They say that you should never judge a book by its cover. Perhaps the same could be said about NBA teams. You wouldn’t understand a team’s story unless you know their full season.
Let’s take a look at four teams that made us say, “They’re not who we thought they were.”
What happened: Improved after coach was replaced and injured players got healthy
Lloyd Pierce was hired in 2018 and Trae Young’s arrival in the same year meant that expectations were high. But after two years of missing the playoffs and a tough start this season, Pierce was fired.
It’s hard to blame Pierce because the Hawks were missing key players. Even if Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter sat out a lot of games, the decision to change the coach was still made.
Nate McMillan was called in to replace Pierce. He was already with the team as part of the coaching staff so that move was easy to make. It would turn out to be the right decision. The Hawks, with healthy key players returning, made the playoffs and even reached the second round. McMillan, who had this reputation of always losing in the first round of the playoffs during his coaching stint with the Indiana Pacers, can breathe a sigh of relief now.
What happened: Started slow and ended up even slower
You have to feel bad for the Raptors, who had no real place to call home for the season due to Canada’s travel restrictions. Tampa Bay became their temporary base and they probably didn’t get too comfortable with this setup.
Their season started slow and featured numerous heartbreaking losses. There were too many games where they lost by four points or less. All you have to do is ask Pascal Siakam, who had four chances to hit a game-winning or game-tying shot but luck didn’t bounce his way.
The Raptors had a 17-17 record at one point and everyone expected them to pick it up in the second half of the season. They immediately went through a stretch where they lost nine consecutive games and never recovered after that.
What happened: Improvement after firing coach and Big Three came together
Minnesota fired coach Ryan Saunders after losing to a fellow ex-Wolves coach. Saunders lost to the New York Knicks, led by Tom Thibodeau, and lost his job after the game. It’s easy to forget that the Timberwolves fired Thibodeau two years ago.
Chris Finch came in to replace Saunders and the team would win 16 of their last 41 games. That’s a slight improvement considering that Saunders only won seven of the team’s first 31 contests.
Fans finally got to see Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and rookie Anthony Edwards play together. That’s a trio of players that Saunders never coached because Towns missed the early part of the season while Russell missed the middle part. Seeing this new Big Three gave fans a glimpse of the team’s future.
What happened: Russell Westbrook and his triple-double run
Everyone expected the Wizards to miss the playoffs. A statistic circulating around the NBA world back in April showed that the Wizards had a 0.6 percent chance of making the playoffs.
They were on their way to an early vacation but Westbrook started getting triple-doubles at an alarming rate and Bradley Beal went on a scoring binge. When the dust settled, the Wizards found themselves in the final playoff spot for the East.
While the Philadelphia 76ers ultimately eliminated them, fans and the NBA record books will never forget Washington’s incredible run.
Follow Joey Almendras on Twitter @Buyaw
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