis focuses in on what they expect to happen, based on the draft and offseason moves, but there are always surprises at the start of each season. Here's a look at some of the early NBA surprises.
Bulls: Chicago had a makeover, letting go of longtime stars Joakim Noah and Derrek Rose. However, the new-look Bulls are Jimmy Butler's team, helped out in the backcourt by newcomers veterans Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo.
Most impressive is that this team plays excellent defense for Coach Fred Hoiberg, Top 11 in points allowed and field goal shooting defense. Despite the addition of Rondo, the Bulls are also one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league, which helps win close games and close covers. Chicago is also 12-4 under the total after a spread loss.
NY Knicks: The Knicks don't play much defense, but they have certainly improved in other areas. Carmelo Anthony and 21-year old wunderkind Kristaps Porzingis provide the offense, while newcomers Rose and Noah add some veteran role playing ability. If the group stays healthy you get the sense they can make a run at some point in the weak East. The Knicks are 6-0 ATS against losing teams, plus 5-0 ATS against the West.
Lakers: Where did these kids come from? Los Angeles is loaded with youth after the Kobe Bryant show mercifully ended last season. It's an impressive guard-oriented offense behind 20-year old D'Angelo Russell, Louis Williams and 24-year old Jordan Clarkson. Throw in 6-9 21-year old Julius Randle up front and the table is set for a quick young team that is starting to make some waves in the West.
The kids are alright -- in some areas, but there are major weak points on defense and at the free throw line, both common with young squads. An up and coming team on the rise? Yes, according to Gregg Popovich. San Antonio won at Los Angeles last month, 116-107, but it was a close until the final minutes, with Popovich praising the job of Coach Luke Walton. The Lakers outrebounded the Spurs 48-39, but allowed San Antonio to shoot 56.4%.
Jazz: The team few want to play! Up and coming Utah remains competitive with a ferocious defense, tops in the NBA in points allowed. Veteran points guard George Hill has been a fine addition, while 7-1 Rudy Gobert and 6-8 Gordon Hayward crash the glass and make things difficult for opposing shooters. Utah started the season with a losing home record but a winning road mark, the latter a good indicator of a young team on the rise. Utah is 13-4 ATS at home against a team with a winning road record.
Thunder: So superstar Kevin Durant leaves town and Oklahoma City is....well, still pretty good. Russell Westbrook may take a million shots and average a triple double, but he's gotten some help with 24-year old Victor Oladipo and the two-headed monsters at center in Enas Kanter and Steven Adams. OKC also plays pretty good defense for Billy Donovan, 11-4 under the total on the road.
Hornets: Young Charlotte has impressed behind guards Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum. Defense is their calling card, though, Top 10 in points allowed and field goal shooting. They've had a strong start on the road and started 6-2 against the spread playing on no rest. Charlotte had a nice winning run broken by a trip to Cleveland, a 100-93 loss, a close one all the way. That's a good barometer but it still shows who the team to beat is in the East. In that game the Cavaliers set an NBA record by hitting at least 10 3-pointers in each of the first nine games of the season.