NBA: Sleeper Teams We Never Expected to Do Well

Dallas Mavericks v Portland Trail Blazers

There are so many unexpectedly good teams in the NBA this season, but why are they so good?

With about 30 games going by so far in the 2013-14 season, we’ve almost reached the halfway mark here. I think that I can definitely say with certainty that the disparity between the Eastern and Western Conferences is gigantic. Three teams that wouldn’t make the playoffs in the West, would surely make it in the East.

Usually, the top eight seeds from either side are over .500, but in the past couple of years, eastern conference teams have gotten worse and worse, bringing up the question: why don’t the top 16 teams make the playoffs? That’s a valid question. If this were the case, the two best teams in the NBA, the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat, would be the only two to qualify in the Eastern Conference.

With that being said, why is the west so good? What’s the difference between this and last year for this conference? Well, a lot of it has to do with the emergence of superstars in the making.

The first of these teams that no one expected would undoubtedly be the Portland Trailblazers. Before the beginning of this young and exciting season, I’m sure 90% of NBA fans would find it hard to believe that the Blazers would be on top of the Western Conference after 30 games. I would have found it hard to believe. The Blazers are first in points per game, third in rebounds per game, and fourth in assists per game, per ESPN.

The reason behind their torrid shooting is the emergence of a young stud, Damian Lillard (21.3 points per game), as well as another breakout season for his big man LaMarcus Aldridge (23.4 points per game). These two are taking the NBA by storm, and doing all that they can to ensure some respect amongst the superpowers. The Blazers are not a team that you want to face at all. They may not seem menacing, but they are because either Lillard is torching you from the perimeter, or Aldrige is unstoppable in the post.

Other than those two, they have Nicolas Batum hitting clutch 3-pointers, and Mo Williams coming off the bench to score some baskets. The scary part is that they haven’t even come close to their ceiling yet.

When considering sleeper teams, the Phoenix Suns also comes to mind. What makes the Suns so surprising? Well, who exactly do they have on their roster that really opens eyes? I’m sure if you went up to any random person on the street in Atlanta, for example, and asked them if they knew you Goran Dragic was, they would say no.

Dec 13, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe controls the ball in the second half against the Sacramento Kings at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Kings 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Suns are  8th in points per game, but are only 18th in rebounds per game and 28th in assists per game. That’s pretty weak if you ask me. What makes them so good, however, is the consistently good play of Eric Bledsoe (18.9 ppg), and Dragic (18.4 ppg). Surprisingly, this is one of the strongest backcourts in the NBA today, and without these two, this Suns team would be almost nothing.

Although they are doing a lot of the work for this young team, they aren’t the only ones who have helped set this incredible pace. Gerald Green (the dunker?) has been on great pace this year and may receive some votes for Sixth Man of the Year. He is averaging 13.3 ppg off the bench and doing so with flashy dunks as well as deep 3-point shots.

Other than Green, there’s that one guy, Miles Plumlee, who is looking like the Suns’ center of the future. Averaging 9.7 points per game and 9.1 rebounds, Plumlee has some true potential. He is capable of grabbing 20 boards on any given night, as we saw him do against the Lakers on Dec. 23.

Not every Western Conference team is surprising, however. The Washington Wizards have also shown a vast improvement since a disastrous season last year. At 12-13, the Wizards find themselves at just one game under .500, but they’re going to get there before the end of the season. On a three-game winning streak, the Wizards have shown a lot of improvement lately.

Dec 18, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (2) and Washington Wizards power forward Nene Hilario (42) celebrate against the Brooklyn Nets during the second half at Barclays Center. The Wizards won the game 113-107. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Bleacher Report ranks them 12th in its power rankings, which is considerably high because they started the season significantly lower.

What’s their reason for success? Well, a lot of players who have had washed up careers have sort of found a resurrection place in Washington. Here, they are being rejuvenated and working well with the face of the franchise, John Wall (19.6 ppg). Additionally, strong centers in Nene and Marcin Gortat are proving to be crucial pieces to the Wizards’ offensive and defensive rotations.

From Trevor Ariza to Martell Webster to second-year guard Bradley Beal, the Wizards are loaded. They will make the playoffs because they are good, but they are facilitated by the other teams in the Eastern Conference, who happen to be very weak.

 

Topics: NBA

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