This NBA season has already been filled with incredible surprises. Mike Brown lasted just five games before getting the axe from the Lakers, the now 15-15, 10th seed in the Western Conference Lakers. Avery Johnson met a similar fate in Brooklyn, not a month after winning Coach of the Month. DeMarcus Cousins has already been suspended three separate times! Well, maybe that’s not an incredible surprise, but the point remains the same. While the usual suspects are still producing huge numbers, there is also a litany of players exceeding expectations through the first two months of the year. Here is you’re starting five of surprise players in the early going of the 2012-13 season:
Jrue Holiday: Holiday was poised for a breakout year after the Sixers handed him a four-year, $41 million extension and parted ways with Andre Iguodala this offseason. While owners may have been expecting an uptick in numbers, they weren’t expecting the offensive explosion Holiday has produced to date. The UCLA product is top-20 in the league in scoring at 18.6 points per game and is third in assists at 8.9 per game, trailing just Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. What’s more, Holiday is averaging a career high in three-pointers made per game, rebounds, and field goal percentage.
O.J. Mayo: When the Grizzlies gave up on Mayo this offseason, the Mavericks shrewdly swooped in after failing to sign Deron Williams to snag the prolific scorer for only $4 million. After a few years of coming off the bench in Memphis, Mayo has returned to his scoring ways as a starter in Dallas, averaging a career high 18.7 points per game. While his scoring took a small hit in December, his assist and rebounding numbers have improved to career high levels. With Dirk Nowitzki back in the lineup, some of the defensive focus that has been centered on Mayo will be pulled toward Nowitzki, potentially opening the door for even greater output for the four-year guard.
Nikola Vucevic: Vucevic was often an overlooked part of the Dwight Howard mega-trade, but the No. 16 overall pick in the 2011 draft has come into his own for the Dwight-less Magic. The 7-foot center is averaging a near double-double this season, with 10.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game to go along with over a block per contest. Vucevic has been even better in December, getting more than 11 points and rebounds, and shooting 53.6 percent from the field. With Glenn Davis sidelined by a shoulder strain, the window is wide open for Vucevic to continue to thrive in Orlando.
Larry Sanders: Sanders has been a shot-blocking machine this season. Given his first shot at major minutes this season after surpassing Milwaukee’s multitude of other big men, Sanders has proven to be a defensive ace. Aside from his league-leading 3.04 blocker per game, Sanders is averaging a respectable 8.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Currently averaging just under 25 minutes per contest, Sanders has the potential to improve these already impressive numbers in the new year.
Nicolas Batum: Like Holiday, Batum was due for a breakout season after the Blazers matched the Timberwolves’ 4-year, $44 million dollar offer sheet this past summer. Batum’s career high scoring and rebounding numbers are to be expected thanks to his increase in minutes, but his biggest improvement has been his passing. In 59 games last season, Batum had a total of 84 assists. In 28 games thus far this season, Batum already has 121 dimes. In addition to the other stats, Batum is playing his usual stingy defense, averaging over a block and an assist per game.