As the playoffs come into view, top playoff seeds get locked up while the play-in race begins to heat up. Before we get to the excitement that playoff basketball always brings, it is important to look back at some of the teams that have blown expectations away, for better or for worse.
I mean we all knew that this was coming. Transformations like this don’t often come so suddenly and so unexpectedly. It seemed like the Kings were trading away any sense of a future they had in Tyreese Haliburton. Yet in hindsight, that move might have just saved the Kings from play-in purgatory. This charge has all been led by De’Aaron Fox, who has turned into a supermax-level star. Statistically, the clutchest player in the league, averaging 25 points per game, and still only 25 years old. I mean what more can this guy do? With Fox, Sabonis going back to All-Star level play, and a revitalized group of role players who fit this team, the Kings have been able to catapult themselves to the upper reaches of the Western Conference. To read more about the Kings’ success, check out our in-depth article.
While the other two teams on the list were making moves to stay competitive, the Utah Jazz were doing the exact opposite. Tearing down the entire roster, starting with trading duo Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz were set to go full “Tank for Wemby” mode this season. It was almost a certainty that they would be at the bottom of the conference, but it seems like that Danny Ainge magic doesn’t leave. Even if the goal is to lose, this all really started when Lauri Markkanen made an All-Star starter-level jump. He leads the team in points and rebounds, and with his ability to dribble and shoot at 7 feet, it almost makes you wonder why he is only breaking out now. Jordan Clarkson is always going to get his buckets, he is averaging a nice 20 points per game, while Collin Sexton plays that off-the-bench energy plug role to perfection. Walker Kessler has become one of the steals of the draft, and having the ability to play him with Markkanen gives the Jazz two seven-footers with drastically different skill sets. Yet this is not all fairytales, as the Jazz are fighting for their playoff lives right now. Embracing the tank even further, Ainge traded away Mike Conely, Malik Beasly, and Jared Vanderbilt who were all integral parts of this team’s success. It is still possible that Utah finishes above Portland, L.A., and New Orleans, but what should be appreciated is the fact that the Jazz is even in this fight, to begin with.
Going into the season, Brooklyn was a playoff favorite so in that sense, they are very much not exceeding expectations. Their inclusion on this list is because of the moves they have made, and their ability to still stay in the playoff race. With the two blockbuster trades to move Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant out of Brooklyn, it was pretty obvious that there was going to be a significant dip in the win column for the Nets. Yet the team is holding on quite well with the pieces brought back in the trade. Mikal Bridges is taking a major leap in his scoring ability, Spencer Dinwiddie is always going to be a solid 15 points per game, and Cam Thomas has been lighting up the score sheet(despite his recent benchings). This means the Nets are barely missing a beat on offense, and they are definitely improved on defense. Big wings like Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Dorian Finey-Smith bring the switchability and lockdown defense that makes this team a top-tier defensive squad. I mean there can even be a case made that the Nets have improved after the trade deadline, and they are sticking right in the middle of the playoff race. Not dropping straight into the play-in race and actually staying competitive despite losing two superstars makes this team one of the surprises of the season(or at least the season after the trade deadline).
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