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A Look At Some Of The Biggest Surprises Of The Young NBA Season

I'm going to start this blog off with the obvious disclaimer so that we can get it out of the way and all be on the same page so I don't have to say it a billion times throughout the blog. Yes, it's early in the NBA season. Teams have played between 5-7 games and things are of course going to be fluid moving forward. Nothing we're seeing now is set in stone nor does it predict what's going to happen in the Spring. 

Cool?

Having said that, there are a number of pleasant surprises through the first week or so of the NBA season that I feel like deserve a little more shine. Everyone knows the Celts are a wagon, LeBron is doing shit in Year 21 that makes no goddamn sense, Wemby is a cheat code, Jokic is the best player on the planet etc. We all knew that was going to be the case heading into the season. Instead, I wanted to focus on things that I found to be a little more of a surprise/things that deserve more hype than I feel they're getting, because the league honestly has never been better. The talent is insane even outside of the big names that get most of the publicity. Here's a look at some things that have stood out to me so far

Scottie Barnes Is Having His Massive Year 3 Leap

When it comes to NBA development of young stars, the importance of the Year 3 leap cannot be ignored. If a prospect is truly going to be that franchise guy, there's a strong chance you see a massive leap in Year 3. Look all throughout NBA history and you'll see the Year 3 jump for those who truly turned out to be stars.

When it comes to the Raptors, a huge part of their rebuild was the idea that Scottie Barnes was going to be that guy. He had an awesome rookie season (ROY), regressed in Year 2, and even still Masai Ujiri pretty much considered him untouchable when it came to potential trades. He wouldn't move him for KD, he wouldn't move him from Dame, and you have to understand coming off a down season which he didn't really make any sort of progress from Year 1, it looked like maybe Ujiri was over-valuing his asset.

Well, Year 3 so far is proving that perhaps Ujiri knew what he had all along. If you had to pick an early breakout candidate for the 2023-24 season, I'm not sure how you could have a lot of names ahead of Scottie Barnes. His Year 3 leap (the important one) has been phenonimal 

Remember, this is Barnes' age 22 season. Pretty much everywhere you look across the board, Barnes is off to the best start of his career. He has the highest FG%, 3PM, 3P%, REB, AST, BLK, and PTS of his career through their first 7 games. To anyone whose watched Barnes so far in his career, the most notable improvement has to be his 3PT shooting. A career 30% shooter is off to a 42% start to the season, which even if it stabilizes a little bit and he's able to live in the mid to high 30s, that's such a huge difference. If you have to respect him as a shooter, that opens up everything else for their offense. 

I should also mention this is coming with the Raptors having the 3rd toughest schedule in the NBA to open the season. That tends to make me buy what we're seeing because in addition to the raw numbers, Barnes is also passing the eye test with flying colors

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I know this is the Raptors, but if another young star player was having this type of start I feel like it would be a much bigger deal/story, so I want to give Barnes his props.

Chet Holmgren Deserves As Much Hype As Victor Wembanyama

You know how one of the more impressive parts of Wemby's start is how he's basically immediately validating all of his pre-draft hype? How everything he does goes super viral and is a huge deal?

Well, we should be doing the exact same shit with Chet Holmgren. Remember, he was the franchise-altering basketball alien that everyone was hyped for the season before Wemby. Then he got hurt and it felt like people sort of forgot about him. That's clearly a mistake because he's been just as awesome

You see the comparison to start the year. Would you say the hype/publicity around Chet has been anywhere close to what we've seen with Wemby? I wouldn't, and I'm not sure why. You could make the case that he's maybe even been better to start the year.

I think it's pretty cool that the last two players who both have his unique frame and skillset who were deemed franchise saviors have both immediately proved they're legit. Pretty much every way we thought they would dominate the league and make an impact has happened, even if we're mostly only hearing about it with one of the players. While some may have thought Wemby was going to automatically win ROY, don't sleep on Chet. Especially if the Thunder as a team take a leap this year (which everyone thinks they're going to).

