With the 2021-2022 NBA season fully underway, the league is beginning to take shape. After missing the playoffs last season, the Golden State Warriors have the best record in the NBA and are still without Klay Thompson. Meanwhile, Ben Simmons is still looking for a trade out of Philadelphia and Kyrie Irving has yet to play for the Brooklyn Nets. Between injuries and Covid-19 restrictions, certain players have stepped into bigger roles for their teams. Let’s take a look at each team’s most surprising player so far this season.
Boston Celtics – Dennis Schroder
The Celtics have struggled early on this season with injuries and shooting slumps from Jayson Tatum. On the bright side, Schroder looks to be the best free-agent signing of the offseason. He’s putting up 14.3 points and 4.7 assists per game off the bench for Boston. Also, Al Horford is back, making plays on both ends of the court for the Celtics after a brief stint with the 76ers and Thunder.
Brooklyn Nets – Patty Mills
Even without Irving, the Nets sit atop the Eastern Conference and have arguably two MVP candidates in Kevin Durant and James Harden. Offseason acquisition Mills is a big key to the Nets’ success, scoring 12.2 points per game and shooting over 40 percent from three. Veterans Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge have also given the Nets solid minutes off the bench.
New York Knicks – Alec Burks
Despite a slow start for the Knicks this season, veteran point guard Burks is playing some great basketball. Since Kemba Walker exited the rotation late in November, Burks is averaging 24 points and shooting over 45 percent from three. Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson have been one of the top front-court duos in the league this year, dominating on both ends of the court.
Philadelphia 76ers – Tyrese Maxey
Nearly the entire Sixers roster was hit with Covid-19 protocols in November, including superstar center Joel Embiid. Maxey has been one of their only bright spots as a result. The sophomore guard is averaging 18 points and five assists per game. Seth Curry and Danny Green have also provided solid shooting and perimeter defense for Philadelphia. With a Simmons trade in the near future, the 76ers are in a great position this season.
Toronto Raptors – Scottie Barnes
The 2019 champions once again find themselves at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Fortunately, their top draft pick, Barnes, is a strong candidate to win Rookie of the Year after averaging 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds through the first 22 games. Toronto has also expressed interest in trading away Pascal Siakam in return for draft compensation, opening more minutes for Barnes.
Chicago Bulls – DeMar DeRozan
After a major offseason rebuild, the Bulls have looked dangerous through the first quarter of the season. DeRozan is playing at an MVP level, averaging 25.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso have looked to be excellent offseason acquisitions, both playing superb defense and creating for others on offense.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Evan Mobley
Mobley is an early candidate to win Rookie of the Year. The big man is averaging 14.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game and helping the Cavaliers to a solid record through the first quarter of the season. Additionally, with Collin Sexton out for an extended period of time with a torn meniscus, Darius Garland has emerged as Cleveland’s go-to option on offense.
Detroit Pistons – Saddiq Bey
The Pistons are one of the worst teams in the league, but second-year forward Bey has been playing great, scoring 12.5 points per game and playing solid defense. In November, the Pistons had seven double-digits losses, something that was expected entering this year with a lack of experience and talent on the roster. Jerami Grant is Detroit’s best player, although he could be traded for a few first-round picks.
Indiana Pacers – Chris Duarte
The Pacers haven’t looked themselves thus far and have fallen to a poor record of 9-14. Just recently the team announced they will be starting a rebuild, opening the possibility of a big trade soon. Whether that means Domantas Sabonis or Malcolm Brogdon will be traded, we’ll have to wait and see. On the bright side, Duarte has been outstanding, scoring 13 points per game off the bench.
Milwaukee Bucks – Grayson Allen
The defending champions are right back into the mix with the top teams in the league, posting a solid record through the first quarter of the season. Allen has been the most surprising player for Milwaukee, averaging 13.9 points per game and posting 45/42/90 shooting splits. Giannis Antetokounmpo is once again an MVP candidate and has improved his shooting from three and the free-throw stripe.
Atlanta Hawks – John Collins
After signing a massive extension in the offseason, Collins has proven to be worth the money. He’s averaging 16.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game to go along with several rim rocking dunks. The Hawks are fresh off of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, and while that may be unachievable again this season, they are still a team to look out for down the stretch.
Charlotte Hornets – Miles Bridges
In the last year of his rookie deal, Bridges is proving he’s worth a big contract next season. He’s scoring 19.8 points, grabbing 7.4 rebounds per game, and helping the Hornets to a solid record this season. Also, LaMelo Ball has looked like an MVP candidate in only his second season in the NBA while Gordon Hayward is providing consistent scoring every night. Not to mention, Terry Rozier is on a scorching hot shooting streak at the moment.
Miami Heat – Tyler Herro
Herro’s breakout campaign has officially arrived. The third-year man is averaging 21.8 points off the bench and is the current favorite to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award. The Heat will be without Bam Adebayo for the foreseeable future and have yet to see Victor Oladipo suit up this season. Regardless, the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler has been fun to watch as both players are scrappy and excellent playmakers.
Orlando Magic – Cole Anthony
Anthony has shown out for the banged-up Magic squad. The second-year guard averaged 20 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game this month. Orlando closed out this past month on a seven-game losing streak. The Magic have yet to see both Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac take the court after each player suffered season-ending injuries last year. Still, the Magic are the worst team in the NBA.
