With the first few games over, the grind of the NBA regular season is now kicking in. The fun yet short-lived trends like Nikola Mirotic shooting 70% from the floor or JaVale McGee looking like an All-Star center were proven to be no more than storylines reserved for Week One only. From that stretch, there are a few more that have sustained themselves and could continue for the duration of the season.
Rudy Gobert has improved his offensive game
The stifle tower has often been limited on the offensive end and struggled to create shots on his own. Despite being one of the best rim protectors in the league, he was seen as a hurdle that prevented the Jazz offense from going to the next level. Against the Pelicans, he scored 25 points. Granted this was nowhere near his career-high of 35 and Anthony Davis sat out their encounter. In his next game, he scored 23 with DeAndre Jordan (twice an All-Defense member) was the recipient of his scoring. Ricky Rubio was the lucky beneficiary of Quin Snyder’s magic touch. Once a horrible shooter, he graduated to competent from beyond the arc - shooting a decent 35.2% from deep with one more attempt compared to his last season in Minnesota. For the first time in his career, defenders had to respect his shot and could not slag off him. The Frenchmen is averaging a career high in points (17.7 PPG) and Offensive Rebounds (3.7 ORPG) through the first seven games of the season. While this will go down with the progression of the season, the fact that his field goal percentage has risen by nearly 13% (from 62.2% to 75%) with an increase in shots attempted is something of note. Gobert will not be the first man to ever make 3 out of his every 4 shots but the increased efficiency and shot attempts mark an improvement in his offensive prowess. Also, the fact that he is taking a career-high 86.5% of his shots from less than three feet of the rim should signify something - he has mastered the dunk.
DeMar DeRozan is a much improved facilitator
Passing has never been his strong suit though in what would be his last season as a Raptor, DeMar has shown much improvement in creating shots for his teammates. He posted a career-high 5.2 assists last season in Dwane Casey’s revamped offense. Now donning the colors of the Spurs, he is beginning to realize the potential we always knew he had. Forget for a second that he scored an average of 28.3 PPG on nearly 50% from the field. He’s assisted on average of 8 shot a game and has not let this become detrimental to his scoring. At the TEAM USA Meet over the summer, Coach Popovich saw his star players battle it out in a competition of taking tough two-pointers. This should have been a prediction for what was to come in an offense centered around DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. Instead, the 6’7’’ Compton native is playing as the best possible version of himself while filling in for the injured Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, and Derrick White. He has often found Bryn Forbes and Rudy Gay - the latter of whom has made the most the opportunities of being guarded by smaller players. Aldridge has also taken advantage of DeRozan’s selflessness with plenty of touches on the post. Given the number of injuries to the Spurs’ point guards and with Ginobili and Parker no longer part of the franchise; there were plenty of concerns who would run their offense. So far, DeRozan has been the perfect replacement and more.
Stephen Curry has taken his shooting to unprecedented heights
The two-time MVP redefined the size of the court of and floor spacing in general. The man is the greatest shooter who has ever lived and his shots beyond the arc are like layups for the average person. There is no doubting that many of the other members of on the All-Time Three Pointers made list are excellent shooters on their own right. That being said, none of the same explosiveness, range, or ability to create off the dribble as the Baby Faced Assassin. His once ludicrous shooting numbers have become the norm for him. In a season where he was expected to cross the 300 three-pointers made mark, he finished with 402. And now, he has managed to become the first player to ever make 5 or more threes in 7 consecutive games. We have unbelievable stretches from him before though none have been like this. Curry is also averaging a career high in threes attempted - 11.6 - and is making them 51.6% of the time. Khris Middleton is the only other player currently shooting above 50% from deep. The Bucks forward is an All-Star caliber player though his numbers will soon fall down to the norm. Curry, on the other hand, could be on the precipice of creating history. A 50-40-90 season might as well represent his career shooting numbers. A 50-50-95 is within the realm of possibility. He has been disregarded from the MVP conversation ever since Kevin Durant joined the Bay. Should his numbers be more than a dead end, it is hard to see why Curry cannot force himself into the conversation and win a third MVP.
DeAndre Jordan is now consistent from the line?
Without comparing him to other players, it is safe to say that Jordan has been the worst shooter from the free throw line since he was drafted a decade ago. He has made 44.2% of his free throws during the regular season ( his numbers get worse in the playoffs). Forget hitting the front rim, Jordan has been synonymous with an egregious number of air balls and sheer bricks from 15 feet out. “Hack a Shaq” was replaced with “Hack a Jordan” as anyone with half brain would know to intentionally foul him and make him shoot from the line. Despite his defensive presence, he became unplayable during the fourth quarter of a basketball day. This would have continued to be the case until now. At the age of 30, he has attempted 32 from the line and made 26. Known for his painful to watch form, Jordan has made over 81% of his attempts from 15 feet. His success from the charity stripe is more than just a product of dumb luck. For the first time in his tenure as a pro-athlete, Jordan actually exudes confidence when he steps up to take his shots. His mechanics have dramatically changed as well. Jordan now has a more balanced stance and can properly bend his knees to start his shooting motion. All the great shooters have said that shooting comes from the legs. It took him a decade but Jordan has finally learned to heed their advice. He has a once in a blue moon of a chance to shoot more than 80% from the line. Though his significant improvement in this part of the game will make him playable in close game situations.