Here’s a list of guys that have stepped up their game this season and in turn are catching the attention of a few more eyeballs. Overall, I think that Aaron Brooks is playing the best of anyone on this list; however, I have chosen someone from each division whose improvement has not gone unnoticed.
Chris Douglas-Roberts, New Jersey Nets.
After only seeing action in 44 games as a rookâ€”while averaging 4.9 points and 1.1 boards perâ€”CDR has asserted himself this season as one of the Nets’ top scorers. The 1-19 Nets are going to need his offense if they hope to win more than the four games their on pace for all season. The former first team All-American from Memphis fell into the second-round of the 2008 Draft, before being picked up by New Jersey at the 40th spotâ€”completing NJ’s best draft class in years (They also snagged Brook Lopez at 10 and Ryan Anderson with the 21st pick). Fellow ’08 second-rounders, DeAndre Jordan (Clippers) and Mario Chalmers (Heat) are both playing well respectively, but CDR is quickly asserting himself as the top caller from deputy commissioner Adam Silver. This year, Douglas-Roberts has battled with a case of swine flu and personal (Made public) anguish associated with losing. Through 16 games this year (Started 15), he is averaging 16.3 points and 4.8 boards, while pouring in at least 20 points in eight games. Lopez is also playing great for the Nets; leading the team in points, rebounds and blocks.
Also making noise in the Atlantic: Andrea Bargnani (Raptors), Danilo Gallinari (Knicks) and Lou Williams (Sixers/Pre-injury).
Will Bynum, Detroit Pistons.
Bynum is currently in his third year in the League (Via a European hiatus) and is averaging 13.6 points, 3.2 boards and 4.5 dimes a game as a reserve for the 8-12 Pistons. The 6-foot guard from Georgia Tech, otherwise known as “Bynumite,” has also shot 47.4 percent from the field in the month of November. Joey Dumars loves him and he has become a strong backcourt fixture alongside Rodney Stuckey. The undrafted Bynum has already gone through the ringer of the NBDL and Euro leagues, only to finally find his role in the NBA. He has become a SportsCenter favorite with his explosive play and thunderous dunks; just ask Tyson Chandler. As a rookie in 2005, Bynum didn’t catch much burn in Golden State. Last year, he was picked up by the Pistons; averaging 7.2 and 2.8 dimes in only 14 mpg. This season, Bynum is finally getting minutes (28.6 a game) and is producingâ€”helping more people in the Motor City cope with losing Billups. Last night, Bynum dropped 16 points in a 98-94 win against Washington in the Palace.
Also making noise in the Central: Ersan Ä°lyasova (Bucks), Dahntay Jones (Indiana) and Joakim Noah (Bull/ Yes, this includes all noise aimed at LeBron).
Jason Williams, Orlando Magic.
The Southeast division was the toughest for me to decide onâ€”post below if you have a case for a guyâ€”and Williams popped into my mind. Not because he has made the most improvement from his last season in the League, but because he has been just as surprising a find as anyone in the NBA this year. If only the NBA still had a Comeback POY award, White Chocolate would have to be near the top of the list. Williams is the Birdman of last year (Minus the two-year drug ban), after choosing to sit and utilize his League Pass subscription instead of playing during the 2008-09 season. With Jameer Nelson lost to (another) injury in mid-November, Williams has been thrust into the starting role as floor general. He is not putting up the same numbers as he did during his Kings/Grizzlies heyday, but he is playing solid, veteran basketball. He is leading the League in assist/turnover ratio with 5.00, while also averaging 7.4 points, 5 dimes and nearly a steal a game in 25 minutes per. The 6-1 guard has surely answered any critics as to if he can still ball. Williams is a major reason why Orlando is leading the division and hasn’t missed a beat since Nelson’s exit.
Also Making Noise in the Southeast: Michael Beasley (Heat)
Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets.
After losing Dahntay Jones to the Pacers last summer, the Nuggets brought in Afflalo to hopefully fill the defensive void made by Jones’ departure. 20 games into his first season in the Mile High and consider VP of Basketball Operations, Mark Warkentien (The same man who brought in Jones and the Birdman) happy as a rocky mountain oyster. After only averaging 4.9 ppg and 1.8 rpg in Detroit last season, the third year guard out of UCLA has bumped up his stats to the tune of 8.7 and 2.9. In 13 starts with the Nuggetsâ€”they are leading the division at 15-5â€”Afflalo has anchored its backcourt defense. He is a very skilled on-ball defender and is quicker that Jones. Afflalo gives the Nuggets a formidable and pesky presence to bother opposing stars. Remember when the Nuggets crushed the Lakers 105-79 on November 13â€”it was Afflalo who was assigned to calm Kobe down. Kobe finished the game with 19 points, but Afflalo took away passing lanes and successfully bothered Bryant.
Also Making Noise in the Northwest: Corey Brewer (Minnesota) and Greg Oden (Blazers). Sorry, did someone just say curse?
Jason Thompson, Sacramento Kings.
Channing Frye is also playing really well for his new home in the desertâ€”averaging 13 and 5.9 a gameâ€”but Thompson is surging lately (Minus last night’s losing effort against the Heat). As of Monday, Thompson is averaging 14.4 points and 9.1 boards a game for the 9-10 Kings. As a rookie in 2008-09, the 6-11 Thompson was able to contribute just over 11 points and 7 rebounds a game while splitting time as the starter. This year, Thompson is the best frontcourt player for the young Kings and along with newcomer, Tyreke Evans, is finally bringing some excitement to the organization. The forward from Rider is still tuning his offensive game, but understands his role and is having fun in Sac-Town. He is strong in the post and is developing a nice baby-j in the lane. If Thompson can continue to improve, the Kings will have a franchise anchor in their frontcourt for the next 10 years.
Also Making Noise in the Pacific: Andrew Bynum (Lakers), Frye and Anthony Morrow (Warriors).
Aaron Brooks, Houston Rockets.
In his first full season as Houston’s starter, the 6-0 Brooks is averaging 16.5 points and just over 5.5 helpers a game in way to amassing a surprising 11-9 record. Last yearâ€”before Brooks ignited the Rockets’ second-round playoff runâ€”he was penciling in 11.2 and 3 assists a game as a sophomore. Since the ’09 playoffs, in which he averaged 16.8 points (Along with a 34-point explosion in game four against Los Angeles), Brooks has been Houston’s catalyst spark plug. He may be the quickest player in the League with the ball in his hands and is quickly becoming an elite point guard. You can bet a lot of people in the Gulf Coast aren’t too upset that Rafer Alston was sent away last February. Teammate Trevor Ariza is also playing the best basketball of his career, but the Rockets aren’t an 11-win team right now without Brooks.
Also Making Noise in the Southwest: Ariza, Marc Gasol (Grizzlies), George Hill (Spurs), Kris Humphries (Mavericks) and Marcus Williams (Grizzlies).