What many assumed about the Eastern Conference this season hasn't quite come to fruition so far.
Despite many stars leaving for the West, the East through one month actually looks improved, with more depth than many predicted.
There are a host of teams with surprise winning records and a few others most believe are better than their current place in the standings.
Today marks exactly one month since the season began, so let's go around the conference to look at a few of the most surprising teams - either good or bad - and whether they can keep it up.
Celtics are on fire:
The Boston Celtics, despite losing Gordon Hayward on opening night, look even better than they did last year when they earned the No. 1 seed in the East and reached the conference finals. They have the top defense in the NBA and rebound better than anyone. Though their offense ranks as below average, they are scoring enough to win 13 straight games. And when they need offense, Kyrie Irving (20.6 ppg) is a decent guy to turn to.
A big determinant in whether the Celtics can keep this up - they are an NBA-best 13-2 - will be the play of young swingmen Jaylen Brown (14.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Jayson Tatum (14.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Both are scoring and efficiently, but they are young and most young players take time to find consistency. Perhaps they're different, we'll see.
Cavs have stumbled:
The Cavaliers' 8-7 record through 15 games is one of the more surprising developments of the NBA season so far. It has them currently out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Though that will change, it might be wrong to assume they will get things fully sorted out anytime soon. Their defense is absolutely dreadful. Based on defensive rating, it's the worst in the NBA and even their top-five offense hasn't been enough to offset those issues.
Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson being hurt hasn't helped and Jae Crowder is off to a rough start on both ends of the floor. Dwyane Wade isn't making a positive impact, even on offense, and the result is LeBron James carrying too heavy of a load. While the new additions have hit the ground running in Boston, that hasn't been the case in Cleveland. The Cavs still have the best player in the world and they will get better, but how much better is hard to tell.
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Are the Pistons legit?:
The most surprising success story within the conference so far has definitely been the Detroit Pistons, who at 10-4 hold the second-best record in the East. Of those 10 wins, they have beaten the Warriors, Timberwolves, Bucks, Pacers and Heat. They are 7-1 at home.
The Pistons have been a good defensive team for several years running and now they may have a competent enough offense to put it all together. They have the eight-best offensive rating and the seventh-best defensive rating. They are hitting their threes (38.2%, 7th in NBA) and grabbing the second-most offensive rebounds. The biggest difference has come from Tobias Harris (19.6 ppg, 47.5 FG, 50.6 3PT%) who has been playing out of his gourd. Avery Bradley (17.8 ppg, 44.1% 3PT) is putting up career-high numbers. They may take a step back offensively, but the Pistons look like they are here to stay.
Sixers may be a problem:
The early returns in Philly have been quite good. At 8-6, they a competitive team for the first time in years and that's with 10 of their first 14 games coming on the road. Budding star Joel Embiid has played in 12 of their games with some amazing numbers. He's averaging 23.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.0 steals in just 29 minutes per night. On Wednesday, he became the first NBA player ever to have at least 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks in a game. The guy does everything well.
Ben Simmons (17.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 7.7 apg) has been a revelation and looks like a lock for rookie of the year. Robert Covington (16.5 ppg, 49.5% 3PT) is one of the league's most underrated players. And J.J. Redick (14.8 ppg) is fitting in nicely. So far the Sixers have been among the best NBA teams at three-point shooting and rebounding. What will be interesting to see is how long it takes for them to learn how to win. Can they emerge as true playoff contenders this season, or will it take time?
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Knicks are fun for once:
Much like the Sixers, the New York Knicks are 8-6 despite playing 10 of their first 14 games on the road. Kristaps Porzingis (28.9 ppg, 7.3 apg, 2.2 bpg) is playing like an All-Star. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (17.8 ppg) and Enes Kanter (14.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg) are adjusting well. Courtney Lee (47.2 3PT%, 3.8 3PA/g) is lighting it up from three.
The Knicks have a couple of impressive wins, one at the Cavs and one against the Nuggets at home, but it's hard to buy what they are selling quite yet. Porzingis may be a generational talent and a thrill to watch, but the Knicks don't have much depth and lottery pick Frank Ntilikina (4.8 ppg, 4.3 apg) looks like a work in progress. Of the surprising NBA teams so far, New York seems to be a good bet to fall back down to Earth and soon.
Magic finally have an offense:
Similar to the Pistons, the Orlando Magic (8-7) are off to a surprising start because their offense is better so far than it has been in years. Evan Fournier (19.7 ppg), Aaron Gordon (17.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Nikola Vucevic (17.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg) are leading the way. Jonathan Simmons (15.1 ppg) has been a nice free agent pickup so far. They have a winning record despite starting point guard Elfrid Payton having been injured for most of their games.
The way the Magic are scoring, however, suggests it may not be sustainable. Through 15 games, they are shooting ridiculously well from three. Fournier is at 42.9 percent after shooting just 35.6 percent last year. Gordon is at 50 percent from long range, almost double his 28.8 percent last season. Even Vucevic and Simmons, both at 39.4 percent, are hitting threes after never being threats from there before. If they can keep burying teams from the perimeter, then the Magic could remain a factor in the East. But this seems like a team destined for a reality check sometime soon. They have lost five of seven and that pace seems likely to continue.
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