Preseason prognosticators and handicapping analysis focuses in on what they expect to happen, based on the draft and offseason moves, but there are always surprises at the start of each season. Here's a look at some of the early NBA surprises.
Pistons: They have rebuilt in a hurry in Motown! 6-11 Andre Drummond is only 22 years old but is off to a monster season on the glass, blocking shots and even providing offense. He is a terrific rock to build around and has one thing in common with Shaq -- they're both awful from the free throw line. 25-year old guard Reggie Jackson has been carrying the offense but gets some help with the return of point guard Brandon Jennings, who had been on the shelf since January while rehabbing. Hats off to coach Stan Van Gundy for getting the kids to play tough defense, too. The bounce-back Pistons are 21-7 ATS after a loss and 14-3-1 under the total against the Pacific division.
Bulls: You can't call the Bulls a surprise, but there were concerns for this season after making a coaching change. New coach Fred Hoiberg ran wide-open offenses at Iowa State, but Chicago is still a fierce defensive team, tops in field goal shooting defense and Top 10 in points allowed.
They are still a handful under the glass with Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson, while Jimmy Butler is an offensive force and Derrick Rose has had a healthy start (knock wood...or parquet floor). You wonder if their physical style under the previous coach made them more injury-prone come playoff time, so stay tuned.
Timberwolves: Rebuilding Minnesota has a ways to go, of course, but they have been a surprise on the road this season, with straight up wins at the Lakers, Bulls, Nuggets and Hawks all as a dog. When you're a +9 or +8 dog on the road, that offers exceptional money-line value.
They're not doing it with defense, but an attacking offensive approach behind three guards, 20-year old Andrew Wiggins (20 ppg), Kevin Martin and 25-year old Ricky Rubio (13 ppg, 9 apg). Throw in 7-foot rookie Karl-Anthony Towns (15 ppg, 10 rpg) and they finally have a dominant big man at both ends of the floor since the MVP days of Kevin Garnett. On paper they look like a team to look at over the total but note the T-Wolves are 24-9 under after scoring 100+ in their previous contest.
Nuggets: No one expected much from the no-name Denver Nuggets, but they have surprised early on. 27-year old 6-10 Danilo Gallinari stars on offense while Kenneth Faried is a hard worker on the glass. The big surprise has been 20-year old guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who does everything well. Teamed with veteran Jameer Nelson the backcourt duo have limited turnovers. Jason Kidd said recently that Mudiay will be better than him when all is said and done. Denver is on a 5-1 spread run on the road and 7-2-1 under the total playing on no days rest.
Jazz: The team few want to play! Up and coming Utah remains competitive with a ferocious defense, sort of a Memphis Grizzlies of the West. They are Top 10 in the West in points allowed and field goal shooting defense. Utah is 7-1 ATS after a defeat and 19-9 under the total following a spread loss. 6-8 Gordon Hayward leads the offense, a versatile talent, along with 6-6 Alec Burks, while Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert crash the glass. When they face a good offensive team beware: Utah is 7-1-1 ATS when their opponent tops 100 points in their previous game. The Jazz are also 19-7 under the total against the Eastern Conference.
Pacers: Indiana revamped its roster in the offseason, losing a pair of key cogs, but the return to health of star Paul George has made the transition smoother than expected. He teams with Monte Ellis to provide the offense, but the real story is that this is still a strong defensive club, Top 10 in points allowed and at defending beyond the arc. Jordan Hill and 6-11 Ian Mahinmi have picked up the rebounding role since Roy Hibbert moved West.