NBA Barometer: Jamal Murray, Dennis Smith Back on Track in Week 3
NBA Barometer: Jamal Murray, Dennis Smith Back on Track in Week 3

This article is part of our NBA Barometer series.

POINT GUARDS

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Dennis Smith, Jr., DAL: Smith is already coming off an impressive rookie season, but he's shown marked improvement early in his sophomore campaign. The new uptempo style the Mavericks are deploying early (106.5 possessions per game, compared to 98.9 last season) seems to suit him very well, as he's averaging over two more points per game than last season (17.3, compared to 15.2) and has also improved his shooting percentage by nearly six points (45.2 percent, compared to 39.5 percent). With Harrison Barnes now back in the fold, Dallas has a fully healthy first unit, which should only help Smith accrue more assists due to their collection of solid scorers.

Jamal Murray, DAL: Speaking of thriving young point guards, the 21-year-old Murray already has three 20-point performances over his first six contests and has also upped both his rebounds (3.7 to 4.3) and shot attempts (13.1 to 14.2) over last season. The Nuggets are one of the season's early surprises, and Murray's solid work across the board has been integral to their success.

Kyle Lowry, TOR: As with Kemba Walker last week, Lowry is an example of an accomplished veteran who's nevertheless taken his game to another level in the early going. Lowry had seen a major scoring downturn last season, but he's boosted his average by just over two points per contest (18.3, compared to 16.2) in the first seven games on the strength of a nine-point improvement in shooting percentage to 51.7. However, the most dramatic increase for Lowry has come in the assists category, as he's handing out a career-high 11.0 dimes per game while often working in concert with new teammates Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

ALSO TRENDING UP:Stephen Curry, GSW; Collin Sexton, CLE

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T.J. McConnell, PHI: McConnell isn't quite enjoying the same level of opportunity in his last three games as he did to begin the season, as he's logged no more than 14 minutes and as little as six during that stretch. That's led to a trio of two-point efforts, and he'd also notably scored between four and eight points in the first three contests, despite seeing over 20 minutes in two of them. Overall, McConnell is averaging almost seven fewer minutes per game and has seen his production naturally plummet across the board.

SHOOTING GUARDS

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Kent Bazemore, ATL: In a rebuilding season for the Hawks, Bazemore is a virtual elder statesman and is thriving with his extended opportunities. The versatile wing currently boasts career highs in points (16.3), steals (1.7), made threes (2.0) and shooting percentage (48.0). He's also more involved than ever on the offensive end (career-high 12.5 shot attempts per game) and sports a solid 21.5 percent usage rate, good for third on the team behind Taurean Prince and Trae Young. Atlanta's breakneck pace of play (110.5 possessions per game, third most in the NBA) should only continue benefiting his fantasy production.

Tim Hardaway, Jr., NYK: Much like Bazemore, Hardaway finds himself in the midst of a rebuilding effort and is making good use of his leadership role. The sixth-year pro is averaging 24.4 points (on 20.1 shot attempts per game), 3.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 steal across 32.7 minutes over his first seven games. The scoring, shot attempts and dimes are all career highs, as is the 3.3 made three-pointers per game Hardaway is draining. Especially while Kristaps Porzingis (knee) remains out of action, Hardaway should continue building on his team-high 30.4 percent usage rate.

ALSO TRENDING UP:Wesley Matthews, DAL; Gary Harris, DEN; Derrick Rose, MIN

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Jaylen Brown, BOS: Perhaps his 19-point effort versus the Pistons last Saturday is a sign of better things to come, but Brown was struggling before that outing. The young two-guard had generated three straight single-digit outings while draining just five of 26 attempts during that span. He's currently shooting 33.9 percent from the field, a near 13-point drop from last season's 46.5 percent. With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward now both at full health, Brown's usage was bound to drop some, but he's been struggling to maximize the opportunities he is seeing.

SMALL FORWARDS

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Rodney McGruder, MIA: Another player benefiting from health issues elsewhere on his team is McGruder, who's averaging personal bests across the board. The 27-year-old wing has been logging starts at two-guard and seeing ample playing time, leading to a career-high average of 34.0 minutes over his first six contests. McGruder has parlayed that opportunity into averages of 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists, and he's shooting a stellar 51.7 percent (including 50.0 percent from three-point range). Even when Dion Waiters (ankle) returns to action, McGruder should stick in the starting lineup given his performance thus far.

Buddy Hield, SAC: Hield has taken his game to the next level thus far this season. He's thriving in Sacramento's fast-paced, attacking style, one that's seen the Kings average the fourth-most possessions per game (109.5). An above-average shooter dating back to his college days, Hield is especially locked in during the early going, posting a 51.0 percent success rate, including 47.1 percent from three-point range. His active presence on the boards from his small forward position is also leading to a career-high 5.4 rebounds per contest, and he's adding a new high-water mark in assists (2.3), as well.

