The NBA season is six days old, and it has already had excitement, heartbreak, and surprise.
Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Lin are on the injured for the season list, that’s the heartbreak. Golden State is 1-2, that’s one of the many surprises. Andrew Wiggins hitting a desperate heave off the glass to win at OKC is the excitement. Also, the Suns are a complete train wreck, and I think we all just want their season to be over.
While the NBA can be fairly easy to predict, there are always surprises along the way. Golden State and Cleveland will still likely meet in the finals, but nothing is for sure. Injuries, new players emerging, and players disappointing can all change things.
The season is young, but there have been some players who have already done both. Let’s stay positive and look at five players who have surprised and see what’s changed in their games. More importantly, will these players continue playing the way they are, or is it just a random small stretch?
Five Players Who Have Surprised!
Holy Vucevic! This dude is balling and is already a dark horse All-Star candidate. Last season Vucevic was coming off the bench for Bismack Biyombo for part of the season. Luckily Frank Vogel has realized that was dumb.
Orlando was 29th in offense last season, mainly because their outside shooting was awful. Vucevic has brought scoring and now shooting. Vucevic could always score and was a double-double machine, but now he is straight up dominant.
The most significant change is Vuc has added a solid three ball, which has done wonders for him and the Magic offense. After three games, Vuc is 7 for 14 from deep.
Last season he only attempted 75 and shot 30% on those attempts. He is now on pace to attempt 378. Now that will go down a bit, but it’s clear the three ball is now a part of his game and a deadly weapon. He can now play inside and out.
The numbers are staggering, Vucevic is averaging 27 points and ten rebounds on 68% shooting from the field and 80% from the line. His true shooting percentage is a ridiculous 76%, and his PER is an incredible 36.34. Orlando is now 2-1, coming off a huge win at Cleveland. These numbers are not sustainable, but it’s clear we are seeing a much-improved player in Nikola Vucevic.
Orlando is fifth in offense right now, and it’s mainly because of Vucevic. He will never be a top-flight defensive center, but he is holding his own this year. Orlando is an impressive 11th in defense. Teams haven’t realized he can hit threes yet; they won’t be so easy going forward. Regardless, you have to love the confidence and the stroke! Watch this three against the Nets!
Elfrid Payton brings the ball up and turns to feed Vucevic, who is acting as a trailer on this play. Vucecvic immediately stops right behind the three-point line and fires. Nothing but net!
Vuc is confident right now, and when you’re confident and skilled, you can drop 41 points and 17 rebounds. As I mentioned these numbers will go down a bit, but I’m all in on Vucevic this year and would not be surprised if he made the All-Star this team. His shot is legit. Orlando may also make the playoffs this year people. Watch out!
Now this one is shocking. Vucevic has shown scoring ability in previous seasons; last year Sabonis was a disaster as a rookie for the Thunder. He was considered a throw-in, for the Paul George trade. Sabonis has made the most of his fresh start and has looked like a different player.
Now with Myles Turner out, Sabonis moved into the starting line up and has delivered. He is coming off his best game as a pro with 18 points and 12 rebound performance in Miami. Yes, he had a stinker in the second game against Portland with only three points, but compare his numbers to last year, and they are night and day.
Sabonis is averaging 12 points and nine rebounds on 63% shooting, a year after he averaged 5 points and three rebounds on 39% shooting. Last year he was allergic to getting to the free throw line; he only attempted 67 free throws last season. This season he has already attempted 15, which means he is on pace to take 407. He is a lot more confident and stronger. The concerning part is he is only shooting 60% from the line.
One area of concern is his three-point shooting. Last season he showed some potential as a stretch four hitting 32% from deep, he is 0 for 2 this season. Sabonis is only playing 26 minutes a game, and once Turner gets back, he will have to fight for minutes at the 4 with Thaddeus Young and rookie T.J Leaf, who is also playing well. I think he will keep getting his minutes; he is playing too well not to.
His improvement has been incredible. Last year his PER was 6, now it’s 18, his true shooting percentage has jumped from 46% to 64%. Astonishing improvement from the second year player and I think he is capable of averaging 12 points and nine rebounds for the season. I love how much more aggressive he has got this season. Watch this dunk!
