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NBA PM: Who Made a Triumphant Return?

Moke Hamilton looks at players who returned with an impressive outing after battling injuries last season.

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Updated 11 months ago on
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The beauty of the NBA season is that every single team starts out 0-0. It’s a time for optimism and imagining what the coming campaign could have in store. In that regard, a number of players stood out in what was the first night of competition for a majority of the league’s teams.

Forget Me Not

In terms of injuries, NBA fans were the huge losers last season. A number of impact players found themselves on the shelf for an extended period of time, while others were hampered by injuries that severely limited their productivity. Led by Anthony Davis (more on him later), a number of such players seemed eager to return to the floor. Or, in the case of Joel Embiid, to make their debut.

It took well over two years, but Embiid may have been worth the wait. The team that has been mostly known for their futility gave Russell Westbrook and the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder all they could handle on Tuesday night, with Embiid turning in an impressive 20 points in just 22 minutes. Smooth and fluid, Embiid looked a bit rusty, but wasted no time in assuming the mantle for Brett Brown’s team. With the game on the line, Embiid was featured in the post and looked every bit like a franchise player. It’s scary considering how long he’s been out and the fact that he began playing basketball at the age of 15 years old.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, another young big man in Jonas Valanciunas gave everyone a stark reminder of what he is able of contributing on the court when he’s at full strength. Sure, the 32 points were impressive, but it was the fact that Valanciunas scored them on just 15 shots that was most surprising. Last season, Valanciunas missed 22 regular season games and eight playoff games. When he did play, he was limited. He sure wasn’t limited on the first night of competition, though.

The Memphis Grizzlies welcomed the upstart Minnesota Timberwolves to town, but were anything but hospitable. Zach Randolph gave the team 19 points off the bench, but it was the combination of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol that was truly remarkable. After missing a combined 56 games last season in addition to the playoffs, Gasol and Conley returned to the lineup under new head coach David Fizdale and scored a combined 42 points.

After losing Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee and Jeremy Lin, a fair number of experts predicted that the Charlotte Hornets wouldn’t make the playoffs this season, but it’s fairly obvious that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has other ideas. After missing 27 games during the 2014-15 season, MKG essentially missed all of last season, appearing in just seven games. It was pretty obvious he couldn’t wait to get back on the floor. His 23-point, 14-rebound effort led the Hornets in both categories in their 107-96 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Speaking of Al Jefferson, his defection to Indianapolis is one of the reasons why the Pacers are going to surprise a lot of people this season. Another reason would be Myles Turner. The sophomore was installed as the team’s starting center and responded with a 30-point, 16-rebound, four-block effort in game one.Truly dominant, Turner has the tools to dominate the league and he seems poised to be an All-Star within the next few years. With Paul George, the two will give the Pacers a dynamic one-two punch. You’ve been warned.

Derrick Rose and Eric Bledsoe each gave their fans something to cheer for, despite each coming up short in their respective season openers. Rose shot just 7-for-17 from the field and saw his New York Knicks decimated at the hands of LeBron James and his defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, but Rose was explosive and attacked the rim with abandon. In spurts, he looked like his former self. Now, if the Knicks can figure out the rest of their offense, maybe they’ll have something special.

Out in Phoenix, Devin Booker is widely regarded as the future of the franchise, but Bledsoe is still very much a part of the present. After missing 51 games last season, the point guard looked fresh and spry. In just 29 minutes, he dropped in 16 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists. Although coming in a loss, Bledsoe’s line was pretty good for someone who last played on December 26, 2015.

Auspicious Beginnings

Kawhi Leonard stole the show with his amazing performance on opening night. The San Antonio Spurs marched into Oakland’s Oracle Arena and pummeled the Golden State Warriors by 29 points. Leonard dropped in a sizzling 35 points and rounded it out with five rebounds and five steals. The Spurs walked away with the victory, but thus far, it is Anthony Davis who’s the talk of the town.

Davis won’t necessarily win any ironman awards. The fifth-year player has yet to play in as many as 70 games in a season. But when he does play? Wow.

On Wednesday night, Davis joined Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan as just the fourth player in NBA history to score 50 points on opening night. Despite coming in a 107-102 loss to the Denver Nuggets, Davis proved himself to be a one-man wrecking crew. His final stat line—50 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, seven steals and four blocks—left him just one block away from recording a rare “high five.”

Like a triple-double, a high five is a statistical accomplishment that is fairly rare. In fact, it’s much more rare than a triple-double—just ask Russell Westbrook.

The high five is accomplished when a player scores at least five points while—you guessed it—also recording five rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

The last high five was posted by Draymond Green last season. On December 11, 2015, he turned in 24 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, five steals and five blocks in a win over the Boston Celtics. Nicolas Batum recorded a high five in December 2012 and, at the time, became the first player in six years to accomplish the feat since Andrei Kirilenko did so in 2006. Kirilenko actually accomplished the feat three times in his career. The king of the high five, though? That would be Hakeem Olajuwon, who recorded six.

In NBA history, only nine players have accomplished the feat. Without question, Anthony Davis will. The quadruple double? Now that’s another story.

With all the movement this past summer, the fun is just beginning. Basketball is back!

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Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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