Washington Wizards – Montrezl Harrell
Harrell came to Washington in the Lakers trade for Russell Westbrook and has looked phenomenal so far. He’s averaging 16.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Daniel Gafford has been the Wizards’ best rim protector this season and Spencer Dinwiddie is nearly 100 percent again after tearing his ACL. Things are looking good in Washington.
Denver Nuggets – Will Barton
Nikola Jokic has continued to dominate after winning MVP last season. Barton has shown the most improvement for the Nuggets and has filled the hole of Jamal Murray offensively. Barton averaged 16 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. Unfortunately, with Murray and Michael Porter both likely out for the season, Denver’s hopes of a title are slim to none.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Anthony Edwards
Minnesota has looked good this season after missing the playoffs in 2021. Edwards is balling, scoring over 22 points per game, and showing off with highlight-reel dunks. The Timberwolves roster is full of solid playmakers, however, coaching has limited the franchise from reaching the playoffs in recent years. Let’s see if they can break the trend this season.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Josh Giddey
Giddey has turned heads so far in his rookie season. The Australian guard is averaging 10.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. Thunder fans should be pleased with the team’s poor performance so far this season, as it will help them add to their already impressive list of draft picks over the next couple of years.
Portland Trail Blazers – Norman Powell
Portland has been just average so far this season and is now without Damian Lillard for several games. They lost several games by double digits in November, however, Powell is playing great, averaging 16.9 points per game. The Trail Blazers will need to shake up their roster to have a chance at making a deep playoff run this season.
Utah Jazz – Rudy Gobert
The Jazz has picked up right where they left off last season. Gobert has been more phenomenal than usual, putting up 15.1 points and leading the league with both 14.5 rebounds per game and a 73 percent field goal percentage. It won’t be easy to repeat as the top seed in the Western Conference, but the Jazz has proved to everyone that their success last season was no fluke.
Golden State Warriors – Jordan Poole
Stephen Curry has been on fire this season, leading the Warriors and averaging 27.8 points per game. Curry is only six three-pointers away from breaking Ray Allen‘s record for most three-pointers in NBA History. This is an incredible achievement but Poole has been the most surprising for Golden State, averaging 18.5 points per game on 46 percent shooting.
Los Angeles Clippers – Paul George
Even without Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers have found success this season thanks to George. The superstar forward is doing a bit of everything, averaging 25.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game. Reggie Jackson has become their second option while Ivica Zubac is playing the best basketball of his career. If the Clippers can hold onto this success and get Leonard back for the playoffs, they can definitely make a run for a title.
Los Angeles Lakers – Anthony Davis
With LeBron James frequently out of the lineup, Davis has carried the bulk of the load for the Lakers this season. He’s putting up MVP numbers, averaging 24.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. Westbrook hasn’t looked great, turning the ball over frequently and shooting bad from outside. If the Lakers want to contend this year, they might want to consider making a roster move.
Phoenix Suns – Chris Paul
Phoenix is the top seed in the Western Conference and held an 18-game win streak for nearly a month. At age 36, Paul is still turning heads, averaging a league-best 10.1 assists per game. Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker have been in and out of the lineup, however, Mikal Bridges has looked worth the contract extension, playing solid on both ends of the court. Still, Paul has been the most surprising for the Suns.
Sacramento Kings – Harrison Barnes
De’Aaron Fox’s start to the season has been hot and cold, which isn’t great considering he just signed a max contract extension. However, Barnes has been one of the best shooters in the league. The veteran forward is putting up 19 points and posting 48/40/85 shooting splits. Better days are ahead for Sacramento.
Dallas Mavericks – Jalen Brunson
Luka Doncic is playing great, however, Brunson has shown the most progress for the Mavericks this season. He’s averaging career-highs in points (14.5) and assists (five) per game. The Mavericks expressed concerns with Kristaps Porzingis this past offseason but seem pleased at the moment due to the big man’s success in shooting from beyond the arc, Dallas’ highlight so far this season was Doncic’s game-winner buzzer-beater against the Boston Celtics.
Houston Rockets – Jae’Sean Tate
Tate is benefitting from the lack of talent on Houston’s roster. The sophomore guard is scoring 12.4 points per game and locking down the opposing team’s top players. November was a rough month for the Rockets as they opened it with a 10-game losing streak. Jalen Green, the second pick in the draft, will be sidelined for a while with a hamstring injury.
Memphis Grizzlies – Desmond Bane
Losing Ja Morant to a knee injury will likely hurt the Grizzlies’ chances of a playoff berth this season, however, several players have stepped up in his absence. One of those players is sophomore guard Bane. He’s scoring 16 points per game and posting 47/40/89 shooting splits. Memphis’ most recent highlight was a 152-79 victory over the Thunder.
New Orleans Pelicans – Jonas Valanciunas
With Zion Williamson yet to make his season debut, the Pelicans have fallen far in the standings. Brandon Ingram and the team entirely haven’t looked like themselves. The good news is, Valanciunas looks to be a fantastic offseason acquisition. He’s scoring 18.8 points, grabbing 12.1 rebounds per game, and shooting 48 percent from three. New Orleans may want to consider either a rebuild or trading for another star player.
San Antonio Spurs – Dejounte Murray
If not for the Spurs’ poor record, Murray would be a sleeper MVP candidate through the first quarter of the season. The 6’4” point guard with a 6’10” wingspan is dominating opponents, averaging 19.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 8.1 assists per game. Keldon Johnson has also looked great, carrying in his confidence from the Summer Olympics and playing solid on both ends of the court.
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