NBA teams are reshaping expectations, for better and for worse

Dylan Albanese, Contributing Writer

After a long offseason, the 2020-2021 NBA season has finally started.  Many teams have made major changes and are surprising everybody.  The New York Knicks are exceeding expectations after winning four of their first seven games, beating the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics by 30 points.  The Brooklyn Nets traded for James Harden, which seems to be paying off; the Phoenix Suns traded for Chris Paul during the offseason, which has had a major impact on their record.  However, not all teams have been surprisingly good.  The New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks are on the opposite side of that spectrum, failing to reach expectations.  

The Knicks are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at 7-8.  This is a shock, since they have not made the playoffs since 2013.  At the end of the last season, they were 24 games under .500, at 21-45.  The Knicks drafted Imanuel Quickley out of Kentucky, who has averaged 17.5 points per game while shooting 40% from the field over the past four games.  Power forward Julius Randle is averaging 23 points per game, shooting forty eight percent from the field.  His improvement is what gives them a chance to win on a nightly basis.  

“Julius Randle has been a shocker to many around the league this season.  He is a consistent scoring option for the New York Knicks, and the leader of the offense.  While he has always been a good scorer, this season, he is doing a little bit of everything for the Knicks, leading them in points, rebounds, and assists per game.  Compared to last year, his efficiency and decision making improved, and he is playing all-star level basketball for the Knicks so far,” said sophomore Sean Mondschein. 

The Knicks have a starting lineup of players all under the age of 26, the youngest in the league, and they have the best defense in the NBA.  They are first in scoring defense, allowing 102.8 points per game.  They are also tops in defensive field goal percentage with 43.3% and lead in defensive three point percentage with 31.2%.  

The Brooklyn Nets and the Phoenix Suns both have made big moves leading into this season.  The Nets acquired Harden early on, while the Suns brought in Chris Paul this offseason, helping both teams thrive early on.  

The Nets, on a four game winning streak, are 9-6 and a half game out of first place in the Eastern Conference.  Each of the last two years, Harden led the league in scoring, averaging 34 and 36 per game.  He is also an eight time all-star.  The Nets have paired Harden with all-stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, forming a “big three.”  After this trade, Brooklyn became the favorites to represent the East in the NBA finals.  

“I think that the Harden trade will only be viewed as a success if Brooklyn wins a title in the next year or two.  They sold their entire future to win now, so if it does not happen the trade will be a complete waste,” said sophomore Ryan Gawley.

The Phoenix Suns’ addition of Chris Paul has led the team to a strong start.  They won seven of their first ten games, and, at 7-5, they are in fourth place in the Western Conference.  The dynamic duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker are leading the squad to wins.  Last year, the Phoenix Suns finished tenth place in the Western conference, five games under .500.  Booker is averaging 22 points per game and shooting forty six percent from the field, along with ten-time all-star Chris Paul, who’s having a strong start to the 2020-2021 NBA season.  

Finally, there are some teams having disappointing starts to the season.  Last year, the Dallas Mavericks made the playoffs as seventh seed in the Western Conference.  This year, though, they have struggled out of the gates.  The Mavericks are 6-7, and are on a three game losing streak.  This was not foreseen because of superstar Luka Doncic, an MVP candidate.  He averaged 29 points per game last year and has twenty seven per game this year.  One possible explanation for their struggles was the absence of their second-best player, Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out to start the season.  

Another underperforming team is the New Orleans Pelicans.  This was unexpected since they have Zion Williamson, who is averaging 22 points a game and was the first pick in the 2019 draft.  They also have Brandon Ingram, an all-star last year and second overall pick in the 2017 draft. He is one of the best passers in the league, averaging nine assists per game.  With these young talents, it’s stunning to see them start with a record of 5-8.