NBA Shootaround: Three underrated stars
We've been together for a month now, us and the 2016-17 NBA season. The butterflies have settled, and we're a little more familiar with what to expect on a nightly basis. But now we're really going to start to get to know each other.
We've been together for a month now, us and the 2016-17 NBA season.
The butterflies have settled, and we're a little more familiar with what to expect on a nightly basis. But now we're really going to start to get to know each other. We'll learn about the quirks and intricacies, and those things that were once just passing flaws that are going to start to really annoy us (I'm talking to you, James Harden turnovers).
As our relationship with the season blossoms, let's dissect some of the leaders in the league.
Not the one's that we are all familiar with. Not Russell Westbrook, who is averaging a triple-double and with 9 this season is on pace to finish with 36+. Not Stephen Curry, the darling of the NBA who can hit a three with his eyes closed (I've seen it, muscle memory is a real thing you guys). Not LeBron James, who will likely cruise to another Finals.
Let's look at some of the guys who are making waves without noise.
Don't be nervous.
- DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors. He started the year out with five consecutive 30-point games and had 10 30-point games in the first 12. He ranks third in points per game (28.9), behind only Anthony Davis and Mr. Westbrook. The Raptors are second in the Eastern Conference at 12-6 and they're on a four-game winning streak heading into Friday.
What may be more impressive, though, is that DeRozan has elevated his game in almost every category compared to the last seven seasons.
While his scoring has jumped at an alarming rate, his defense is still not the best. But the value he shows on the pick and roll with Jonas Valanciunas, and how quickly he transitions, leads me to believe that his peak has yet to come.
- Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics. Even Allen Iverson had to give him a nod. The 5-foot-9 guard is keeping the Celtics in the pack that sits behind the Cavs in the East and he's doing so with solid nights, and some crazy ones mixed in.
With 26.1 points per game, he ranks ninth in the league. He also comes through down the stretch, ranking third in points per fourth quarter. He's proven himself as a passing guard who Gregg Popovich called "a tricky little dude." It's hard to call anything from Pop praise, but this is about as good as it gets.
- Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets. The other night, while the Pistons' Andre Drummond was throwing bows, Kemba was breaking ankles. He's been one of the most highlight-worthy players this season, and has kept Charlotte in the early conversation as the team that could challenge the Cavs come the playoffs.
Of players in the league with 50 or more made three-pointers, Walker has the second best three-point percentage (42.4). He is fast, he has attitude, and he competes on the defensive end.
He's definitely making the case to become just the second All-Star selected from Charlotte (the first and only was Gerald Wallace).
Must Watch List
This week's list features the players I've written about above. All times are Eastern.
Celtics at Rockets, Monday, 8 p.m., NBA TV. Isaiah Thomas will be going against Houston's Atlas. James Harden will continue to carry the Rockets, but the Celtics will give them a good fight.
Grizzlies at Raptors, Thursday, 7 p.m., TNT. All the power of Memphis, against a Toronto team trying to take over the East.
League Pass Alert: Pistons at Hornets, Wednesday, 7 p.m. Last time they met, Drummond was ejected but Charlotte was clobbered, 112-89. The Hornets want to maintain a good position in the East, and the Pistons are trying to climb out of the 8th-and-below position they're in.