NBA

5 NBA Players Off to a Surprising Start

Which players have gotten off to a surprising start – good and bad? Cody Taylor takes a look.

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Updated 12 months ago on
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As most NBA teams approach the 10-game mark on their season, we’re beginning to get an idea as to which teams are for real and which teams might need some more work. While it’s entirely too early to gauge a team’s season, there have been some starts that have been surprising either for good or bad reasons. Additionally, there have been some individual performances that have garnered a lot of attention thus far. Let’s take a look at some of the most surprising starts of the season:

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers:

Heading into the 2014-15 season, many were questioning how Bryant would return. Coming off of two major injuries, some were questioning whether Bryant would even be able to play at all. After the Lakers’ first 10 games, it would appear that Bryant has returned to his former self and is showing no signs of slowing down. The 36-year-old is averaging 27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game and is fresh off of a 44-point performance against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night. Additionally, Bryant has four games in which he’s scored at least 30 points. While Bryant is dropping 27 points a night, the Lakers as a team haven’t been nearly as good. The Lakers started off a franchise-worst 1-9 and are relying on Bryant a lot – his usage rating is the highest in the league. He’s not shooting the ball particularly well, but that’s because he hasn’t gotten much help from the Lakers and is having to force things on offense. It remains to be seen how long Bryant will continue to be able to play nearly 35 minutes a game, but as of right now it looks like Bryant has returned to form and his play should be one of the biggest surprises in the league.

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons:

With the arrival of new head coach Stan Van Gundy, the Detroit Pistons were pegged as a team that could make the playoffs this season after not making it the last five years. Despite being a top-15 team on the defensive side, the Pistons are just not clicking on offense and one player’s stats that reflects this is Andre Drummond. Through the Pistons’ first 10 games, Drummond’s offense has regressed from last season as his points per game have dropped from 13.5 to 8.4 this year. Drummond’s efficiency rating has dropped significantly from 22.6 to just 11.9 and the 6’11 center has shot a career-low 41 percent from the floor. It seems Drummond and Van Gundy have been working on a new offensive game plan for Drummond, but those results haven’t been good. In fact, those results have been very bad and Drummond hasn’t scored in double digits in four straight games. In addition, Drummond’s fouls are up, which is one of the biggest reasons why he has played fewer minutes this season. Drummond currently ranks second in the league with 43 fouls committed, trailing only DeAndre Jordan with 49. Drummond has remained a rebounding machine for the Pistons, but Detroit’s problems are on the offensive side of the ball and Van Gundy will need to find ways to get Drummond more involved for the team to have a chance to compete.

K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers:

Philadelphia 76ers guard K.J. McDaniels has had one of the most surprising starts thus far this season. Perhaps the most surprising thing about McDaniels is the 76ers drafted him in the second round and he is out-performing most first-round rookies that were drafted ahead of him. Given McDaniels’ hot start to the season, many have already labeled him as the steal of the draft due to his play on both sides of the ball. Through the 76ers’ first nine games, McDaniels ranks fourth among all rookies in scoring with 8.6 points per game, third in three-point percentage at 40 percent, tied for 10th in assists, seventh in steals and second in blocks behind only his teammate Nerlens Noel. His 1.44 blocks per game rank second in the league among all guards. Not only does he just block shots on the defensive end, he also has limited his opponents to shooting just 46.7 percent at the rim. To compare, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah, is holding opponents to 48.1 percent at the rim. McDaniels made headlines over the offseason when he opted to sign a one-year deal that could allow him to make more money as a restricted free agent next summer if he shows that he can play well versus taking the normal contract for a second-round draft pick. So far it seems McDaniels’ gamble is paying off.

Shawne Williams, Miami HEAT:

Shawne Williams is making the most out of his early opportunity and is off to the best start of his career. The seven-year veteran is averaging 12 points through the HEAT’s first 10 games and has earned the start in each of those contests. Williams’ 12 points a game is a career-high and easily trumps his previous career-high of 7.1 with the New York Knicks during the 2010-11 season. Williams was given the opportunity to start given the recent injuries to projected starter Josh McRoberts. The biggest explanation for Williams’ 12 points a game is his red-hot start from three-point range. Williams is currently shooting 52 percent (26-of-50) from downtown and has hit at least three long distance shots in seven out of 10 games. In a summer filled with questions about who would help replace LeBron James’ offensive production, Williams has helped answer the call.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls:

One player who has certainly grabbed headlines this season has been Bulls guard Jimmy Butler. On a team that is supposed to be dominated by former MVP Derrick Rose, Butler has taken over in place of the injured Rose. Butler is off to by far the best start of his career as he is averaging 21.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game during his first eight games of the year. According to ESPN, Butler’s 21.3 points per game are up from 10.9 points per game during his first eight games last season. Butler has said his fast start is due to being aggressive and from that aggressiveness he is also becoming more confident as well. He is converting 53 percent of his shots from the field and nearly 40 percent from three-point range. Butler is set to become a restricted free agent next summer so the Bulls should continue to see Butler perform well in a contract year.

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Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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