The NBA was worth watching on the first few nights of 2016-17. Those who watched season openers saw players everywhere going off, from superstars to rising stars. Some players won; some lost in spite, in spite of herculean efforts.
To put things in perspective, there is a metric called “GameScore” which is essentially a single-game version of Player Efficiency Rating (PER). According to Basketball-Reference.com, there were 23 players who had an opening night GameScore of 20 or higher. That total equals that of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 combined.
It is also the most since 1992-93 when 24 players did it, and it was a more common occurrence back then because of the faster pace.
Here are the 2016-17 debuts that topped a GameScore of 30.
1. Anthony Davis: 46.5
Davis blew up the world in the first full night of action, becoming the fourth player in NBA history, along with Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, to drop a fifty-burger on opening night. He added 16 rebounds, five dimes, seven steals and four blocks, just barely missing the first 5×5 with 50 points in NBA history. In fact, it would have been the first with 40. Only Michael Jordan’s GameScore of 51.2 surpassed Davis’ extraordinary night since 1983-84.
2. Damian Lillard: 32.3
Damian Lillard heard all your negativity about the Portland Trail Blazers being flukes last year, so he came out and dropped 39 points on 20 field-goal attempts just to prove you wrong, and he did it against one of the better defensive point guards in the league in George Hill. Lillard added nine boards and six assists to go with it. Maybe it’s time we stopped doubting this guy.
3. Kawhi Leonard: 31.7
You ask why? I ask Kahwi not? Leonard was an absolute beast on both ends of the court, which included an incredible sequence of four plays that included a bucket, a steal and then two more buckets to help the Spurs six-point run that squashed the Golden State Warriors comeback hopes into gobs of mushiness before they could even get them going. Leonard had 35 points on 21 shots, went 15-of-15 from the charity stripe, snatched five boards, had five steals and three dimes, leading the Spurs to an enormous opening-night win.
4. James Harden: 31.4
Harden was dropping dimes, throwing them, juggling them and doing whatever else you can do with them. He seems to like Mike D’Antoni’s new offense.
Harden had 17 assists, with teammates scoring 39 points on those helpers. If you factor in his free-throw and secondary assists, there are another three buckets he helped to account for. And there were at least two times he would have been credited with more free throw assists, but his teammate clanked both their freebies. When you factor all that in with the 34 points he scored, he was a source for 79 of the Rockets’ 96 points while he was on the court.
That’s 79 points from one dude. And while Houston lost by six, they were +10 with the Beard on the court.
5. Myles Turner: 30.2
My personal favorite for Most Improved Player, whom I like to call the “Odometer” (because he’s a miles turner) was touted as a key to the Pacers’ new look, new coach, new system and new hope. To say he delivered would be an understatement. The sophomore wrecked the Mavericks, notching 30 points, grabbing 16 boards and swatting four shots. Making it more impressive is the fact that he did the bulk of his damage against Andrew Bogut, a more than formidable defensive player.
And while they weren’t on the same level, these guys had plenty commendable performances as well. Here are the rest of the top 20: