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NBA AM: Some Franchises Aren’t Following Script

Sure we expected the 76ers to be bad, but some of these teams’ starts have been quite the surprise.

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Teams around the league not following the script

As we approach the beginning of trade season where teams will look to add pieces for their respective playoff runs or begin to ship assets to start their reloading plans it’s important to know how we got here. There are numerous teams around the league who are exceeding expectations and may find themselves in the midst of a playoff chase, while others are unexpectedly floundering in the wind.

Let’s take a look at some teams defying the odds or performing unfavorably to preseason expectations:

Milwaukee Bucks (10-10)
Current Playoff Seeding:
Sixth, Eastern Conference

The Milwaukee Bucks won 15 games last season, but could make a strong run at matching that total before the end of the month. The arrival of head coach Jason Kidd and lottery pick Jabari Parker have been strong drivers of the Bucks’ surprising start, along with the continued development of guard Brandon Knight. Milwaukee fans should still be concerned about the lack of consistency from guys such as guard O.J. Mayo and center Larry Sanders, but the team’s trajectory is headed in the right direction.

Cleveland Cavaliers (9-7)
Current Playoff Seeding:
Fifth, Eastern Conference

Nothing can stir title expectations like adding All-Stars LeBron James and Kevin Love to your rotation over a summer. But the Cavaliers’ start to the season has been filled with numerous rocky stretches as James, Love and point guard Kyrie Irving find their rhythm as a unit. Still, the Cavaliers will remain a dangerous team night in and night out and if the current four game winning streak is any indication – the troubled times may be fading into the rearview mirror.

Oklahoma City Thunder (5-13)
Current Playoff Seeding:
None (5.5 GB from current eighth seed in Western Conference)

The Thunder resembled a mash unit for most of the season but now have All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant back in the lineup. The question is, can the Thunder overcome the injury riddled start and make a playoff run in the competitive Western Conference? The team would likely need to win 65-70 percent of their remaining games to secure a spot in the top eight, leaving the franchise with little room for error (or injury).

Sacramento Kings (9-9)
Current Playoff Seeding:
None (1.5 GB from current eighth seed in Western Conference)

The Kings haven’t finished a season with a .500 winning percentage since 2006, which was the last time the franchise made a playoff appearance. But this year has been different as the club roared out to a 9-5 start to the campaign before losing their last four contests. Emerging center DeMarcus Cousins has been on the mend battling a viral infection and the team has struggled to adjust, but the franchise is starting to gain respect and should continue to be competitive on most night – when healthy.

Charlotte Hornets (4-15)
Current Playoff Seeding:
None (5 GB from eighth seed in Eastern Conference)

The Hornets just may be the most disappointing team in the entire league. Charlotte reached the playoffs last season and figured to carry the momentum into this campaign. The organization rebranded and made a huge splash in free agency by signing emerging guard Lance Stephenson. However, the Hornets are currently losers of 10 straight and are a far cry away from making a playoff run. While the blame has shifted towards Stephenson and his struggles to find consistency, Charlotte is missing two starters from its playoff run last season in forward Josh McRoberts (signed by Miami) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (injury).

Detroit Pistons (3-16)
Current Playoff Seeding:
None (6 GB from eighth seed in Eastern Conference)

The Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy to serve as an executive and their head coach. A strong hire on paper for the struggling franchise, Van Gundy has been unable to provide immediate results in the win column. The Pistons have lost ten straight contests and the setbacks have come in all forms and fashion – on the road, at home, to the East and to the West. Pistons owner Tom Flores has been consistent in his messaging of making a return to the playoffs, but that window at least for this season seems more like a dream than a reality.

New York Knicks (4-15)
Current Playoff Seeding:
None (5 GB from eighth seed in Eastern Conference)

While most weren’t expecting a title run in New York, the commonly held belief was that the Knicks would be much better than the start they’ve posted to begin the season. Rookie head coach Derek Fisher has struggled adjusting to his new role on the sideline and multiple players have been unable to grasp the nuisances of the Triangle Offense. Like many teams, New York has been hampered by numerous injuries but even when healthy the current unit looks more lottery bound than prepared for a postseason run.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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