With every NBA season comes a few surprises. The development of new players can separate good teams and coaches from those contending for the first pick in the draft. Some coaches are better than others in this department and some franchises pride themselves on the ability find new talent and nurture it to its full potential.
The Southwest is among the deepest divisions in basketball and includes a number of players that have provided a fresh batch of talent. So let’s take a closer look at the five most surprising players around the Southwest this season.
5. Jae Crowder- A rare defensive presence on a Mavericks roster that is the third worst defense in the league, Crowder is a welcome addition and one of the few current players Mark Cuban is guaranteed to keep around into next year. Averaging 1.1 steals per game, Crowder is second on the team in steals while playing just 19 minutes per night.
Offensively, the rookie still has a lot of work to do as he scores about 6 points per game, but he has done well to understand his role in a lineup that has no shortage of scorers. He is currently averaging 1.3 assists per game and provides versatility as he can fill in at power forward as well as his preferred small forward position. Taken 34th overall in the second round of last year’s draft, Crowder has already provided the Mavs plenty of value for money.
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4. Quincy Pondexter- After a lackluster start to his career in New Orleans in 2010-11, it didn’t look like things were going to get any better for Pondexter last year in Memphis. His averages went up only slightly and his overall play was still nothing to remember, but that is changing this year as his role off the Grizzlies bench is more pronounced.
Averaging career highs in points (6.4), rebounds (2.2) and assists (1.4) per game, Pondexter is developing into a reliable second line performer for Memphis, something they need considering the Grizzlies are ranked 19th in bench scoring. His skills on the defensive side of the ball fit Hollins’ style of play and he is shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc, by far the best percentage from downtown in his career.
3. Danny Green- After breaking onto the court for regular minutes for the first time last season, Green has developed into a reliable defensive performer for the Spurs and a capable shooting threat as he has entered the starting lineup this year. Averaging a career best 10.3 points and 1.6 assists per game, Green has bought into the Spurs brand of ball movement and efficient scoring.
Defensively, he has been reliable averaging 1.1 steals and almost one block per game. At 6-6”, Green typically plays the two, but last week he guarded Jeremy Lin in the final seconds of regulation during a tough game in Houston and proved that he has the speed as well to defend point guards when he stripped Lin and dove to the floor in a scrum that saw the Rockets end up with a shot clock violation. Efforts like that are what Gregg Popavich teams are all about, so don’t expect him to relinquish his starting place to Gary Neal any time soon.
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2. Chandler Parsons-Having set then re-set his career high for points in a single game (31) this season, Parsons has been a surprisingly dependable scorer and three point threat for the Rockets. In only his second year, Parsons is averaging 15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists as part of a young Rockets team trying to find their way.
Parsons has maintained his 45% shooting from beyond the arc and he averages a steal per game (5 on Monday night vs the Knicks) for a team that finds playing defense difficult. The Rockets give up 103.7 points per game, but thanks to Parsons and James Harden, they’ve also become the third best offensive team in the league (104 points per game).
1. Greivis Vasquez-Having showed glimpses of his potential in past seasons, Vasquez may not come as a surprise to those who pay close attention to the league now that he’s a starter, but for those who don’t scour the scouting reports, his 12.5 points and 8.7 assists per game (4th amongst the league’s best passers) exceed the expected numbers.
With the Hornets having struggled with injuries for much of the season, their offense has been almost completely reliant on Vasquez’s production. His efforts have gone unnoticed for the most part, however, due to the fact that the team has the third worst offense in the league. That’s more a product of their paltry rebounding (2nd worst in the league) and the fact they rarely get to the free throw line (third lowest in free throw attempts per game) than it is because of anything Vasquez does though.