A fun exercise at the start of every NBA season is seeing the absurd numbers being put up by some of the league’s top up-and-coming players.
Obviously, none of the stats are sustainable because a regression to the mean always arrives. But that’s exactly why we should take advantage of this opportunity and enjoy the runs of excellent form while they’re ongoing.
Not all of these hot streaks are made the same. Some of the players putting up crazy (and surprising) numbers are shooting at rates that would make an in-his-prime Ray Allen blush. While others are shooting so many times a night that their arms require ice as soon as the final buzzer sounds.
As such, we decided to rank some of these guys by how sustainable their absurd level of play is.
Without further ado, let’s jump right in.
10. NIKOLA MIROTIC, NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Stats: 2 GP, 33.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.5 apg on 61.7/64.7/55.6 shooting splits
Since joining the New Orleans Pelicans, and especially since shaving his beard, Nikola Mirotic has been playing outstanding basketball. Spacing the floor next to Anthony Davis, Mirotic has proven to be the perfect fit, knocking down triples and providing solid scoring out of the post and on the occasional iso opportunities.
With all that said, there’s just no humanly way Mirotic can maintain these outrageous shooting marks; 61.7 percent from the floor and 64.7 percent from three are unheard of clips, and a regression to the mean is coming. But even when it does, the 27-year-old will still put up impactful numbers with the Pelicans – just not the MVP-caliber marks he’s currently posting.
9. ZACH LAVINE, CHICAGO BULLS
Stats: 2 GP, 31.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 bpg on 57.5/30.8/81.3 shooting splits
Despite poor shooting marks from three-point range, Zach LaVine is still putting up over 30 points nightly thus far this season. How? It doesn’t hurt that the UCLA product is shooting an outrageous 20 times per contest. That, plus, the fact that LaVine is shooting more free throws per game than he ever has before (8.0 nightly free throws; the explosive guard had never shot more than 4.5 before) leads us to believe a regression is on the way.
LaVine should get more efficient as the season goes along, especially from deep, but his 30-plus point-per-game output almost certainly won’t sustain over the course of the season. Regardless, he’ll be the Chicago Bulls’ No. 1 scoring option this year, so he’ll get his numbers anyway. The bigger concern for the Bulls is the fact that even with LaVine’s high point-scoring marks, the team is still being outscored by 22.2 points per 100 possessions with the 2-guard on the floor – the continuation of a troubling trend in LaVine’s career.
8. TIM HARDAWAY JR., NEW YORK KNICKS
Stats: 3 GP, 28.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.0 spg on 41.2/39.3/94.4 shooting splits
Not to take anything away from Tim Hardaway Jr., who has been outstanding to start 2018-19 for the New York Knicks, but there’s very little chance he maintains these scoring marks for the rest of the year. Hardaway has already posted point totals of 31, 29 and 24 thus far this campaign, showing next to no hesitation in jacking up as many shots as defenses have allowed.
Regardless, he’s going to have to share the basketball more eventually, as New York will want their all-important young ball-handlers, Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox Jr., to get more and more looks as the year goes on. So unless Hardaway manages to keep shooting 22.7 times per contest for the rest of this season (unlikely), his scoring average should drop from the high-20s to the low-20s as the sample size continues to grow.
7. CARIS LEVERT, BROOKYLN NETS
Stats: 3 GP, 24.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.0 spg on 65.0/40.0/85.7 shooting splits
Caris LeVert’s placement on this list may seem like a slight against the Brooklyn Nets swingman, but it’s not. It’s really just a matter of knowing that he can’t shoot 65 percent for the rest of the season. Nevertheless, the 24-year-old Michigan product has without a doubt turned the corner this year, blossoming from a decent role player to someone a team could be built around.
LeVert’s unique game has become extremely difficult for opponents to slow down. Every time a defender thinks they’ve got him figured out, LeVert pulls off a crossover or spin move that he hadn’t shown all game to get a bucket. It wouldn’t be surprising to see LeVert go the rest of the year putting up a 20/5/5 stat line or something close to it, but there’s just no way he can keep scoring at such an efficient rate from inside the arc; a fall-off is surely coming. But even when it does, LeVert will still find efficient ways to score, as it truly appears like he’s ready to be the guy for Brooklyn going forward.
6. CEDI OSMAN, CLEVALND CAVALIERS
Stats: 3 GP, 17.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.3 spg on 45.2/53.3/62.5 shooting splits
He hasn’t been quite on the level of the small forward who just left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers, but Cedi Osman has been more than solid in his first year as a full-time starter. In addition to scoring at a pretty efficient rate, Osman is also doing a good bit of rebounding and distributing for the Cavs, filling the role of playmaking wing nicely.
The issue with projecting how sustainable his play is, though, is his three-point shooting. There’s just no way Osman will continue to nail over half his looks from beyond the arc going forward. However, as long as the Turkish swingman can continue to make around 37 to 38 percent of his threes, the rest of Osman’s multi-faceted game will help him continue to make a big impact for Cleveland.
