Around August, the NBA offseason was coming to a close. Russell Westbrook was a Laker. James Harden was entering his first full season in Brooklyn. The world was ready to start the NBA Finals with the Nets and Lakers headlining it. Here we are six months later, and that could very well not happen.
It’s hard to predict the future. It could go either way. We can only use the information in front of us to make educated predictions. Some of what has happened in the league since August 2021 would surprise many people. Heck, it’s probably continuously surprising people now.
These 10 things in the NBA, you would have never believed it in August.
10. Ben Simmons Has Not Played This Season
During the offseason, the expectation was that Simmons was likely going to be traded. After the 76ers fell to the Hawks in the semifinals, Simmons was destroyed for his offensive contributions. The summer passed and no trade was completed. The first parts of the training camp passed and no trade was completed. It was then reported that Simmons was not going to play for the 76ers.
We have seen plenty of times where a relationship can be repaired even if it misses a deadline like the start of a season. For Simmons to truly hold out this long was not something anyone really thought was possible. At one point, you figured he would truly cave in and play. He has lost about $20 million so far this year. That’s quite a bit of money.
9. Hawks Could Be Out Of The Playoffs
Last year, the Hawks started slow, fired Lloyd Pierce, and Nate McMillian took over as the interim coach. He helped guide the Hawks into the playoffs as the No. 5 seed. The team then made the Conference Finals and nearly beat the Bucks to make the NBA Finals for the first time since the Bob Pettit days. In the offseason, the team retained John Collins and it looked like they could run it back.
Now, it appears that the Hawks could be down a similar track if something doesn’t change. The Hawks are 26-28 and would be the No. 10 seed if the playoffs began today. Before the year, the Hawks were seen as a top-3 team, along with the Nets and Bucks, to contend again. Now, they could not even make the playoffs.
8. Zion Williamson Has Not Played A Single Game
When Williamson was drafted in 2020 No. 1 overall, it was expected that he was going to miss the first part of the season. That was well-known news. He came back and played 24 games and partially excited us. Last year, Williamson excited us by averaging 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while also getting a nod in the All-Star Game as a starter.
Over the offseason, Williamson mysteriously fractured his fifth metatarsal. He was expected back on November 26th but has not made little progress in his recovery. We expected to see him back by now, so, surprisingly, he has not made a single start this season. Now that the team recently acquired CJ McCollum to pair alongside him and Brandon Ingram, maybe there is once again something we don’t know about.
7. Damian Lillard Remains Loyal To Portland
When rumors surfaced about Damian Lillard’s request for a trade, he immediately shot them down and said he wanted to stay in Portland. However, there was never a true feeling that he wanted to stay. The team didn’t do much in the offseason despite their claims to build around him. From the 76ers to the Lakers, it always felt like there was a sliver of a chance that he could be traded.
Now, the team parted with his longtime teammate in McCollum, as well as their prized pickup in the offseason in Larry Nance Jr. The team also traded Norman Powell and Robert Covington and Jusef Nurkic is a free agent. Lillard remains loyal to the franchise, but now there is hope that the team can buy free agents instead.
6. DeMar DeRozan Is An MVP Candidate
DeRozan is one of the few players in the last seven straight seasons to average at least 20.0 points per game. While in San Antonio, his greatness was lost in the wind because the Spurs were not playing great as a team. DeRozan was forced to play more of a point-forward role. He averaged 21.6 points and 6.9 assists, but the Spurs were the No. 10 seed.
The Bulls made the move to acquire DeRozan in a sign-and-trade, parted with a first-round pick, and gave him three years and nearly $82 million. Executives called the move the worst of the offseason. Now, DeRozan is averaging 27.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. DeRozan is an All-Star starter and a potential First-Team All-NBA selection. With the fit around Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine, not too many people could have predicted this.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers Are The League’s Best Defensive Team
If the season ended today, the Cavaliers would have the best team defense. The Warriors and the Cavaliers have been jostling back and forth for the top of the leaderboard. Another team that is surprising as a tough defensive team is the Mavericks as well. With that said, the Cavaliers were coming off a dismal 2020-2021 season, a lottery pick selection in the draft, and little expectations.
The Cavaliers are realistically in contention for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The tandem of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley has been one of the best frontcourts in the league. The Cavaliers are holding teams to about 44% shooting as well. The Cavaliers were supposed to be a year or two away, but are in a great position right now.
4. Scottie Barnes Could Be The Best Rookie
The 2021 NBA Draft was top-heavy with Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley. Many expected those three players to be drafted with the first three picks in any given order. With the No. 4 overall pick, the world was shocked with the Toronto Raptors when Barnes was selected over Josh Giddey, Jonathan Kuminga, and Jalen Suggs.
Masai Ujiri once again looks like a genius. Barnes is second among rookies in rebounds and is fourth in scoring. His fit with the team’s defense proves to be great. While Cunningham is coming around as a scorer, and Mobley is having a great season too, Barnes should finish in the top-3 in the Rookie of the Year voting if he doesn’t win it.
3. Charlotte Hornets Could Score The Most Points Per Game
Imagine if we told you that a roster with LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, and Mason Plumlee was leading the league in points per game at one point this season. The team sits second to the Utah Jazz in points per game but by less than one point. The difference-maker has been the growth in Ball, who was recently named an All-Star, as well as potential Most Improved Player of the Year Miles Bridges.
Bridges is averaging 19.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game. He has been one of the best stories from the year with what he has shown thus far. The Hornets are hovering around .500 but could jolt to the middle of the playoff race. Needless to say, if the team makes the playoffs, they could be a dark horse team.
2. Nets Could Be In The Play-In Game
If the playoffs started today, the Nets would be the No. 8 seed and would have to play the Hornets in the play-in game. The team has lost nine straight games and is floundering after sitting near the top of the standings. The team is hurting from the loss of Kevin Durant to injury, while Kyrie Irving can only play on the road. Now, rumors are circulating that James Harden is unhappy in his current position.
When Durant, Irving, and Harden were all playing together, the Nets were blowing out teams. They were the favorite to make it out of the East. Now, the team could be in a situation that Harden leaves after this year if he is not dealt with at the deadline. Even worse, the so-called favorites could be bounced in the play-in game.
1. Lakers Could Not Make The Playoffs
When the Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook to pair with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, raise your hand if you had the Lakers in the NBA Finals before the three ever played together. We are guilty of that. It was just asinine to not do it, especially with what the Lakers had on paper. The team had three superstars all hungry to win a championship. Instead, it has backfired and there is a murky future ahead.
The Lakers recently had their most embarrassing loss of the season on national television to the Bucks on Tuesday. Westbrook is being left on the bench in the closing minutes. James is frustrated after games. This team was supposed to be the best in the West. Instead, they sit with the No. 9 seed in the conference and risk not making the playoffs at all.