NBA Talent Has Reached A New Level

Lucas Parent, Lion's Roar Staff

     For a league that has been around for so long, with over 75 years of history, the NBA still finds ways to see new things happen. A prime example is the events in Brooklyn in early February.

     For many months, it was clear that Cam Thomas was hungry for more minutes. In a series of events that peaked with Thomas updating his bio on Instagram to “#FreeCT.” Thomas often played a small sample size behind stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. On February 4th, Thomas saw the court at 29:08 and made the most of his time. Thomas scored a career-high 44 points, shooting nearly 70% from the field and four-for-five on shots beyond the arc. Thomas’ basketball renaissance continued just two days later against the Los Angeles Clippers: a game that saw him erupt for 47 points. The next day, Thomas continued his incredible run, scoring 43. Once an unknown, Thomas became the youngest player in history to score 40+ in three straight.

     Something to note: Thomas’ label before the game. Here he is described as “unknown” as many surface-level NBA fans would not recognize him prior to this unprecedented stretch. Before the game, Thomas dressed for 34 games and averaged 7.4 points per contest with an average of just under six shot attempts. Over the stretch, Thomas averaged 44.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists a game on 25 shot attempts. Even after his stretch, Thomas’ usage increased, as he now shoots over 11 times per game on average in 23.2 minutes per appearance. 

     Just several months prior, on December 5th, 2022, Andrew Nembhard was one of the first in the NBA to exhibit this trend. Nembhard, a rookie for the Indiana Pacers, has averaged about eight points per game this season and has only eclipsed 20 points once. When he did, however, he did not stop at 20. He did not stop at 25, either, nor did he stop at 30. When it was all said and done, Nembhard had accumulated a career-high 31 points, career-high eight rebounds, and a career-high 13 assists. Less than a month later, role players Saddiq Bey and Kevon Looney hit buzzer-beaters to give their respective teams the win. Through all these occurrences, it became evident that the NBA is truly an “any man’s league,” meaning any given player could erupt for a career game on any given night. This conclusion led me to my discovery, that the NBA is at a new level in terms of talent. 

     Looking at the cores of successful teams is an incredible testament to this trend. As of February 22nd, the top five teams in the NBA are the Celtics, Bucks, Nuggets, 76ers, and Cavaliers (in terms of record). The reason these teams are so successful is that they all possess several scorers, not starting, but off the bench. The Celtics bench includes Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White, two guards averaging a combined 26.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.6 assists, with other valuable scorers such as Grant Williams and Mike Muscala. The Bucks have Bobby Portis, the Nuggets have Reggie Jackson, and the Cavaliers have Cedi Osman. The 76ers are proof of this trend as well, to a wider degree: Tyrese Maxey has been playing off the bench and is still putting up career numbers of 19.8 points, 2.8 boards, and 3.6 assists per game. 

     Additionally, the amount of talent in the league is also evident in the fact that most current bottomfeeders still possess an incredible amount of talent. The Rockets are the worst team in the Western Conference, and yet still have Jalen Green, Alparen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., and Tari Eason on the roster, along with a draft pick that has the potential to result in French superstar Victor Wembenyama. The Pistons and Hornets are the worst two Eastern Conference squads, yet they still have future All-star guards in Cade Cunningham and Lamelo Ball (an all-star last season); The Pistons also have budding stars, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. This trend of talent holds true for the Thunder as well, as for a team that has drifted into the play-in-game picture, they possess a roster with astonishing talent. Guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had a career year last season, is following up his breakthrough with another career year which has seen him average 31 points per game thus far. Josh Giddey, a second-year guard, is averaging a smidge over 16 points per contest to go with nearly eight rebounds and six assists per game. Additionally, rookie Jalen Williams has averaged over 12 points on over 50% shooting per game this season. 

     All in all, through different exhibits it is clear that the NBA has reached a new level of talent. The proof is in the pudding when it comes to the numbers the league’s superstars put up on a nightly basis. 

      Cavaliers superstar Donovan Mitchell made NBA history when he scored 71 points to go with 11 assists in a win over the Chicago Bulls on January 2nd. Mitchell’s outburst was not only the most in Cavaliers history but the most scored by a player in a game since Kobe Bryant’s 81-point explosion nearly 17 years ago. On February 26th, just 55 days later, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers matched Mitchell’s 71 in a win over the Houston Rockets. Mitchell and Lillard, both guards, set the league on fire for a night with absurd statistical outliers. For Nikola Jokic, this is a more frequent occurrence.

     Jokic, a center for the Denver Nuggets, is averaging 24.8 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 10 assists per game this season, leading him on a pace to match Russell Westbrook as the last player to average a triple-double over the course of the season. In looking at points-rebounds-assists stat lines by Jokic this season, fans of the game will find some truly impeccable numbers. December 18th: 40-27-10. Christmas Day: 41-15-15. February 26th: 40-17-10. The back-to-back MVP has all but locked up his third consecutive. 

     As stated previously: the proof is in the pudding when it comes to NBA talent. Through unlikely heroes, dominant superstars, and a balance of power in the league, it has become evident that the NBA has reached a new high for talent.