Ragged Raptors and Scintillating Suns: The Two Surprises of the NBA Season

A look in at two NBA teams that have surprised the league with their records at this point in the season.

The 2020-2021 National Basketball Association (NBA) season is underway, with teams having played around ⅕ of their season. Some teams have surprised analysts and fans with their record at this stage in the season, while other teams have failed to meet the pre-season hype that surrounded them. Let’s take a look at a couple of the surprises of the NBA season so far.

Toronto Raptors

After a NBA finals victory in 2019 and an Eastern Conference Semifinals appearance in 2020, the Raptors were projected to be contenders from the east. In the offseason, the Raptors managed to retain the majority of their core, only losing the big man pairing of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. 

However, the Raptors sit at a shocking 5-9 record, and signs are showing that this losing run may continue. The biggest issue that the Raptors face at the moment is the lack of offensive identity, an issue that is rooted in the struggles of their all-star, Pascal Siakam. Jonathan Tjarks, a writer for “The Ringer”, a website dedicated to covering America’s major sports leagues, identifies the adjustments that NBA teams have made to cause these struggles. 

“After seeing Jaylen Brown shut Siakam down in the playoffs, the rest of the NBA has started putting smaller defenders on Toronto’s 6-foot-9 forward,” Tjarks wrote. 

Siakam in action in a matchup against the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals.

Throughout Nick Nurse’s tenure as head coach, he has always had a primary scorer to rely on to get him points when the offense struggles. Without Siakam fulfilling that role, the Raptors’ role players have felt pressure to score, which they haven’t been able to do. 

It isn’t just the offense for the Raptors. With Gasol and Ibaka leaving for the West, the Raptors rebounding has taken a hit. After being the 12th best rebounding team in the 2019-2020 season, they currently are 21st in rebounding to start this year, according to ESPN.com. 

To right the ship, the Raptors must start from the basics. They need to fix their rebounding and fix their offensive inefficiencies. Once they do, they’ll be back to winning form in no time. 


Phoenix Suns

With the addition of star point guard Chris Paul in the offseason, the Suns established themselves as a real playoff contender in the West. But even with Paul, no one could have expected them to start the year with a 8-5 record and occupy the number four spot in the Western Conference standings. 

There are two key reasons behind Phoenix excelling at unexpected levels. First, it’s their strong team defense designed by second-year head coach Monty Williams. Secondly, it’s the general presence of Paul as the leader of this young team. 

Williams has done a stellar job of maximizing his roster’s defensive potential. Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson are strong defensive forwards that have helped the Suns go from allowing 113.4 points per game last season to 106.5 points per game this season, per ESPN.com.  All three of these players are strong and versatile defenders that put less pressure on center Deandre Ayton, a weak rim protector.

On the other hand, Paul has been the key to unlocking the offensive potential of guys like Ayton and Bridges. Bridges spoke to Arizona Sports Doug & Wolf about the impact of Paul on the Suns. 

“He helps me because he finds me when I’m open, and I’ll just go shoot that thing so he helps me a lot getting my points up,” Bridges said. “He’s another anchor on both ends of the court and is always there talking and helping everybody out.”

Since their 8-0 run in the NBA Bubble, the Suns have been on an upward trajectory. If they can continue playing the high level of defense they are, reaching the second round of the playoffs doesn’t seem too lofty of a goal for this team. 

With the uncertainty of a COVID-19 ridden world, the NBA might continue to produce many surprises throughout the season. The starts that the Raptors and the Suns have had this season are no exception.