NBA risers: Domantas Sabonis, De’Aaron Fox and others rising into big roles.
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 floor.
Sabonis had only attempted five 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 field goal percentage that ranked first 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 field 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 floor 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 confidently knock them down at an efficient 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 offseason, 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 exemplifies 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 floor 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 Efficiency 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 five, 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 field 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 floor.
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.