E'Twaun Moore, NOP: Naturally overshadowed by the star first-unit mates he usually shares the floor with, Moore is likely flying under the radar for many. However, all he does is make buckets at one of the most impressive clips in the league, a trend that was already well-established last season. Moore shot an impressive 50.8 percent during the 2017-18 campaign, but he's managed to coax that number up even further to 51.6 percent in the new season. That's led to a new career high in scoring (13.8 points per contest) on a new personal best of 10.3 shots per contest. While he'll often have to defer to the Pelicans' impressive collection of scorers, New Orleans' average of 109.5 possessions per game also affords him his fair share of opportunity.

ALSO TRENDING UP:Damyean Dotson, NYK; Kelly Oubre, Jr. WAS; Jeff Green, WAS

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Otto Porter, Jr., WAS: Porter's season so far is a microcosm of the Wizards' poor start, as he's averaged just 9.8 points on 41.1 percent shooting over his first six games. The scoring average checks in almost five full points below last season's 14.7, while his shooting percentage is over nine points lower than his impressive 50.3 percent success rate of last season. His three-point accuracy has taken an even bigger dive, as Porter is draining only 21.7 percent of his tries from behind the arc after sinking 44.1 percent of his tries from distance during the 2017-18 campaign.

POWER FORWARDS

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Larry Nance, Jr., CLE: With Kevin Love now set to miss multiple weeks due to a foot injury, Nance's stock was already on the rise. But the firing of Ty Lue should mean even more opportunities for Nance, as all signs point to the Cavs shifting toward a more youth-oriented rotation. The fourth-year big had just put together a double-double in his most recent contest, and he's scored in double digits in two of the four games he's played overall. He's now in line for a boost to the 22.0 minutes per game he's already logged, which should pay off handsomely for fantasy owners in both the scoring and rebounding categories.

Nemanja Bjelica, SAC: Finally free of the personnel logjam in Minnesota, Bjelica is thriving in Sacramento. Like Hield, he too is reaping the benefits of the Kings' aggressive attack, as he's averaging 14.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals, all career highs. Bjelica shooting nearly 58 percent form the floor thus far, including an impressive 53.6 percent of his tries from distance. Given his performance in the early going, he appears poised to hold off second overall pick Marvin Bagley's entry into the starting five for the time being.

ALSO TRENDING UP: Ersan Ilyasova, MIL; Marcus Morris, BOS; Noah Vonleh, NYK; Serge Ibaka, TOR

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Derrick Favors, UTA: Favors has seen his scoring average from last season's 12.3 to 9.8, while his 7.8 shot attempts per contest are his lowest since the 2012-13 campaign. The other main concern at present is the big man's playing time – he's seen his minutes dwindle from 25 to 19 over the last three contests and is logging a modest 22.2 minutes per game, his lowest figure in that category since the 2011-12 season. Already a secondary option in the offense, Favors' prospects are decidedly trending downward at the moment.

CENTERS

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Willie Cauley-Stein, SAC: Yet another King makes the list. The young big finally appears to be coming into his own in his fourth season, averaging 17.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game through Monday. What's more, Cauley-Stein is seeing more minutes than ever before, logging an average of 30.3 per game. He's generated three straight double-doubles as well, and has the size to make that a common occurrence as the season unfolds.

Zach Collins, POR: After a mostly pedestrian rookie year, Collins has come out of the gates looking like one of the more improved second-year players in the league. The 10th overall pick in 2017 has already scored in double digits on four occasions over his first six games, and he's averaging just under six minutes more per contest (21.5, as compared to 15.8 last season). That's led to major improvements across the stat sheet, but perhaps none more impressive (or important) than his shooting – after managing a 39.8 percent success rate last season, Collins is draining 69.4 percent of his shot attempts this season, including 54.5 percent from three-point range.

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Jakob Poeltl, SAN: Poeltl had shown some nice upside last season in Toronto while coming off the bench behind Jonas Valanciunas. The 23-year-old's mettle as a rim protector remains intact, but he's had trouble remaining in the Spurs' rotation from night to night. Poeltl has already logged three DNP-CDs, while the four points he managed in the season-opener currently stand as his season-high.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Juan Carlos Blanco
Winner of the FSWA 2016 Newcomer of the Year Award, Juan Carlos Blanco has been playing fantasy sports for over 20 years and covers NBA, MLB, NFL, CFL and Arena Football for Rotowire.com, including serving as the beat writer for teams in multiple sports. He has previously written for KFFL.com and remains an avid season-long and daily fantasy player in multiple sports as well.
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