You know the big names who are dominating this season.
Players like 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 lesser-known players who are posting big numbers in their own right, and helping lead various teams to surprising seasons thus far in 2018-19.
Below, HoopsHype breaks down nine players who are quietly playing great almost a quarter of the way into the year.
DOMANTAS SABONIS, INDIANA PACERS
With 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 anymore. And so far, he’s succeeding.
Sabonis, despite coming off the bench every game so far this year, is playing, by far, the best basketball of his career. The Gonzaga product is averaging 14.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per contest in just 24.5 minutes nightly, shooting an incredible 69.6 percent from the floor. Sabonis has only attempted five three-pointers on the season, but guess what? He’s nailed four of those, too.
Among players seeing over 20 minutes of action nightly, Sabonis’ field-goal percentage ranks first overall, just ahead of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Additionally, Sabonis is producing 1.25 points per post-up possession, the second-best rate among men with at least 30 such opportunities.
Simply put, Sabonis’ production this season has been downright awesome, and if he were getting starters’ minutes, his numbers would get even scarier. Regardless, in his role as a reserve, Sabonis has been outstanding for Nate McMillan’s men.
MONTREZL HARRELL, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Speaking of big men dominating off the bench, Los Angeles Clippers backup center Montrezl Harrell is, like Sabonis, absolutely killing it in his reserve role.
Thus far this season, Harrell is putting up 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per contest, while successfully converting 66.9 percent of his field-goal attempts on the year. Only three other players can match the former Louisville Cardinal’s total points (264), assists (26) and blocks (30) in 2018-19, and they’re all star-level talents that go by the names of Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis.
That’s decent company for the Clippers big man, proving how wildly productive he’s been this year.
As if that wasn’t enough, we should also note Harrell ranks second in points per possession (PPP) as the pick-and-roll roll man this year, per Synergy Sports. His 1.54 PPP on those looks only trails Gobert, a former All-NBA big man.
DE’AARON FOX, SACRAMENTO KINGS
The 2017 draft’s No. 5 overall pick, De’Aaron Fox is justifying his lofty draft status with his play in his sophomore year.
The Kentucky product is averaging 18.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, shooting 48.7 percent from the floor and, even more impressively, 39.7 percent from three. Formerly considered a weakness of his, the fact that Fox can pull up into three-point attempts and confidently knock them down at an efficient rate has helped him turn the corner in his age-21 season, running the point at close to an elite level.
We’ll see if it’s sustainable, but, at the moment, Fox is one of just four players putting up a 18/4/7 stat-line on the year, sharing the distinction with Westbrook, Harden and Jrue Holiday.
Fox has been playing so well, in fact, that the Sacramento Kings presently boast a surprising 10-8 record, which has them tied for ninth in the loaded Western Conference.
It hasn’t just been a one-man show in Sacramento, though…
BUDDY HIELD, SACRAMENTO KINGS
…because Kings wing Buddy Hield is also having a quietly fantastic year.
The former Oklahoma Sooners star is putting up 18.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, providing excellent spacing for this upstart Sacramento squad. Among players with at least 90 three-point attempts this year, the sharpshooting Hield’s 44.1 percent accuracy from deep ranks third league-wide, trailing just some guy named Curry, as well as Brooklyn Nets 2-guard Joe Harris.
With numbers that impressive, it shouldn’t come as a surprise Hield boasts a +7.8 swing rating (the difference between a team’s net rating with a player on the floor versus when he sits), which shows just how vital he is to the Kings’ early success in 2018-19.
Like Fox, we’ll have to wait and see how sustainable Hield’s play is, but for now, the duo look like vital building block for Sacramento’s suddenly bright future.
JUSUF NURKIC, PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
After a relatively up-and-down year in 2017-18, Jusuf Nurkic has bounced back wonderfully thus far this season.
The Bosnian big man is averaging 15.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 blocks per game, marks that can only be matched by six other players, most of whom are big-name stars. Furthermore, Nurkic has an absurd +11.9 swing rating, proving that his production this season has been anything but empty.
The Portland Trail 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 their center of the future at an extremely team-friendly price.
We’ll see how Nurkic continues to play, but at the moment, that contract is looking like a steal, especially by the modern NBA’s standards.
NIKOLA VUCEVIC, ORLANDO MAGIC
Nurkic isn’t the only European center putting up a subtly great season thus far in 2018-19, though. The Orlando Magic’s Nikola Vucevic also deserves to be talked about.
Vucevic’s numbers this year – 20.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 three-pointers nightly – have been straight-up monstrous. And his +11.6 swing rating is one of the best marks in the league, exemplifying his importance to the surprisingly 9-9 Magic this season.
The NBA of today may not be kind to traditional, semi-slow-footed big men like Vucevic, but his game has become so well-rounded that it doesn’t matter. Not only does he space the floor well (Vucevic is shooting 42.2 percent from three through 18 contests), he also dominates smaller lineups thanks to his rebounding prowess. Vucevic’s 1.59 PPP on put-backs is the best mark league-wide among guys with at least 20 such opportunities.
Needless to say, if Vucevic keeps this up, he could be looking at his first All-Star bid this season – he’s been that good.
D’ANGELO RUSSELL, BROOKLYN NETS
Early last year, it looked like Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell had turned the corner. Then he hurt his knee and was never able to recover that form.
Now, it would appear that awesome version of Russell is back.
After 19 games, Russell is averaging 17.4 points, 5.4 assists and 2.5 three-pointers per outing, knocking down an impressive 38.4 percent of his looks from deep, many of which came of the pull-up or step-back variety. Russell is also putting up career-best marks across the board in various advanced metrics, including Box Plus/Minus, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares/48.
If he can maintain this productive (and relatively efficient) level of play, he could be headed to a nice payday this offseason, in what’s going to be his first taste of free agency.
PASCAL SIAKAM, TORONTO RAPTORS
The long-striding, pogo-stick of a big man Pascal Siakam was an important, impactful 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 is putting up 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while sinking 61.9 percent of his field-goal attempts – a truly astounding mark for a player who predominantly spends most of his time on the wing.
Siakam’s got a really 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. As proof, we can point to the fact that Synergy rates him as “excellent” in four completely distinct play-types: transition scoring, isolation scoring, posting up and as the pick-and-roll ball-handler. In addition, his swing rating (a ridiculous +16.6) is one of the top marks in the NBA among rotational players.
Siakam is still two years away from hitting free agency, but if he continues on this trajectory, he’s going to get absolutely paid once he does hit the open market.
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 exactly what New Orleans Pelicans wing E’Twaun Moore is doing thus far this season.
The veteran 2-guard is putting up career-highs across the board, including points (16.9), three-pointers (1.8) and three-point percentage (48.5).
Among players with at least 60 three-point attempts this year, Moore ranks fourth in accuracy. And when shooting off-screens, Moore’s 1.37 PPP is the second-best mark in the NBA among qualified players.
With stars like Davis and Holiday taking most of the attention from opposing 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.
The Pelicans are going to be in the thick of a heated playoff race out West all season, and the difference between making it or going on vacation early will come down to role players like Moore making a legit nightly impact, just like he has been to this point in the year.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.