Last week, we did the Top Performances of the 2017-18 NBA Season, and now we’re going to check out 10 players that have upped their play from last year, and are in the midst of having career years. Now, there are a handful of top level players like Blake Griffin, Kemba Walker, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who have improved their output, but you won’t see them on the following list because it’s strictly for players without any All-Star appearances.
1. Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic): Gordon came into the league as a high draft pick out of the University of Arizona, and was expected to produce instantly. Instead, it’s taken a couple of years but he’s finally showing his potential. He’s averaged just 10.0 points per game during his career, but he’s up to 20.7 points this season and he’s experienced jumps in rebounds (+3.3) and blocks (+0.4) per game. He’s been one of the leading factors in why the Orlando Magic, a usual doorstep, are 6-2 and leading the Eastern Conference.
2. D’Angelo Russell (Brooklyn Nets): Russell was drafted No. 2 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers a couple of years back, and he didn’t seem to exactly fit with the team. That really materialized this past summer when it was anticipated that Magic Johnson was going to draft yet another point guard, to add to the already crowded backcourt of Jordan Clarkson and Russell. Johnson decided to trade Russell and then draft Lonzo Ball, and Russell seems to have taken it personally. He’s playing better than ever, putting up 22-5-4 statline, and already has three games of at least 25+ points. Watch out, too, because the Nets face the Lakers for the first time this year, and Russell might just be out for blood.
3. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers): I know he didn’t play last season because of an injury, and he’s still technically a rookie, but Ben Simmons has played better than even his biggest stan could have imagined. Eight games is a small sample size, but it’s obvious that he’s been the best first year player in the league and is (rightfully) leading most Rookie of the Year conversations. He’s averaging 18.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game for the young 76ers. Simmons has been a revelation during the early part of his career and he seems to have a very bright future ahead of him.
4. T.J. Warren (Phoenix Suns): It was apparent while at N.C. State that Warren had the patience and skill to score in the NBA, and he’s really proved that this year, even on one of the worst teams in the league. He has increased his points (+6.5), rebounds (+2.6), and assists (+0.3). He’s averaging 24.75 points per game over the last four games, including a 40-point showing against the Washington Wizards. Three of those have been wins for the Suns, all they’re back to .500 on the year.
5. Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic): Vucevic’s play has landed him on this list, alongside his frontcourt teammate, Gordon, and for similar reasons. The big man, formerly out of USC, has had a pretty solid career, turning in 14.6 points per outing, but that’s increased by a good margin, to the tune of 19.0 points and 1.3 blocks per game. He’s also put up 41 points in an early season loss to the Brooklyn Nets. The Magic host the Chicago Bulls tonight and there 6-2 record should add another victory.
6. Tobias Harris (Detroit Pistons): The Pistons aren’t exactly a high level team, but most of the players that do get recognition when Detroit is playing well are Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. But what about Harris? He’s been the best player on the team through eight games and is a big reason the Pistons are 5-3 with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. Harris is averaging 20.5 points and 4.5 boards a night.
7. Victor Oladipo (Indiana Pacers): Oladipo has been forgotten, remembered, and forgotten again during his career, after beginning with the Orlando Magic, before being dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and then being traded again to the Pacers. And each stop resulted in even more criticism, but he’s been able to put it all aside and is showing out in Indiana. He has taken on much of the scoring load and is averaging 23.8 points per game, and has put up 23+ points in four of the last five, highlighted by 35 points against his former team, the Thunder.
8. Clint Capela (Houston Rockets): When the Rockets decided to move on from Dwight Howard and instead play Capela, most people were a little hesitant, but it’s turned out to be a great decision from the Houston front office. Capela has emerged as one of the most efficient and hardworking players in the league. He’s turned up his points (+4.0), rebounds (+4.3), and blocks (+0.4), and is averaging a double-double while shooting over 70 percent from the field. He and James Harden play excellent together and it’s showing.
9. Marcin Gortat (Washington Wizards): Gortat has held down the paint in Washington for some time now, but it’s the first year that we’re seeing it translate to his statistics. He isn’t just a big body down low anymore, he has done a great job of developing low post moves and has an very clean-looking hook shot to go along with his bruising style. It has resulted in 11.9 points and 10.1 rebounds for the 4-3 Wizards.
10. Dennis Schroder (Atlanta Hawks): We knew Schroder was going to see un uptick in minutes after Jeff Teague left two off seasons ago, and then we figured he’d have to shoulder even more of the load when the Hawks decide to blow things up during the most recent summer. It hasn’t been a good start to the year for the last place Hawks, but it’s certainly not because of Schroder. He’s putting up career numbers seemingly across the board with an increase in points (+11.1), assists (+2.2), and rebounds (+0.4).
Photo Credit: NBA.com & Rant Sports.