Especially after such a chaotic year, we could all use a little bit of rest and relaxation, and NBA basketball players are no different.
That is why it is not particularly uncommon for some folks around the league to play their best immediately after All-Star Weekend, which also serves as a built-in break from the constant action, especially for those who did not make All-Star consideration.
Below are some of the folks in the NBA who we believe used the additional time to recharge their batteries and come back to action playing better than ever.
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
It would be hard to overstate just how well Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. has played recently, still less than 100 games into his professional career, The 22-year-old is averaging 21.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game since the All-Star break and he has been especially hot since his team traded for Aaron Gordon. As opposing teams have yet another offensive weapon to worry about, spacing has become even easier for Denver. With more open looks, Porter has become an even more elite knockdown shooter. Porter is 14-for-21 (66.7 percent) on three-pointers when the nearest defender is at least six feet from him on his attempt, which is second-best among those with more than 10 attempts since All-Star Weekend.
You can look at his shot chart to see just how much better than the league average he has been of late from several zones, especially long-distance. He is 13-for-19 (68.4 percent) on his corner three-pointers during this span, second-best with the same qualifications. He is also 31-for-53 (58.5 percent) on his catch-and-shoot three-pointers in his games after All-Star Weekend, which is fourth-best among all players with at least 20 attempts. Overall, the forward is averaging 0.54 points per touch over his last fifteen games, the most of any player who has logged at least 150 minutes during this stretch.
Using the catch-all stat DARKO, you can see some of the progression that Porter has had in his career trajectory based on his recent performances. His output has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on Denver, too. When you put it all together, he has the fourth-best raw plus-minus (133) among all players post-break. Denver teammate Will Barton recently had high praise for the progression (via Denver Post):
“He’s just becoming a heck of a player. You can just see his IQ growing with each game and each possession. It’s a pleasure to see, man. I’m very excited for him and his future.”
Meanwhile, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has complimented the 22-year-old’s defensive improvements as well, stating that Porter has “grown up” on that side of the floor. If the Nuggets are going to make some noise in the playoffs, his role will be an important difference-maker down the stretch one way or another.
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Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox is looking more and more like a franchise centerpiece, which is great news for an organization that is banking on his success. At the end of March, for the second time this season, Fox was named as the Western Conference Player of the Week. Around that time, between March 17 and March 29, Sacramento won seven of their eight games. He also had an insane game-winning pass to teammate Harrison Barnes on March 28, crediting his background as a football quarterback. Fox averaged 30.5 points per game during the hot streak, including a new career-high 44 points during a blowout win over the Golden State Warriors. That was one of the eleven games that he has scored 25 points or more since the All-Star game. https://twitter.com/ESPNNBA/status/1380358236386234368?s=20 Phoenix’s Devin Booker is the only player in the NBA who has scored more points than Fox has recorded (448) since the break and in the process, the 23-year-old has some highlight moves off the dribble. Specifically, he is scoring 16.0 points per game on his drives, the most of any player in this span. For comparison, pre-break, he was averaging 11.6 ppg after drives. Fox, known for his foot speed and quickness, is covering a ton of ground when on the floor for Sacramento. He is traveling 2.7 miles per game, per NBA.com, the third-most in the league during this span. Even though the Kings aren’t exactly striking fear in the eyes of opponents, Fox has already become one of the most lethal scoring guards in the NBA.
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The Utah Jazz have been the NBA’s best team and Donovan Mitchell is central to their identity as a team leader and bona fide star scorer. There was nothing shabby about the season that he was having before the All-Star break, which makes it all the more impressive that he has found a way to get even better of late. Utah is enjoying a 23-game winning streak (!) at home and Mitchell has kept that alive with some insane scoring figures, dropping 37 vs. the Portland Trail Blazers on April 8. Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving are the only players averaging more points per game than Mitchell (28.9 ppg) since the break. https://twitter.com/Ben_Dowsett/status/1380399046553034754?s=20 In the process, Mitchell has become an even more daring shot creator for himself than ever before. These are the kind of moments Utah will need in the high-pressure moments of the playoffs. He is averaging 2.7 pull-up three-pointers post-All-Star, which trails just Luka Doncic for the most in the NBA during this span. Meanwhile, his shooting percentage (40.2 percent) on these looks ranks as the second-best of anyone with at least 45 attempts since the game. https://twitter.com/TheNBACentral/status/1380013263736438785?s=20 To put that in perspective, he was averaging 1.6 pull-up three-pointers while shooting 34.4 percent on these opportunities pre-break. Mitchell is developing right before our eyes as a very special young player in this league and if he is able to stay hot for the postseason, Utah will remain a force to be reckoned with.
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Someone who we might not be talking about enough is Memphis Grizzlies big man Jonas Valanciunas, who leads the league in rebounds since the All-Star break. But he is not just someone who is capable of cleaning the glass and grabbing boards. Valanciunas has actually recorded 16 double-doubles in the 17 games that he has played in this span. He has not fallen below 10 rebounds in any of his last 19 games and he is averaging 17.5 points and 14.2 rebounds per game during this stretch. He also leads all players in total points in the paint (196) post-break and only Zion Williamson has connected on more shots from within eight feet of the basket than Valanciunas has (104) during these recent appearances. Valanciunas has also done a lot of the dirty work that does not show up in the box scores. For example, the big man trails only Chris Paul for most loose balls recovered (20) and he has the fourth-most screen assists (91) as well. These are essential trails to help his team win and behind his efforts, the Grizzlies are fully in the thick of a playoff race in the Western Conference.
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After winning a title for the Los Angeles Lakers, his third championship with as many teams, Philadelphia 76ers wing Danny Green was in the midst of a relatively disappointing campaign in 2020-21. Green started off the season 36.2 percent on his three-pointers through the first 25 games of his start with the Sixers. But since the All-Star break, he’s been one of the game’s most electrifying shooters, connecting on 49.1 percent of his looks from downtown. He has made 54 three-pointers post-break, the third-most behind just Buddy Hield and Duncan Robinson. He leads all players in corner three-pointers (25) and he is tied with Robinson for the most catch-and-shoot three-pointers (45) during this stretch as well. https://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/1379595508180680705?s=20 Green was 5-for-6 from deep against the Boston Celtics on April 6. He was also 8-for-12 on three-pointers against the Lakers on March 25. Philadelphia is 12-2 (.857) on the season during games in which Green has hit at least four shots from beyond the arc. He is also providing value on the defensive end, adding 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game post-break. Green notched 5 steals and 3 blocks against the New York Knicks on March 21. His veteran leadership will be instrumental as Philadelphia hopes to make a splash against the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks to win the Eastern Conference. [lawrence-related id=1477408] [listicle id=1480608]