The 2023-24 NBA season is officially underway, and with it came some incredible performances as well as some surprises. So here are ten surprising players to keep your eye on because they excelled in the first few games of the season. These players, a mix of rising stars, rookies, and seasoned veterans, have ignited their teams to a strong start. With their stellar play comes team success, and each of these athletes has shined but has not gotten the credit they deserve.
10 NBA Players to Keep Your Eye on This Season
1. Tyrese Maxey
Well, it finally happened: James Harden has been dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid era is officially underway. In an offseason filled with James Harden drama and Joel Embiid trade rumors, Maxey quietly put in the work, and the results speak for themselves. Maxey’s outstanding start to the season earned him the well-deserved Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. Remarkably, the need for Harden in the Philadelphia 76ers‘ lineup suddenly appears less urgent.
With three games already in the books for the Sixers, Maxey is posting impressive averages of 30.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. Maxey’s continuous growth and development throughout his career are evident, and he appears poised to take another significant leap forward in this campaign.
Maxey’s performance in the early part of this season has been nothing short of stellar. In Harden’s absence, his role as both a scorer and a playmaker has expanded, and he’s handling the added responsibilities with poise and finesse. While his 30.3 points per game are eye-catching, it’s important to note that Maxey’s playmaking skills have also been exceptional, evidenced by his mere three turnovers on 19 assists to kick off the campaign. He’s making intelligent passes, sinking shots, and forming a dynamic duo with Joel Embiid, emerging as an unstoppable force on the court.
It’s still early in the season, and the sample size is relatively small, but the promising performances thus far have been nothing short of encouraging. With James Harden’s departure, Tyrese Maxey has stepped into the role of the starting point guard, and it’s highly probable that his scoring and playmaking prowess will persist throughout the season.
2. Cam Thomas
Cam Thomas has been setting the NBA ablaze this season, averaging an astonishing 33 points per game, ranking second in the entire league. Surprisingly, he’s outscoring notable stars such as Joel Embiid, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Thomas made a spectacular entrance in the season opener against the Cavaliers when he came off the bench, shattering records with a staggering 36 points, marking the highest-ever point total for a player coming off the bench in a season opener. In the second game of the season, Thomas secured his spot as a starter and continued to impress, tallying 30 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
While we’ve witnessed Thomas’ explosive scoring ability before, such as his remarkable streak of three consecutive 40-point games last February, his inconsistency has also been noted, with periods of underwhelming performances. Only time will reveal whether Thomas can sustain this level of productivity, but for now, he might be on the verge of a breakthrough season.
The resurgence of Ben Simmons has been a significant boost for the Brooklyn Nets, even though the team has started the season 1-2. The synergy between Simmons’ exceptional passing skills and Thomas’ knack for finding open lanes and creating his own shots is a formidable combination. Thomas has already entered the conversation for the Sixth Man of the Year award, and when he steps onto the court, it’s evident that he has the green light to let it fly.
3. Max Strus
Max Strus is building upon an outstanding season with the Miami Heat while taking on an expanded and more versatile role. In previous seasons with the Heat, he primarily served as a sharpshooter from beyond the arc. However, in the season’s opening game with his new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Strus made a statement as a starter by amassing 27 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and nailing seven three-pointers. While many initially dismissed this as a one-time feat, Strus continued to shine in the next game against the Pacers, where he contributed 21 points, secured 11 rebounds, and connected on four three-pointers.
The Cavaliers boast a roster filled with playmakers, and Strus appears to fit seamlessly into their dynamic. While it may not be a nightly occurrence, this newfound versatility and his overall impact on the team should not be underestimated. Strus has demonstrated consistent contributions in various aspects of the game this season, establishing himself as one of the team’s standout players.
4. Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown has been proving his worth after signing a lucrative two-year, $45 million contract in the offseason, and it appears that he’s poised for a career-defining season. Brown showcased his capabilities in the home opener against the Wizards by setting a new career high of six three-pointers and a remarkable 24 points on an efficient 8-of-11 shooting.
While he didn’t shine as brightly in the second game of the season, where he contributed 6 points, it’s important to note that the Indiana Pacers are a formidable team with a wealth of offensive weapons. Myles Turner has been thriving offensively while maintaining his reputation as a shot-blocking and rebounding machine. Bennedict Mathurin is a dependable role player, consistently delivering double-digit points. The Pacers have also had impressive performances from bench players like Aaron Nesmith, who poured in 26 points against the Cavaliers.
The Pacers’ strong 2-1 start shouldn’t come as a surprise; they are an excellent team, and Bruce Brown has played a substantial role in their success. He’s a strong presence in the locker room and a versatile two-way player, making significant contributions on both ends of the court for his new team.
5. Dereck Livley II
Dereck Lively II has emerged as the steal of this year’s draft class. Despite being the No. 12 overall pick, he has quickly become the answer to the Dallas Mavericks‘ longstanding center issues. In the season opener against the Spurs, the rookie initially came off the bench behind players like Derrick Jones Jr. and Maxi Kleber. However, it took only a short time for Dallas to realize they needed him on the court. Lively was inserted into the starting lineup in the second half, where he made significant contributions on both offense and defense. His stat line included 16 points, 10 rebounds, a steal, and a block while shooting an impressive seven of eight from the field.
