Expectation Series: Part 4 (Most Surprising Players)

Over the next four days, I’ll be writing on what I call my Expectation Series — a four-part set of rankings for the following: most disappointing teams, most surprising teams, most disappointing players, and most surprising players.

Hornets point guard Darren Collison has filled in brilliantly during Chris Paul's absences this season.

For every player who underachieves each season, there is another who exceeds expectations to compensate. And this year is no exception. In selecting my top five, I tried to avoid rookies (who really don’t have clearly defined projections), though I couldn’t help but include my No. 1. So here’s the list.

No. 5 — Kevin Durant

Everyone knew going in that Kevin Durant was a fearless and unstoppable scorer. But who really thought that we’d be seriously considering him as MVP if LeBron James weren’t playing? Durantula added four-and-a-half points to his per-game scoring rate and may very well win the scoring title. In addition, he’s nearly flawless at the line, has improved his rebounding, and can hit the big shot. And believe it or not, he can still improve. If he can get his field-goal percentage over 50 percent and shoot over 40 percent on threes, he’ll truly be in the elite category. Let’s see if he has the ability to lead his team to victory in the playoffs this year.

No. 4 — Andray Blatche

Andray Blatche’s performance has gone more or less unnoticed because of his playing on a terrible, terrible team. If you look at his per-40-minute averages, they are rather impressive. He’s posting nearly 20 points and nine boards per 40 minutes. As a starter, he’s averaging over 20 points a game. While Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison were in town, he didn’t have a chance to shine. Maybe while Washington is rebuilding, he can let the world know he’s ready to stand out at the highest level with the right playing time.

No. 3 — David Lee

David Lee’s improvement this season has come mostly in the scoring department. He could rebound last year, and he has carried that over to this season. But he’s scoring over 20 a game, and his high PER reflects that, all while playing out of position at the 5. Hopefully he can sign with a serious team next year and wreak some serious havoc when the games actually matter.

No. 2 — Andrew Bogut

Andrew Bogut is what situated the Milwaukee Bucks in prime playoff position for 2010. Now that he’s out for the rest of the season, they don’t stand too much hope of advancing beyond the first round. The former first-overall pick began to justify his draft selection, adding 16 points and 10 rebounds a contest to his team’s line. Moreover, his defense was stellar. He contributed 2.5 blocks a game and began to develop a Dwight Howard-esque effect on opponents’ shots whenever they were foolish enough to enter the paint. Bogut will be back next year with a healthy Michael Redd, so he should be able to do the same again for the Deer.

No. 1 — Darren Collison

As I mentioned above, it is tough to include rookies on this list because their abilities aren’t really evident with no experience in the league. In this case, what chance does a point guard playing behind Chris Paul have of succeeding in his first professional campaign? That said, Darren Collison, the 21st-overall pick out of UCLA, has played magnificently this year. Paul has missed a lot of time with injures, and Collison has capitalized. His per-game averages over the course of the season aren’t terribly impressive, but if you limit the scope to the games he’s started, it becomes more glaring. His stat line in games started: 18.4 points, 9 assists, 3.6 boards, 1.4 steals, 47 percent shooting, 41 percent from deep, and 85 percent from the charity stripe. The dude needs to get out of New Orleans, because he doesn’t deserve to be playing behind CP3; he’s way too good.

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