Sabonis goes to set a screen for Darren Collison. Then Sabonis times his roll perfectly and gets the feed from Collison. Once he gets the feed, he immediately went to the basket and finished with a mean left-hand dunk over James Johnson. Poster alert!
Once Utah lost Gordon Hayward in the offseason, people wondered how the Jazz would score. Someone would have to step up. That player is Alec Burks. Burks is now in his seventh year and has missed 39% of his games in his first six seasons due to injury. It looks like he is finally healthy and ready to give the Jazz some scoring off the bench. Burks had 16 points on seven for ten shooting in the opener. It seems like Burks is back to being an explosive scorer.
Even though he has cooled off since the opener, there are good signs. Burks only played nine minutes and scored 0 points in the next games, but in a big home win against the Thunder, Burks played 20 minutes and had 8 points. Expect him to get more consistent minutes off the bench, as the Jazz are starving for scoring. Plus Burks is right now shooting a blistering 58% from the field and 75% from the line. Burks is also posting a career-high PER of 20 and a 67% true shooting percentage.
Going forward I think Burks averages around 12 points for the season, and that is certainly more than I thought he would. He was close to becoming an afterthought in the league. Hopefully, he can stay healthy for the season. If he does, he can have sexy finishes like this!
Burks catches it on the wing and immediately drives to the hole. He blows by the first defender and the help defender; Burks leaps past him and finishes on the other side of the rim for the reverse layup. Amazing body control. Utah will be an absolute pain in the ass to play this year. Now with Burks, they will be more explosive than people thought.
I know, shocking, an unexpected Spurs player is crushing it. No one finds talent like Pop and company. The new gem is second-year point guard Dejounte Murray. Filling in for an injured Tony Parker, Murray is crushing it for the 3-0 Spurs. Murray is a big point guard at 6’5, and this year his frame looks much more filled out.
His new strength is showing on the boards, as Murray is averaging a ridiculous 9.7 rebounds a game. To go along with his 9.7 boards, Murray is averaging 13.3 points on 56% shooting and 4.7 assists.
Last year as a rookie Murray averaged three points on 43% shooting. Most expected Murray to improve this year, but I didn’t think he would improve this much. His PER is a ridiculous 25.61 and his true shooting percentage is an excellent 59.7. Murray is still not a threat from behind the arc, but he has improved his free throw shooting. He is shooting 75% from the stripe compared to 70% last year. Don’t be surprised if Murray keeps his starting job even when Parker comes back; he is that good. Murray is also already a candidate for most improved player, which will be a very competitive race. The young point guard has been straight up killing it, watch this great take from their win over Toronto.
Murray brings the ball up the floor and immediately goes on the attack. He hits Kyle Lowry with a crossover and then a gorgeous spin move. Once he passes Lowry, Murray finishes with his right hand high off the glass before the help defender can contest his shot. Gorgeous!
Barton has always had some sizzle, but this year he is straight up steak. He has been the most consistent wing player for Denver so far, ahead of Gary Harris and Wilson Chandler. Barton is playing 30 minutes a game and expect that to continue with how well he has played.
He is averaging a career-high 16.7 points on 48% shooting. The most significant change is this year Barton is hitting from deep. He is shooting 44% from behind the arc compared to his career average of 32%. That may not be sustainable, but its clear Barton is more confident than ever.
He is more efficient than ever with a true shooting percentage of 60% and a PER of 19.37. Barton used to also struggle with turnovers, but this year his turnover ratio is a career low 7.5. Defense could still use some improvement, but you are seeing a better effort this year. He looks stronger this year, and that is helping him fight through screens. The only area of concern on offense is he is shooting 66% from the line. For his career, he is shooting 75%, so I expect that to go up. Barton could always score, but now he is doing it efficiently. When you mix efficiency with confidence, you get shots like this.
Barton brings the ball up the court in a semi-transition scenario. Nikola Jokic comes to set a screen, Barton uses it and immediately pulls up from behind the arc and shoots a three. Splash! You gotta love it!