Five early season NBA standouts
By Mpho Mutloane
The 2020/21 season is close to 2 weeks old which is the perfect time to start rating players as it’s not super early. In keeping with this in mind here are my five standout players of this two-week-old NBA season.
1. Kevin Durant
The question surrounding Kevin Durant coming into this season was whether he was able to return to at least 90% of the KD who played at Golden State pre-Achilles injury? This season he has responded in earnest with some very lively performances, reminding us how much of an offensive force he is as a 7ft forward and that he is close to 90% of that Golden State man. This is what has excited the Brooklyn Nets, adding fuel to their title credentials. Durant averages 28 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists this season. This achievement after 5 games is better than what he averaged in those championship years at the Warriors where he averaged around 26pts but the stat to watch for KD is his shooting. KD this season has shot at 51% from field goal range, 50% from 3-point distance and 90% from the free throw line which exceeds the 50% FG, 40% 3 Pt and 90% FT used to knight the best shooters in the NBA. KD has only accomplished this feat once in his career while shooting above the FG and 3pt targets in his last 6 seasons. A Durant in this shooting form definitely takes him to the top of the MVP conversation.
2. James Harden
Harden is an enigma, but few can deny that he is one of the top offensive players in the league and arguably in league history. This season started unusually in Houston with Harden all but requesting a trade and his poor behaviour during preseason and the first week showing widening cracks in the relationship. His fitness has also become a trending topic on the socials. However, with all of that Harden has put up a league leading 37 points per game at a career high 3Pt% of 45.5%. It is early but for the former MVP this could be an audition for him to get a move away from Houston by playing at this high level to make other GM’s consider trading the house for a season or two of chasing the illusive NBA title. Houston will miss him when he leaves even though they will not freely admit it.
3. CJ McCollum
CJ throughout his career in Portland has been the Robin to Damian Lillard’s Batman. Averaging 22 ppg as a good complementary piece to the superstar that is Lillard. This season CJ has put up a career high 28 points per game, but more importantly he has been the main man for the Trail Blazers, leading the team in scoring and shooting efficiency for the main rotation, something CJ has not done consistently before. This could be a mirage however, McCollum is one player in the West that, if he continues at this rate then he can change the power balance in the West and provide Lillard with the superstar he has needed to go all the way.
4. Domantas Sabonis
The Lithuanian All-Star is making a case as one of the best centres in the league. Starting the season with a career high 22 point, 11 rebound and 7 assist showing and he’s been a focal point of the new Indiana offense. He was voted Eastern Conference Player of Week 1 due to his dominance across the floor. Shooting with an effective Field Goal Percentage of 62.3% Sabonis has hit the ground running when the other centres in the league are only starting to get hot now. Having Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon also starting well, Sabonis gives Indiana an intriguing and exciting big 3 that can challenge in the East in this uncertain season.
5. James Wiseman
This rookie selected Number 2 overall in the 2020 NBA draft has been a shining ray of light for the struggling Warriors so far. He is still very raw and has lots to learn but if I were a Golden State fan, I would be very excited as it looks like James Wiseman will be a future franchise cornerstone. Without playing competitive basketball for over a year and no preseason to boot, Wiseman has averaged 11.6 points and 5.6 Rebounds per game in his five NBA games. What is more than the stats will tell you is the skillset that he has shown in glimpses. At 7ft Wiseman has the ability to become one of the most prolific shooting centres/forwards in the league with a handle that will help him generate his own offence in future. He is one rookie in this class that has impressed the most and is a must watch.