Ben Simmons and Five Surprising Early Season NBA All Stars

by Aaron Brooks
on November 6, 2017

We’re just a couple of weeks in, but it’s already been a weird season in the NBA. And I’m not just talking about how the Cavaliers are 3-5, or how the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder are a combined 4 games over .500 through their first 22 games combined

Just like we’re seeing some unusual teams near the top of the standings, we’re also seeing some uncommon names close to the top of several different statistical categories.

Here are 5 players that have never been NBA all-stars before but will get some consideration for the honor if they continue to play at their current pace, beginning with a special rookie in Philadelphia.

1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia

It won’t be hard for Sixers fans to “trust the process” when that process brings them players like Simmons.

The 21-year-old Aussie has already proven he was well worth the wait after sitting out what would have been his rookie NBA campaign last year with a foot injury. In his most recent game on Wednesday, Simmons scored 19 points, pulled down 13 rebounds and dished out 9 assists in a 119-109 Sixers win over the Atlanta Hawks, falling just short of his second triple-double in his first 8 games.

Not only has Simmons averaged 18.4 points, 9.1 boards and 7.7 dimes this season, he’s also been incredibly consistent.

He’s scored 18 points or more in 6 of those 8 games, collected at least 8 assists in 6 more, and posted double-digit rebounds 4 times while never pulling down less than 7.

With wins at Detroit, Dallas and Houston already on their resume, the Sixers are beginning to get mentioned as a potential playoff team this year, something not many of us were willing to consider a few weeks ago. They’re currently +1000 to win what actually looks like a winnable Atlantic Division, following the injury to Gordon Hayward (though the Celtics have started pretty well with him) and considering how inconsistent the Raptors can be.

But a better value might be the +3300 you can get on the Sixers to win the Eastern Conference right now at since you can hedge off those futures and guarantee yourself a pretty nice profit as long as Philly makes the playoffs.

2. Victor Oladipo, Indiana

Is it possible that the Pacers actually won the Paul George trade? , especially after Oladipo hit a game-winning 3-pointer in the dying seconds to lead Indiana to a 97-94 win over the Spurs on Sunday. (George’s reputation in those clutch situations is well documented, by the way.)

The Indiana University product has fit in perfectly in his return to the Hoosier state. Oladipo is currently 12th in the NBA in scoring at 23.8 points per contest, has hit 50% of his 3-pointers (small sample size, but still pretty impressive), and as Doyel wrote, brings a lot of speed and swagger to the Pacers lineup.

This is really Oladipo’s first chance in the NBA to show what he can do. He was just 22 years old when he averaged 17.9 points per game in Orlando, and he had to play in the shadow of Russell Westbrook last year in OKC. The fact that Oladipo was the one taking the big shot Sunday against the Spurs tells you all you need to know about the confidence the Pacers already have in their offseason acquisition.

The Pacers are fifth in the NBA in points per game, fourth in field goal percentage and sixth in three-point shooting, yet they were 10-point underdogs when they visited the struggling Cavaliers Wednesday in Cleveland. Indiana whipped the Cavs 124-107 to beat the spread by 27 points on the road. They’re currently +6600 to win the Central at and still, a bit of a longshot to make the playoffs, but there should at least be some point spread value in betting the Pacers until oddsmakers begin to adjust.

3. Eric Gordon, Houston

Technically, Eric Gordon’s been to the NBA All-Star Weekend a few times already, even winning the three-point shootout last spring. But this year might just be the first time that he suits up in the actual game.

The 28-year-old Rockets guard has made the most of the opportunity to get more playing time with Chris Paul out of the lineup due to a knee injury. Starting alongside James Harden, Gordon has averaged 23.9 points through 8 games and has an efficiency rating of 24.8, both of which rank 11th in the NBA. His true shooting percentage is up near 60%, despite the fact that his 31.9% rate from behind the 3-point line is far below his career 37.8% average.

Will Gordon keep putting up big numbers once Paul returns? Probably not.

But Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has already gone on record as saying that he to an average of 18 minutes per night in order to keep 1 of them on the court at all times. That still leaves around 30 minutes per night for Gordon off the bench, and he’ll have the luxury of playing with 2 of the premier point guards in the Association.

Gordon’s emergence is also great news for the Rockets. D’Antoni will be able to stick to his plan of limiting Paul and Harden’s minutes as long as the Rockets don’t struggle with either of those players off the court, and it also makes Houston more likely to overcome any potential injuries to their talented backcourt. Having a fresher Harden and Paul in the playoffs (plus Gordon off the bench) makes BetOnline’s +1000 NBA futures odds on Houston look even more appealing.

4. Nikola Jokic, Denver

Nikola Jokic, Denver
The Nuggets big man has made massive contributions across the board so far this year, helping the Nuggets get off to a 4-4 start.

Through his first 8 games, Jokic is 9th in the NBA in efficiency (25.6) and sixth in rebounding (11.9 per game) while shooting a solid 52.1% from the field, averaging 16.1 points and dishing out 5 assists per contest. He’s also stroking it from behind the arc at a 46.2% clip and has hit nearly 90% of his free throws.

Denver coach Michael Malone referred to Jokic and the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis after watching the 2 young stars combine to score 68 points Monday at Madison Square Garden. Although Jokic is just 22 years old, the Nuggets already run most of their offense through their Serbian center, and he’s proven himself to be more than comfortable playing in all areas of the court.

Unfortunately for the Nuggets, Jokic’s play this year probably won’t get them within a sniff of a playoff spot in the minefield that is the Western Conference. They’re currently +800 to win the Northwest Division, but they’d have to beat out the OKC Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves to do it, and there are simply too many other quality teams in the West. I also think the Nuggets’ .500 record so far is a bit of an illusion, considering that their victories have come over the Kings, Hawks, Nets and a tired Raptors team at the end of a road trip.

5. Evan Fournier, Orlando

The Magic has been arguably the most surprising team in the NBA so far this year (surprising in a good way, at least), and the play of Fournier is a huge reason why.

The sixth-year forward leads Orlando in scoring at 22 points per game, thanks in large part to a sizzling 55.8% shooting percentage from behind the 3-point line. That scoring average is nearly 10 points higher than Fournier’s career average, and his numbers are also up significantly in assists (3.8), steals (1.4) and rebounds (4.8). He’s shooting nearly 55% from the field, and he’s knocked down 96% of his free throws to boot.

With Fournier and teammate Aaron Gordon both ranking near the top of the NBA in 3-point percentage, Orlando leads the Association with a 44.2% rate on treys and is second in both points per game (114.9) and field goal percentage (48.9%). The Magic currently leads the Southeast with a 6-2 record, 4 of its victories came on the road, and Orlando pounded the Spurs by 27 points last week.

I’m not convinced that the Magic’s hot start is sustainable, especially with its reliance on the 3-pointer.

Those numbers are bound to regress naturally, and opponents will also start keying on shutting down Orlando’s long-range shooters. Oddsmakers at agree, still ranking the Magic second-last on the Southeast Division futures (+2000) despite its early success.

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