Ahead of Friday's meeting between the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns, our NBA.com Staff weighs in on which team they have been most surprised by this season.
Scott Rafferty, NBA Canada (@crabdribbles): It's got to be the Knicks ... right?
Even if you thought the Knicks had a chance of making the playoffs this season, I'm not sure many - if any - saw them being in a position where they could have homecourt advantage in the first round. I certainly didn't. Before the season, I wrote that "it's going to take a while before the Knicks are playing winning basketball again." I figured they would be in the 10-12 range in the Eastern Conference at best, certainly not the 4-7 range.
While it helps that the middle of the Eastern Conference has been a mess all season long, the Knicks have been legitimately good. Julius Randle has made a leap, becoming not only an All-Star but an All-NBA candidate. RJ Barrett looks like a completely different player. They have some firepower off the bench in Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley. They're locked in defensively, sporting the league's fourth-best defensive rating on the season.
Their offence might hold them back from going on a deep run - they rank 18th on that end of the floor - but the Knicks have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with again.
The Suns are a close second on the surprise scale for me, but I was much higher on them coming into the season than I was the Knicks. Not that I saw them being in a position where they could get the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, but I felt good about their chances of making the playoffs and thought there was a path for them to host a first-round series.
Kyle Irving, NBA Canada (@KyleIrv_): To answer Scott's question: right. It is without a doubt the Knicks.
In our first power rankings of the season, I ranked the Knicks 27th behind teams like the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves - teams that will not be in the playoffs this season (with the exception that the Bulls may get a spot in the Play-In Tournament).
Going into the season, New York was tied for the lowest expected win total in the entire league with the bar set at 22.5 (!) wins. The Knicks exceeded that win total by the end of March, nevermind the end of the season. If they keep up this level of play, they may flirt with doubling that projected win total.
There are two types of NBA fans in this situation: the ones that expected the Knicks to be bad again and the ones that are lying about expecting the Knicks to be good this season.
New York has been the most pleasant surprise in the league as a team that has star talent in players like Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. They play hard, scrappy, 1990s-style basketball with a focus on the defensive end, and LeBron James put it best when he said that "the league is simply better off when the Knicks are winning."
Nacho Losilla, NBA Spain (@Losilla_): The Suns deserve to have Monty Williams as the Coach of the Year. They also deserve an All-NBA selection in Chris Paul or Devin Booker. The team's goal will be to fight and learn in the playoffs. Who knows what they'll do when they get there, but they have the potential to surprise a team or two.
However, as for the surprise of the 2020-21 season, the Knicks win.
First of all, the Suns went 8-0 in the Orlando Bubble and traded for CP3 afterward. The Knicks? They were coming off of another rough season that saw them part ways with yet another head coach, plus there were some doubts that Tom Thibodeau could be the coach to turn them around. The Thibs Knicks have created a very clear identity in a few months with a below-average roster and they are not only competing but winning. Randle has become an All-Star (even All-NBA) when no one expected.
The Knicks are the true definition of a surprise team.
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