Now that the New Year is upon us, enough time has passed in the 2017-2018 NBA season to make an accurate judgement on what teams are going to be in it for the long haul, and also what players are an important influence for their team. This time of year, it’s also interesting to look at which players have made the biggest impact for a new team they’re on–whether they are an NBA rookie, or with a new team as a result of free agency or trade.
This week, I’m going to highlight a few stand out players who have made an immediate, and marked positive effect on a team they’re new to. There are countless players I could talk about here, but I’m listing the ones who have stood out to me personally–your list may be different. Reach out to Shaw Sports on Twitter to tell us who you think has made an impact for their team this season. @ShawSports
*I have listed these players in no particular rank.*
If you follow any of my articles you know that I did an entire piece on Kuzma just a couple of weeks ago so I won’t spend too much time on him here. Kuzma has shown to be very effective for the Lakers early on, quietly passing up Lonzo Ball and the hysterical hype that surrounded him heading into the 2017-2018 NBA season. Kuzma is currently leading the rookie votes for the NBA All-Star weekend for the Western Conference. And, although All-Star selection is a popularity contest, Kuzma has shown to be deserving of the votes.
For the Lake Show, Kuzma is averaging 17.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game at an impressive (for a rookie) 39.6% from the three point line. Turnovers are always a problem for new recruits, but Kuzma has shown an ability to protect the ball averaging just 1.9 turnovers per game. Despite the uncertainty in Los Angeles right now, Kuzma is remaining focused on his game, and he is sure to be a household NBA name for years to come.
As time goes by, I’m really starting to think that Boston got the better deal in the Irving/Isaiah Thomas trade. Thomas has been injured so it’s still a little early to say, but Irving’s impact for Boston has proven to be exactly what the Celtics were hoping for. Irving made his desire to move on from the Cleveland Cavaliers known, and did so in an effort to move out from under the shadow of LeBron James. He wanted the opportunity to make a team his own, and hopefully lead them to a championship. At just 25 years old, Irving is in his prime, and the chance to make a name for himself apart from James is something I can’t fault him for.
— NBA (@NBA) December 26, 2017
Well, we all know how the Celtics are performing this season–even without Gordon Hayward. Irving has led his Celtics to a very comfortable lead in the Eastern Conference standings with 24.4 points, 4.9 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game. As the man carrying most of the possessions per game, he’s done a done excellent work at facilitating and creating points next to Al Horford. Combine Irving’s offensive skill set with the defensive presence of Jaylen Brown, and you have yourself a back court that NBA dreams are made of. I believe that Boston has a real chance to make it to the NBA Finals, and if they do, their defensive presence will give the Warriors a run for their money.
Tatum is another rookie on my list, but I just have to give him credit. Boston is currently ranked as the #1 defensive team in the league, and as your grandpa probably told you, defense wins championships–I don’t care what the Houston Rockets have to say about it.
Tatum was selected by Boston as the third overall pick in the 2017 draft. He spent one year studying under Coach K at Duke before being drafted, and at just 19 years old he’s stepped up to help his team in Hayward’s absence. Tatum has a certain finesse to his game as he can often be seen tip-toeing to the hoop through traffic, and gliding past defensive holes for easy layups. When the time calls, he’s also useful for a slam dunk, and a 3-pointer to get the crowd going. Tatum was particularly involved when the Celtics came back from a 26-point deficit to beat the Houston Rockets with 19 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 assist in 40 minutes of play.
For December, Tatum tallied 2 of his 3 career t double-doubles and scored in double digits a total of 14 times. If that isn’t instant impact I don’t know what is. Once Hayward comes back, the Celtics’ deep arsenal will only grow more powerful. Hayward has recently made it known that he intends to come back before the end of the season. Time will tell how he progresses, but it’s been rumored that he is several weeks ahead of schedule on the road to recovery. If he does make it back, and help lead the Celtics to a title, it will be the comeback story for the books.
Final: Wizards 111, Celtics 103.
Kyrie Irving (20 points, 5 assists) and Jayson Tatum (20 points on 7-of-9 shooting) led Boston in scoring. Terry Rozier dropped 16 points and grabbed 7 boards off the bench. pic.twitter.com/KjPx35zUdu
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 26, 2017
I’ll admit that I’m a Nuggets fan before I begin this segment so please forgive any bias I express for Trey Lyles. However, as a fan I am also one of the team’s harshest critics. It’s no secret that the Nuggets have had a rather bumpy go of things the last few years, but this season they’ve made some drastic improvements and we’ll likely see them in the playoffs for the first time in a long time. That said, I was dumbfounded and disillusioned at the events that transpired in the 2017 draft. The Nuggets traded DOWN in the draft sending their 13th pick (Donovan Mitchell) to the Utah Jazz in exchange for the 24th pick (Tyler Lydon) and Trey Lyles. Nuggets fans were left scratching their heads, and even Nuggets President Tim Connelly explained the events that transpired in the draft as, “bizarre.” I will refrain from expressing my frustration at how well Mitchell is playing for the Jazz, and I will also not be upset that Mitchell could very well be a ROY candidate whereas Lydon is making himself comfortable in the G-League. Moving on.
Lyles is just 22 years old, and didn’t see many minutes in the beginning of the season. However, the newly acquired (and incredibly expensive) Paul Millsap sustained an injury to his hand that required surgery, and Lyles was called up to fill in some minutes. At first, he played second fiddle to Kenneth Faried, but quickly showed poise and confidence well beyond his years. Lyles has filled a major gap for the Nuggets in Millsap’s absence and although his official stat line shows him bringing in 9.7 points, and 4.7 rebounds per game, he’s averaging 15.8 points, and 6.9 rebounds per game in the last 10 games. To top it off, he protects the ball better than any young player I’ve ever seen with an average of only 1 turnover per game in the last 10 games.
The Nuggets currently rank at #6 in the Western Conference standings, and they cold very well capture the Oklahoma City Thunder in the coming weeks to put them in a playoff match-up with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Once Millsap comes back the Nuggets will have to make room for him once more, but they will only be stronger for it as they’ve worked very hard while he’s been away.