The 5 Players and Teams Raising the Most Eyebrows in the NBA This Season
So, suddenly everyone’s a financial expert now, hey? Certainly the business with GameStop was among the most surprising things we’ve seen this year.
And somehow that pales in comparison to some of the shockers around the NBA. Certain players are raising eyebrows, while entire organizations have likewise been dropping jaws.
Disclaimer: Yes there is a certain Western Conference team missing from these surprises. Stay tuned for a breakdown of THAT surprise.
Andrew Wiggins Is Playing Great Defense
Steph Curry has been lighting the world on fire while the rest of the Warriors struggle to play consistently. That said, it’s not through the fault of Andrew Wiggins. The former No. 1 overall pick has been labeled everything from bust to overpaid, but this year he’s starting to make serious inroads as a Warrior, especially on the defensive end.
Wiggins has always had the athletic tools to be a great defender, especially with a 7-foot wingspan, but now it’s starting to show. Wiggins is 13th in the NBA for blocked shots per game (with 1.3), ahead of players like Andre Drummond, Joel Embiid, and Serge Ibaka. In fact, Wiggins is the only player not listed at power forward or center in the top 20 for blocks per game.
His on-ball defense has also looked stellar, keeping Kawhi Leonard to two of 12 shooting across back-to-back games against the Clippers.
Add in career highs for field-goal percentage (46.9) and three-point percentage (37.4), it’s clear that Wiggins is benefitting from a change in scenery and culture. With a more refined shot selection, Wiggins could be a more fitting complementary piece alongside Steph Curry than we ever expected.
So far, Wiggins is posting a career-best 58.9 true shooting percentage when sharing the floor with Curry. “Two-Way Wiggs” owns a 49.3 TS% when the two-time MVP sits.
While initially seen as another piece to potentially trade, Wiggins is showing that his long-term fit in Golden State is possible. We’ll see what happens when Klay Thompson returns from injury.
Collin Sexton and the Cavaliers are fun to watch
Post-LeBron Cleveland has been a sad place for basketball. But things are starting to click for the young Cavs this season, especially Collin Sexton.
Sexton did have a promising sophomore season last year, averaging 20.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 38.0 percent from deep.
This year, though, Sexton has turned into even more of a scoring dynamo. He’s averaging 22.7 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game on shooting 48.5 percent from the field and a very smooth 42.3 percent from downtown. In what was supposed to be the exciting Nets Big 3 debut, Sexton stole the show with a career-high 42 points in the Cavaliers’ double-overtime victory. He scored 20 straight points for goodness sake!
With Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and the recently-acquired Jarret Allen, the young core in Cleveland is looking very exciting indeed.
The Oklahoma City Thunder Are Hanging On. Again.
It feels like a case of severe deja vu, but the young talent in Oklahoma City, ably supported by veteran players, are proving people wrong. New head coach Mark Daigneault has got this young core playing together with promise and present success in equal measure.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has continued to grow as the leader of this squad, improving his scoring from 19 points per game last season to 22.6 this season. SGA is shooting the ball at career-high marks of 50.6 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from deep. Bumping up his assists per game from 3.3 last season to 6.5 has also been encouraging, showing that SGA is developing more of a leadership role.
Luguentz Dort, meanwhile, has turned himself into one of the premier 3-and-D wings in the NBA, cashing in his 5.5 three-point attempts per game at a perfectly ok 33.3 percent, balancing his elite perimeter defense with a more reliable stroke from deep.
Theo Maledon’s emerged as a great fit next to Gilgeous-Alexander in the backcourt, while Darius Bazley and Isaiah Roby have continued to impress in OKC’s frontcourt. The organization that already will dominate at the NBA Draft in years to come may even secure more picks, as George Hill’s 11.8 points and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 38.6 percent from deep, has his stock rising as a trade-deadline essential for contenders needing backcourt help.
Also in that department of veteran players who could be used by contenders, Mike Muscala’s having quite the year for the Thunder too. Posting averages of 9.3 points and 3 rebounds per game on 43 percent shooting from the field and 37 percent shooting from deep, stretch bigs are always useful for teams wanting frontcourt insurance for the playoffs, which could land OKC even more draft picks.
While OKC may not make the playoffs this year, currently sitting at 14th in the Western Conference, the rebuild under Daigneault may happen quicker than many expected.
Jerami Grant is thriving as THE guy in Detroit
After an impressive showing for the Denver Nuggets and their exciting playoff run last season, Jerami Grant played his way into a major payday in free agency and signed with the Detroit Pistons. In the Motor City, Grant has grown from a promising role player to a potential first All-Star appearance.
Grant’s stats have received astronomical jumps, as he has become the main guy on a struggling Detroit team, especially with his points going from 12.0 per game last season, to 23.7 this season. Grant’s also scoring this much while taking 8.8 more field goal attempts per game, shooting 44.5 percent from the field, and 38.7 percent on 6.5 three-point attempts per game.
Still playing stellar defense, averaging 1.2 blocks per game, Grant’s presence has given Detroit its first two-way star in years, helping provide hope for a team that has only made the postseason twice in the last decade, and hasn’t won a playoff series since the 2007-08 season.
While a bump in numbers may have been expected with more offensive responsibility, Grant’s production through the early part of the season has him as a prime candidate for Most Improved Player, and a legitimate chance at All-Star selection. That’s the real surprise.
Julius Randle and the Knicks are legit
Congratulations Knicks fans, your team is finally going places. With new coach Tom Thibodeau at the helm, New York’s defense has risen from 23rd in the NBA for defensive rating, to 5th, making the Knicks a team that no-one has enjoyed facing. Whie that defense has certainly aided the Knicks to a 12-15 record, with Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel leading the way, it’s been Julius Randle’s play that’s been the biggest eyebrow raiser.
Oscar Robertson. Wilt Chamberlain. Kevin Garnett. Russell Westbrook. These are the only players to post averages of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and fice assists per game for an entire season. Currently, Randle is on track to join that elite company, averaging 22.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, in a career year for the 26-year old forward.
In further development, Randle only trails LeBron James and Draymond Green in assists for forwards, showing increased capabilities as a playmaker and importantly as a leader for this young New York team. While on the topic of playmakers, after some questionable drafting decisions for the Knicks’ front office, they appear to have found a gem for their backcourt.
Taken at the 25th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Immanuel Quickley has risen up the rookie rankings posting 11.9 points per game in just 19 minutes. Those scoring numbers trail only LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and James Wiseman - all lottery selections. RJ Barrett’s sophomore campaign has also looked promising, averaging 17 points per game on 43.2 percent shooting from the field, along with 6.4 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
The pieces are slowly starting to fit together in New York, and when able, Knicks fans will descend onto MSG with renewed fervour to watch this gritty, and fun team build something as a group.