As we speed past the quarter-pole of the 2015-16 NBA season, it seems like a good time to look back on the first 20-plus games of this current campaign and discuss which players have far exceeded expectations thus far.
Below, we have sorted through the stats to determine which players deserve to be named to the All-NBA “Outperform” Team:
Guard: Rajon Rondo – Sacramento Kings
The “Rebirth of Rondo” has been one of the more pleasantly surprising storylines of the 2015-16 campaign.
The 2014-15 season was an absolute train wreck for Rondo. He struggled mightily in Dallas after he was dealt to the Mavericks from the Celtics. Dallas was hoping that Rondo would be the piece that made the Mavs legit contenders. Instead, Rondo played poorly and fell out of favor with head coach Rick Carlisle. He averaged fewer than 10 points per game for the first time since his rookie season, and fewer than eight assists per game for the first time since 2007-08. In the process, Rajon also became the first player in NBA history shorter than 6’6 to shoot below 40 percent from the free-throw line over the course of a full season. Eventually, Rondo found himself locked in Carlisle’s doghouse and Dallas actually sent him home in the middle of their playoff series versus the Rockets.
As a free agent this past summer, Rondo quickly came to the realization that his earning power had taken a drastic hit. Just a few years ago, when he was with the Celtics, it was assumed Rondo would be able to secure close to a max deal when he hit the free agent market. Instead, Rondo had to settle for a one-year deal from the Kings. By signing a one-year contract, he was effectively betting on himself. That decision looks brilliant right now.
Rondo currently leads the entire league in assists, averaging 11 dimes per contest. He is also shooting a respectable 45.3 percent from the floor and an impressive 37.5 percent from behind-the-arc. His Kings teammates (specifically DeMarcus Cousins) have already started pressing the Sacramento front office to lock him up long-term.
Guard: Steph Curry – Golden State Warriors
It seems utterly impossible, but the argument could be made that reigning NBA MVP will not only repeat as the league’s Most Valuable Player again this season, but he could realistically be considered a favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award as well.
Curry and the Warriors are putting up mind-boggling numbers. It is not a stretch to say that should Curry somehow be able to maintain this efficient production all season, he’d compile the greatest statistical season of all time. There are an almost limitless number of stats to choose from in order to highlight just how absurdly good Curry has been this season. Here are just a couple:
* During the 1985-86 season, Larry Bird led the entire league in made three-pointers. Bird, appearing in all 82 games that season, knocked down an NBA-high 82 three-pointers. The following season (1986-87), Larry Legend once again led the league when he hit 90 three-balls. This season, Steph Curry has already made 125 three-pointers in just 24 games.
* The current record for highest scoring average for a player playing fewer than 35 minutes per game over a full season is 28.1 points per game. Steph Curry is currently averaging 32.5 PPG, despite playing just 34.9 minutes a night.
* No player (other than Steph Curry) has ever shot better than 43 percent from three-point territory in a season in which they attempted more than seven threes per game. This season, Curry is shooting 46.3 percent from distance while averaging 11.3 treys per game.
Forward: Kristaps Porzingis – New York Knicks
The top three picks in the 2015 draft were essentially no-brainers. Karl-Anthony Towns, the consensus top prospect, would go first. D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor would follow, in some order.
Then the consensus ceased. Most believed it was at that point where the draft diverted from “sure-fire stars” to “promising prospects with question marks.” Different scouts and pundits predicted the Knicks would take any number of players available. Some suggested it would be in the Knicks’ best interest to move down and acquire assets.
When Commissioner Adam Silver announced “Kristaps Porzingis” as New York’s selection, many fans in the crowd booed. Obviously, expectations heading into his rookie campaign were not high.
Even those that liked the pick and loved KP’s upside were quick to point that it would be foolish to expect too much too soon. In a couple of years, once he put on some weight and adjusted to the NBA style of play, then he would likely be ready to contribute on a consistent/significant basis.
To say that Porzingis has exceeded expectations would be an incredible understatement. Porzingis’ on-court production thus far is undeniably impressive. He’s one of just nine players in the last 30 years to tally at least 10 double-doubles in his first 20 career games. He’s averaging 18.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per-36 minutes. Highlighting his versatility, KP is currently the only player in the NBA this season with at least 40 blocks and 20 three-pointers.
And although the numbers are remarkable, it’s far more than just the statistics that have fans in all five boroughs so encouraged and enthused. It’s the sense that Porzingis is merely just scratching the surface.
He will likely reach some peaks and valleys over the next few months, and may eventually hit the dreaded ‘rookie wall,’ but the reality is that even if Porzingis was playing this well in 2017 (when he turns 22), he would still be considered to be arriving ahead of schedule.
Forward: Dirk Nowitzki – Dallas Mavericks
At age 37, Dirk was supposed to slipping away into the sunset of his career. He took a massive pay-cut to return to Dallas (he’s earning just $8.3 million this season), and he was supposed to be just a complementary player at this stage of his career.
However, Nowitzki is playing at a surprisingly high level, averaging 17.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a night, despite playing just 30 minutes per contest. The secret to Dirk’s success has been his remarkable efficiency. According to BaksetballReference.com, there have been only eight players in NBA history who have shot better than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point territory and 90 percent from the charity stripe. Dirk is currently shooting .488 from the floor, .407 on threes and .890 at the FT line. If Dirk accomplished that feat this season, he’d be the oldest player to join the club (only Steve Nash and Larry Bird have done it after their 30th birthday).
Center: Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves
Much like Porzingis, Towns is a rookie who has produced like a seasoned veteran.
As the highly-touted number one overall selection in last June’s draft, Minnesota fans expected him to contribute, but he has gone above and beyond thus far. It was clear Towns was special right out of the gate, when he became the first player to record double-doubles in his first two NBA games at age 19 or younger. KAT was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for November, when he ranked second among all rookies in scoring (14.4 points per game) and led first-year players in rebounding (9.4), blocks (2.18) and free throw percentage (86.7).
In December, he’s been even better, averaging 18.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks through five games this month. The sky was this limit for this kid coming out of Kentucky, but most didn’t think he’d reach these heights this quickly.
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