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5 Biggest Surprises of NBA Season: John Wall, Kobe Bryant, James Harden and More

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Every NBA season comes with a bit of the unexpected and the 2012-13 campaign was no different.

Story lines that have swirled around this season include the battle over a franchise in Sacramento and Seattle, the Memphis Grizzlies prioritizing budget over a star player, Andrew Bynum never playing a minute in Philly, the Hornets swapping their name to the Pelicans of all things and a trade deadline that, by the standards of recent history, was subdued to say the least.

That list doesn’t even make mention of the on court drama. From the disintegration of the Lakers championship hopes to the surprising success of Houston and Golden State. From the incredible 27 game winning streak of the Miami Heat to the resiliency of the San Antonio Spurs, there has been no shortage of stories on the hardwood that grabbed your attention this year.

It’s been a season riddled by injuries to star players like Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love and Danilo Gallinari. But it’s also been a season highlighted by promising rookies and successful returns from injuries for Ricky Rubio, Dirk Nowitzki and a host of other players, but does any of the previously mentioned craziness crack the top five most surprising stories of this season?

#5. The impact of John Wall’s return for the Wizards.

While we all knew that Wall was the face of the Wizards franchise and a player capable of delivering magical performances, I don’t think anyone knew he could take a Wizards team that could best be described as pathetic at 5-29 and lead them to a record of 24-24 after his return.

Averaging 18.4 points and 7.7 assists per game, Wall is proving he can be a franchise player for the Wizards and may be all they need in the future to make a run at the playoffs. If the franchise can surround him with even a little talent, we may be putting Wall in a class of the league’s most elite point guards as soon as next season.

#4. Dallas misses the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.

Since Dirk Nowitzki’s first playoff appearance in 2000, the Dallas Mavericks have been a staple of playoff basketball every summer. Just two seasons removed from hoisting a title in South Beach, Mark Cuban’s squad is taking an early vacation this year for the first time in a long time.

The Mavs had plenty to overcome this season, between missing Dirk Nowitzki for nearly the first two months of the season and playing with a crew of players that were pieced together with one year contracts, there eventual run at the postseason finally fell short last week. After missing out on Deron Williams and Dwight Howard last summer, Mark Cuban will look to make big moves in the offseason, but getting his team back to the postseason and proving this year to be nothing more than a hiccup promises to be one of the most daunting maneuvers of his career as an NBA owner.

#3. Kobe Bryant suffers a major injury.

Throughout his career, Kobe Bryant has been a rock. He has been immune to major injuries and has played through enough minor ones to make anyone believe in his invincibility. At 34-years of age, Bryant was lighting the stage on fire every night, still dunking, still knocking down game winning shots with the same regularity of 28-year old Kobe, until that fateful step last Friday.

In one shocking moment, one of the NBA’s greatest warriors crashed to the floor with an injury he immediately knew would cost him his season. Defying the stereotype of the pre-Madonna athlete, Bryant stepped up to the foul line and knocked down the final two points of his season, the last being his 2,133 point of the campaign. To see Bryant suffer such an injury was to see a giant fall. While many have questioned his future, what promises to be more shocking is how Bryant returns, whether he is successful in his vow to come back as he was or is just a shadow of the man who has awed us all.

#2. James Harden makes a solid run at MVP status.

From Oklahoma City sixth man to genuine superstar, James Harden has done more in a year than anyone could have imagined. When his trade to the Rockets on the first day of the regular season was finalized, few knew if he could carry a team on his own, never mind transform the Rockets from a team in rebuilding mode to a playoff team.

But Harden hasn’t just been a key player in Houston’s success, he has been “the player”, perhaps embodying the term Most Valuable Player as well as anyone could imagine. Averaging 26 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds per game, Harden would be up for the award in any season that didn’t include LeBron James guiding a team to the second longest winning streak in history and a guaranteed No.1 postseason seed by the end of March.

#1. Derrick Rose’s non-return to the court.

With the exception of Bryant, Rose’s recovery from an ACL tear last season overshadowed any injury that took place this season. Until recently, his return seemed imminent; the journey to get there a well documented and marketed tale spread across the planet via YouTube, but the shocking reality is the mind has to overpower body. That, to date, has not happened.

Despite heaving an endless number of jump shots before games, cutting and dunking like the old Rose before he had to be carried off the court last summer, the former MVP has yet to return. Chicago has managed without him, but it’s become clear over the course of a long season that his team needs him. They rely on his playmaking ability and to be the go-to guy down the stretch, yet he has not pulled on a Bulls jersey this season.

Ricky Rubio suffered the same injury as Rose last season and successfully returned to Minnesota’s starting lineup this season. Iman Shumpert suffered the same injury on the same day as Rose last summer, and yet he has been active for the Knicks since January. With rehab complete, the biggest shock of this NBA season is the unknown: what is going on in Derrick Rose’s head?