This NBA season, you mostly would have heard about LeBron James’s age-defying excellence or Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dexterity on both ends of the court. The narrative has been predominantly centred around the two Los Angeles teams who made blockbuster acquisitions in the NBA offseason. We have also seen the emergence of a few dark horses as the NBA Most Improved Player candidates. Notable names being Bam Adebayo, Devonte Graham and Brandon Ingram. Ingram was famously a part of the package offered to New Orleans Pelicans by the LA Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade.
However, we will be talking about the players who are quietly having a great season in the NBA but are not generating as much buzz as their big market colleagues.
Jonathan Isaac- DPOY candidate
Jonathan Isaac was a candidate for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award- only an unfortunate left knee injury 32 games in stopped him from achieving a well-deserved All-Defensive spot this year. However, he will be looking to bounce back in the upcoming restart planned by the NBA in Orlando. His numbers ( 12 points/ 7 rebounds/ 1.4 assists/ 1.6 steals/ 2.4 blocks on 51% shooting) don’t do justice to his defensive prowess on the court.
His primary asset is his shot-blocking skills, which is not surprising considering his 6-11 frame, 7-1 wingspan which makes scoring in the paint extremely tough for his opponents. In addition, Jonathan Isaac remains quite disciplined, managing to consistently remain vertical on his contests and averaging only 2.5 fouls/game which is a valuable asset in the NBA. Issac’s man defence is impeccable too, which allows him to switch on guards and forwards too if there is a mismatch in the matchups. His length and agility allow him to keep up with shifty players and guard 1-5.
He is Orlando Magic’s best and the most important defender and that is reflected in the statistics too, He leads the team and ranks near the top of the league in steals/game (1.6), blocks/game (2.4), defensive loose-balls recovered (0.8), and deflections/game (3.3); is 2nd on the team in charges drawn (0.13), defensive box-outs (2.0); and is 3rd in defensive rebounds/game (5.2).
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Jaren Jackson Jr. - The Unicorn 2.0
“He can shoot, he can make the right plays, he can defend, he’s a 7-footer that can shoot all the way out to the 3-point line. That’s rare. And block shots—that’s like a unicorn in this league”
The Grizzlies have been a very entertaining team to watch due to the front runner for the Rookie of the Year Ja Morant’s dazzling performances throughout the season. What’s gone unnoticed though, is the second year leap that Jaren Jackson Jr. has taken in this young, high flying Memphis team. He has been a key player for them-mainly due to his elite floor-spacing opening things up considerably for their offence - he's frighteningly adept at his role, hitting 40% of his 6 to 7 three-point attempts per game.
Defensively-speaking, Jaren is very versatile and has incredible length, athleticism, footwork, and timing, able to switch onto bigs and guards alike with equal ease and possessing preternatural defensive instincts as a help defender.
This unique combination of perimeter shooting and defence has led fans and experts to compare him to Porzingis who is also quietly having a decent NBA season with the Dallas Mavericks.
Christian Wood - The modern NBA Big
In the modern NBA, it is expected of you to make threes consistently on at least league-average efficiency. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Guard or a Center. Christian Wood, a 6’10 Power Forward has been shooting threes with an efficient rate of 38.6 %. Since the Pistons moved him to the starting line up, his stat line has been that of an All-Star (22.0 points on 54.0 per cent shooting overall, including 37.3 per cent from 3, 10.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.9 blocks, and 0.7 steals.)
Wood’s journey to Detroit’s starting line up has been a difficult one. He went undrafted in the 2015 NBA draft. The 76ers picked him up after watching him play the Summer League with the Rockets. The 76ers spell did not last long. He subsequently joined the Hornets, Bucks and the Pelicans but was ultimately waived off by them. The Pistons took a chance on him and Wood has certainly exceeded their expectations by performing excellently in the stretch big role. He has been a key player considering how team’s starting Power Forward Blake Griffin has a long history of dealing with injuries.
Wood’s shooting efficiency and his role (doesn’t demand a lot of touches) means he can be in major demand in the coming NBA off-season. Majority of Playoffs and even Championship contenders will be looking to add a shooting big to their roster. If Wood continues his form, he might also be in contention for an All-Star berth next season or the NBA Most Improved Player award.