As the NBA remains in hiatus due to the coronavirus outbreak, let’s review the 2019-20 NBA season and take a look at which teams have exceeded expectations.
Before the start of the season, the oddsmakers and experts come up with a projected win total for every team. This projected total is used to come up with the over/under prop bets for every team. For this article, we will use the teams’ projected win totals versus their actual performance during the 2019-20 season. Here, we’ll list down the five best teams who have exceeded their projected win total or were close to topping it when the season was suspended.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24) projection: 32.5 wins
The Oklahoma City Thunder were supposed to undergo a massive rebuild this season. The Thunder traded their top two players from the previous season in Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. For Russ, OKC got Chris Paul while they picked up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari from the Clippers. Surprisingly, the trio of Paul, Alexander, and Gallinari has been impressive for the Thunder.
Alexander and Gallinari are averaging over 19 points per game while Paul is putting up 17.7 points and 6.8 assists per game. OKC is also getting a fantastic season from Dennis Schroder who is scoring 19.0 points off the bench. Since Thanksgiving Day, the Thunder are 31-12 with only the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers having better records than them during that period. OKC is ranked 5th in the Western Conference team standings as of the break. Steven Adams remains a force inside the paint at 10.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game this season while Nerlens Noel is doing a fine job off the bench at 7.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game.
2. Memphis Grizzlies (32-33 ) projection: 26.5 wins
Like the Thunder, the Memphis Grizzlies were expected to have a tough rebuilding season after they officially ended the Grit and Grind era by trading Mike Conley before the start of the season. But Memphis got a gem when they picked Ja Morant with the 2nd overall pick of the 2019 NBA draft. Morant was the NBA’s best rookie while Zion Williamson was nursing his knee injury and the Grizzlies found a spark in the person of their rookie guard.
Morant averaged 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game in 59 games played, all starts for the rookie. Aside from Morant, the Grizzlies opened the season with a very much improved Jaren Jackson Jr. who was putting up 16.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. Likewise, Memphis saw big man Jonas Valanciunas get his game back in his first full season with Memphis. Valanciunas, who came from Toronto at last season’s trade deadline, has provided the Grizzlies with the post presence to open up the floor for Morant to operate. Valanciunas was averaging 14.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game before the season came to a halt. The Grizzlies are the current 8th seed in the Western Conference.
3. Dallas Mavericks (40-27) projection: 40 wins
Not even the addition of Kristaps Porzingis convinced the experts that the Dallas Mavericks would be good enough this season. Maybe it was because Porzingis was coming off a serious injury and maybe because they believed that Luka Doncic would be having a sophomore slump. Well, Porzingis hasn’t returned to 100% form yet but the Latvian Unicorn is having a good season considering he is coming off an injury. Porzingis averaged 19.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game despite playing just 51 games. And Doncic? well, the 2019 NBA Rookie of the Year went off this season.
As if last season wasn’t impressive enough, Doncic took his game to another level this year. The second-year guard from Slovenia is averaging a remarkable 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. Doncic is 6th in the league in scoring and 4th in passing and he is just 21 years old. Doncic was Western Conference Player of the Month in October and November, becoming the youngest winner of the award. He was named a starter in the 2020 All-Star game and became the youngest European player to be named a starter. Impressive? That’s not even counting the triple-doubles and records he put up this year. No wonder Dallas has overachieved this season. The Boy Wonder is having a fantastic season.
4. Toronto Raptors (46-18) projection: 46.5 wins
The Toronto Raptors are in unfamiliar territory. They won their first-ever NBA title last season by unseating the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals. They lost their top player Kawhi Leonard in free agency and were projected to win fewer than 50 games this season. But the championship experience has made the Raptors a much better team and a more confident unit. Despite playing without Leonard, they have climbed to the 2nd best record in the Eastern Conference behind the guys who played second fiddle to Leonard last season.
After winning the 2019 NBA Most Improved Player Award, Pascal Siakam has even improved this season. Siakam has emerged as the Raptors’ leading scorer this season at 23.6 points per game while also pulling down 7.5 rebounds and issuing 3.5 assists per game. Kyle Lowry looked like an All-Star again this season as he averaged 19.7 points and 7.7 assists per game while Fred VanVleet who was their best bench player last season, has averaged 17.6 points and 6.6 assists as a starter. Serge Ibaka is also having a resurgence with 16.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while Norman Powell is having his best season ever at 16.4 points per game.
4.5. Charlotte Hornets (23-42) projection: 23 wins
I didn’t want to put Charlotte here because the team is out of the Top 8 and has a losing record of 23-42. However, you can’t deny that they have already matched the total number of wins that they were projected to pick up after 82 games with still 17 to spare. 23 is a very low total so it could be that the experts were underestimating this young team. Well, Charlotte has the 5th best win production versus its projection so let’s give this a shot and let’s give the Hornets the benefit of the doubt.
Charlotte entered the break with the 10th best record in the East and they were seven games off the playoff pace. They lost star player Kemba Walker to the Boston Celtics but were able to pick up Celtics guard Terry Rozier as his body replacement. Rozier hasn’t been Kemba-like but he’s put up decent numbers at 18.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. Second-year guard Devonte Graham is the main reason why the Hornets have played better than expected. Graham is playing 21 more minutes per game this season and he leads the team in scoring at 18.2 points per game. Graham is also 8th in the entire league in passing at 7.5 assists per game. The Hornets also have a blue-chip rookie in P.J. Washington who has impressed at 12.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. They are most probably not going to make the playoffs but the Hornets have overachieved this season.
5. Los Angeles Lakers ( 49-14) projection: 50 wins
We all knew that the Lakers would be good this season after they acquired Anthony Davis. But the experts didn’t think they would be this good, perhaps because after trading for AD, they took out plenty of young talent who would have complimented LeBron James and AD this season. But despite having a veteran bench, the Lakers have exceeded the expectations. They were the second team in the league to clinch a playoff berth and they already have 49 wins, one fewer than their projected number of wins, with still 19 games left to play. With the way they were playing, this was a team that could have easily won 60 games if the season wasn’t halted.
LeBron James was feeling rejuvenated with a new partner in AD. Playing in his 17th season, the 35-year old James averaged 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and a league-best 10.6 assists per game and was the only other serious MVP contender besides front-runner Giannis Antetokounmpo. Meanwhile, Davis was on a mission to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. AD led the Lakers in scoring at 26.7 points per game while also averaging 9.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 2.4 blocks per game. Only Kyle Kuzma averaged in double-digits aside from James and Davis. However, six players were scoring at least 6.8 points per game, including Dwight Howard who was having a terrific year at 7.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.