Which NBA Vet Is Having the Most Surprising Season?
Between the old guard of established superstars and a wonderful crop of emerging young talent is an NBA middle class. This includes forgotten All-Stars, career role players, and the occasional journeyman.
Sometimes this sort of player goes overlooked or undervalued. Let’s explore some veterans that are having big seasons:
The Orlando Magic have yet to crash back to earth, and are still playing surprisingly well. We predicted they’d win 28 games; Orlando is a reasonable 10-12 on the year.
A key contributor to this success has been 8-year veteran Nikola Vucevic. Vooch has averaged nearly 21 points per contest behind 53.3 percent shooting from the field and a 41 percent clip from deep, all career best numbers.
Vucevic is critical to Orlando’s winning ways. He’s given head coach Steve Clifford a reliable inside-out playmaker. The Montenegrin is averaging 3.9 assists per game, also a career-high. He’s been an established weapon for a team with plenty of inconsistent young players.
Vooch is also having an excellent year on the boards and is doing better on defense. As a result, he owns the NBA’s fifth best Player Impact Estimate, sandwiched between LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Behind the incredible play of Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a supporting cast of Bucks players who have really elevated their game. Brook Lopez is chief among them.
Lopez is a consummate pro, and a former All-Star. Still, he’s bounced around the league, and until this season, it was fair to wonder if his game was a bit outdated.
Bropez responded in-kind. He’s taking 6.8 threes this season, twice as many as last year. And he’s connecting on 36.4 percent of them, an incredible mark for a player who took just 31 threes in his first eight seasons in the league combined.
Lopez has the seventh best net rating in the NBA right now. He’s getting it done on both ends of the floor. Giannis is a bonafide MVP, but the Bucks wouldn’t be such a dominant force without Lopez.
Danny Green’s 3-D prowess has been a bit over-hyped in recent memory. Now a member of the Toronto Raptors, the former NBA-Champion has restored that identity.
Green’s efficiency has returned, and he’s shooting 43 percent from three, his best mark since the 2011-12 season. His defensive numbers aren’t quite where they ought to be, but they’re perfectly serviceable.
As a key complimentary piece to Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard, Green’s return to form is a welcome one to Toronto. He very well may headed back to the Finals as a result.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that each of the players on our list is playing for a new coach. Sometimes a reimagined role can do wonders. Likewise, these are smart, determined professionals. They know how to adapt and grow.
Marcus Smart isn’t playing for a new coach, but he did nail down a new contract this summer. Either way, he’s been playing like a man possessed.
His defensive-box plus minus is as high as its been in his career. That’s a little to be expected. Smart is pure hustle, and as his team has struggled, he’s been vocal about maintaining consistent effort.
Smart’s hard-work hasn’t gone unnoticed. He was recently added to the Celtics starting lineup, providing a jolt of energy into an otherwise listless bunch.
The fifth-year guard has also made improvements on offense, another reason why Boston head coach Brad Stevens elected to play him as a starter. Kyrie Irving has loved the move.
"I think it just adds dynamic to our team," Irving said. "I don't necessarily have to have the ball in my hands at point of attack all the time in order to be efficient, so I think myself and my teammates realize that. So when we have other ball-handlers in, it gives us another dynamic, another way to scheme."
Smart and the others on this list remind us that NBA players are constantly changing. Streaks and confidence come and go, while skills are honed and sharpened. System and context create new opportunities, while determination really pays off.
Stats Via Basketball-Reference and NBA.com