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Six NBA Players Exceeding Expectations

Jonathan Concool lists six players who are exceeding expectations early in the NBA season.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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About two weeks into the NBA season, we have seen a fair share of excellent performances. For examples, look no further than Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry going off for 53 points against the New Orleans Pelicans or the dynamic Oklahoma City Thunder duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combining for 91 points in an overtime thriller against the Orlando Magic.

But while the superstar players get the most attention, we shouldn’t ignore other players who are performing at an unexpectedly high level and exceeding expectations.

Today, let’s take a look at six players who have been surprisingly productive early in the 2015-16 season. This list includes players who significantly improved their overall production from last season while also taking into account plus/minus numbers to see how much each player actually helped their respective team while on the court.

#6 – Jordan Clarkson – Los Angeles Lakers

Last Year’s Stats: 11.9 ppg, 44.8 percent from field, 31.4 percent from three
This Year’s Stats: 16.5 ppg, 49.4 percent from field, 45.5 percent from three

Jordan Clarkson has been one of the few bright spots for the struggling Los Angeles Lakers two weeks into the season. Clarkson, in his second season with the Lakers, has made some noticeable strides offensively as his shooting percentages are up across the board, resulting in his point per game average going up about five points from last season. With outings such as a 30-point performance (tied for his career high) in a loss against the Denver Nuggets and a 22-point performance in a loss against the Sacramento Kings, Clarkson has proven himself to be a consistent offensive threat for L.A.

Clarkson, who measures in at 6’5, is a tough guard for opponents not only because of his ability to shoot the ball but also because his size gives him the ability to finish above other players and score through contact. Clarkson has also benefited from Julius Randle drawing a significant amount of attention in the paint, giving Clarkson open looks from the perimeter. Look for Clarkson, who is now in the starting line-up for the Lakers, to have many more impressive outings and don’t be surprised if he ends up leading L.A. in scoring this season.

#5 – Evan Fournier – Orlando Magic

Last Year’s Stats: 12.0 ppg, 2.1 apg, 2.6 rpg, 44 percent from the field
This Year’s Stats: 18.7 ppg, 2.4 apg, 4.1 rpg, 46.7 percent from the field

If someone told you before the season that Evan Fournier would be leading the Magic in scoring for three straight games, you would have likely laughed them off. Well, Fournier has led the Magic in scoring in a handful of games and he has been one of the team’s most productive players this season. With back-to-back high scoring performances of 30 points (a career high) in a win against the New Orleans Pelicans and 29 points in an overtime loss against the Houston Rockets, Fournier showed that he worked hard on his overall game this offseason. Fournier, known for his shooting touch when he came into the league, has also been very aggressive attacking the rim so far this season. This has made him a double-threat on offense, making life difficult for opposing ball clubs.

Fournier is shooting 37.7 percent from behind the arc this season, which is around his same mark from last year (37.8 percent). Fournier’s shooting percentage has not increased much, but keep in mind that he is more involved in the offense this year and is taking more shots than he had in previous years. Many people had started to give up on Fournier because of his inconsistent play in Denver when he came into the league and even last year in Orlando. However, he’s turning heads now. This is a small sample size, but it looks like the Magic may have landed a steal in trading for Fournier.

#4 – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

Last Year: 12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 49.1 percent from field, 15.9 percent from three
This Year: 19.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 57.3 percent from field, 45.5 percent from three

Just about everyone knows Antetokounmpo as the ‘Greek Freak’ and rightfully so as he stands at 6’11 with a 7’4 wingspan. The seemingly unlimited potential of Giannis was a big reason why the Milwaukee Bucks selected him with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. While many fans and analysts had high hopes for Giannis, even his biggest supporters didn’t expect him to develop this quickly. Giannis, who has upped his scoring average from 12.7 points last season to 19.3 this season, has definitely been working on his shooting touch as his percentage from behind the arc is up from a dismal 15.9 percent last season to 45.5 percent this season and his percentage from the field has risen from 49.1 percent to 57.3 percent.

Antetokounmpo’s long wingspan makes him nearly impossible to guard when he’s attacking the rim, and his improved ability to finish around the rim only makes him more lethal. Giannis has also been making it count from the line, as his free throw percentage is up from a solid 74.1 percent last season to 86.2 percent this season. Giannis looks more comfortable in the Bucks’ offense and just about every other facet of the game as well. Look for him to continue to make great strides as he continues to develop.

