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The Biggest Surprises Of The NBA's First Half

Los Angeles Lakers v Sacramento Kings

At the midway point, so far we’ve done grades for all 30 NBA teams, then yesterday we went over some of the biggest disappointments of the first half, so today it’s time to be positive and talk about some of the biggest surprises of the NBA’s first half. I kept it to the same 10 players so of course I’m going to leave some players out who have had a great first half, but I think this is a nice combination or guys that we may have already known were good, but are definitely exceeding our expectations through the first half of the year. Remember this is players not teams, so you’re going to see some guys that definitely play on dogshit teams, but are having great years. These are subjective of course, and if I miss anyone just list them in the comments and let’s have ourselves a nice conversation on the internet. With that said, here is my list

JJ Redick

2018-19 Stats: 18.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists on 44/37% shooting

2018-19 Advanced Stats: 116 Ortg / 115 Drtg

How about the 34 year old Redick having the best year of his career? Who saw that coming. That’s not saying he wasn’t going to be good, but my word he’s been so awesome for the Sixers this season. He’s 7th in the league in 3PM a night and is on a 1/12M contract. Is that the best value in the league right now? It has to be up there. Redick has backed up his strong first year in PHI with a fairly dominant one this year, and for a team that desperately needs his shooting, he’s delivering at a level he’s never done before. Never in his career has he averaged 2.9 3PM a night and he’s played in 40 of their 42 games. Something tells me we may see Redick play until he’s like 40 if he keeps shooting like this.

John Collins

2018-19 Stats: 18.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists on 58/34% shooting

2018-19 Advanced Stats: 119 Ortg / 114 Drtg

I feel like people may not be aware of what John Collins is doing down in Atlanta because they are so bad and most of the conversation is around Trae Young, but Collins has quietly asserted him as one of the most promising young big men the league has. His FG% is up, he’s making more threes, his rebounding is up, his assists are up, and his scoring has made the biggest jump from just 10.5 points as a rookie. Collins is just 21 years old and is one of 8 other players in the league averaging at least 18/10. The other names on that list? AD, Giannis, Jokic, Embiid, KAT, Vucevic, Westbrook.

I’d say that’s pretty damn good, and surprising.

Luka Doncic

2018-19 Stats: 19.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists on 43/37% shooting

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2018-19 Advanced Stats: 108 Ortg / 108 Drtg

Impossible for me to not include Luka. Even if you thought he would be good given what you watched on YouTube, no chance you thought he would be THIS good THIS quickly. None of us did. I mean he’s doing things we really don’t often see in NBA history for a first year player. His rookie year is on pace with what some of the legends of the NBA have done and that’s not hyperbole. You know who else has had rookie seasons with these same averages? How about Oscar Robertson, Kareem, Jordan, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird and Grant Hill. Decent list I would say. After last night he now has 7 games with at least 20/5/5, the rest of his rookie class has 5 combined. That’s insane.

Credit to you if you predicted Luka would have the same sort of rookie season as those legends, but it sure as hell surprised me.

Buddy Hield

2018-19 Stats: 20.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists on 47/44% shooting

2018-19 Advanced Stats: 112 Ortg / 115 Drtg

Sometimes it takes a while for guys to develop at this level. After his first few years in the league where he didn’t exactly blow anyone’s dick off shooting the ball, this has been a breakout career year for Hield. He’s 4th in the NBA in 3PM and is one of only 3 players in the league with 500 points, 200 rebounds, and 100 3PM. The other two are James Harden and Paul George. In terms of his 100 threes and his 44% shooting, just one other player in the league is doing that and his name is Steph Curry. So yeah, seeing Hield’s name mentioned with this caliber of talent is pretty surprising based on what we saw after his first few years in the league.

He’s a main reason why the Kings are one of the biggest surprises of the first half, and the biggest thing that has impressed me is that he’s maintained this level of play all year. It isn’t a case where he’s had a good week or a good month, I think this may be who Buddy Hield is, or something close to it.

Marcus Morris

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2018-19 Stats: 15.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists on 50/44% shooting

2018-19 Advanced Stats: 119 Ortg / 107 Drtg

Nothing about Marcus Morris’ season makes any sense. He’s a career 43/36% shooter, pretty much was that last season in Boston, and while being in a contract year is most likely the logical explanation for what we’re seeing, the facts are he has been a pleasant and much needed surprise. A career high in points, 3PM, FG%, 3P%, rebounds, all while taking FEWER shots than he did last season. He’s also playing some of the best defense of his career and has been the model of consistency for a team that has certainly not been consistent.

