Surprise! NBA Teams Who Are Drastically Exceeding Expectations in 2017-18
All championship odds come from TopBet and are accurate as of midnight Eastern Standard Time on Thursday, Dec. 21. To find out which teams qualify as the biggest surprises, we’ll be comparing their expected win totals at the beginning of the season to their current win-loss pace. Squads will be ranked and presented in order of big-picture intrigue—i.e. championship and conference title potential.
5. New York Knicks (+30000)
Expected Win-Loss: 31-51
Current Pace: 44-38
So much for the New York Knicks being bad again.
This season had all the makings of a potential flop—an unequivocal tanker’s delight. Carmelo Anthony was shipped to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kristaps Porzingis would be taking over alpha duties for the first time in his career. The Knicks were playing Enes Kanter. They gave Tim Hardaway Jr. $71 million over the summer. They would be giving minutes to a rookie point guard in Frank Ntilikina. Expecting more than 30 wins felt ridiculous.
Look at how aspects of their season have unfolded, and it still does.
Both Porzingis and Hardaway have battled injuries. Ntilikina and Kanter, too. The Knicks are also 2-9 outside Madison Square Garden, given them one of the worst road records in the league.
And yet, here they are, contending for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as they hover above .500. Will this honeymoon hold? We don’t know. They’ve had a very home-heavy schedule, which means they’ll have to figure out how to win on the road. They also have the NBA’s third-best crunch-time point differential per 100 possessions, another pleasant surprise that profiles as unsustainable.
Bake in the fact that the front office could decide to hold a fire sale at the trade deadline in favor of boosting this year’s draft-pick position and the Knicks are the most precarious shock around. But they’re still a happy revelation all the same.
4. Indiana Pacers (+10000)
Expected Win-Loss: 32-50
Current Pace: 46-36
Who saw this coming from the Indiana Pacers?
Maybe the Pacers themselves. They were the ones, after all, who accepted Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis from the Thunder in exchange for Paul George. The move was knocked by many, and at the time, it seemed rightfully so. But Oladipo is contending for a starting All-Star spot, while Sabonis is making a name for himself as one of the most efficient bigs in the East.
Though the Pacers’ shot profile isn’t the greatest—they rely on long mid-range jumpers more than any team in the league, according to Cleaning The Glass—they routinely get out in transition, excel at completing dribble handoffs and make the most of their modest number of three-point attempts. They’re now sixth in points scored per 100 possessions as result, and while it’d be easy to bank on regression, we’re almost halfway through the 2017-18 campaign.
At some point, teams are who they are. And right now, the Pacers are a squad seemingly capable of winning at least one postseason series.
3. Toronto Raptors (+4000)
Expected Win-Loss: 49-33
Current Pace: 59-23
The Toronto Raptors are barely recognizable from last season’s iteration—particularly on the offensive end.
Yes, their fourth-place finish in points scored per 100 possessions hardly differs from a sixth-place ranking in 2016-17. But their aesthetics diverge from the approach of years past, when their offense stalled out in the postseason, as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan lay brick after brick.
Last season, around 59 percent of the Raptors’ total shots came at the rim or from beyond the arc. This year, roughly 70 percent of their looks are coming from the same areas. DeRozan has never excelled more as a passer, rookie OG Anunoby is drilling threes in volume while playing terrific defense, and Norman Powell has seen his shooting percentages explode since joining the second unit.
Factor in performances from youngsters like Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam, and the Raptors are deploying their deepest team of the DeRozan-Lowry era. They may not continue to flirt with 60 victories all year, but they sure as anything look like the real deal.
2. Boston Celtics (+1200)
Expected Win-Loss: 57-25
Current Pace: 63-19
A six-win jump doesn’t look like much for the Boston Celtics. But we must consider the context.
First and foremost, they were dancing around a 70-win pace less than two weeks. Second, and equally important, their 57-victory forecast assumed that they would have Gordon Hayward in the fold. He’s done for the season after suffering a gruesome leg injury on opening night. That the Celtics are even still on course for 50 victories, let alone more than 60, is absolutely absurd.
This half-season magic admittedly may not last forever. Jayson Tatum will hit a rookie wall. Kyrie Irving won’t shoot a zillion percent in the clutch all year. Jaylen Brown’s three-point shooting should normalize below 40 percent. Teams won’t miss as many wide-open threes against the Celtics as they have been. Boston’s league-best defense is already showing cracks overall; it now shares the NBA’s points-prevention pedestal with Oklahoma City.
Still, head coach Brad Stevens is an actual wizard. The Celtics have stockpiled a roster of like-sized wings that can switch basically everything, and he’s just the guy to extract the most production possible out of every single one of them.
Tack on Al Horford’s performance, which includes Defensive Player of the Year love and incredibly successful stretches when playing without Irving, and the Celtics have the depth to beat any team on any given night. They’re victory over the Golden State Warriors this season proved that much. They won’t be favored in a playoff series versus said Warriors (in the NBA Finals) or against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they certainly seem to have the juice to make things interesting.
1. Houston Rockets (+1800)
Expected Win-Loss: 56-26
Current Pace: 68-14
Wow. Just wow.
If any team in the NBA has a decent shot at contending with a fully healthy Warriors contingent this season, it’s the Houston Rockets. They haven’t had Chris Paul in the rotation for half the year—he just suffered another leg injury during a Dec. 20 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers—and yet they still sport the NBA’s best record.
James Harden is playing out of his mind—so much so he could be considered the runaway favorite for the MVP award. Clint Capela is going bonkers finishing out of the pick-and-roll. P.J. Tucker never misses at the rim. Luc Mbah a Moute is draining threes and doing some work off the bounce. Ryan Anderson stretches defenses wafer thin and has found a way to survive when guarding isolations. Eric Gordon has been sneaky good defensively as well.
In fact, the Rockets as a whole have been astoundingly good at the less glamorous end. They rank seventh in points allowed per 100 possessions—about seven spots higher than any reasonable person predicted. They’re built to play any style, including the Warriors’ preferred approach, so if Paul finds a way to stay on the court, they must be treated a championship dark horses, verging on championship favorites.
Category : Sports Betting NewsMore articles...