NBA / Dec 27, 2011 / 3:30 pm

The Top 10 Most Underrated Performances Of The NBA’s Opening Act

Luol Deng

Luol Deng (photo. Keith Allison)

Okay so not everyone has played a game yet. Atlanta and Utah tip off their season tonight. But the majority of the NBA has already suited up, and in some cases – I’m looking at you Dallas and the Lakers – are already freaking out. We saw Derrick Rose‘s game-winner in L.A. on Christmas as well as Carmelo Anthony snuffing the green out of the leprechauns. Last night, Steph Curry went off in an upset and Russell Westbrook had the most exciting best, worst, most out of control but game-deciding night anyone can possibly have. Those weren’t the only dudes making a difference though.

After just two nights, the NBA has already been turned off its axis. Terrible teams becoming interesting (Sacramento and Minnesota), great teams falling off like Lindsay Lohan after she discovered the party scene (L.A. Lakers and Dallas) and then the contenders looking both dominant (Miami) and vulnerable (Chicago) all while David Stern drives the Death Star right at the carnage. There are heros everywhere, and don’t expect it to change this season. With so many games in so little time, there’s a chance we might even see Darko go off for a 20/20 night this season. You never know…

With that, here are the top 10 performances from the NBA’s opening games that no one is talking about.

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10. J.J. Barea
Ricky Rubio is getting all the pub right now for mastering the art of throwing ridiculous off-the-bounce, one-handed, 30-foot bounce passes and Derrick Williams is coming on strong enough that it’s forcing Michael Beasley to shoot even more than normal (27 times last night. Rick Adelman just ripped up the stat sheet.). But the real newcomer who made a difference last night in Minnesota’s pack was Barea.

Now I know all about the playoff run last year and how he’s been somewhat of a pesky little rodent all these years during his time in Dallas. But I found myself saying “Since when did J.J. become good?” last night. He was always a decent player that could make a difference every now and then. But last night, every time he stepped on the floor – 27 minutes, 14 points – the tempo changed, the game changed, the momentum changed. It’s his thing now, his niche.

At one point he banged a pull-up three in James Harden‘s beard, and then a few minutes later, hit some weird half-Kareem hook, half-floater that seemed to sit about five feet above the rim before dropping in. The Wolves could be solid this year because of their unpredictable style; Barea is the perfect example of that. Now we just need to ax Luke Ridnour from the rotation and get Barea and Rubio more minutes since it seems all Ridnour does is get his ankles savaged by Russell Westbrook.

Even though it can sometimes be a pointless stat, Barea’s plus/minus last night was plus-11, by far the best of anyone on Minnesota. He also didn’t commit a turnover.

9. Kris Humphries
It’s one thing for LeBron to hear boos. It’s quite another for Humphries to bathe in them. I almost felt bad for the dude when he checked in against New York during the preseason. The crowd reviled in their hate, booing him louder than I’ve ever heard for a player who did nothing more than play a role on a lottery team. They should’ve saved some of that for the Celtics on Christmas Day. At the end of the day, Humphries doesn’t matter. People need to calm down.

I nearly took Humphries in my keeper fantasy league this season but instead went with Anderson Varejao. It’s hard to convince me Humphries will put forth the same effort and pack on the same numbers he did last year when history tells us otherwise. But amidst boos in Washington last night, Humphries rang out 21 points and 16 rebounds, scavenging on all the leftovers from a Wizards defense that didn’t bother to check him, and helping to lead New Jersey back from a 21-point deficit in the first half.

8. Brandon Bass
How underrated was his 20-point, 11-rebound night in Boston’s close loss to New York on opening day? I watched the game and barely even noticed. He played 28 minutes, missed just four shots and didn’t offer a single incident that had New Englanders missing Big Baby. I had Boston fans hitting me up on Twitter so excited about Bass they were asking if he’s due for a breakout. Um… no. But he fits perfectly with this team and will get big minutes as the season goes along (you know Doc will take time to rest Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal).

Then on some Boston sports talk radio shows, it seemed three out of every five callers wanted to know about “this Bass kid.” Note: I swear some of them have the worst tunnel vision. When Big Baby was here, if you tried to tell them Orlando had a similar player who was better, they would’ve said NO WAY!!! BIG BABY ALL DAY!! Now, it’s the exact opposite.

So while it seems he’s not being overlooked in Boston, the rest of the country didn’t catch on to what he did in New York on Christmas.

7. Boris Diaw
I’m going to attempt to write this little blurb with absolutely no mention of Diaw’s even more bloated new look or his lockout diet that didn’t catch on with anyone in the NBA outside of Mark Jackson. As awful as they will be this season, Charlotte is 1-0, and while D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson played well, it was Diaw who had a near triple-double that no one noticed: nine points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in only 30 minutes.

Asked afterwards about Diaw’s night, Corey Maggette said this: “”It shows Boris’ versatility. This is a guy who can do this anytime he wants, literally anytime he wants he can do this.”

So basically, Diaw is unable to be stopped by anything or anyone outside of a nuclear winter and fo… Damn, I said I wouldn’t do it. During the preseason, we heard talk about Diaw becoming the first-ever point center, which is intriguing. As crazy as it sounds, it could work for a time. Charlotte’s best guards are scorers and all have limitations as creators.

The Bobcats might be awful, but between Diaw and Kemba Walker‘s hair-raising handle, they might actually be entertaining enough to watch past the first TV timeout.

6. Spencer Hawes
The rush to pick up Hawes in my fantasy league last night was mind-boggling. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Almost. I remember back in 2005 when T.J. Ford put up a triple-double on the first night of the season and it set off a storm of problems. I tried to pick him up, but couldn’t because of some technicality with my team. Instead my roommate saw this, snuck away down the hall and picked him up two minutes later. I wanted to pour vodka in his water.

A similar situation happened last night after Hawes went off for 10 points, 14 rebounds (10 of them in the first half) and even nine dimes. During his 39 minutes on the floor, Philly was easily the better team and despite LaMarcus Aldridge dropping 25, Hawes and co. forced him to take 25 shots to get those points. They also held him to only seven rebounds.

Hawes still reminds too much of a lumberjack who took a wrong turn and ended up in a gym. I can’t always take him seriously, and I never thought about picking him up off waivers in fantasy last night. But when you rebound like Dwight Howard and pass like Deron Williams, even for only one night, you deserve some love.

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  • matt

    How about Amir Johnson? 13 points (5 of 7 from the field),13 rebounds 3 assists,3 blocks and a steal, in 32 minutes against Varejao.

  • JoeCozi

    Marcus Thorton is that dude!! It’s gonna be his team and not reke’s team anymore, anytime the kings needed a big shot thorton delivered! He took it to Kobe last night and outplayed the old mamba…that three he hit in kobes face ended a 17-4 the lakers were on and thorton had 12 in the 4th…dude is a beast!!

  • Tdot

    I’m shocked that dime hasn’t posted an article about this crazy fall after Alonzo Gee’s dunk. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0ODEljLtXg

  • hollowhustla

    What? Now Sweet Lou? U gotta be kid’n me, right? If it weren’t for AI9 hating, by jacking Lou’s finishing blow, it would’ve been OVA!

  • Well…

    nuggets are gonna suprise everybody this season. george karl is a helluva coach