The 2021 season is well underway and there have been some big surprises. The teams we expected to shine such as the Nets and 76ers have done exceptionally well, while the Lakers and Clippers were expected to be strong contenders with their stacked squads. But other teams have literally shocked the world.
With the playoffs less than a few months away, some teams fighting for the postseason have done an admirable job. More specifically, 5 teams have strong records when they weren't expected to be relevant. Here are the top 5 biggest surprises this year, starting with Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Team Record: 29-27
The Memphis Grizzlies lucked out with the draft of Ja Morant. Morant will be one of the players who will lead the NBA going forward, and he is truly a special talent. Morant has followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign with a spectacular season, putting up 18.7 PPG and 7.3 APG. Much like a young Russell Westbrook, Morant is an explosive guard who is impossible to stay in front of.
Other than Morant, the Grizzlies have some nice gems. Jonas Valanciunas has had a strong season in the interior, averaging 17.0 PPG and 12.6 RPG. Dillion Brooks is having a career year as well, dropping 16.8 PPG. With the team playing on both ends, the Grizzlies are surprisingly in a playoff seeding with a 29-26 record much to everyone's surprise.
5. Utah Jazz
Team Record: 43-15
Nobody expected the Utah Jazz to have the best record in the NBA. Even with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert making All-Star Teams in the past, they have received help from the unlikeliest of sources. First, Jordan Clarkson was signed to a $52 million contract which looked ridiculous at first. But Clarkson has proved he is worth more than that, averaging 17.4 PPG as the best bench player in the NBA.
Not to mention, Mike Conley Jr made his first All-Star Team. Conley has become a sharpshooter, averaging 16.4 PPG on 41.5% shooting from deep. Bojan Bogdanovic, the two-way forward, is chipping in 15.5 PPG. This amount of help alongside Mitchell and Gobert has allowed Utah to catapult above the rest of the league and make them the most consistent team in the NBA. We knew Utah was good, but nobody expected them to be this good.
4. Charlotte Hornets
Team Record: 28-28
The Charlotte Hornets drafted the best prospect in the NBA in LaMelo Ball with the No. 3 overall pick. Ball seems to be a transcendent point guard that has shooting, size, and passing ability. He even seems to be capable of recovering from injuries, because a broken hand that was supposed to keep him out of the season has healed faster than expected. Ball is expected to be back within the next 2 weeks at the latest.
Alongside Ball is former All-Star Gordon Hayward, who was signed to a max deal this summer much to the surprise of most fans and critics. Hayward has played well, averaging 19.6 PPG in a solid bounce-back season, while P.J. Washington seems to be another prospect for the future. Michael Jordan's signings this off-season have come to fruition, and that means Charlotte holds the 8th seed in the East.
3. Atlanta Hawks
Team Record: 31-26
The Hawks have a budding superstar in Trae Young, so they will be expected to be a playoff team going forward. But Atlanta's signings have come through exceptionally well. Bojan Bogdanovic is averaging 14.4 PPG while Danilo Gallinari is putting up 13.4 PPG. Their floor spacing has given Trae Young a ton of passing options when he penetrates the paint.
The rise of Clint Capela as one of the best centers in the NBA also can't be ignored. Capela is averaging 15.6 PPG and 14.5 RPG this season, and his impact in the paint alongside John Collins makes the Hawks a very tough team to beat. Atlanta have a strong squad, and as the 4th seed in the East, don't be surprised if they make the Eastern Conference Finals this year.
2. New York Knicks
Team Record: 31-27
Nobody expected the Knicks to be in a playoff spot this season, and whoever says they did are straight-up lying. The Knicks are 6th in the East and can go up to the 4th seed by the end of the week. Thanks to the play of All-Star Julius Randle and the coaching excellence of Tom Thibedeau, New York is competitive again.
The Knicks have seemingly mastered their rotation, using youngsters and veterans at the right times. The acquisition of Derrick Rose has been a good one, while RJ Barrett is slowly becoming the player he was hyped to be. New York ranks 1st (!) in defense this season so they are one of the biggest surprises of the year.
1. Phoenix Suns
Team Record: 40-16
The Phoenix Suns are currently 2nd in the Western Conference, behind the Utah Jazz. The duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker has been much better than we expected, and they have been the biggest surprise in the NBA. With Paul and Booker both making All-Star Teams averaging 15.6 PPG and 25.5 PPG respectively, the Suns are a big problem in the West.
Phoenix ranks 7th in PPG, 2nd in FG%, and 2nd in APG. The Suns can field 5 shooters at once and even with big man Deandre Ayton down low, they have very little weakness. Chris Paul is the best leader in the NBA, and his clutch play will come up big for the team as the season comes to an end.