Biggest Early Surprises of NBA Season

min read
Andrew Doughty Jun 15, 2021, 1:21 PM
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Two hundred NBA players attempted at least 100 three-pointers during the 2019-20 regular season. Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ranked 104th in three-point shooting percentage (38.5 percent) while teammate Alex Caruso ranked 190th (33.3 percent). Of the roughly 250 players on pace for 100 three-point attempts this season, Caldwell-Pope and Caruso rank fourth (50 percent) and first (54.5 percent), respectively.

Caldwell-Pope 34-percent three-point shooter at Georgia, and entering this season, the eighth-year guard shot better than 35 percent in only two of his seven NBA seasons. Caruso shot 37 percent in each of his final two seasons at Texas A&M and entered his fourth NBA season with a career clip of 36.1 percent. (He did shoot 48 percent in 2018-19 but on only 50 attempts over 25 games.) Lights-out perimeter shooting from the backcourt duo has been a game-changer during the Lakers’ strong start and continued ownership of the top spot in NBA Championship odds in online sports betting

“I already know when [LeBron James and Anthony Davis] got the ball in the post or on the wing in pick and rolls, I know where to find my spot,” Caldwell-Pope said this week. “I’m still learning some of the other guys when they get in the post like Marc [Gasol] and [Montrezl Harrell], but it’s just all about finding the open spot so they can be able to see me if they need to pass it out.”

Caldwell-Pope has hit at least three-pointer in 13 of his 14 games, including four games with at least four three-pointers. Caruso, meanwhile, has five games with multiple three-pointers and has failed to hit one in only two of his 13 games. While the Lakers’ 14-4 record entering Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers isn’t surprising, Caldwell-Pope and Caruso’s shooting has been one of the biggest early surprises in the NBA.

Other early surprises:

Cavs’ Defense

In 54 games as Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coach, John Beilein showed “an inability to adapt” to the league’s offensive structure, an unnamed source told The Athletic last year. Beilein’s replacement, J.B. Bickerstaff isn’t having the same issues. 

The Cavs ranked dead last in Hollinger’s defensive efficiency last year. They’re ninth this year. They’re also seventh in scoring defense, ninth in opponents’ points per game, second in opponents’ assist-to-turnover ratio, and first in opponents’ turnover rate. 

"I did not think we could go from last to second or first or wherever we’re at," Larry Nance Jr. said last weekend. "No, I didn’t think that at all. At first, I was a little bit thrown off by the schemes. They’re far from traditional. They definitely took a bit of a risk, but can’t say anything about it now. I’m loving it. The guys are loving it.”

Wizards’ Struggles

Everyone has asked themselves this question. Almost every single day over the first month of the NBA season, you’ve asked yourself:

“How are the Washington Wizards this bad?”

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

We know why the Wizards are this bad. Among dozens of other issues, Russell Westbrook can’t shoot (when he’s even available to play), the defense is atrocious, and they have no transition game.

But how are the Wizards this bad? A team with this much offensive firepower, a potential rising star in Rui Hachimura, and a veteran coach in Scott Brooks shouldn’t be this bad. They shouldn’t be on pace for a 17-55 record and the best lottery odds.

Timberwolves’ Slow Start

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ early-season struggles have been shocking.

EH OH EL, no they haven’t. 

Next.

Curry’s Usage Rate

When Klay Thompson went down with a season-ending Achilles injury in November, we knew the Warriors wouldn’t contend for a top playoff seed and Steph Curry’s usage rate would skyrocket. 

The Warriors aren’t contending for a top playoff seed; even with wins over the Lakers and Clippers, they’ve hovered around .500 all season and currently eighth in the West. Steph Curry’s usage rate, however, hasn’t skyrocketed; he’s at 22.8 percent when playing with the starters. That’s considerably below James Wiseman (25.1 percent) and only three percentage points above Kelly Oubre Jr., the most expensive brick shooter in NBA history. Curry’s overall usage rate is up from the three seasons before the injury-shortened 2019-20 but remains shockingly low for the Warriors’ only consistent backcourt player.

“We see all the numbers and all the combinations and there's plenty of theories that we could talk about,” Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr said after their loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday. “But I'm going to leave that for (media) to assess and figure out. We talk about everything internally, as a coaching staff, and we're well aware of combinations that are working and that aren't. We’re well aware of Steph’s usage rate.”

Place NBA Wagers at BetMGM

At BetMGM, we have up-to-the-minute NBA betting odds, lines, and tips to ensure the best NBA betting experience. Don’t miss an opportunity to bet on in-game lines, futures, and more at BetMGM.

Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor, a college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @adoughty88.

BetMGM $1000 Welcome Bonus Offer
About the Author

Andrew Doughty

Read More

Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else.

Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else.