Kevin Durant’s defensive game is an impressive surprise. Durant’s dominance on the offensive side of the court was expected and his ability to overshadow the Warriors roster, except for Steph Curry was a part of the plan when he joined Golden State. His stepped-up defensive play, since his infamous departure from Oklahoma City, has shocked nearly everyone. An adequate defensive player for the Thunder, Durant is now a beast at the rim where he averages close to two blocks a game.
Derrick Rose is beginning to live up to the hype that has surrounded him for years, and this is a pleasant surprise for New York Knicks fans. While in Chicago, Rose received a good deal of attention for being injury-prone and even a bit of a cry-baby. “Delicate Derrick” logged quite a bit of bench time for various injuries while a member of the Bulls. Now a part of the Knicks organization, Rose is reminding both friends and foes of the considerable talent he possesses. Number 25 boasts the best shooting percentage since his second year in the NBA. No one would argue that 45.1 percent shooting is quite respectable. Additionally, Rose is averaging 17.5 points per game giving famous Knicks fan Spike Lee a reason to smile.
One of last year’s big surprises, aside from the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, was the outstanding play of the Portland Trailblazers. The Blazers make the list this year for the opposite reason. Most predictions foretold the Blazers would enjoy great success this season. While they are still technically able to squeak into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, the Blazers have put forth a largely disappointing effort. This is especially true given the surprising success they enjoyed last year. There is still some time to ramp up their play, but as it stands right now, Portland is largely unimpressive.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have surprised everyone who foresaw playoffs in the team’s immediate future. This was a fairly well agreed upon scenario even before Chicago Bulls former coach, Tom Thibodeau took the reins in Minnesota. Quite frankly, no one anticipated that the Timberwolves would be just one game up from the worst record in the Western Conference. Of course, this is only Thibodeau’s first season at the helm in Minnesota. He needs a little time to turn these players into a successful wolf pack.
While no one saw any reason for the stellar two-way play of Chicago’s Jimmy Butler to decline, he has surprised everyone with the way he has pushed himself to an even higher standard of superior play. Butler upped his points per game average to 25. This is four points higher than his average for last season. Butler’s assist rate has remained comparable to last season and on the defensive side of the court, the face of the Bull’s franchise is nabbing a career-high number of rebounds averaging 6.7 per game. The prospect of Butler staying on this track should give other teams in the Eastern Conference a reason for concern.
Of course, don’t forget that we still have a lot of basketball left in the season; be sure to keep an eye out for even more surprises on the road to the NBA playoffs.