Last week, we discussed seven players unexpectedly experiencing reduced playing time to start the 2016-17 season. Today, we’ll take a look at seven players who have responded to their new situation or increased role by seizing the opportunity and exceeding expectations.
To be fair, rookies were excluded from the criteria.
T.J. Warren, Forward, Phoenix Suns
2015-16:11 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 22.8 minutes per game
2016-17: 19 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 34.3 minutes per game
Most expected guard Devin Booker to be the Suns player likely to make a leap this season, but up until this point, it has been Warren asserting himself in that role. Warren, a third-year forward, is in his first season as a full-time starter and so far has responded extremely well to the challenge.
Vince Carter, Guard, Memphis Grizzlies
2015-16:6.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 16.8 minutes per game
2016-17: 10.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 27.5 minutes per game
Carter, a future Hall of Famer, has seemingly found a way to somewhat reverse Father Time during the first month of the season. After two consecutive campaigns of averaging fewer than 10 points and 20 minutes per game, the veteran guard is now exceeding those targets for the Grizzlies – who have been battling injuries early on. It’s unlikely Carter will be given this type of workload for the full course of the season, but the seasoned pro is showing he still has a bit left in the tank.
Seth Curry, Guard, Dallas Mavericks
2015-16:6.8 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 15.7 minutes per game
2016-17: 8.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 25.4 minutes per game
The younger Curry doesn’t have the talent of his two-time league MVP older brother Stephen, but he’s carving out his own niche in the league. The guard had a breakthrough campaign in Sacramento last season after bouncing around the league and has continued the momentum into Dallas. Curry’s role is expected to grow even larger over the next few weeks with veterans Deron Williams and J.J. Barea currently nursing injuries and out of the Mavericks’ lineup.
Sean Kilpatrick, Guard, Brooklyn Nets
2015-16:11.1 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 19.9 minutes per game
2016-17: 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 25.7 minutes per game
Kilpatrick has been awarded a slight uptick in minutes this season in Brooklyn and has also registered four starts to begin the campaign. Those starts were the first in Kilpatrick’s three-year career, which shows his growth as a player. The numbers may be a bit inflated due to the current state of Brooklyn’s talent level, but there’s no denying Kilpatrick has stepped up to the plate with the added minutes and responsibilities.
Mike Muscala, Forward-Center, Atlanta Hawks
2015-16:3.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 9.4 minutes per game
2016-17: 9.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 21.6 minutes per game
Muscala, a fourth-year pro, has doubled his minutes this season compared to the 2015-16 campaign. The big man has entrenched himself as one of the team’s biggest producers off the bench and a valuable member of the nightly rotation. The emergence of Muscala was right on time for a Hawks team reeling from injuries to veterans Mike Scott and Tiago Splitter. Even when those guys get up to full speed, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Muscala simply fades into the background.
Harrison Barnes, Forward, Dallas Mavericks
2015-16:11.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 30.9 minutes per game
2016-17: 22.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 38.9 minutes per game
The Mavericks invested big money in Barnes, a role player on a highly successful team, this past summer in free agency. And, as of right now, the investment looks like a smart one. Barnes has responded to heightened expectations by nearly doubling his career-best in scoring and has filled in admirably as the team’s go-to scorer with future Hall of Fame forward Dirk Nowitzki nursing injuries.
George Hill, Guard, Utah Jazz
2015-16:12.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists,1.1 steals, 34.1 minutes per game
2016-17: 20.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 33.9 minutes per game
Hill is the only player on this list who has reduced minutes compared to last season, but the veteran’s production in a new role and situation deserves some respect. Early this season, Utah was hampered by injuries to forwards Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors that thrust Hill into a primary offensive focal point role. The veteran thrived before missing time on his own to a creaky thumb injury.
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