We are officially halfway through the NBA’s regular season, and thus far there have been a lot of surprise performances from teams and players throughout the league. Some things, however, never change, like Kemba Walker putting up points night in and night out, and Andre Drummond leading the league in rebounds. Now 41 games into the 2019-20 season, let’s check in with UConn’s NBA alumni.
Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics:
In his first year on a new team, Walker is sporting the best shooting percentage (45%) of his career while also leading the Celtics in points (22) and assists (5) per game, right in line with his career averages. Kemba is in the prime of his career, and finally has a supporting cast with young studs like Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum that he never experienced in Charlotte, so it’s no surprise that he is thriving. So far in January, Walker’s production has remained top-notch despite carrying a much lighter load offensively. The star point guard is putting up a stat line of 20/4/4, with strong performances coming against the top-seeded Lakers and Bucks. Despite this, Boston currently sits at No. 4 in the Eastern Conference and are struggling as of late, going 4-6 in their last 10 games. But with Walker leading the pack, they are sure to pick things back up with the All-Star break just a couple of weeks away.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons:
For the majority of the season thus far, Drummond has been at the forefront of trade talks, with fans and analysts alike saying his talent is being wasted in Detroit and it is time for him to move on. As of late though, these talks have diminished a bit and the All-Star center has settled into what is turning into another strong campaign, tying his career-high in points (17.3) per game and racking up a league-leading 15.7 rebounds per game. While the Pistons are on a downward trend, sitting at No. 9 in the Eastern Conference, Drummond has been putting together some of his best basketball of late, averaging 14.5 points, 14 rebounds, 3.8 assists and an incredible combined 5.3 steals and blocks per game over the last week. With the improved play of Derrick Rose this season and Drummond being one of the most consistent big men in the league, the Pistons could make a push into the top eight with half of the season’s games still to play, and Drummond should be locked in for his third All-Star appearance.
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) January 19, 2020
Shabazz Napier, Minnesota Timberwolves
It’s Shabazz time in Minnesota, as the Timberwolves finally traded away veteran Jeff Teague to the Atlanta Hawks. This means Napier is the full-time starter, the first such occasion in his career, after serving primarily as a backup since entering the league in 2014. As a result, Shabazz is playing the most minutes per game in his career (23) and is averaging nine points and career-bests in assists (4.6) and rebounds (2.5). The Timberwolves have struggled to start the new year, but since becoming a starter, Napier is putting up 11 points and six assists per game, giving hope that the team can turn it around. Efficiency remains a problem for the point guard, who is shooting just 38% on the year, but if he can adjust, the Timberwolves could have an underrated trio of Napier, Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns leading the way for the next few years.
Jeremy Lamb, Indiana Pacers:
Lamb and the Pacers started this year red hot, and while the Pacers have continued that success, their starting shooting guard has come back down to earth. In his eighth season in the NBA, Lamb is averaging 13 points and five rebounds per game, both below his averages from last season. His dip in production has not hurt the Pacers, however, as the incredible play of new signee Malcolm Brogdon as well as rising star Domantas Sabonis have Indiana placed at No. 6 in the Eastern Conference, just 2.5 games out of the No. 2 spot. With Victor Oladipo set to return from his knee injury that sidelined him for over a year next week, Lamb will likely return to the bench. This may work in the shooting guard’s favor however, as he will be at liberty to run the second unit, where he has been known to perform better. Expect a strong second half of the season for Lamb serving as the main source of points off the bench.
Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs:
Gay, along with the Spurs, are having a surprising first half to the season. And not in a good way. The forward still serves as the first or second man off the bench for Popovich’s team, but he is playing just 23 minutes a game (the second-lowest total of his career) en route to just 10.7 points per game, a career worst. On a per-minute basis Gay’s numbers still look alright, with his 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists hovering around his career averages, but he is not the same player he was just a couple seasons ago and neither are the Spurs. San Antonio sits at No. 9 in the Western Conference and are at risk of ending their NBA-best 22 consecutive playoff streak. They are in a heated contest for the No. 8 seed, however, sitting just half a game behind the Ja Morant-led Grizzlies. With Gay, what you see is what you get in terms of production. He will score at a decent clip and grab some rebounds, but he’ll need to do a little more to help out his team in the season’s second half.