12 most improved players in the NBA this season
Jeremy Lamb, SG, Charlotte Hornets
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. The greatest trick Jeremy Lamb ever pulled however was convincing the NBA he actually did exist. That’s exactly what the little-known guard has finally been doing this season with 17.6 points per game (more than twice his career average of 8.4) and 1.7 triples at a 45.7 percent clip (9th among all qualified shooting guards). Lamb’s lightning bolt production has largely been a function of the injury to Nicolas Batum, who has missed the entire season so far with an elbow injury. But Lamb is showing out as a quality No. 2 option behind Kemba Walker, which is a sentence I never thought I would be typing.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
Let the records show that 2017-18 was the season that The Greek Freak let go of his earthly tether fully and entirely in order to soar amongst the clouds. Where to begin with Giannis? The league-leading 31 points per game? The immaculate 58.3 percent from the field? The nearly ten rebounds a contest? The mean mugs when he yams on a dude after taking two dribbles from the locker room? Suffice it to say, Antetokounmpo affects the game in so many different ways that it’s tough to keep track, and his talent has finally caught up with his preposterous physical gifts. Halloween may be over, but Giannis will stay terrorizing the National Basketball Association for a long time to come.
Ricky Rubio, PG, Utah Jazz
Maybe it’s the fully grizzly beard, but what on earth has gotten into Ricky this season? A player whose offensive limitations are basically a meme and which appeared to factor heavily into Minnesota’s yearly determination to trade him, Rubio is getting buckets like a man possessed now that he finally has a new team. He has improved his scoring average by over five points to 16.3 a game in Utah and has never gotten to the line at a higher rate (5.0 attempts a night) or shot as prolifically from deep (1.7 threes per game). Rubio’s assist averages have dipped to an uncharacteristic 5.8 though, but that may be a byproduct of playing beside other quality playmakers like Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell, which in turn is letting the Spaniard focus more on getting his own baskets.
Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons
Fact: Andre Drummond is a career 38.9 percent free throw shooter. Also fact: Andre Drummond has never shot better than 41.8 percent from the line in a single season before. Also also fact: Andre Drummond has made 30 of his 40 free throws attempts (75.0 percent) to start this season. Checkmate, atheists.
Seriously though, the UConn product’s quantum leap from the charity stripe should have major implications on his net effectiveness, allowing him to be more aggressive attacking the basket now that he no longer seems to be afraid of shooting foul shots. Meanwhile, the extra freebies should directly aid him in the points department as well. Elsewhere, Drummond’s spread pick-and-roll with Reggie Jackson is potent again thanks to the arrival of Avery Bradley and an energized Tobias Harris. And with a 3.1 combined steals and blocks per game (the highest such mark of his career), Drummond is starting to snatch some souls on defense too. Can I get a hallelujah?
Otto Porter, SF/PF, Washington Wizards
Perhaps the least-heralded member of Washington’s core group, Porter has been nothing short of Ottomatic this season (I’ll see myself out now). With 2.6 threes and 2.3 steals per game, the former No. 3 pick is essentially what you would get if you took a 3-and-D forward and tossed him in a blender with a bunch of steroids. Porter has also kicked up his scoring to a personal-best 18.3 points a night, giving the Wizards a third lethal option on the perimeter. Many had their doubts that he was worth the $104 million max deal Washington coughed up to retain him this summer. Maintaining this level of production over the next five months could prove tricky, but so far, so good for Junior.
TJ Warren, SF, Phoenix Suns
Credit Warren as a driving force behind Phoenix’s semi-amazing turnaround after their flaming garbage pail start to the season. He has already posted games of 20, 24, 27, and 40 points in the opening weeks of the season, and he is doing so almost exclusively from inside the three-point arc. Warren is also seventh among small forwards in rebounding and continues to show excellent intuition cutting to the basket as Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, or another guard initiates the offense. The type of positional flexibility he possesses is highly valuable to the modern game as well, so here’s hoping for more love from the greater basketball community for The Warren Commission.