Ones to watch in the NBA

Dec 8, 2015 3:00 AM

Preseason prognosticators and handicapping analysts focus in on what they expect to happen, based on the draft and offseason moves, but there are always surprises at the start of each season. Here’s a look at some of the early NBA surprises.

Detroit

The Pistons have rebuilt in a hurry in Motown! 6-11 Andre Drummond is only 22 but is off to a monster season on the glass, blocking shots and even providing offense. He is a terrific rock to build around and has one thing in common with Shaq – they’re both awful from the free throw line

Guard Reggie Jackson, age 25, has been carrying the offense but gets some help with the return of point guard Brandon Jennings, who had been on the shelf since January while rehabbing. Hats off to Coach Stan Van Gundy for getting the kids to play tough defense, too. The bounce-back Pistons are 21-7 ATS after a loss and 14-3-1 UNDER the total against the Pacific division.

Chicago

You can’t call the Bulls a surprise, but there were concerns for this season after making a coaching change. New coach Fred Hoiberg ran wide-open offenses at Iowa State, but Chicago is still a fierce defensive team, tops in field goal shooting defense and Top 10 in points allowed.

They are still a handful under the glass with Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson, while Jimmy Butler is an offensive force and Derrick Rose has had a healthy start (knock wood…or parquet floor). You wonder if their physical style under previous coach Tom Thibodeau made them more injury-prone come playoff time, so stay tuned.

Minnesota

Rebuilding has a ways to go, of course, but the Timberwolves have been a surprise on the road this season, with straight up wins at the Lakers, Bulls, Nuggets and Hawks, all as a dog. When you’re a +9 or +8 dog on the road, that offers exceptional money-line value.

They’re not doing it with defense, but an attacking offensive approach behind three guards, 20-year-old Andrew Wiggins (20 ppg), Kevin Martin and 25-year-old Ricky Rubio (13 ppg, 9 apg). Throw in 7-foot rookie Karl-Anthony Towns (15 ppg, 10 rpg) and they finally have a dominant big man at both ends of the floor since the MVP days of Kevin Garnett. On paper the T’wolves seem like a team to look at OVER the total but they are 24-9 UNDER after scoring 100-plus in their previous contest.

Denver

No one expected much from the no-name Nuggets, but they have surprised early on. 6-foot-10 Danilo Gallinari stars on offense while Kenneth Faried is a hard worker on the glass.

The big surprise has been 20-year- old guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who does everything well. Teamed with veteran Jameer Nelson, the backcourt duo has limited turnovers. Bucks coach Jason Kidd said recently Mudiay will be better than him when all is said and done. Denver is on a 5-1 spread run on the road and 7-2-1 UNDER playing on no days rest.

Utah

The team few want to play! They remain competitive with a ferocious defense, sort of a Memphis Grizzlies clone. They are Top 10 in the West in points allowed and field goal shooting defense. Utah is 7-1 ATS after a defeat and 19-9 UNDER the total following a spread loss.

Gordon Hayward at 6-foot-8 leads the offense, a versatile talent, along with 6-6 Alec Burks, while Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert crash the glass. When they face a good offensive team beware: Utah is 7-1-1 ATS when their opponent tops 100 points in their previous game. The Jazz are also 19-7 UNDER the total against the Eastern Conference.

Indiana

The Pacers revamped its roster in the offseason, losing a pair of key cogs, but the return to health of star Paul George has made the transition smoother than expected. He teams with Monte Ellis to provide the offense, but the real story is this is still a strong defensive club. Indiana ranks No. 10 in points allowed and at defending beyond the arc. Jordan Hill and 6-11 Ian Mahinmi have picked up the rebounding role since Roy Hibbert moved West.

Jim Feist, author and leader in sports information for over 40 years, hosts TV’s Proline as well as running National Sports Services since 1975. Twitter: @JimFeistSports . Email: [email protected]