The NBA season has been filled with plenty of surprises. The best surprises come from players that exceed all expectations. There have been some high caliber moments coming from players, so let’s take a look at who has positively surprised us the most.
10. Kyle Anderson - Memphis Grizzlies
Anderson has never had a season like this. In his career, Anderson has averaged 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds. Through six games, Anderson has put up 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds. That includes a 28-point effort in a win over the Brooklyn Nets when Ja Morant left the game with an ankle sprain. It also includes a 20-points, 14-rebound double in a loss to Atlanta, as well as an 18-points, 11-rebound performance in a win over Charlotte.
Since 2014, Anderson has provided stability off the bench for the San Antonio Spurs and Grizzlies. In six starts, he is turning heads with his new means of production.
9. Myles Turner - Indiana Pacers
Who can’t get enough of Mr. Swat? While that may not be in an actual nickname, Turner is a man amongst boys in the paint. Turner leads the league in blocks per game (3.6). In his first game of the season, Turner had eight blocks against the New York Knicks. In his first three games combined, Turner finished with 17 blocks.
Since then, Turner has proved that it’s not a fluke, totaling three blocks in a game twice. In 2018-2019, Turner led the league in blocks in 74 games. In a 72-game schedule, Turner has a chance to surpass his total of 199 that season.
8. Larry Nance Jr. - Cleveland Cavaliers
Before Nance was traded to the Cavaliers, he was a productive role player. Nance has never been a great offensive scorer, but what is standing out this season is his ability to play defense. Nance leads the league in steals (2.6). He is beating out Jrue Holiday, Kawhi Leonard, and others for the top spot.
The Cavaliers have started the season 4-3, which is a huge surprise given that the team owned a top draft piece and didn’t sign any major free agents. A big piece is that the younger players, as well as veteran role players, are producing at a high level. Can Nance sustain this level of play? If so, he could make the All-Defensive Team for the first time in his career.
7. Terrence Ross - Orlando Magic
Ross has been a steady bench contributor for nearly 10 years, but this is starting off to be his best season ever. Since 2012, Ross has averaged 11.1 points per game, including a career-high 15.1 points two years ago. Through six games, Ross is averaging 20.8 points and shooting 47.5% from the field. On top of that, he is shooting 41.0% from three-point range, which is also a career-high.
In the past, Ross has been used as a role player off the bench but he is making the most of the opportunity in his six starts. If this continues, Ross will be a prime candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year.
6. Collin Sexton - Cleveland Cavaliers
Again, it’s a huge surprise that Cleveland is competing in games. The Cavaliers were supposed to be the last place team, not the Wizards who have Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. The main reason for the Cavaliers’ trend towards playoff competition is that Collin Sexton took the next step in his development.
Sexton showed last season that he could be great after averaging over 20 points in his sophomore season. However, he took a massive jump through seven games of this young season. He is averaging 25.7 points per game, while shooting 55.1% from the field, including 54.2% from three-point range. His three-point field goal percentage ranks seventh in the league, but out of players that have played seven games this season, it’s No. 3. Look out for the first face of Cleveland since LeBron James left for Los Angeles.
5. Terry Rozier - Charlotte Hornets
The play from the Hornets is not surprising (2-5 to start the season), but Rozier has shown up on the box score and postgame quite frequently. Rozier is off to a career-start with averages of 21.6 points, shooting 48.1% from the field. When the television team is searching for highlights, it’s Rozier’s slam dunks that are seen more than not.
Rozier had a solid season last year averaging over 18 points but his shooting percentages have increased by nearly 5%. If the Hornets continue to play poorly, Rozier could get snubbed from Most Improved Player status, or worse, All-Star consideration.
4. Thomas Bryant - Washington Wizards
Bryant is quietly having the best season of his career. Right before 2020 ended, Bryant led the Wizards with 28 points on 10-of-11 shooting but the 6-foot-10, the 248-pound big man has also provided a three-point shot this season. Bryant ranks third in the league in field goal percentage (66.7%) and continues to prove to be the main enforcer on this team.
While the Wizards team play has not lived up to expectations, Bryant is exceeding all expectations with 17.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game. It’s early, but the 23-year out of Indiana could have his breakout season this year.
3. Jerami Grant - Detroit Pistons
Not too many people expected Grant to start this hot. Granted, the Detroit Pistons are the worst team in the league (1-6), so somebody has to provide offense. However, Grant has never averaged more than 20 points in a season. Heck, his career-high is 13.6 points per game and that was two years ago when he played in Oklahoma.
Grant boasts averages of 23.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. The poor team play aside, Grant is taking on the role as the team’s go-to scorer. That might be a reason why Detroit is where they are in the standings, but kudos to Grant for stepping up and making a tough situation positive.
2. Markelle Fultz - Orlando Magic
Many were ready for Fultz to retire. The former 2017 No. 1 overall pick was chased out of Philadelphia. The former 76er was chewed up, spit out, and traded to the Orlando Magic for nothing near what former first overall picks were worth. It was understandable though; however, the 22-year old is still an unfinished product and he is starting to look like a true starting point guard in the NBA.
Fultz has the best mark in his career for points (14.3) and assists (6.1). What’s even better is that he is shooting 39.6% from the field. Fultz played his first full season last year with the Magic after playing just 33 games in two seasons for Philly. The Magic believed in Fultz after signing him to a lucrative contract this past offseason. All in all, Fultz is a main contributor to the Magic starting 5-2 and owning the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. He is proving there could be more potential stowed away.
1. Julius Randle - New York Knicks
If the playoffs started today, the Knicks would be the No. 5 seed. If the All-Star game was next week, Randle would be starting. Again, this is an overreaction to seven games but who saw this coming from Randle? Right now, Randle owns a stat line of 22.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. His assists margin is tied with LeBron James for seventh-best in the league.
The Knicks are the biggest surprise in the NBA, owning a 4-3 record. The Knicks didn’t overspend this past offseason. The only new face in town was head coach Tom Thibodeau, who is known for bringing the best out of players. Randle already has a triple-double this season and was just one assist away from having two. It’s early, but Randle is making noise to be a starter in the All-Star game.