Basketball

Top 10 Surprising NBA Players Pre 2022 All-Star Weekend

|
Image for Top 10 Surprising NBA Players Pre 2022 All-Star Weekend

An exciting NBA Trade Deadline primed some teams for a title run while leaving others counting their upcoming draft picks – as well as leaving most of us stunned with some of the moves. Now, however, the dust is settling and players are preparing for the biggest in-season break: NBA All-Star Weekend 2022.

To this point, we’ve seen a steady diet of superstars being superstars. Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid are battling to top the MVP race, LeBron James is playing like a man possessed to keep his Lakers in the play-in tournament, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is quietly having another historically good season from a statistical standpoint. But what about everyone else? Media outlets usually cover the superstars, as they should, but there are several exceptional players in today’s league that might not always get the roses they deserve from fans and journalists. This is the perfect time to check out BestLiveCasinosUK and bet for your favorite.

Highlighted below are the 10 “non-superstar” players that have surprised us most with their level of play this season. Most of these players were expected to grow into All-Stars or have big seasons, but they all out-performed their own lofty expectations.

The list is not in order of talent or production this season, but by their level of play compared to our preseason expectations.

Honorable Mentions

Lonzo Ball – Myles Turner – Chris Paul

10. Anthony Edwards | 6-4 SG | Minnesota Timberwolves

At a glance, Edwards’ counting stats improved about as much as you’d expect from a second-year scorer. His points per game bumped up from 19.3 to 21.9 while his rebounds, assists, and steals all saw a marginal increase as well. What really stands out between the former No.1 over pick’s rookie and sophomore campaign is his ability to impact winning. First and foremost, his effective field goal percentage – one of the best stand-alone metrics used to judge overall shooting efficiency – jumped from 48.8% as a rookie to 52.1% so far in his second season.

Although Edwards narrowly missed the cut for this year’s All-Star Game, his Timberwolves (31-28) are well on their way to not missing the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18, teammate Karl-Anthony Towns’ first All-Star season. They currently sit in the 7-seed and are pushing the Denver Nuggets for the 6-seed that would allow them to avoid the play-in tournament. Edwards’ efficient and timely scoring has been a huge part of their success this season after such a long playoff drought.

9. Ja Morant | 6-3 PG | Memphis Grizzlies

While Ja Morant becoming an All-Star isn’t necessarily surprising, the leap he took between years two and three is enough to land him on our list. His counting stats alone are enough to warrant a few raised eyebrows, as he’s averaging a career-high in points (26.8), rebounds (5.8), steals (1.2), blocks (0.4), field goal percentage (.495), and effective field goal percentage (.532). Some of his stats took major leaps between this year and last year, like points per game which jumped from 19.1 to 26.8 over the course of one season. That’s a notable leap by NBA standards, even for a former #2 overall pick. In fact, should Morant’s 7.7 PPG improvement stay the same or improve by the end of the season, it will be the highest single-season leap by a former Rookie of the Year in the last 25 years with Luka Doncic’s 21.2 PPG to 28.8 PPG jump being the closest comparison.

Stepping beyond the standard box score, Morant’s growth as a leader cannot be ignored. His Grizzlies (41-19) have found themselves in the 3-seed out West behind only the two hottest teams in the league, the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors. He is also attributed to being +4.6 per 100 possessions this year, rivaling established superstars like Kevin Durant and Joel Embiid in this advanced metric. Though Memphis as a whole has shown tremendous improvement, Morant is the clear ring leader in what has become a legitimate playoff threat. He just looks comfortable and confident every time he’s on the court.

8. Jarrett Allen | 6-11 C | Cleveland Cavaliers

Speaking of legitimate playoff threats, no one – and I mean no one – saw Cleveland (35-23) competing for a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference this year. Experts may convince you they knew Cleveland was on the rise, but no one expected it to happen this soon. A big (no pun intended) part of this success has been 23-year-old big man, Jarrett Allen. The 6-11 center is averaging 1.3 blocks per game for his fourth consecutive season to go along with a career-high 16.2 points per game and 11.0 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting a career-high 67% from the field on nearly 10 attempts per game.

Cleveland’s supersized lineup of Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen, and Jarrett Allen wouldn’t work without the unique skillset of all three, but it’s been pushed over the top by the unforeseen improvement of the former Brooklyn Net. Allen’s presence in the paint allows his teammates to aggressively defend the perimeter because they know Allen will be there in the paint to back them up should their man get around them. He’s also a major factor on the offensive side of the ball, providing a brick wall for screens, a lob threat for his guards, and cleaning up a career-high 3.6 offensive rebounds per game, good for 6th in the league. Traditional (non-shooting) big-men are becoming a lost art in the NBA, but Allen is showing why they’re not yet extinct.

7. LaMelo Ball | 6-7 PG | Charlotte Hornets

In his Rookie of the Year campaign, the youngest Ball brother averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game with an effective field goal percentage over 50% – it doesn’t get much better for a young rising star, right? Wrong. Ball not only improved his scoring (20.0), assists (7.5), and rebounding (7.4), he earned his first All-Star appearance at age 20. It should also be noted that he drastically improved his free-throw shooting in year two, something that was considered an issue for Ball as a rookie.

LaMelo Ball will become the 4th youngest All-Star in NBA history on Sunday, making his first appearance at the age of 20 years and 182 days. The three players in front of him on this list are Magic Johnson (20 years, 173 days), LeBron James (20 years, 52 days), and Kobe Bryant (19 years, 169 days). His Charlotte Hornets currently sit in 9th in the Western Conference, just 2.5 games back of taking the 8-seed from the struggling Brooklyn Nets (2-8 in their last 10).

