A mere two months after the Lakers were crowned champions, the 2020-21 NBA regular season has begun. The unique schedule shifting due to Covid-19 has resulted in teams coming off of a truly strange offseason timeline. The bottom half of the league that did not qualify for the bubble this summer have not played an official game since March 11th. On the flipside, teams that made the trip down to Orlando have had some of the quickest turnarounds for a new season in NBA History.
This leaves many questions to be answered about the state of individual teams and players. In just a week we have seen some truly unexpected trends. The Orlando Magic remain the only undefeated team in the league. The Cavaliers, Suns, Kings and Hawks, all lottery teams last year, went 3-1 in their first four games. At the same time, the Nuggets, who went to the Western Conference Finals last year, have started 1-3 with much of the same roster.
These odd developments haven’t just been displayed on a team-by-team basis either. This unique summer presented challenges, but also new opportunities that other off seasons have not. Some players have looked like completely different people in the first handful of games this season. Here are a few players that have excelled in the early-going this season beyond the expectations of most.
- Markelle Fultz
We are finally starting to see glimpses of the player that was drafted number one in the 2017 Draft out of Washington. Continuing the positive trend we saw towards the end of last year, Fultz has been confident and aggressive with the ball in his hands to start this season. Through the first four games he has averaged 18.3 points and 5.8 assists per contest. He has looked very comfortable running the offense, getting into the paint consistently and making plays for himself and others. He also looks much more comfortable shooting threes, granted he is just 3/10 from behind the arc so far this season. Along with a strong start from Nikola Vucevic and Terrance Ross, Fultz has been a major factor in the Magic starting the year 4-0.
- Christian Wood
The season is only two games old for the Houston Rockets in what promises to be a turbulent year, but there are a few bright spots to be excited about. Wood might be the most promising of these. Following a very strong second half last season with the Pistons he seems to have taken another leap in his ability to score the ball. With several key players out due to contact tracing, Wood has shined, averaging 27 points per game on 57% from the field. If he can become dangerous as a passer when teams start to gameplan for him he can quickly become an all-star level big man. Regardless of James Harden’s situation going forward, Wood, John Wall, and Demarcus Cousins give Houston a core that can keep them competitive amidst the drama surrounding the organization.
- Collin Sexton/Darius Garland
The Cleveland Cavaliers winning three of their first four games might be one of the strangest things to happen early on in this especially unique season. Their young backcourt that has had more than its share of skeptics has been at the forefront of their success. Garland, entering his second season, has looked like a completely new player after an extended offseason for the Cavs. Last year he topped 20 points just six times in 59 games played. In his first four games of 2020-21 he has already had two such performances. He has also begun to show the ability to be a lead guard for Cleveland, averaging 7.8 assists per game as well.
Meanwhile, his backcourt mate has shown flashes of being the go-to scorer and franchise centerpiece. Sexton is averaging 25.3 points per contest, and has let the game come to him, shooting a very efficient 54% from the field. There were a lot of questions raised about decision making within the Cavs organization following the team’s selection of Sexton and Garland in back to back drafts, but these two young guards seem to be growing together seamlessly.
- Dejounte Murray
It has taken four years to fully materialize, but it appears the Spurs have another draft steal set to become an all-star. Murray has been a full time starter for a year now, but he didn’t show anything close to the level of play he has displayed in the first four games of this season for the Spurs. Given more volume, his versatility has shined on both sides of the floor. He is averaging 7.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists, and his length and instincts continue to make him a pest on the defensive end. But the biggest jump has been as a scorer. He looks much more comfortable on jumpshots, and is much more willing to go get his own on the offensive end. Last year he averaged 9.7 field goal attempts per game. To start this season he has upped that average to 14.5. This has resulted in Murray currently putting up 18.5 ppg, and making the San Antonio offense much more balanced and dynamic.
- Terry Rozier
With Lamelo Ball being taken with the third overall pick in the draft, there was some concern as to how this backcourt would coexist, and whether a guy like Rozier might turn into a third wheel of sorts. Yet, through the first week of the season, Rozier has not seen a drop-off in minutes or touches. In fact, the opposite has happened. He opened the season with a 42 point explosion against the Cavaliers, and hasn’t scored under 18 in any of the three games since. The uptick in production can’t just be chalked up to volume either, with the sixth year guard shooting 51% from the field. Even with Gordon Hayward entering the fold Rozier has seemed to take on the role of number one option on offense. The Hornets have started the season 2-2, and if Rozier continues to score this way, this team can make some noise in the east this season.