Dillon Brooks Is Proving To Be An Actual Quality NBA Player

Few players found themselves on the wrong end of NBA Twitter jokes last playoffs more than Dillon Brooks. Granted a lot of that was his own doing, but this was a player who had to deal with the "good luck in China" jokes left and right after the Grizzlies fizzled out last Spring. There were people who suggested his NBA career was over given how everything ended in Memphis.

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Instead, he signed a $80M deal in Houston and look at what he's doing right now

Small sample size aside, look at those numbers. I think if we're all going to be quick to clown on Brooks when he pulls his usual bullshit, we should also give him credit for not only proving to actually be an NBA quality player but also for playing some of the best basketball of his life. I know I certainly didn't see those averages coming, even with Brooks being pretty damn good during the FIBA World Cup. 

Obviously, his shooting averages will come down to earth given he's a career 47/30% guy, but this is a blog about surprises to start the year and this version of Dillon Brooks is absolutely a surprise.

Did The Rudy Gobert Trade Actually Work?

Prior to the Rudy Gobert trade, there was one thing that pretty much everyone who has watched the Wolves knew they needed to fix. For them to make any sort of leap into contention/the playoffs the Wolves had to fix their defense. Hanging around the middle/bottom half of the league wasn't going to cut it despite how good Edwards or KAT were going to be offensively.

When we saw them draft Edwards, it wasn't long before their 25th ranked offense became a top 10 unit. The issue was they just weren't stopping anyone, which proved to be an issue in their first round playoff loss. So, they gave up an arm and a leg for Rudy Gobert. Many have called it one of the worst trades in NBA history.

Well, guess who has the #1 ranked defense in 2023-24? The Minnesota Timberwolves. 

In fact, they have the 9th best net rating in the league as of today, and their vastly improved defense is a big reason why. That of course starts with Gobert. Given that this same group only jumped from the 13th ranked defense before Gobert to the 10th ranked defense with him, I certainly didn't see a leap like this to the best defense in the NBA. I don't care if it's early, I can't imagine any Wolves fan ever expected that to be the case at any point of the season. It's just not who they've been.

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The whole point of the trade was to solve an area that the franchise felt was holding them back from being a legit problem. They have the offensive firepower with KAT/Edwards, but now you add in Gobert and McDaniels to the mix and suddenly things look a whole lot more balanced. The team clearly paid a hefty price for this trade, but if it truly does transform their defense into one of the best units in the league, wouldn't you say it's worth it?

So why do I have this in a surprise of the season blog? Mostly because I never imagined a world where I would ever suggest that this trade was nothing but a complete disaster. But if the Wolves are going to have the top defense in the league this season, you could make the case it validates their gamble.

Ausar Thompson needs WAY more hype

I don't blame you if you aren't watching a ton of Pistons basketball to start the year. I mean, they're 2-5 and in the early stages of their rebuild. But if you were looking for a reason to maybe check them out, start with Ausar Thompson. While he may not lead any ROY ranking, there may not be a rookie who is having more of an immediate impact outside of the top 2 guys. Thompson has been that good

The guy nearly had a 5x5 performance against the Suns last night (14/9/4/4/4) and to be top 10 in blocks in the entire league as a wing is really impressive. His athleticism is off the charts and you can see it when he flies in from the weakside to block a shot he has no business blocking. I have no idea what the Pistons are doing playing Killian Hayes so much over Jaden Ivey, but the decision to start and play Ausar Thompson heavy minutes has been a brilliant move. You could make the case that the Pistons have now hit on Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, and Thompson. Considering they aren't exactly a free agent destination, hitting on your lottery picks is crucial. Just look at what's happening right now in OKC. Add in the new CBA rules, making sure you nail your cheap rookie contracts is going to be so important moving forward when it comes to team building, and when it comes to the core pieces in DET, they all look like early hits.

There are of course more surprises, but I feel like this is a good place to wrap things up as these are what have stood out most to me. With that said, what has surprised you so far? Let's hear it.