Opening Night Breakouts: How Can they Sustain?
Opening night euphoria is quite a drug. Any other night, and we can scoff at outlier performances with full awareness of the other 81 games of season. During the first game however, all overreactions run rampant for a night. The basketball-less void being filled in so suddenly allows for emotion to take over, and more patient behaviors to be thrown aside.
So how do we know what is real? Can players who appeared as though they were only marginal players really make the leap in one night? While it is possible, not every player who has a good first night keeps grip of that level of play. So these are the kinds of things these players will have to do to prevent any possible regression from a hot start.
2012 Stats (totals): 55 MP, 13 pts, 22 reb, 3 blk, 8.8 PER, 28.3% TS
2013 Opening Night: 18 pts, 13 reb, 3 blk, 24.5 PER, 60.5% TS
Miles Plumlee had to be the least expected of the bunch. After looking like he surely wasn’t an impact for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants — the Indiana Pacers D-League affiliate — he all of the sudden was making any and every play for the Phoenix Suns. A jump from 55 minutes total one season, to almost meeting that total with 40 for his first game the next isn’t the kind of thing that happens regularly.
In order for Plumlee to stay effective, he’ll need to be as strong on the pick-and-roll as he was Wednesday. Plumlee is a seven-footer with a 40-inch vertical. That kind of jumping prowess on that body is deadly with a full head of steam. Wednesday, Miles finished 4-6 rolling off his screens, after hitting his first four in those situations. The natural tools are there to build a real strength in that department. He also benefits by sharing the floor with floor spacers in Markieff Morris and Channing Frye. Help defense isn’t an option for Phoenix opponents, and with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe as point guards, Plumlee will have plenty of rim-runs with a multitude of space.
Now, for all the good his offensive game holds in that particular field. There really isn’t much more there. In order to score his other four baskets, Miles had to rely on some shots that weren’t really that pretty. There were some garbage hook shots with some really strong defense that seemed to find the bottom of the net. Those aren’t going to go in every night, and in order to stay relevant the Duke product is going to need to develop some other asset in his offensive game to go to when the pick-and-roll isn’t there. The easiest way to do that is by finishing offensive rebounds that he grabs. Plumlee had five last night, but missed his only attempt to clean up the glass by himself. Being able to snag the occasional easy basket off opportunities such as offensive rebounds can easy any night where those running hooks don’t seem to find net.
2013 Season Opener: 22 pts, 7 reb, 12 ast, 9 stl, 48 PER, 81.4% TS
If someone had MCW in their “best first game by a rookie pool” this season, they must have known something the guys who were confidently taking Oladipo and McLemore didn’t. But the crazy thing is Carter-Williams didn’t just only have one of the best opening nights for a rookie this year, he had one of the best opening night performances ever for a first year player.
There were so many good things Michael showed last night, but one thing jumped out more than the others. His jump shot. MCW was a 29% three point shooter at Syracuse, so watching him bury 4-6 from NBA three-point range jumped out right away. This was accomplished by the vast improvement in his jump shot form.
Lower body balance is universally key in all sports, and is applicable here. In college, Carter-Williams wasn’t balanced with the lower-body, and would fall away from the basket. This is a common mistake for many player that fits the “athletic” type, and it was typical to see this mistake from LeBron James early in his career. Here on this jumper — which was off the dribble, an even more impressive feat — Michael goes straight up and the body is balanced. The bend in the elbow still seems a little excessive, as the ball ideally is usually in a pocket in front of your head instead of over it. But if he can be this balanced on his jumper all year, there is no reason to think he can improve as a jump shooter sooner, rather than later.
What probably won’t stick is MCW’s 12 assists to one turnover. Rookie point guards are almost always inconsistent in their ability to take care of the ball, and Carter-Williams should be expected to do the same. This isn’t to say the large point guard won’t shine as a passer at times, he just surely will hit some lows to go along with the highs like last night.
2012 Stats (per game): 7.0 pts, 1.4 ast, 2.3 reb, 11.5 PER, 50.7% TS
2013 Opener: 24 pts, 6 ast, 6 reb, 24 PER, 60.1% TS
Alec Burks is a guy that many have been infatuated since the moment he was drafted. In that 6’6″ scorer’s build, he is the prototypical type of guy many dream about when talking about the shooting guard position. The athleticism behind that body makes the mouth salivate even more, and he has remained a guy people have stayed hopeful on despite Tyrone Corbin‘s initial reluctance to use him. Wednesday night however, Burks was allowed to try his hand at a major role and he flashed the kind of scoring that validates why people are so captured by him.
Burks passing is a skill he’s shown off for the past few seasons, and even allowed for him to slip into the point guard slot last season when the going got rough there for Utah. However, the confidence that Alec showed going to the rim was something that not many have seen before. Burks was 8-11 at the rim, and showed a perfect blend of creativity, speed, power. Asserting himself close to the hoop will go a long way for the Colorado product, and should make even the most difficult scoring nights a little bit easier.
When the lane to the basket isn’t open though, Burks struggles. He was 0-5 on jumpers, and this isn’t too different from last season’s results. His jumper was a problem of sorts coming into the league, and without it he will continue to be too one-dimensional as an offensive player to shoulder much of a load. Hopefully it was just an off night outside of the paint for the young man, but with the history of inconsistent jump shooting it might be more of the same.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com/Stats