To go from a guy some Celtics fans thought maybe Ainge would move in order to free up their minutes, Mook has quietly become their most important player not named Kyrie. That’s wild.

Joel Embiid

2018-19 Stats: 26.9 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists on 49/30% shooting

2018-19 Advanced Stats: 114 Ortg / 104 Drtg

It’s not a surprise that Joel Embiid is fucking dominating people and playing at an MVP level. We saw flashes of that last season when he played a career high 63 games. I’m including him in this blog because it’s a pleasant surprise not only that he has upped his minutes to 33.7 a night, but that he has played in 40 of their 42 games so far this season. If not for some mandated rest by the team, he would have played in every one of their games. For Sixers fans everywhere, that has to be a great feeling given how his career started.

The facts are that as long as he is on the court Embiid is probably the best two way center in the NBA. Improvement in his FG%, rebounds, assists, blocks and points are what you want from your franchise player, but most importantly you want him on the court, which he has been.

Pascal Siakam

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2018-19 Stats: 15.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists on 57/34% shooting

2018-19 Advanced Stats: 122 Ortg / 108 Drtg

The main reason for the Raptors success this season is obviously a healthy Kawhi, but not too far behind is the breakout year we’ve gotten so far from Pascal Siakam. A full time starter now, his rise to such a deadly two way player is what makes this team so dangerous. You look across the board and everything is so much better in Year 3, from his FG% to his rebounding to his assists, steals and blocks. His scoring has more than doubled from last year, and his spin move is one of the most unguardable moves the league has.

He should definitely be considered as the MIP this year and at just 24 it sure looks like the Raptors have quite the player for the foreseeable future. The question now becomes if he can do this in the playoffs, but nothing we’ve seen so far tells us he won’t be able to. He may not get the hype, but Siakam has been one of the better surprises in the entire league.

Josh Richardson

2018-19 Stats: 18.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists on 40/37% shooting

2018-19 Advanced Stats: 110 Ortg / 110 Drtg

Now you see why Thibs wanted Richardson as part of the Jimmy Butler deal. He’s broken out in his 4th year and turned himself into a premiere two way player. Offensively his efficiency has taken a step back but that’s what happens sometimes when you legit become a #1 option for the first time. His shots have gone up from 10 to 15 a night, and as a result he’s seen his scoring go up from 12 to 18. Maybe this was the player Pat Riley knew he was getting when he got his extension, and at just 25 he’s clearly the Heat’s best player. He’s a player that as improved each and every year he’s been in the league, so it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up because what we’re seeing so far this season is clearly for real.

Outside of Wade I’m not sure many people even know who is on this roster, but Josh Richardson has certainly made you learn his name.

De’Aaron Fox

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2018-19 Stats: 18.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7.9 assists on 47/37% shooting

2018-19 Advanced Stats: 110 Ortg / 111 Drtg

In yesterday’s blog there were a couple of Year 2 players who have taken a step back. The exact opposite is true of De’Aaron Fox. In fact, you could argue he’s turning into the best point guard of his entire class. He, much like Hield are the main reasons for the Kings good first half, and the surprise comes from the fact that Fox has drastically improved his shooting. To go from 41/30% to 47/37% is no joke, and he’s nearly doubled his assists since becoming a full time starter for this team. At just 21, he’s probably ahead of where some may have thought after his rookie season, and his improvement has shown up on the defensive end as well.

But if Fox is going to be this type of shooter moving forward, I would definitely prefer him over other young guards like Lonzo, Mitchell, Young, etc.

Zach LaVine

2018-19 Stats: 23.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists on 45/35% shooting

2018-19 Advanced Stats: 103 Ortg / 113 Drtg

OK I can admit, his defense is still as horrific as ever, but that doesn’t mean what we’ve seen from LaVine isn’t a surprise. Coming off his ACL injury he showed flashes of this type of production to end the season, and he’s come out this first half and backed that up and then some offensively. He’s having a career year from the floor and improved his rebounding, passing, and has the highest average of his career. You sometimes forget he’s only 23, and if I’m a Bulls fan I am relieved that he pretty much looks like the same player after the injury.

The defense is still a major concern, but all things considered LaVine is having an All Star production caliber season, and I don’t think anyone saw that coming.

So that’s my list. As I said I’m sure there are others I could have gone with but these guys are who stood out to me through the first half. I’ll leave it up to you now, who else would you throw in this list that you’ve been pleasantly surprised with?