Just over a month ago, we checked in on three potential sleepers for the NBA season. How're they doing so far?
Before the start of the season, I predicted a sizable bump in scoring from Al Horford, with a jump from last season's 11.5 ppg to a 15 ppg rate this year a real possibility. While that call has proven a bit too ambitious to date, Horford is tallying 13.8 ppg. The team made noise about getting the ball to Horford more in the flow of the offense. But hasn't always been the case. Instead, the 23-year-old bruiser has upped his efficiency across the board. Horford's shooting a career-high 57|PERCENT| from the field, while also nudging his FT|PERCENT| to a career-best 74.3|PERCENT|. He's averaging a double-double for the first, with his RPG up to 10.3, while also blocking an impressive 1.8 shots a game. Horford was touted as a sleeper in some other places too. But the jump in production across the board has met even the most optimistic of forecasts. He's a keeper, and he may have room to improve.
The Sixers' new Princeton offense figured to be an interesting experiment: What happens when you meld an offense that promotes crisp passing with NBA-caliber talent? For Thaddeus Young, the answer has been surprisingly disappointing. The third-year forward has struggled with his shot, watching his FG|PERCENT| dip to 42.4|PERCENT| (down from 49.5|PERCENT| last season and 53.9|PERCENT| the year before). Some of that looks like a small-sample size fluke, though: Young's shooting stroke and track record suggest a player who's unlikely to hover around 26|PERCENT| from beyond the arc all year long – either that or he'll just stop shooting treys altogether, a welcome move for the Sixers if a letdown for owners hoping Young would build on last season's 56 made treys. Say this about the Georgia Tech product, though: Young's touching the ball more this season, with his minutes (36.0), assists (2.4) and turnovers (2.5) per game all on the rise. Once Young gets a better feel for the offense and picks his spots, he could start producing impressing bulk stats for a player who went late in most drafts.
So, um, guess all the people who wanted the Blazers to take Kevin Durant over Greg Oden were right, huh? While Durant makes a run at a scoring title or five for the next decade-plus, Oden's progress remains slow. His numbers are up from last year, with the 59.6 FG|PERCENT| and 75|PERCENT| FT|PERCENT| looking especially tasty. But Oden's a non-factor on offense outside of putbacks. Portland rarely looks for him inside, and 9.5 points and 8.5 rebounds a game aren't lighting up anyone's team. Foul trouble remains Oden's nemesis. He's averaging 4.2 a game, which has kept his minutes at 24.2 per contest. A happy medium is what's needed here: Oden's aggressiveness has contributed to his lofty 2.4 blocks a game, but overaggression has him on the bench watching Joel Przybilla far too often. There's plenty of time for development, fortunately – Oden looks 51, but he's still just 21. With that said, pre-season optimism may have been a bad idea, at least for the near future.