5. JOE INGLES, UTAH JAZZ
Stats: 2 GP, 24.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 5.0 apg, 3.0 spg on 70.4/64./7/0.0
It’s still early, but it appears that Joe Ingles has somehow taken his game to yet another level in 2018-19. Following the departure of Gordon Hayward last year, Ingles took on more of a playmaking role for the Utah Jazz and became more aggressive as a shooter. This led to a career-year for the Australian.
Now, it looks like the 31-year-old is willing to be even more selfish as a scorer. Don’t get us wrong, though: That’s a great thing for Utah considering how efficient of a bucket-getter Ingles is.
Even so, and quite obviously, there’s no way Ingles will keep converting such an absurd amount of his shot opportunities. But even with the incoming decline, Ingles will continue to be one of the league’s best shooters and produce in a major way for Utah.
4. WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN, SACRAMENTO KINGS
Stats: 3 GP, 18.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.0 bpg on 62.5/0.0/54.5 shooting splits
Willie Cauley-Stein began to turn the corner last year, posting career-highs all across the board. Thus far this season, that trend has only continued. Not only is the athletic center a threat to throw down high-flying lobs, but with the rock in his hands, he can either create for teammates or use a decent ball-handle to blow by opposing bigs.
Most encouragingly, Cauley-Stein’s net rating through three games is an impressive +10.7, meaning his output isn’t empty. Rather, his contributions have directly translated to team success for Sacramento.
As for the sustainability of Cauley-Stein’s early-season spurt, he likely won’t maintain his 62.5 percent shooting clip. With that said, there’s no reason to think he won’t continue on the upward trajectory he appears to be on. And as added motivation, the Kings passed on giving the young 7-footer a rookie-scale extension, making this a contract year for him. Playing for his first big payday should help Cauley-Stein maintain his laser focus for the rest of the year.
3. TAUREAN PRINCE, ATLANTA HAWKS
Stats: 3 GP, 21.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.7 spg on 47.8/36.4/100.0 shooting splits
Before this season started, Taurean Prince told HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy that he truly believes he’ll eventually be one of the best players in the NBA once he reaches his full potential.
“I think I can be up there with the All-Stars and the best of the best in the league,” Prince said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. I’ll keep developing over time and God will keep blessing me. But in order to get there, I have to do my part. That means focusing on my work every single day, grinding and doing whatever I can [to improve] so that I reach my full potential and hit my ceiling. I think it’ll take a minute, but I’m just focused on working hard and showing my growth each year. But when that time comes? It’ll be game over.”
Well, the early returns for Prince this year have certainly been promising. Tasked with being the Atlanta Hawks’ top two-way wing, Prince has not only maintained his status as a plus defender, his offensive game has also become more well-rounded. Besides his career-best 21 points per game, the Baylor product also presently boasts a 20 percent assist rate, by far his highest mark since joining the Hawks.
Because he hasn’t been shooting lights out from three or putting up an inordinate amount of shots per contest, Prince’s current pace seems sustainable enough, although it would be a tad surprising if he averaged over 20 points for the rest of the year. But thanks to the value he adds through other aspects of his game – including his defense and rebounding – it won’t matter if his scoring average drops a bit. He’ll still be a very important player for Atlanta this season.
2. JOSH RICHARDSON, MIAMI HEAT
Stats: 3 GP, 18.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 0.7 spg on 35.8/29.6/90.9 shooting splits
Josh Richardson’s poor shooting marks may lead one to believe his scoring marks are bound to take a dip, and soon. However, that may not necessarily be the case, as the Miami Heat appear set on figuring out how Richardson handles being the team’s No. 1 scoring option.
Prior to this season, Richardson was mostly pigeonholed into just a 3-and-D role. But his growth as a one-on-one scorer will be key as Miami attempts to jump-start the next step in his development. If Richardson proves he can handle it, it won’t be long before he becomes the face of the franchise. Either way, the Heat are going to let him shoot as often as possible going forward, until he proves one way or another whether he can be a legit scorer on the wing. And Richardson is too talented to shoot sub-40 percent from the floor and sub-30 percent from three, so if anything, his scoring should actually see an uptick once he gets more comfortable with how much is on his plate.
1. KEMBA WALKER, CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Stats: 3 GP, 35.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.0 spg on 48.7/50.0/76.5
Thus far this season, Kemba Walker has taken his game from All-Star level to fringe MVP candidate. Through the first week of the league year, the Charlotte Hornets guard is leading the league in scoring, both in average and total points. Sure, he’s shooting a lot (25.3 FGA nightly), but the shots aren’t going down at some astronomical rate; his shooting splits actually seem quite sustainable, which is a scary thought for opponents.
Until he tires out, we expect to see Walker – the pull-up jumper and crossover specialist – continue to put up absurd scoring marks and help lead Charlotte back to the postseason for the first time in two years.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.