The NBA is in full swing, and after eight-ish games, we’ve already seen some players making leaps in tremendous and sometimes unexpected ways. Here are three underrated young players who have gotten off to strong starts, starting with a player bursting past preseason expectations for the second year in a row.
NBA: Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
Did you know that Desmond Bane is currently the 17th-leading scorer in the NBA at 24.9 points per game? That he’s second in the NBA in 3PM per game, just a hair behind Steph Curry even though Curry is taking nearly three more attempts per game? That he and Kevin Huerter (who hasn’t missed a shot since joining the Kings this offseason) are on track to become the only two players in NBA history to make more than four long balls per game in their age-24 season or younger?
If you knew all of those things, I wish I had just asked you before doing the research. But the point is clear: in his third year, Desmond Bane is leveling up into a true-blue star. It’s not just the deep ball prowess, either. Bane was primarily a floor spacer in the past, running off screens and bending the defense with his gravity to open up more driving lanes for Ja Morant.
But this year, Bane is more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and making plays himself. To wit: 33% of his shot attempts this year have come after at least three dribbles, compared to just 22% last season. He’s also nearly doubled his assists, from 2.7 to 5.0, despite playing roughly the same number of minutes. His vision and passing creativity are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were last season:
Bane’s ability to read the floor and find the optimal outcome is vastly improved, and it’s shown in his increased aggression. Last year, he averaged five drives per game; this year, he’s attacking the rim more than eight times each contest. The refs are rewarding him, and Bane is up to 5.3 free throw attempts per game — more than twice what he was averaging last season and a key source of points for a deadeye charity stripe shooter like Bane.
None of his stats feel like a mirage; he had to overcome two very poor games (by his standards) to begin the year. This is simply the next evolution for Desmond as he grows into one of the best second options in the league.
In fact, that is selling him short: Bane might be sprouting into more of a “1B” than a Robin. It showed on Wednesday night, as Bane scored 20 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Grizzlies to an exciting win over the Trail Blazers. He threw the Grizzlies atop his preposterous shoulders and carried them to the finish, scoring the Grizzlies’ final 11 points in a row — taking the reins from an uncharacteristically struggling Ja Morant, who was more than happy to let Bane do the driving.
Last year, Morant memorably shipped his Most Improved Player award to Bane’s house:
This year, there’s a good chance Bane will earn one of his own.