MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 31: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz shoots the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves on October 31, 2018 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
At the quarter point of 2018-19, which East team and West team has surprised (or disappointed) you the most?
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Steve Aschburner: So hard to choose, so I’m going to give four: the Milwaukee Bucks and the LA Clippers are my surprise teams, while the Washington Wizards and Utah Jazz are my disappointments. I didn’t think a coaching change and system overhaul would produce such fast results by the Bucks, and I didn’t expect the Clippers’ ensemble approach would generate so many victories to this point. It would have been nice if the Wizards appreciated how much their window of contention had closed heading into this season, but nah, that didn’t provide the needed focus. As for Utah, there’s an over-reliance on Donovan Mitchell, 3-point issues and turnover trouble that has dug the Jazz’s hole.
Shaun Powell: It’s more about the disappointing teams than the mild surprises (Clippers, Pistons). Therefore, it is the Boston Celtics easily in the East. They’ve got the coach and talent to be much better than break-even, yet a flustered Brad Stevens is now throwing names against the eraser board to see who sticks. And in the West, it’s the Houston Rockets. They’re showing signs of a team that perhaps maxed out last season. Yes, Chris Paul and James Harden haven’t played in every game together, yet the Rockets were on the cusp of making The Finals in 2018. Was Trevor Ariza’s departure that much of a loss?
John Schuhmann: If I were to show my October self today’s standings, he would be most surprised by the records of the Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings. Boston appeared to be the best team in the Eastern Conference, but they currently sit in sixth place at 11-10, having been unable to figure things out offensively. A quarter of the way through the season, they’ve yet to score more efficiently than the league average (108 points per 100 possessions) in two straight games. That the Kings are in playoff position at this point of the season is even more amazing. They’ve really only added Marvin Bagley III to their rotation, but have seen a ton of improvement from within, and coach Dave Joerger has figured out how this team needs to play. Heck, if I showed my October self today’s advanced stats, one of the first things he’d notice is that Joerger’s team ranks second in pace, having ranked 30th last season.
Honorable mentions: The Magic (not sure they can hold on, but they’re currently ahead of three teams that were seemingly more likely to make the playoffs) and the Rockets (we knew they’d take a step backward, but not by this much).
Sekou Smith: The surprise team in the East has been the Bucks. I didn’t see a top offensive team coming, but they’ve taken to Mike Budehonlzer’s system and have shoved their way into the hunt for the East’s No. 1 seed. Dwane Casey’s Detroit Pistons are the runner-up in that department. The Boston Celtics are a complete head-scratcher right now, mostly because their top-to-bottom talent has struggled to get its chemistry together. Disappointing might not be the right word to use on them. It’s just doesn’t make any sense for them to struggle the way they have so far. In the West, the Clippers and Grizzlies share the most surprising tag. And good for both of them, outplaying expectations the way they have thus far. I was worried the Houston Rockets would take a step back this season after grinding their way to the top last season. They’ve got plenty of time straighten things out. But they’ve certainly been a huge disappointment up until now.