NBA ris­ers: Do­man­tas Sabo­nis, De’Aaron Fox and oth­ers ris­ing into big roles.

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Frank Urbina

You know the big names who are dom­i­nat­ing this NBA sea­son.

Play­ers such as LeBron James, Kevin Du­rant, Stephen Curry, Rus­sell West­brook and James Har­den are all post­ing mon­ster cam­paigns, just as they have done an­nu­ally for a very long time.

But it’s the other guys we’re here to dis­cuss, the lesser­known play­ers who are post­ing big num­bers and help­ing lead teams to sur­pris­ing sea­sons.

Hoop­sHype breaks down nine play­ers who are qui­etly play­ing big roles al­most a quar­ter of the way into the year.

Do­man­tas Sabo­nis, In­di­ana Pac­ers

The way he’s play­ing, it’s al­most like In­di­ana Pac­ers big man Do­man­tas Sabo­nis came into the sea­son with the goal to not miss. And so far, he’s suc­ceed­ing.

Sabo­nis, de­spite com­ing off the bench ev­ery game so far this sea­son, is play­ing by far the best bas­ket­ball of his ca­reer. The Gon­zaga prod­uct was av­er­ag­ing 14.4 points, 9.7 re­bounds and 3.1 as­sists per con­test in just 24.7 min­utes nightly, shoot­ing 69.3 per­cent from the floor.

Sabo­nis had only at­tempted five 3-point­ers on the sea­son, but guess what? He had nailed four of those, too.

Among play­ers see­ing more than 20 min­utes of ac­tion nightly, Sabo­nis has a field goal per­cent­age that ranked first over­all, just ahead of Utah Jazz cen­ter Rudy Gobert. Ad­di­tion­ally, Sabo­nis was pro­duc­ing 1.25 points per post-up posses­sion, the sec­ond-best rate among men with at least 30 such op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Mon­trezl Har­rell, Los An­ge­les Clip­pers

Speak­ing of big men dom­i­nat­ing off the bench, Clip­pers backup cen­ter Mon­trezl Har­rell is, like Sabo­nis, killing it in his re­serve role.

Har­rell was putting up 15.8 points, 7.4 re­bounds, 1.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per con­test while suc­cess­fully con­vert­ing 64.1 per­cent of his field goal at­tempts on the year.

Only three other play­ers could match the for­mer Louisville Car­di­nal’s to­tal points (300), as­sists (28) and blocks (34) in 2018-19, and they’re all star-level tal­ent — Karl-An­thony Towns, Joel Em­biid, An­thony Davis, Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert.

That’s de­cent com­pany for the Clip­pers big man, prov­ing how wildly pro­duc­tive he’s been this year.

De’Aaron Fox, Sacra­mento Kings

The 2017 draft’s No. 5 over­all pick, De’Aaron Fox is jus­ti­fy­ing his lofty draft sta­tus.

The Ken­tucky prod­uct was av­er­ag­ing 17.5 points, 3.5 re­bounds and 7.5 as­sists, shoot­ing 47.1 per­cent from the floor and, even more im­pres­sively, 38.1 per­cent from 3.

Formerly con­sid­ered a weak­ness, the fact that Fox can pull up into 3-point at­tempts and confidently knock them down at an efficient rate has helped him turn the cor­ner.

We’ll see if it’s sus­tain­able, but at the mo­ment, Fox was one of just four play­ers putting up a 17/4/7 stat line on the year, just like West­brook, Har­den and Jrue Hol­i­day.

Buddy Hield, Sacra­mento Kings

Kings wing Buddy Hield is also hav­ing a qui­etly fan­tas­tic year.

The for­mer Ok­la­homa Soon­ers star was putting up 18.8 points, 5.6 re­bounds and 2.7 as­sists per game, pro­vid­ing ex­cel­lent spac­ing for this up­start Sacra­mento squad. Among play­ers with at least 90 3-point at­tempts this year, Hield’s 45.1 per­cent ac­cu­racy from deep ranked fourth leaguewide, trail­ing just some guy named Curry, the Clip­pers’ Danilo Gal­li­nari and the Spurs’ Bryn Forbes.

