For the fans, All-Star Weekend is nothing but bright lights and festivities. From the Rising Stars Game to the Saturday night events and the most glorified pickup game of the year in the All-Star game, the weekend is always one to remember.
However, the players use this time to prepare their minds and bodies for the second half of the season. The latter half of the grueling NBA season is the most important stretch for any team vying for the championship. It is common for players to look different than they did in the first half of the season.
This past summer’s first overall pick, Zion Williamson had to wait for his turn. The 6-foot-6-inch big man nursed an injured knee before getting his chance to play in the NBA. It wasn’t until Jan. 22 when we finally saw Williamson play.
And it was worth the wait. The New Orleans Pelicans’ prized rookie has been as good as advertised. Williamson’s numbers before the All-Star break are what was expected out of a number one pick. Averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds while only playing 27.4 minutes per game in his first 10 games, the Pelicans’ big came out of the gate sizzling. The first 10 games are proof that Williamson is a force to be reckoned with right now.
After competing in the Rising Stars Game, Williamson will look to build off of a solid weekend where he was surrounded by the best players the game has to offer.
Williamson’s play has also benefited teammate Lonzo Ball. During the first 36 games without the rookie, Ball averaged a mediocre 12.1 points and 6.3 assists per game while shooting only 39% from the field and 35.5% from three. However with Williamson as a lob threat and rim runner, the 6-foot-6-inch point guard has averaged a much improved 11.7 points and 8.3 assists per game, and has seen a massive spike in his shooting percentages to the tune of 44.7% from the field and 41.6% from three.
With Williamson playing at full strength, he should still make an All-Rookie team considering how subpar this rookie class has been.
Victor Oladipo suffered a gruesome injury last season. A ruptured quad was all it took to shut him down for the entirety of the 2018-19 season as well as the first half of this season.
Earlier this year, the Indiana Pacers’ All-Star guard made his season debut. On Jan. 29, Oladipo tallied nine points and four assists in a win against the Chicago Bulls.
The Pacers and Oladipo are still finding their groove because the team has a different makeup compared to last season. This is evident in the fact that they only managed to win two of seven games together before the All-Star break.
Indiana has a lot to be thankful for right now with the way the Pacers are playing. T.J. Warren is looking like an absolute steal as he has enjoyed a career year so far. And of course, Domantas Sabonis has been magnificent and was awarded his first All-Star appearance thanks to his stellar numbers.
Oladipo still has a long way to go before returning to his former glory. However, if he can maintain the steady improvement he has shown this season, then a breakout second half is bound to happen.
A former second overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers back in 2015, D’Angelo Russell has found himself on his fourth team in five years. Prior to this year’s trade deadline, the Golden State Warriors moved the former All-Star to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Andrew Wiggins. The deal was centered around Russell’s desire to play with close friend and Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns.
In only 33 games with the Warriors, Russell averaged 23.6 points and 6.2 assists per game. While their numbers looked good, the team was struggling due to injuries to superstars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Russell also failed to lead a team filled with young guys and G-League players, winning just 12 of 33 games.
So far, in his first three games with the Wolves, Russell has averaged 22 points and an improved 9.7 assists per game. The increase in assists can be credited to playing with better teammates.
Russell and Towns have only played one game together so, it remains to be seen how good they are as a pair. Defense is an obvious concern with this tandem, but the increase in assists from Russell is a good sign for Minnesota.
Deandre Ayton missed 25 of the first 26 games of his sophomore year after violating the league’s drug policy. The former number one overall pick was found to be using a banned diuretic.
After serving his suspension, Ayton was struggling to find his rhythm. In his first four games back, the center only averaged 12.8 points and 12.8 rebounds while shooting 46.8% from the field. With draft mates Luka Doncic and Trae Young having All-Star seasons, the fans were eager to get similar production from Ayton.
However, from his fifth game to the All-Star break, Ayton looked like a different player. He was a double-double threat, averaging 20.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 55.5% from the field in 17 games. This stretch included a career game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden where he poured in 26 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in a 121-98 victory for the Suns.
It was clear that Ayton was still finding his footing even when he looked dominant. If he is finding his rhythm, then the league should be put on notice for the second half of this season.