Lively currently ranks fourth among rookies in both points and rebounds per game. With a formidable center in the lineup, the Mavericks have appeared virtually unstoppable, boasting an undefeated 3-0 record. A considerable portion of their success can be attributed to the incredible performance of Luka Doncic, averaging a jaw-dropping triple-double of 41 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 11.5 assists per game. Doncic and Kyrie Irving are undeniably the main attractions for the team. Still, Lively has proven to be a valuable addition, helping the Mavericks find immediate success as they now have a center that complements Doncic and Irving effectively.
6. Jalen Duren
Jalen Duren has been nothing short of sensational this season, fifth in the league in rebounds per game with an astounding 13.3. Duren’s contributions don’t stop at the glass, as he’s also been a formidable presence defensively, averaging 2.0 blocks per game and scoring an impressive 15.5 points per game. His performance has solidified his status as one of the most dominant big men in the NBA this year, and there’s no indication that this remarkable run will come to a halt.
With a 2-2 record, the Detroit Pistons are reaping the benefits of Duren’s presence, especially when paired with Cade Cunningham. Their blossoming chemistry is pivotal for the team’s success, as a reliable go-to halfcourt set like the pick-and-roll opens up numerous opportunities for their teammates. Cunningham has shown significant growth, precisely what the Pistons needed to elevate their game. The team also receives outstanding contributions from role players such as Isaiah Stewart, Alec Burks, rookie Ausar Thompson, and Marvin Bagley III. If Jaden Ivey can find his rhythm and display flashes of his previous form, the Pistons can become a force in the Eastern Conference this season.
Duren’s consistent performance in the early games is exciting for Pistons fans. Still a few weeks shy of turning 20, Duren has begun his second NBA season with an impressive streak of three consecutive double-doubles. His productivity and reliability at such a young age indicate a bright future and the potential for stardom.
7. Ausar Thompson
Another Pistons player deserves a spot on this list, and it’s high time more people took notice of Ausar Thompson‘s exceptional talents. Thompson has made an immediate impact with the Pistons, validating his selection as the fifth overall pick in the draft. While his scoring output might be a work in progress, averaging just 8.5 points per game, his rebounding and playmaking abilities shine brightly. Thompson currently leads all rookies this season in rebounds per game with an impressive 10.5 and in assists per game with 4.3. It’s becoming increasingly evident that the Pistons may have not one but two budding stars in the making in Duren and Thompson.
8. Brandon Miller
Brandon Miller faces high expectations from fans this season, particularly as the number two overall pick, a selection that raised questions when he was chosen ahead of Scoot Henderson. Nevertheless, Miller has quickly established himself as a valuable role player for the Charlotte Hornets. He’s been contributing consistently, averaging 15 points per game while shooting an impressive 50% from the field and 45.5% from beyond the arc.
In a Hornets offense that has been sizzling in the first two games, Miller has emerged as a genuine offensive threat. The likes of LaMelo Ball, nearly averaging a triple-double with 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game, Terry Rozier‘s offensive firepower at 22 points per game, and P.J. Washington‘s evident progression, averaging 19 points per game, have been crucial to the team’s success. Additionally, Mark Williams has emerged as the defensive anchor of the squad.
Miller’s seamless integration into this potent offense is a testament to his adaptability. While he may not be the primary or even the secondary option in Charlotte, he has displayed significant promise in the season’s early stages.
9. Cole Anthony
Cole Anthony secured his future with a three-year, $39 million rookie extension this offseason, solidifying his place in the Orlando Magic‘s plans. In a season opener, he achieved a notable milestone by becoming only the third player in franchise history to score 20 or more points coming off the bench, joining the likes of Terry Catledge in 1990 and J.J. Redick in 2012. Anthony’s remarkable performance led to increased minutes, overshadowing the struggling starter Jalen Suggs. In the season opener, Anthony efficiently posted 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and eight rebounds. This trend continued in the second game of the season, where Anthony once again outscored Suggs with 18 points as a bench player.
Despite the Magic’s commitment to Markelle Fultz and Suggs as their starting guards, Anthony maintains his significant role as one of the primary options off the bench. His impressive start to the season is indicative of his potential to be a valuable contributor to the team moving forward.
10. Chet Holmgren
After being sidelined for the entirety of the previous season, Chet Holmgren finally made his highly anticipated debut, and it was nothing short of remarkable. He’s currently averaging 15 points and seven rebounds per game, and he wasted no time in making a significant impact, recording seven blocks in his official NBA debut.
In the initial three games of Holmgren’s young career, the rookie center has showcased impressive skills on both ends of the court. His performance against the Denver Nuggets marked a notable step forward in his early career development. Holmgren exhibited tremendous resilience against one of the most dominant players in the entire NBA, Nikola Jokic. He contributed 19 points and four rebounds on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting, demonstrating his aggressive approach. The experience of going head-to-head with one of the league’s premier talents in just his third career game is invaluable for the rookie’s transition to the NBA.
Holmgren is undoubtedly one of the standout prospects in this draft class, and he’s a serious contender in the race for the Rookie of the Year award. With an impressive start to the season, he appears poised to make a strong case for that coveted title.