6. Miles Bridges

Bridges came out of the gates hot this season, scoring 30 or more points four times in his first nine games for a cumulative average of 24.1 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.8 SPG, and 1.0 BPG while shooting 48% from the field, 37% from behind the arc, and 87% from the free-throw line. Since then, Bridges has cooled off considerably, averaging 20.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.9 blocks on the season.

However, this is still a notable improvement from his 12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists from last season, and an even further cry from his 7.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game as a rookie. Bridges’ improvement in each of his first three seasons was normal and, for the most part, expected. I’m not sure anyone saw the breakout start to this season coming, other than perhaps Miles Bridges himself.

5. Tyrese Haliburton

Haliburton’s rookie season was notable in itself as he averaged 13.0 points and 5.3 assists per game on very efficient shooting (.569 eFG%). In 51 games with the Kings as a sophomore, Haliburton marginally improved all of his counting stats. He averaged 14.3 points, 7.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game. The Kings are in the midst of a rebuild, loading up on youth and draft picks. Most thought that rebuild would include Haliburton, but in perhaps the most shocking move of the season, Sacramento sent their young guard to Indiana.

Since joining the Pacers, Haliburton has more than earned his place on this list. In only four games, he is averaging 20.8 points, 11.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game. He’s shooting 48% from the field, 45% from the 3-point line, and 81% from the charity stripe. While this pace is likely unsustainable for the remainder of the season, Haliburton has shown beyond a doubt that he’s capable of being an elite guard and playmaker in the NBA, not something everyone saw coming this early in the 21-year-old guard’s career.

4. Fred VanVleet

VanVleet has been a relatively underrated player for multiple seasons now, but even those who recognize his talent have to tip their cap to the season VanVleet is having. His Raptors (32-25) are the 7-seed in the Eastern Conference, only 1.5 games behind the 6-seed Celtics. This is the Raptors’ first season since 2011-12 without All-Star point guard, Kyle Lowry, and VanVleet is taking full advantage.

The 6-1 guard is averaging career highs in points (21.6), assists (7.0), rebounds (4.6), 3-pointers made (4.0), and effective field goal percentage (.535). He’s one of only six players in the league this season (min. 25 games) to average 21+ points and 7+ assists per game. Of these six players, VanVleet is the only one to shoot 40% from behind the 3-point line on top of his counting stats. In this his first All-Star season, VanVleet is proving that he belongs among the upper echelon of guards in the NBA.

3. Darius Garland

Joining teammate and Cavaliers’ center, Jarrett Allen, Garland’s surprising production so far this season has catapulted his team to a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference ahead of projected powerhouses like Milwaukee and Brooklyn.

Garland went from averaging 17.4 points, and 6.1 assists as a sophomore to putting up 20.3 points and 8.0 assists in his 3rd season with the Cavs. His ability to run an offense and distribute the ball has been vital in the Cavs’ success, especially with so many non-ball handlers on the Cavaliers’ roster after the injury to starting shooting guard, Collin Sexton. Garland has the physical and mental tools to become one of the premier “point gods” in the NBA, especially if he continues to grow with his young Cavaliers teammates.

2. Dejounte Murray

NBA fans knew Murray had the talent necessary to succeed, but few projected him to solidify himself as an All-Star in such a dominant fashion. After an injury-riddled first few seasons in the league, Murray showed flashes of ability due to his unique combination of size, IQ, and playmaking abilities. In his sixth season in the league, as a 25-year-old veteran, Murray burst onto the scene nearly averaging a 20-point triple-double through his first 52 games of the season.

Murray bumped his scoring average up from 15.7 to 19.9 points per game from 2020-21 to 2021-22, but that’s arguably the least impressive part of Murray’s improvement. His assists per game shot up from 5.4 to 9.3, his rebounds per game moved up for the fifth consecutive season from 7.1 to 8.3, and his steals jumped from 1.5 to an NBA-leading 2.0 per game. He’s shooting 50% from inside the 3-point line and 32% from behind it, all while leading the charge in the Spurs’ fight for the play-in tournament.

1. DeMar DeRozan

Not only did people write off DeRozan when he moved to his third team in five years, some even labeled it as the worst free-agent signing of the entire offseason. He hadn’t been an All-Star once in his three years with San Antonio and hadn’t averaged over 23 points per game since 2016-17. None of that mattered, however, as DeRozan came out of the gates hot and never looked back. In his first 14 games of the season, DeRozan scored 30+ points five times, including a 38-point performance against the Lakers in Los Angeles. In that 14-game stretch, he averaged 26.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists on 51% shooting.

On the season, DeRozan is averaging a career-high 28.1 points to go along with 5.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. Over his last seven games, DeRozan broke a record previously held by Wilt Chamberlain for the most consecutive games scoring at least 35 points on 50% shooting or better. Anytime you break a record by “Wilt the Stilt” you’re doing something right.

The Chicago Bulls are currently tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Of course, they have a group of talented players on their roster including Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and Lonzo Ball, but none of their success is possible without the efficient play and leadership of DeMar DeRozan, something none of us saw coming in year 13 of what has been an exemplary NBA career.

For more on all your favorite players and teams, visit us at OvertimeHeroics.net and find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Main image credit:

Share this article