The NBA season has finally arrived which means that #HotTakeSZN is back. Through the first week and a half of the NBA season, we’ve seen lottery mainstays like the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets climb the ladder of their conferences on the backs of some surprise breakout players.
While almost all of those players will return to Earth (cough Aaron “86% from 3” Gordon), the improvements in some cases are real. These are the guys who have the best chance to sustain their newfound improvement to an extent through the year.
Aaron Gordon, F, Orlando Magic
2017-2018 Stat Line: 22 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.3 BPG slashing 55.2/58.8/77.8
Everything with Aaron Gordon has always come down to his outside stroke. When he’s hitting at even a league average rate, he can become unstoppable with his rare combination of ball-handling, size, and athleticism. The only problem is that he’s never really been able to reach that level.
His shooting has been easily his biggest weakness dating back to high school, and up to this year, he’s never really made any meaningful improvement over an extended period. This year has given us a taste of what Aaron Gordon looks like when defenses have to respect his jumper, but maintaining that over the course of an 82 game season just doesn’t seem likely.
Jeremy Lamb, G, Charlotte Hornets
2017-2018 Stat Line: 17.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.8 SPG slashing 45.7/38.5/8081.9
Jeremy Lamb might be the least surprising breakout star of the year for those paying close attention to the NBA over the last few years. With Nic Batum expected to miss extended time and a dearth of realistic options at guard for the Hornets, the team needed him and he was almost guaranteed to deliver.
Lamb has produced a nearly identical line per 36-minutes for his entire career that he is producing now, albeit more efficiently. After a widely disappointing first 3 years in the NBA, Lamb has proven himself to be a really valuable presence on both ends.
D’Angelo Russell, G, Brooklyn Nets
2017-2018 Stat Line: 19.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.2 SPG slashing 45.4/32.3/75
The development of D’Angelo Russell is the best representation of the importance of situation in the development of young players, outside of San Antonio. Russell came into the league with wildly out of reach expectations fueled the LA hype machine, and when he predictably failed to be the player they wanted him to be on and, perhaps more importantly, off the court right away, the Lakers gave up on him.
Now, with a fresh start on the Brooklyn Nets, Russell has been producing at a high level and been a key part in the Nets’ best season since the infamous Celtics trade. It’s not all rosy however. The efficiency hasn’t really been there for D’Angelo yet, and when Brooklyn inevitably comes back down to earth, the burden could be even heavier on the point guard’s shoulders. But for now, Russell is living his best life, and proving that he can be a special player in this league.
Victor Oladipo, G, Indiana Pacers
2017-2018 Stat Line: 25.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.8 SPG slashing 50/46.9/88.4
Similarly to Russell, Victor Oladipo just needed the right situation to shine. Starting his career in the most desolate situation in the NBA forced him into a No. 1 option role before he really could handle it, which stalled Vic’s development as a player. When he failed to become a high-quality player in Orlando and was moved to Oklahoma City, his development was further stalled after being relegated to corner duties as a spectator to the Year of Russ. Now with the Pacers, Oladipo is ready to succeed and is starting to make good on the potential that made him so intriguing out of Indiana. He’s been a two-way force for the team thus far in the season, and in a depleted Eastern Conference talent pool, could be an All-Star. He will surely not shoot 46.9% from 3 for a full season, but he’s flashed enough tools to inspire at least some confidence in his ability to continue to average 20+ PPG.