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NBA

The biggest surprises of the 2019-20 NBA season

One month into the regular season and there's been pleasant surprises all across the league:

  • Pascal Siakam looks like an MVP candidate.
  • The Phoenix Suns look ready to compete for a playoff spot.
  • Minnesota has a legit 1-2 punch.
  • 2014 Dwight Howard is playing in 2019.
  • Luka Doncic... where do we even start?

With so many great stories across the league, we asked our Global NBA.com Staff for their biggest surprises of the first month.

Wiggy Island is a hot travel destination

My biggest and honestly most pleasant surprise of the season has been the play of Andrew Wiggins.

He showed flashes toward the end of last season that he would be getting back to the trajectory he was on prior to the 2017-18 season, but what he's doing to start the year has blown me away.

Wiggins is averaging career-highs in points, assists, rebounds and field goal percentage through the first month and a half of the season. While the numbers are encouraging, it's how he's doing it that's the most surprising.

MORE: High school coach of Wiggins glows about the man behind the scenes

The 24-year-old has all but eliminated bad shots out of his game and has upped his true shooting and effective field goal percentages to career-highs as well. And it's not just the scoring either, he's finally doing more than just putting the ball in the basket - he's feeding and creating for others as well.

When you couple all that and add in the fact that he looks more engaged defensively as well, Wiggins has been my biggest surprise this season.

- Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay)

Dwight Howard is the spark that ignites the flame

Houston. Atlanta. Charlotte. Brooklyn. Washington.

I'll be honest... when the Lakers signed Dwight Howard, I thought ignoring the musical chair act over the last four years would prove to be a mistake. Would a team with championship aspirations - one that's already been down this road with Howard once before - really be this desperate this soon? As it turns out, Howard on the Lakers this time around might just be a perfect match.

Simply put: he's been awesome.

Playing about 20 minutes off the bench, Howard is averaging more blocks per minute than he has since patrolling the paint in Orlando where he won three Defensive Player of the Year awards. Howard's brought considerable energy on a consistent basis, jumpstarting the Lakers to the point that so far this season they've been 9.0 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than off the floor, a mark that ranks second on the Lakers behind only LeBron James.

Most encouraging? The degree to which he complements Anthony Davis.

Put the two of them on the floor together and the Lakers are the NBA's version of a fully functional Death Star, obliterating teams by 24.6 points per 100 possessions.

Remove Davis from the equation and the Howard-anchored Lakers are outscoring teams by a respectable 6.6 points per 100 possessions while defending at a level that would rank comfortably inside the top 10.

- Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13)

Pascal Siakam making the leap ... again

I was more optimistic than the rest of our staff about Siakam's ability to be a No. 1 option moving forward, but I'd be lying if I said I saw this coming from him.

It's not just the 25.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists he's averaging per game that stand out - although they are, of course, incredibly impressive numbers for anyone, mind alone someone who was playing in the G League three seasons ago. It's how he's doing it. The knock on Siakam coming into this season was that he was somewhat of a predictable scorer, as almost all of his made shots last season either came at the rim or were corner 3-pointers set up by one of his teammates. This season, he's proving to be a much more complete scorer.

Just compare his shot chart from last season...

...to his shot chart so far this season:

Siakam has already made more above-the-break 3-pointers and pull-up 3-pointers in 14 games than he made in 80 games last season. He's also made 12 midrange shots after making 21 all of last season.

It obviously remains to be seen if Siakam can continue to make those shots at a high rate seeing as they weren't even in his repertoire eight months ago, but if he can, saying he has a chance at becoming the first player in NBA history to win multiple Most Improved Awards or that he's a lock for this season's All-Star Game is selling him short. Because if he can continue to make those shots at a high rate, he's not only capable of being Toronto's No. 1 option, he's a legitimate MVP candidate.

That's not something I think anyone, not even his biggest supporters, saw coming entering the season.

- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)

Aron Baynes and the rising Suns

To say expectations were low on Phoenix coming into the season would be significantly underplaying things. However, with the addition of head coach Monty Williams and a couple of key veteran signings, the Suns have been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2019-20 season.

At the time of writing, Phoenix is 7-7 on the season and currently hold the last playoff seed in the stacked Western Conference. Making the solid start even more surprising is the fact they have been able to piece this together without former No. 1 overall pick, Deandre Ayton, who was suspended for 25 games after the Suns' season opener.

Stepping in for Ayton has been veteran big man Aron Baynes, and the big Australian's impact has been simply remarkable.

Previous career-highs 2019-20 numbers so far
MPG 18.3 (2017-18) 24.0
PPG 6.6 (2014-15) 14.5
2P% 57.0% (2014-15) 66.1%
3P% 34.4% (2018-19) 44.2%

As the table above shows, Baynes has been an absolute monster for the Suns and a critical part of not only filling the void left by Ayton but becoming a vocal locker room leader for a young Suns roster.

With increased time on the floor, it is to be expected that his numbers would see a jump, but the fact his efficiency has also skyrocketed is incredible. While Baynes is not the most glamorous of names to throw in the Most Improved Player mix, the numbers don't lie, as the soon-to-be 33-year-old has clearly taken one of the biggest individual jumps league wide.

Carrying over his play from the FIBA World Cup with Australia, Baynes has become a key contributor to a Suns team that is now suddenly eyeing off an unexpected run for postseason play for the first time since 2010.

- Kane Pitman (@KanePitman)

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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