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NBA 2020-21: 5 teams that have surprised the most this season

Phoenix Suns vs Utah Jazz
Phoenix Suns vs Utah Jazz
Kunal Sethi
ANALYST
Modified 30 Mar 2021
Preview

Every season, there is always the unexpected unfolding in the NBA, something that is true for this campaign too. Be it the supposedly lesser teams beating the ones higher up the echelon or teams unexpectedly recovering from disappointing campaigns in the previous season.

Five teams that have surprised the most this NBA season:

The Utah Jazz blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in last year's first round of the playoffs, but they are currently leading the Western Conference.

There have also been instances of teams transforming their fortunes this season after the arrival of a new head coach or a player enjoying a career campaign.

On that note, let's take a look at five teams who have emerged as surprise packages this season.

#5 New York Knicks

New York Knicks
New York Knicks

Last season: 12th in the Eastern Conference (21-45)

This season: T-4th in the Eastern Conference (24-23).

If you've been following the league long enough, you'd agree that nobody saw this coming from the New York Knicks.

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They are usually the laughing stock of the league and are one of the most underwhelming franchises in the NBA. The New York Knicks haven't won the NBA title since 1973, and their fans always go through a roller coaster of emotions.

However, this season the Knicks are finally ending their playoff drought.

This is a classic case of a new coach turning things around. On July 30th, 2020, the New York Knicks announced Tom Thibodeau as their new head coach, replacing David Fizdale.

Thibodeau is renowned for his time with the Chicago Bulls when he guided a young Derrick Rose to become the youngest MVP in league history.

Meanwhile, a huge reason for the New York Knicks' success has been the huge improvement in Julius Randle's game. He is averaging 23 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Randle is one of only 13 players averaging a double-double, and he got selected for his first-ever All-Star game this season.

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Until last year, the New York Knicks were 28th or lower in most major categories, and their fortunes didn't seem to be heading in the right direction. However, they have exceeded everyone's expectations this season.

Quite remarkably, they have the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference this season and are ranked first in defense. This is the first time in years that the New York Knicks are leading the NBA in any statistical category.


#4 Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte Hornets

Last season: 10th in the Eastern Conference (23-42)

This season: T-4th in the Eastern Conference (23-22).

The Charlotte Hornets are one of the least successful franchises in the NBA. They are one of 11 teams never to have won an NBA title. Worse still, they have never gone beyond the second round of the NBA playoffs.

The Hornet are infamous for making poor judgements in draft choices, and their front office has been criticized for making seemingly wrong decisions more often than not.

However, this season they are en route to ending their four-year playoff drought. Chicago Bulls legend and team owner Michael Jordan gave the front office the 'go-ahead' to draft LaMelo Ball as the third overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

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Needless to say, that worked out fabulously, Ball is averaging stellar numbers and is considered a clear favorite for the 'Rookie of the Year' award.

The Hornets also acquired Gordon Hayward in free agency during the NBA off-season, and that decision has worked wonders as well.

Terry Rozier has made a massive leap this season. He has made a highlight of buzzer-beaters and thunderous dunks this NBA campaign, and his performances have been exceptional.

Together, these three players have played key roles in turning around the fortunes of the Charlotte Hornets.


#3 Phoenix Suns

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Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns

Last season: 10th in the Western Conference (34-39)

This season: 2nd in the Western Conference (31-14).

The Phoenix Suns, like the Charlotte Hornets, have never won the NBA title. They have been in and out of NBA playoff contention over the years. Phoenix thought an NBA title was on its way during the Steve Nash era, but numerous playoff upsets have meant that the Suns have not even made the Finals.

In 2015, with the 13th overall pick, the Phoenix Suns drafted Devin Booker, and the fans had something to cheer about. In 2017, he had the performance of a lifetime, as he dropped 70 points against the Boston Celtics, becoming the youngest to ever do so. He remains the only active player to have achieved that feat till date.

Fast forward to the 2020 NBA off-season, the Suns realised that they could not waste Devin Booker's talents. So they acquired a much-needed veteran point guard, Chris Paul. Paul has done an unbelievable job at the Phoenix Suns, thanks to his leadership and playmaking prowess.

The Suns have also made some great NBA Draft choices, like acquiring Deandre Ayton as the first overall pick in 2018. Furthermore, they hired coach Monty Williams, who has changed the landscape of this team for the better.

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This new group has now taken the Phoenix Suns to new heights. They are second in the tough and competitive Western Conference and have had several winning streaks this season.

When the season commenced, not a single power ranking predicted the Phoenix Suns to do well. But it is safe to say now that the Suns have proved a lot of people wrong.


#2 Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn Nets
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Last season: 7th in the Eastern Conference (35-37) [First round exit 0-4]

This season: 2nd in the Eastern Conference (32-15).

The Brooklyn Nets have been one of the surprise packages this season, not because of their winning record, but the sheer number of All-Star signings they've made.

They acquired an injured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the 2019 NBA off-season. Durant didn't play a single game last season, while Irving played just 20.

Until the 2020-21 campaign, they had a squad with two stars, Durant and Irving, and several young pieces like Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie.

However, in January 2021, the Houston Rockets and the Brooklyn Nets announced a blockbuster trade involving James Harden. That gave the Nets an offensively lethal trio, and they emerged as favorites to come out of the NBA Eastern Conference.

Harden, Durant and Irving have put the stage on fire, combing for nearly 70-80 points per outing.

The Nets started winning games, overwhelming opponents with their sheer offensive firepower. Their defense is lacking, though, so several analysts have pointed out that they cannot win the NBA title without championship-level defense.

To address the same, the Brooklyn Nets landed six-time All-Star forward Blake Griffin. Soon, they signed seven-time All-star LaMarcus Aldridge as well.

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From what started as an All-Star duo with young players has turned into one of the most star-studded lineups in NBA history.

The Brooklyn Nets are so stacked that fans and analysts have criticized the unfair nature of the system and the lack of competition in the NBA. Many have opined that this season's NBA championship could be a foregone conclusion.


#1 Utah Jazz

Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz

Last season: 6th in the Western Conference (44-28) [First round exit 3-4]

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This season: 1st in the Western Conference (31-11).

If you were asked six months ago, which team would be leading the league with the best record, your answer might not have been the Utah Jazz.

Just like the Phoenix Suns, the Jazz were not on any publication's power rankings before the season commenced. In fact, the Jazz deserve credit for turning around their fortunes without changing their head coach or adding a star player to their roster.

During last year's NBA playoffs, the Utah Jazz blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets. Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray put on a show for the ages, trading 40 and 50-point games in consecutive matches.

Even though the Jazz lost the series in Game 7, many people realised that something great could be coming from the Utah Jazz in the near future. This season, they have come out guns blazing and extra motivated to show everyone what they are truly capable of.

The Utah Jazz are leading the most stacked conference in the league and are blowing out opponents by double figures.

The Jazz have terrorized defenders with their spacing and high-volume shooting. They have around 4-5 players who can go off on any given night from the three-point line, and Donovan Mitchell is having a career-high season.

Not only do they have a great offensive system, their defense is excellent as well. The Utah Jazz have Rudy Gobert, who is the frontrunner for the 'Defensive Player of the Year' award this season, and Royce O'Neale is proving to be a great perimeter defender.

The Utah Jazz are playing team basketball and trust each other; the ball moves around more than ever, and their chemistry has been simply undeniable.

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Also Read: "Bring it on" - LA Lakers owner Jeanie Buss challenges the Brooklyn Nets.

Published 30 Mar 2021, 16:04 IST
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