Saturday 19 August 2017 / 12:20 AM

THE SHINING EARLY-SEASON STARS

We’re about one-fifth of our way into the 2016-2017 NBA season and we can note some interesting trends, particularly surrounding players that are off to a shining start.

James Harden

James Harden is looking good. Really good. I was just thinking the other day how much Harden has evolved as a player. He used to be 6th man for the Oklahoma City Thunder – he even won the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year Award. If the Thunder couldn’t win a championship with Durant, Westbrook and James Harden on the same squad, I don’t think it was really in the cards. Harden’s move to the Rockets jumped his playing time and scoring opportunities like crazy.

He went from averaging 16.8 points per game in the 2011-2012 season with the Thunder, to 25.9 points per game in 2012-2013 with the Rockets. He’s now at 28.7 points per game for 2016-2017, and that’s even down from his 29 points per game in the 2015-2016 season.

Mike D’Antoni putting Harden at point guard is an interesting move, and now Harden is proving he can be a great point guard averaging 12.5 assists per game along with a hefty PPG. He’s well on his path to becoming an MVP in the NBA and is keeping the Rockets on the fine line of being competitors.

Overall, Harden is doing great but the Rockets don’t have much of a shot against the Warriors. The Rockets can hardly contend against the Spurs or Thunder, let alone that super team from the Bay.

DeMar DeRozan

DeMar has evolved into the aggressive scorer that keeps Toronto alive. A couple years ago, the Raptors were looked upon as an irrelevant joke. Now, Canada’s NBA team has some muscle. If DeRozan keeps it up, he’s going to go down as one of Toronto’s greats along with Chris Bosh, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady.

DeRozan is making almost 50% of his mid-range shots and almost a quarter of his 3-pointers, making him a lethal scorer at a distance. He can also carry the ball to the basket through defenders better than most.

Kemba Walker

Kemba Walker, along with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nicolas Batum, might be the only reason to watch the Charlotte Hornets.

At 25.3 points per game, compared to his career average of 17.6, Kemba can hustle and make plays better than most point guards. He’s still young and has a lot of room to grow, but so far so good.

Joel Embiid

Young ‘un Joel Embiid has an interesting story. The ‘rookie’ got drafted in 2014 by the 76ers as the third pick in the first round. He was out for two full seasons due to several surgeries. Two seasons. Now this first-round pick is averaging 18 points, 7.6 rebounds and roughly 2 blocks per game in his delayed rookie season.

If he can keep those numbers up, he’s going to join a slew of Hall of Famers – including Shaq, Tim Duncan, Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson, and Hakeem Olajuwon – to boast those sort of rookie-year numbers. This 7-footer has post moves and a deadly game from three.

I’m excited to watch the 76ers grow alongside Embiid, and eventually Ben Simmons when the Australian recovers from his injuries and surgery.

Hassan Whiteside

Whiteside is evolving to become one of the most dominant big men in the league. I mean, how many clips have you seen of this guy – not block, catch – a defender’s shot?

He’s currently playing at 17.7 points per game with almost 3 blocks per game and 16.2 rebounds per game. It’s not going to be fun watching the Heat evolve without Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, but Whiteside is a redeeming grace.

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About the author

Alex Moskov

Alex has come on board with CBS as our basketball and gridiron expert, providing opinions and analysis from the bright lights of the NBA and NFL.

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