How did this happen? It’s a question we’ve been asking a lot through the first three weeks of this NBA season. But as the league moves past the period of Small Sample Size Theater, some surprising stat lines are quickly becoming even-more-surprising trends. Here are the biggest ones thus far:
Jeremy Lamb Is Shooting 46.5 Percent From Deep
What’s the opposite of a blacklist? That might be what we need to keep track of all the players thriving away from the shadow of Russell Westbrook. Jeremy Lamb—who, to be fair, is on his third season in Charlotte since departing from Oklahoma City—is the latest shooting star. In 11 games this season, Lamb is shooting 47.6 percent from the field and a stellar 46.5 percent from 3. He is averaging 17.4 points per game on 13 shots—almost double last season’s career high.
A big part of this is minutes. Lamb was limited to under 20 minutes a game in his first five seasons, mostly off the bench. But this season he has shot up to a hair over 30 in a starting role next to former UConn teammate Kemba Walker, with Nicolas Batum out. A 28 percent shooter from 3 last season, Lamb seems to have also found a rhythm from the midrange and out; he’s shooting 59.1 percent from 3 to 10 feet alone, per Basketball-Reference. Maybe the law of averages will catch up to him—he’s shooting 40.9 percent from 3 feet and in, which isn’t a great sign—but, for now, he looks like a legitimate NBA rotation player.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown Are Scoring 29.7 Points a Game Combined
Danny Ainge is having a run, isn’t he? In 11 games this season, the no. 3 overall picks from the past two NBA drafts are combining for 29.7 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. Tatum is also shooting 50 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from 3, while Brown is shooting 40.4 percent from 3.
Tatum en tres jugadas consecutivas dejando su sello: doble en penetración a mano izquierda, puntea el tiro en defensa y asiste a Horford. pic.twitter.com/nvPx7p3keM— Andrés Villar (@avillar9) November 6, 2017
Brown’s improvement from last season has been remarkable. He’s crashing the boards more, and all of his shooting numbers have risen, minus a 58.3 percent mark from the free throw line. But he’s also getting to the line more than ever. The polished Tatum, still just 19 years old, is showing already on the offensive end hints at a higher ceiling ahead. By playing Tatum and Brown mostly alongside the talented core of Al Horford, who is shooting 47.4 percent from 3 this season, and Kyrie Irving, who has looked efficient in his new home, Brad Stevens is putting both in a position to succeed.
Justin Holiday Is Taking 15.1 Shots a Game (Including 8.4 3s)
Who knew that HBO’s new season of The Leftovers would be based in Chicago, and that Justin Holiday would be playing the lead role? Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, duly departed from a now-rebuilding Bulls team, took 16.5 shots and 15.9 shots, respectively, per game last season. Taj Gibson, also gone, took more than nine shots a game. Somebody’s got to take those leftovers, and so far it’s been Holiday.
Holiday, however, is not making them. He’s shooting 34.6 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from 3. You know who could use a few of those shot attempts? Lauri Markkanen.
Steph Curry Has a 123.5 Offensive Rating
Lest we forget, Curry is a destroyer of defenses, an MVP-level player, and now an underrated part of his own championship-level team.
This stat isn’t surprising as much as it is outstanding. Curry is averaging 32.8 minutes per game, with a plus-22.6 net rating. The closest Warrior with at least 10 minutes per game is Kevin Durant, who has only a plus-19.9 net rating.
Russell Westbrook Is Shooting 60 Percent From the Free Throw Line
After losing to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder have bigger problems to worry about than Westbrook’s shoddy free throw shooting. But the early numbers aren’t promising. Westbrook is shooting a strikingly low 60 percent from the charity stripe on 5.5 attempts per game. Last season, for reference, Westbrook was getting to the line 10.4 times a game and shooting 84.5 percent. It’s almost like he’s forgotten how to shoot that shot.
Or, as Westbrook tells it, he’s shooting it a different way. Westbrook said nearly two weeks ago that part of the reason he’s been off is because a change in league rules no longer allows him to walk behind the 3-point line after an attempt. This seems small and meaningless, but as someone who had the same pregame routine before every high school soccer game (totally comparable, I know), I understand. This feels like a problem, because we’re not in the preseason. The Thunder, meanwhile, need every point they can get.
Ricky Rubio’s 15.8 Points Per Game Leads the Jazz
You know Hoodie Melo, and now there may be Arm Sleeve Porzingis. But, please, allow me to introduce Long-Haired Rubio: volume shooter, and the Jazz’s leading scorer
On 12.5 shots per game (a career high), Rubio is hitting 39.1 percent of his field goals (just shy of a career high), and averaging 15.8 points per game (a career high). And while his 3-ball sunk to below 30 percent after Tuesday’s 0-for-5 performance, he’s firing it up from behind the line 5.2 times a game. That Rubio, who has never seen a pass he didn’t like, is the Jazz’s leading scorer speaks to both the void left behind by Gordon Hayward and a slight indictment of their lack of a go-to option on offense. Perhaps the bigger issue: Rubio is getting to the line nearly as much as Rudy Gobert is, and he’s making one more free throw per game than the Jazz center. That’s not ideal.
Kyle Kuzma and Domantas Sabonis Are in the Top 15 in Field Goal Percentage
After a draft full of promising point guards, this has so far been the Year of the Young 4. Not much was expected of either Sabonis or Kuzma heading into this season—Sabonis struggled to stay on the floor as a rookie, and Kuzma was the 27th overall pick—but in a short time this season, they’ve already proved themselves.
This play really showcases Domantas Sabonis' strengths: comfortable and quick handling the ball and great finishing ability. pic.twitter.com/iOQhG03U7S— Cameron Stewart (@ThatManCam) November 7, 2017
In this new age of position-less, speedier basketball, the nimble Sabonis and Kuzma are thriving. Sabonis, after a mixed rookie season in OKC, is shooting 62.8 percent (on 8.6 shots a game), which is fourth-best in the league, behind only centers who make most of their field goals by dunking. Kuzma, meanwhile, has not been gun-shy, taking 11.2 field goals per game and hitting 56.3 percent of them. That’s good for 15th-best in the NBA.
A mi este jugador cada día me gusta más....Kyle Kuzma. Ala pívot . Lakers. Rookie .Hace cosas así... pic.twitter.com/chfqfCAZC3— Pacojo (@PacojoSER) November 5, 2017
As more heralded teammates like Myles Turner and Lonzo Ball draw attention, the two power forwards are flashing their own bright futures.