With the Lakers waiting for Pau Gasol's hamstring to rally, the only Gasol on our early season radar is brother Marc, a second-year employee of the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite sharing post-area space with Zach Randolph, Marc is registered at 15 points and 11.4 rebounds (up from 11 and 7.4, respectively) in five additional minutes per game this season.
While Lakers center Andrew Bynum has turned back into a (for now) quasi-healthy beast on the block, he's not the Bynum we're interested in for our look at the unexpected. Our Bynum is Will, a Detroit Pistons reserve guard whose 12-point average includes 38 points in his last two games. The 6-foot Bynum also has contributed 18 assists and 17 rebounds in Detroit's last three games.
Team surprises include the Atlanta Hawks, whose expected playoff candidacy did not include an 8-2 opening. The Hawks are thriving by being far more efficient on offense, with a points-per-100 possessions mark of 113.8, up four points from last season.
We also weren't expecting the best from Indiana, where the Pacers check in at 4-3, or Sacramento, which is enjoying a 5-4 start for first-year coach Paul Westphal. The Kings have won all four of their games since prolific scorer Kevin Martin (averaging 30 in five games) was lost to injury.
After sliding over from point guard to Martin's two-guard spot, rookie Tyreke Evans has averaged 24 points in those four games. His ability to score was expected; the Kings' inability to see his limitations as a point guard was a bit of a surprise.
It should be noted that while most of our surprises can be placed in the pleasant column, the NBA is not without its disappointments.
For example, a season-ending injury for Philadelphia 76ers forward Elton Brand would not be unexpected. But a healthy Brand ranking fifth on the team in scoring and often sitting late in the fourth quarter was not something we were planning to see.
The New Orleans Hornets were among the league's leading underachievers last season, but a 3-8 beginning was a bit beyond our reasoning; Coach Byron Scott was a goner at 3-6.
And the San Antonio Spurs were expected to challenge the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy with Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess on the payroll. A couple of ankle injuries and a stunning lack of defense (San Antonio is 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency) have the Spurs in a 4-4 predicament.
The Spurs could continue to struggle a bit and inspire watchdogs to list evidence of their demise. But they'll eventually start to roll and inspire the same watchdogs to remind us never to count out the Spurs.
Like many developments in the NBA, it's still expected.
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