• Devin O'Brien

Players Surprising Early This Season

Career Years From Stars

James Harden’s success as the initiator of Mike D’Antoni’s offense has been well documented to this point, and has proved himself a worthy MVP candidate with his historic ability to score and dish out assists. He is the league leader in points-responsible-for in the NBA this season, and without him the Rockets are lottery-bound.

DeMar DeRozan’s limitations from the 3-point line were something that most people thought would keep him from stardom. At 6’7” few can match his natural athletic gifts, and rather than improving his long distance shot, DeRozan has perfected the midrange game, becoming one of the most effective scorers from that area. If he isn’t stroking it from midrange over his defenders, then chances are he’s blowing past them on his way to the rim, where help defense can risk being featured in DeRozan’s next poster.

Kemba Walker put up career efficiency numbers last season and led an outgunned Charlotte Hornets team to game seven vs the superior Miami Heat in the playoffs. He has outdone himself this year, improving his FG% and 3PT% even further, all the while attempting more shots. Walker is averaging a career high 25 points per game, and proving to all that his greatness did not peak at UConn.

Breakout Players

Harrison Barnes has gone from just another guy to the guy for the Mavericks, especially with the injury-riddled Dirk Nowitzki entering his twilight at age 38 this season. Barnes is scoring 21 points and grabbing six rebounds per game thus far, a significant increase from the 12 and 5 he averaged during his tenure with the Warriors. Seemingly overnight, Barnes has become one of the deadliest midrange and isolation scorers in the Association through 13 games and has provided Rick Carlisle with much needed versatility, youth, and athleticism while living up to his large offseason contract. This is of course excluding his impact on the defensive end. In Golden State, Barnes was a decent individual defender who could guard 3’s and 4’s with mild success. In Dallas, he has blanketed those positions, allowing Carlisle to match him up with the opponent's’ best forward while also carrying the scoring load for the Mavericks.

I love TJ Warren. Watching him at NC State was a display of masterful scoring. From inside the arc he has everything. He’s a deft midrange scorer with any move you could ask for; euro steps, jump stops, pump fakes, step backs, and one of the best floaters in the league (seriously a 6’8 guy using a floater, unstoppable). His “tweener” game with bunny shots and fade-aways at difficult angles was impossible to defend. Warren’s value and stock fell in the draft due to his lack of athleticism, but through the past few seasons he has adjusted to the speed of the game and blossomed before our eyes. He’s averaging 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals per game this season and has given Phoenix Suns coach, Earl Watson, a guy that can play both forward positions. Warren’s game is increasingly valued in Phoenix because he can provide their front court with quality production despite their primarily backcourt-focused tendencies.

Can’t Forget These Guys

JJ Barea has been asked to do much more with both Dirk and D-Will limited in action so far this year. One of Carlisle’s most trusted veterans has made a career being a short pick and roll dynamo, and has improved his scoring to 16 points per game in Dallas’ time of need.

While Gordon Hayward was sidelined, Utah’s big offseason acquisition, George Hill, has filled the void with 20 points per game. The Jazz have been hit with the injury bug early and Hill has stepped up, scoring 9 points above his career average while providing excellent length on defense against the best point guards in the West.

Walton has resurrected Nick Young, who is shooting close to 40% on 7 attempts per game. Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams have proved themselves a refreshing combination of energy, hustle, and scoring off the the bench. The complementary combo scoring guards feed off each other quite well, and now lead the Lakers bench as one of the best in the NBA.

“The Process” aka Joel Embiid has been a revelation of hope for the Sixers who now have Okafor, Noel, Embiid, Saric, and Simmons in the frontcourt, look for them to trade Okafor before the deadline. The big has shown a tanker full of potential and become as much as a franchise centerpiece as Ben Simmons.

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