Jusuf Nur­kic, Port­land Trail Blaz­ers

Af­ter a rel­a­tively up-and­down year in 2017-18, Jusuf Nur­kic has bounced back. The Bosnian big man was av­er­ag­ing 15.1 points, 10.4 re­bounds, 2.1 as­sists and 1.2 blocks, marks that could only be matched by a hand­ful of other play­ers, most of whom are big-name stars. He had a +10.3 swing rat­ing, prov­ing his pro­duc­tion has been any­thing but empty.

The Blaz­ers re-signed Nur­kic to a four-year, $48 mil­lion deal this past offsea­son, and by the look of it so far, it would ap­pear Port­land has locked up its cen­ter of the fu­ture at an ex­tremely team-friendly price.

Nikola Vuce­vic, Or­lando Magic

Vuce­vic’s num­bers — 20.4 points, 11.3 re­bounds, 3.6 as­sists, 1.1 steals, 1.1 blocked shots and 1.1 3-point­ers nightly — have been mon­strous. And his +14.8 swing rat­ing ex­em­plifies his im­por­tance to the Magic this sea­son.

The NBA of to­day might not be kind to tra­di­tional, semis­low-footed big men such as Vuce­vic, but his game has be­come so well-rounded that it doesn’t mat­ter. Not only does he space the floor well (Vuce­vic was shoot­ing 40 per­cent from 3 through 20 con­tests), he also dom­i­nates smaller line­ups thanks to his re­bound­ing prow­ess.

D’An­gelo Rus­sell, Brook­lyn Nets

Early last year, it looked like Rus­sell had turned the cor­ner. Then he hurt his knee and was never able to re­cover that form.

But af­ter 21 games, Rus­sell was av­er­ag­ing 17.8 points, 5.5 as­sists and 2.4 3-point­ers per out­ing, knock­ing down an im­pres­sive 36.5 per­cent of his looks from deep.

Rus­sell was also putting up ca­reer-best marks across the board in var­i­ous ad­vanced met­rics, in­clud­ing Box Plus/Mi­nus, Player Efficiency Rat­ing and Win Shares/48.

Pas­cal Si­akam, Toronto Rap­tors

The long-strid­ing big man was an im­por­tant piece of what was the best bench in the league in 2017-18. And thus far this year, af­ter a pro­mo­tion to the start­ing five, he’s been even bet­ter.

The third-year for­ward was putting up 14.5 points, 6.7 re­bounds and 2.3 as­sists per game while sink­ing 63.1 per­cent of his field goal at­tempts, an as­tound­ing mark for a player who pre­dom­i­nantly spends most of his time on the wing.

Si­akam has a unique game, with a tight ball-han­dle, quick spin moves and newly de­vel­oped pull-up shoot­ing touch to go with his freak­ish length and ath­leti­cism.

And it’s thanks to all of those dis­tinc­tive traits that Si­akam is able to do a bit of ev­ery­thing on the floor.

E’Twaun Moore, New Or­leans Pel­i­cans

It’s not ex­actly typ­i­cal that a role player in his eighth year posts a ca­reer cam­paign, but that’s what Moore is do­ing.

The vet­eran 2-guard was putting up ca­reer highs across the board, in­clud­ing points (16.3), 3-point­ers (1.7) and 3point per­cent­age (46.6). Among play­ers with at least 60 3-point at­tempts this year, Moore ranked third in ac­cu­racy.

With stars like Davis and Hol­i­day tak­ing most of the at­ten­tion from de­fenses, Moore has done an out­stand­ing job in com­ple­ment­ing the team’s best play­ers by knock­ing down shots at an elite rate off the ball.


Clip­pers for­ward Mon­trezl Har­rell is av­er­ag­ing 15.8 points and 7.4 re­bounds com­ing off the bench.

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