This season there are a lot of players who have improved in the NBA. Here are the five who have improved the most and how they have done it.
A lot of people including myself were skeptical of the massive contract the Chicago Bulls gave Zach LaVine this offseason. LaVine is proving us all wrong. Through the first part of the season, LaVine has been dominant offensively. Defensively he still stinks, but when you’re that good on offense, it’s okay, and it makes you worth the contract. LaVine is averaging a career-best 29.3 points on 52.7 percent shooting from the field. The most significant improvement is him getting to the line more at 8.7 times per game and finishing there at an 82.7 percent clip. He is also shooting an impressive 39.5 percent from deep, at right around his career average on 6.3 attempts per game. LaVine has been efficient from everywhere on the floor including finishing at the rim. Currently, he is shooting 66 percent at the rim, easily a career-best.
Regression will happen, he is not going to shoot 52.0 percent for the season. There is also room for improvement, as he turns the ball over a ton and is an average playmaker. Still, the Bulls have to be thrilled with the start. LaVine is looking like an All-Star caliber shooting guard, who can score with good efficiency. That alone is worth the money in today’s NBA.
Last year Montrezl Harrell was sneaky good off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers. This year, he is a straight monster bulldozing everything in his path. He still comes off the bench, but not for long; he plays starters minutes anyway. Harrell is averaging 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 1.3 assists per game. He is also shooting 64.4 percent from the field. Against the Houston Rockets, he had 30 points in a sweet revenge game. His analytics have been impressive as well, posting a 70.7 percent true shooting percentage, 15.5 rebound ratio, and 27.7 PER.
There is so much to like about Harrell’s game. He brings 100 percent energy every night. On offense, he finishes above the rim at an above average rate, draws fouls and is shooting a career-best 82.1 percent from the line. Defensively he gets blocks and steals at a remarkable rate and has improved on the defensive glass. Things always go better for the Clippers when Harrell is in the lineup. He’s a master of the hustle stats. Right now he is averaging 2.5 screen assists per game, 8.5 contested two-point shots per game and 7.2 box outs per game, per NBA.com.
He is way more than an energy guy now, though. Harrell is the real deal, and he is going to get paid in the upcoming NBA offseason.
The Sacramento Kings are looking frisky! They are joining the modern NBA by playing with pace and space, and their offense has been well better than expected. Sacramento has a long way to go, but they have to be excited about the improvement of their young guys. De’Aaron Fox, in particular, has taken a big jump from year one to two. His rookie year was brutal; he is a new player now.
This year Fox is averaging 17.7 points on 47.4 percent shooting, to go with 7.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. A massive jump from 11.6 points on 41.2 percent shooting, 4.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game. The biggest jump has been his improved mid-range jumper. He is shooting 44.4 percent from 10-16 feet (per Basketball Reference), but mainly he is crushing it at the rim. Fox is shooting an absurd 80.0 percent from 0-3 from the rim. That will go down a bit, but he has been the best point guard finisher in the league so far.
Defensively he hasn’t been a slouch, either. He gets blocks, steals at an elite rate, while also being a solid rebounder. The concern is on the offensive end, where he is shooting 65.9 percent at the free throw line and a woeful 20.0 percent from three. Fox is better than those numbers, they should pick up a bit, but it is concerning. His jump shot will ultimately decide how high his ceiling is. For now, Fox can rely on his athleticism, ability to finish at the rim and be a pest on defense.
Man, the Brooklyn Nets are fun! For them to succeed they needed their ball-handlers to improve and boy have they. D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and even Shabazz Napier are all having career years. The most impressive though has been Caris LeVert.
LeVert has been unstoppable going to the rim. He is faster than everyone else. Even though he is still a mediocre shooter, it doesn’t matter. LeVert has been a force. He is averaging a career-high 21.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game on 51.6 percent shooting. His most significant improvements have come from him getting to the line 4.5 times per game and converting at an 85.2 percent clip. He is also shooting well enough to keep defenders honest, including 36.0 percent from three. Mainly, though, he is killing it from the mid-range shooting, and he can get that shot any time he wants.
Combine that with drawing fouls, finishing at the rim at an above average rate and a near elite assist percentage, LeVert is playing like a borderline All-Star. Defensively he still has work to do, but he competes. He doesn’t foul a lot, and is a solid rebounder, but he has a way to go. In his defense, he has tough matchups a lot. Give LeVert a watch; the guy is a stud.
Quietly, second-year center Zach Collins is looking like a beast. If he keeps it up, he may be starting for Jusuf Nurkic soon. Collins has improved his field goal percentage from 39.8 percent to 69.2 percent. He noticeably bulked up in the summer, and it has paid off. Collins is averaging 10.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, while shooting 55.6 percent from deep from three and 86.7 percent from the free throw line. The shooting has been his most significant improvement, and he is getting to the line more now at 3.0 times per game.
Colling is finishing at the rim and in the mid-range at an elite mark, making him an ideal pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop partner for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Even though he doesn’t take a lot of threes, he is nailing the ones he does take.
On defense, Collins has been a monster. He has become one the best rim protectors in league with a block rate that is in the 98th percentile. This is big, long-term for Portland; he can solve the defensive issue that Nurkic can present in individual matchups. Keep an eye on Collins; the numbers aren’t huge, but he is getting better every game and could be exactly what Portland needs, and the NBA must watch out for him.