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NBA

Biggest surprises of the first half of the 2019-20 NBA season

Every team has now crossed that 41-game threshold which means we're officially into the second half of the regular season.

Before moving forward, here's a quick look back at our biggest surprises of the first half of the season.

The Toronto Raptors were good even without key players

How can I not say the Toronto Raptors? The Raptors currently sit third in the Eastern Conference. That's not the surprise, I think most people coming into the season expected Toronto to still be a good regular-season team.

The surprise is that they've done it with the majority of their key players missing significant time due to injury.

The Raptors have had 12 players missed a combined 147 games this season - the most sixth-most in the NBA. The teams ahead of them - Golden State, Washington, Portland, Detroit and New Orleans all have one thing in common, they're all missing stars who'll be out for the season.

NBA man-games lost to Injury
Rank Team Players Games
1. Golden State Warriors 13 215
2. Washington Wizards 12 188
3. Portland Trail Blazers 14 180
4. Detroit Pistons 12 150
5. New Orleans Pelicans 11 150
6. Toronto Raptors 12 147
7. Houston Rockets 9 137

What Nick Nurse has done with a makeshift lineup on a night to night basis is incredible. If you read this site regularly (thank-you for reading by the way) you know that I believe he's the favourite to bring him the Coach of the Year award. He was one of the favourites when the year started, but I didn't think he would be earning the honour quite like this.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay)

LeBron's defence

There's a case to be made that if anything is surprising about LeBron James it would be the fact that in his 17th season he's leading the NBA in assists per game, something he's never done.

And yet... he's always been a brilliant passer, he's put up gaudy assist numbers before and on a team without much else in the form of half-court playmakers, he was always going to be the focal point of the Lakers' offence.

The bigger surprise is on the other end of the floor because defensively, he's been incredible.

That has not always been the case. In fact, his effort on the defensive end in the regular season is something that's been called into question for years dating back to his time with the Miami Heat. And given the load he carries offensively and the need to preserve energy for the postseason, it's never really been much of a controversy. James has always been able to dial it up defensively when called upon to do so and as such, the regular season hasn't really mattered all too much when it comes to talking D.

This is the hardest that LeBron has defended in the regular season in years. It's evident watching the Lakers and it's evident in the numbers.

James ranks first in the entire league in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and his on-court/off-court impact on that end is even greater than teammate Anthony Davis who might go on to win Defensive Player of the Year.

The four-time MVP is engaged on both ends and a major reason why the Lakers are threatening to run away with the Western Conference.

- Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13)

Luka Doncic, MVP candidate

One full season of Luka Doncic was enough to silence any possible critics that the 19-year-old rookie may not live up to the hype surrounding him coming into the league. After averaging 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game on his way to Rookie of the Year, there were very few - if any - doubters remaining.

He had plenty of clutch, awing moments of dominance showcasing his ability as a scorer and playmaker that foreshadowed he one day, down the road, could potentially be one of the best players in the entire league.

I didn't expect that "one day down the road" to be his second season in the league as a 20-year-old.

Doncic was special in the first half of the 2019-20 season and I don't foresee that changing in the second half of the season. He's nearly averaging a triple-double at 28.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game and he's shattered a number of triple-double records through the start of his sophomore campaign.

His 12 triple-doubles are the most in the league. He's one of two players to rank in the top-five in the NBA in points and assists per game. He has the Mavericks performing way ahead of schedule, getting out to a convincing 27-15 record behind the play of their phenom guard.

Doncic hasn't just been an All-Star calibre player this season, he's been a legitimate MVP candidate.

There probably aren't many people that could say they saw him becoming a perennial top-10 player in the NBA in Year 2 of his career, but that time is upon us. There has been a lot of interesting and intriguing storylines throughout the first half of this season, but none to me are more jaw-dropping than just how good Doncic has already become.

- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)

The Rise of the Memphis Grizzlies

A young roster. A new coach. A new era.

In trading Mike Conley and drafting Ja Morant with the No. 2 overall pick over the offseason, I was completely under the impression that the Memphis Grizzlies were in complete rebuild mode for the foreseeable future.

Sure, they had drafted the 20-year-old Morant to pair with the 20-year-old Jaren Jackson Jr. but in my eyes, it was a duo to be feared in three-to-five years' time.

Fast forward three months from opening night and Memphis is holding serve as the West's No. 8 seed. I'm not sure anyone would have thought that the Grizzlies would be in prime position as a playoff contender midway through the season.

Credit goes to first-year head coach Taylor Jenkins as well as Morant, who has all but closed his case for Rookie of the Year with averages of 17.9 points and 7.0 assists per game and a number of jaw-dropping highlights.

With Ja leading the way, it's been Jackson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jae Crowder and the Canadian duo of Dillon Brooks and rookie Brandon Clarke that have each played a big role in Memphis being where it is right now.

Ultimately, it might not result in a playoff spot this year, but this Grizzlies team is much further ahead of schedule than I initially thought.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)

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