#3 – Marcus Morris – Detroit Pistons

Last Year’s Stats: 10.4 ppg, 4.8rpg, with a plus/minus of -0.7
This Year’s Stats: 17 ppg, 6.5 rpg, with a plus/minus of 9.3

Marcus Morris’ recent play is making the Detroit Pistons’ front office look very smart. Morris, who last year played a much smaller role on a Phoenix Suns team that featured his twin brother Markieff Morris, is being used as a key offensive contributor in Detroit. Morris’ points per game are up to 17 after he averaged 10.4 points last year. He had a 26-point outing on 10-15 shooting from the field in an overtime win over the Chicago Bulls. Morris being on the court usually means good things for the Pistons, as he has a plus/minus of 9.3 while on the floor (compared to a -.0.7 rating while he was on the court for Phoenix last year).

Morris is shooting 34.5 percent from three-point range, but it should be noted Morris has been used much more within the Pistons’ offense than he ever was with Phoenix, which explains his percentage dropping a bit. Morris is looking for his shot more this season with the help of Andre Drummond, who is drawing a significant amount of attention in the post and giving Morris open looks. And don’t forget, Morris is still only in his fourth year out of Kansas. It’s very possible his best basketball is still ahead of him as he continues to grow as a player.

#2 – C.J. McCollum- Portland Trail Blazers

Last Year’s Stats: 6.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg, shooting 43.6 percent from the field
This Year’s Stats: 21.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, shooting 47.2 percent from the field

Many people had the Trail Blazers finishing near the bottom of the Western Conference because of the exodus of four of the team’s five starters from last season. What those people didn’t account for is C.J. McCollum having a breakout season. Ever since opening night, he has made it very clear that he can score the ball and give Portland a second option alongside Damian Lillard. Opening the season with 37 points on 14-22 shooting from the field and 6-9 from behind the arc, McCollum showcased his sweet shooting stroke in a win against the New Orleans Pelicans. McCollum, in his third year out of Lehigh, has been a consistent scorer for the Blazers thus far – as he is averaging 21.6 points per game, which is up from 6.8 points per game last season.

McCollum has taken advantage of the opportunity given to him this season. With the Blazers now being one of the youngest teams in the league, McCollum has been able to start and be a playmaker and scorer on offense. With that said, McCollum’s shooting percentages have not made huge jumps from last season due to, in part, his increased role. He is shooting 47.2 percent from the field (43.6 percent last season) and 40.4 percent from three (39.6 percent last season). McCollum is no stranger to putting up numbers like this, though, considering at Lehigh he averaged around 20 points per game and is also the school’s all-time leading scorer. With a very young roster, look for McCollum to keep being aggressive and getting opportunities to thrive going forward.

#1 – Andre Drummond – Detroit Pistons

Last Year’s Stats: 13.8 ppg, 13.5 rpg, with a plus/minus of -0.7
This Year’s Stats: 20.3 ppg, 20.3 rpg, with a plus/minus of 12

Andre Drummond has opened up the season in extraordinary fashion. He’s the biggest name on this list, but the surprising thing about his play is just how dominant he has been. Drummond, who has been a solid rebounder throughout his career, has elevated his game to the next level. Drummond’s numbers are up all across the board as he is currently averaging over 20 points and 20 rebounds. Drummond has had three 20-20 performances throughout his first six games, the first time that’s happened since the 1970s when Wilt Chamberlain was destroying his opponents. Drummond’s notable performances include a 29-point, 27-rebound game in a comeback win against the Portland Trail Blazers and a 25-point, 29-rebound contest against the Indiana Pacers.

When Drummond is on the court, he has a plus/minus of 12, which is up from dreary -0.7 from last year. With Drummond still just 22 years old, the sky feels like the limit for this kid as he continues to make incredible stride year after year. Look for Drummond to continue his dominant play at center and perhaps make his first All-Star appearance this year.

*****

The season is young, but these players were clearly eager to get back on the court to show what they worked on this offseason. Honorable mention include Marcus Thornton of the Houston Rockets, Alec Burks of the Utah Jazz and Jeremy Lamb of the Charlotte Hornets.

All stats were updated through the games played on November 13.

Jonathan Concool is an NBA writer based out of San Francisco, CA entering his third season with Basketball Insiders.

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